Wow, who is this guy?!  Hahaha just kidding, I remember you!  It’s been such a long time since I last saw you, I barely recognized you!  Anyway, big things going on in the green sector right now.  If you live in the US, then there’s no doubt you’ve heard about the release of the 2011 Chevrolet Volt.  Let’s drop some stats: It gets 60 mpg in hybrid mode, 37 mpg in gas mode, and an impressive 93 mpg in electric battery mode.  The Prius can go crawl back into its shoebox as far as I’m concerned (it’s funny because the Prius looks like a giant shoe).  Price tag?  40G.  Okay maybe the Prius can come out of the box for a few more production years.  It’s hard not to look at that MSRP, but there are benefits.  Buyers may be eligible for a $7,500 tax break.  And this thing is cool.  Look at it!  It looks faster/better than half of Chevy’s current lineup.  It’ll give that old BMW m at the stop light a run for its money, too.  But our Volt has a serious competitor in the form of Nissan’s latest technological breakthrough.

It’s called the Nissan LEAF.  It’s a smartphone with wheels and it’s cooler than the original Tron movie.  Its fuel economy?  106 in the city, 92 on the wide open road.  The LEAF is 100% EV and that mileage stat is proportional to the amount of gasoline it would be burning … if it had an internal combustion engine.  MSRP on this one starts as 32K.  Not bad for the first step towards the future of cutting edge automotive technology.  We’re talking about a vehicle that you charge like your iphone at night; when you’re sleeping, it is too. 

So what are we comprimising here?  Well we should look back at what each model has to offer.  The Chevy VOlt allows for greater range flexibility thanks to its internal combustion engine.  It has the advantage range-wise, performance-wise, and maybes even asthetics-wise.  But, you’re still very much tied to the petrol companies and you’re still buying a GM.  True, the American automakers have been improving over the past few production years, but they still lead the global industry is consumer complaints and mechanical issues.  The Nissan LEAF, our little Japanese beetlebug, allows you to wave goodbye to OPEC with a grin on your face.  Also, you’re buying Nissan quality and the cool-factor that only Nissan is supplying today.  However, your range is limited and so is your driving performance.  Also, the infrastructure for charging stations and parking meter/charging booth combos is lagging far behind the EV market.  This means that 100% EV drivers will have to wait for investors to catch up until they take that road trip to Steve’s house.   What it all comes down to is that both the Chevy Volt and the Nissan LEAF are exceptionally-designed, exceptionally-cool models and represent the consumer understanding that our buying habits greatly effect the world around us, and this, my friends, is a positive step for humanity.

Let me know what you think about these two green pioneering platforms by leaving a comment or shooting me an e-mail, you all always have great thought-provoking feedback.  I’m sorry I’ve been gone for so long, but I’m back and that’s all that matters!

With these spring months sneaking up on us, I thought I’d entertain myself with the backyard this year.  It’s better than staying inside and doing nothing.  And then I thought, why not recycle while I’m at it?  So I built me a little compost bin in preparation for a larger one I plan to construct when the weather wants to not be a jerk.  So my mission here is to see what kind of material makes for the best compost.  You could read about all that stuff, but that takes all the fun out of it, don’t you think?  I think so.  But anyways, it’s a simple little bin made out of treated 2 by 4′s and some chicken wire.  There is a solid bottom so that none of that compost juice gets on the beloved deck.  Dear Jeebus forbid some beautiful nature puree gets on the deck!!  I digress, my apologies, back to the topic of composting.  How does it work?  Well let me break it down (pun).  Little critters live in the soil (who knew?).  These little microbials feed on the delicious stuff that goes into the bin.  But in order to do so, they need some heat, air, and water.  Well here’s a simple solution: install some chicken wire on the sides.  That way all those components get to where they need to be and no bigger critters can get to the num nums inside.  Now if you ask me for the design plans, I’ll give you an honest answer.  I got some wood and some chicken wire, got a hammer, a screwdriver, some screws/nails, and a pair of needlenose pliers and went to town.  If you can’t tell by the picture, it was pretty much an improv project.  And it’s not like I’m building a fine chair for the Queen’s dining room, I’m building a bin to throw trash in.  But if you do have questions, leave a comment in the box below.

The bin’s been built.  Great.  Now what?  What the heck do I put in it so that maybe in 4-6 months I find a bunch of high-quality dirt?  Fancy-pants agronomists say that there needs to be a healthy ratio of carbon and nitrogen present in the pile for good results.  The carbon supplies fuel for those bacteria I was talking about earlier, and the nitrogen-based material is what’s being eaten.  In order to achieve this, a “compost lasagna” needs to be made.  One layer can be “brown” material with dried out plant matter, paper, and dead leaves.  Then comes a thin layer of soil.  To top it off is a big layer of “green” material like lawn clippings, freshly clipped hedge trimmings, and dinner scraps.  So as you can see, I’ve begun the pile with some brown stuff, pistachio shells to be exact, and some green stuff.  When everything starts growing again, I’ll get some soil and fill it in some, eventually.  I’ll get some more pics of how we’re doing in a few weeks.  Until then, my friends, stay frosty, stay edgy, stay alert; you never know what’s around that corner.  Seize the day, for it is ripe for the taking.

I’ll tell you all something right now, right this very second: I love me a good steak.  Humans evolved in hunting-gathering clans and as far as I’m concerned, we evolved around fresh, lean, beautiful STEAK.  Everytime I see a cow walkin down the sidewalk towards me, I say “hello cow!” and give that heifer a big hug, because I appreciate what his species has done for us.  But let’s get down to business.  Is eating beef on a regular basis sustainableNO.  As Ricky Ricardo would say: let me s’plain this to you.  Cows like to eat, they do it all day actually.  Most cows in America enjoy a double life: fresh-air and green grass in the pastures and another less-than-stellar life in a feedlot, but they get to eat all they want.  Instead of some nice fresh grass, the cows are fed a feed mixture in which grain is the primary ingredient.  Let’s break that down, too.  As of right now, it takes an average of 1,000 metric tons of irrigation water to produce 1 metric ton of grain.  Let’s take that statistic farther.  Cattle consume 16x more grain than they put back as marketable beef.  Kicker: You can save more water by decreasing your annual beef consumption by 1 kg (2.2 lbs) than you can by not taking a shower for about 2 years!

 
 

It's like a giant cow party, except it sucks

So we’ve gone over the good, we’ve hit the bad, but why is the beef industry smelly?  It’s a simple answer: Feedlots.  I like to think of feedlots as giant frat house parties for cattle.  The cattle that are coming back from the rangelands/pastures are placed in warehouses or big plots in which they gorge themselves on that yummy feed we discussed, which is also laced with antibiotics to promote size and “health”.  So when you go to your fav burger joint and get a big ole’ number 2 combo for only $2.99, you can thank a feedlot.  They’re efficient.  They’re industrialized.  They’re stinky.  Imagine all that cow manure.  It’s gotta go somewhere, right?  Sure does, and sometimes it finds its way into the watershed, the air (methane), and in your food.  So what’s my message of the day here?  What in sweet baby Jeebus’ name am I getting at here?  Don’t eat that 99 cent hamburger.  Go for that nice rib eye on a special occasion.  You’ll feel better, your cow friends will love you (kinda, not really), and you’ll be promoting a less cow-flatulent atmosphere.  That’s a load of wins for everyone.

Hello, my friends.  It’s a wonderful day.  I can’t say it’s a new day, but a new day, if my inference skills are sufficient, is only a few hours away.  Perhaps the greatest thing about this life you were tossed into is that if you’ve been going through absolute crap, tomorrow is yours to do whatever the hell you wanna do.  I’m not sure why I said that.  Random inspiration moment, i’m soz.  Back to business.  Last week we looked at beneficial alternatives to 3 of our 5 agriculturally based problems, and they were high consumption of fossil fuels, water issues, and soil erosion.  Fun shiz, I know.  Today, we’re lookin at inorganic pesticides and loss of biodiversity.  So let’s dive in, shall we?  Yes we shall.

Inorganic pesticides are funky chemicals that some smart people started playing around with during WWII as a type of biological warfare.  One of these smart kids found that his funky chemicals, DDT, could effectively kill and/or repel most insect species.  Now back then when malaria was a more prominent issue to developed countries (because we had our boys in mosquito-infested places), DDT was a savior.  We applied it to everywhere.  But it was killing good things so now we use EPA/FDA-certified pesticides.  They’re still not good, I’m afraid.  Many of these inorganic substances kill non-target species including birds, spiders, bats, etc.  Here’s the kicker: all of those organisms eat the buggers we don’t like.  Also, it is a scientific fact that many pesticides used today find their way into groundwater reserves and on your dinner plate.  So how do we fix this?  The most obvious way would be to develop organic pesticides that decompose after doing their intended job.  Funding for these compounds has recently increased, which is good!  That’s one solution, here are the rest:

  1. Fool the buggers- rotate where crops are planted and at a time when the buggers aren’t ready.
  2. Provide homes for the beneficial species through polyculture and bee hives.
  3. Bring in the life-suckers!  Introducing biological control like viruses, bacteria, and parasites that prey on the baddies.
  4. Burn the Bugs.  That’s right, boil up some water and pour it on the suckers, nobody likes that. in fact i punched a kid for doing that to me, but if i were a bug, i’d just be dead.

A wasp laying its eggs in a pesky caterpillar; there's biological control for ya.

The rest of the solutions are quite boring and I don’t feel like harassing you with more than you care to know.  So let’s move on.

Problem Number 2: Loss of Biodiversity.  You’ve seen the ads: “Save the Rainforest!” and “Love trees like they love you!” and all that bullshiz.  Yes it is very corny and gives environmentalists a bad hippie rep.  I hate hippies with all my heart, I really do.  Well, only those from the 70s that were selfish douche bags.  I guess modern hippies are pretty cool.  But anyways, each year hundreds of thousands of acres of the earth’s forests and rangelands are burned and torn up for agriculture.  Basically, these farmers that need to make a living clear out these diversity-rich ecosystems and replace them with a monoculture.  Well crap, that’s not good for everyone else.  One solution is that genetically modified (GM) crops will be able to produce more food per acreage and be able to grow faster, on less nutrients, with poorer growing conditions.  Here’s the fifth grade equation: Land + Seeds + Sun/Water/Fertilizer = Food! + $Money$ + HIPPO (a topic for a later post).  If you decrease the amount of land and increase the efficiency of the seeds and growing stuff, then you’re left with a fun proportion of less loss of biodiversity and about the same amount of money.  You combine that equation with governmental regulation and you have a sustainable farmland.  And that’s the most basic way of saying it, take it or leave it.  I apologize if you’re not past the 5th grade, I just assume that most of my readers are and mabez that’s not fair. 

So there you go, my friends, that is my 3 part report on American Agriculture.  As always, if you have a question/comment/rebuttal leave it in the section below.  Have a great day, cupcake, and remember my little rant up there, your life is like modern agricultural: live it good and live it hard, there’s a lot to be gained, but if you do it carelessly, you’ll be out in the cold.  Next post we’ll finally take a look at Ms. Wangari Matthai, I know y’all can’t wait cuz neither can I. 

And I gotta give a shoutout to my boy JeffR, kid’s boss, check him out. http://www.noignorance.wordpress.com

So let’s have ourselves a bit of a recap, eh?  Yesterday we looked at the major environmental problems caused by the prominent industrialized agriculture America so heavily depends on.  I listed 5, but for my typing fingers’ sake, we’ll address alternatives for 3 of them today, and finish up the rest tomorrow.  So, let’s get on with it.

Through field preparation, planting, harvesting, and output transport, a lot of fossil fuels are consumed.  Whether or not you want to face facts, fossil fuel consumption does in fact speed up the natural cycle of climate change, both local and global.  So how doe we cut back on this massive energy footprint?  It’s highly unlikely that you’ll see a hybrid combine out in the field any time soon.  But there are viable, and beneficial, alternatives.  Buy local, my friends.  Imagine the difference in energy consumption between a massive cargo ship bringing in citrus from Spain versus that hour or two drive from a few counties over?  In addition, you’re keeping that hard-earned money in the good ole’ US of A.  But there are things that farmers can do to displace their energy footprint.  I’m talking about selling animal waste and green manure as organic fertilizer.  I’m talkin bout leasing some of your land for renewable energy sources.  I’m talkin bout investing in the ecological natural capital that healthy ecosystems supply.  Human ingenuity always finds ways of fixing the wrongs.

Problem numero deux: Water Issues.  How does a farmer protect his/her crops from waterlogging and salinization?  The solutions aren’t always economically viable, but they get the job done.  The simplest answer is to irrigate less and stop growing crops on a plot for 2-5 years.  More complex solutions include building underground drainage systems and flushing the land. See what I mean when I say they’re  not so economically viable?  All of those solutions, especially the latter two, are costly to the farmer … up front that is.  In the long run the same farmer could be looking at higher costs due to losses from salinization/waterlogging.  However, them crazy bioengineers have been hard at work.  The race is on to develop seeds that develop into crops that can grow in salty soils and high water tables.  Will that work?  Well hell, all you gotta do is look at the amazing success of the GM crops that are in use today.  If I were a betting man, I’d say the new ones will be just as popular.

Alright, last one: Soil Erosion.  Serious soil erosion is possibly the most frustrating thing that a farmer can find onof his/her property, well, besides a swarm of locusts or Sarah Palin.  I know how he feels, I find Sarah in my room everyday, like some hobo.  It gets old after a while. But I digress.  Soil erosion can occur in 3 ways:

  1. Sheet erosion: water/wind remove thin, uniform layers of topsoil
  2. Rill erosion: water runoff creates small cuts in the land as they flow
  3. Gully erosion: when you see this, you go “OH SHI-!”  Those little water runoff streams combine to create huge ditches and gullies in the land.  It’s expensive and time-consuming to fix.

     

Crap

So how do we fix this?  It’s really about containing that soil, and the best way to do that is through planting.  Now, you can plant whatever you’d like, grass is easy enough, right?  Lol, grass doesn’t make you money though.  My favorite is agroforestry in which crops are grown with trees dotting the area.  The trees keep vast spaces of cropland under control.  Remember when I told you we would keep this short for the sake of my fingers?  Well my fingers just tapped out.  Drop by to see me tomorrow when we’ll wrap this report up.  I’ll leave you with these words by a Mr. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Most of the shadows of this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.

American agriculture as we know it today is evolving from the unsustainable monstrosity that it has been since the early 20th century.  Some would say it’s about time, right?  Yeah, I couldn’t agree more. But, one thing people have a tough time understanding when looking at the many enviro-issues we have today is that finding solutions is quite easy in comparison to actually putting them into use.  But that’s a topic for a later post, right now let’s take a look at what modern agriculture is and how it affects you.   

Industrialized Agriculture at it's finest. But that's still pretty sweet, i wanna ride.

Farming from an economical standpoint has evolved much more quickly than the actual cultivation/harvesting  practices it uses.  Long gone are those mom and pop farms we read about in those lovely children’s books.  Those vanished with the building hurricane that is the American population.  We have a lot of people to feed.  I mean, a lot.  In response, the industry has supersized itself.   We  now have what is called Industrialized Agriculture or agribusiness (if you wanna sound edumacated).  This pretty much means farms use high inputs; lots of fossil fuels, lots of inorganic pesticides, lots of water.  Sustainable?  It could be, but it’s not really.  In this game, it’s all about the bottom dollar, so most company’s take the easier, more harmful approaches to farming.  But, because this is only part 1 of 3 parts, let’s pace ourselves and have a little look as to why today’s average farm is not so eco-friendly.  

  1. High consumption of fossil fuels for farming machines and food transport is just a big old contributor to air pollution, climate change (if you believe in that stuff), and habitat destruction, degradation, fragmentation (you gotta build roads, don’t ya?).
  2. Water Issues, big timer.  Crops like water, who knew?  But farmers sometimes over-water their crops to the point where the soil becomes over saturated and the plant roots actually drown.  Also, irrigation water contains trace amounts of salts that build up over time as the water is used up and evaporates.  This is called salinization and it sucks.
  3. SOIL EROSION.  The Dust Bowl, my friends.  Farmers didn’t heed the warnings of environmental scientists and as Sarah Palin would say, they Plowed, baby, Plowed.  Today, we see the same thing.  In some places it’s so bad that desertification occurs, causing intense crop productivity declines.
  4. Inorganic Pesticides.  These are processed chemicals that keep those little crop-eating buggers at bay.  Sometimes they friendly fire and take out beneficial species like bugs that leave the crops alone but prey on the annoying ones that do.  Also, these potent chemicals leech into groundwater reserves and continue on to be stored in fish, birds, whatever.  They’re also proven to be found in that inorganic apple you ate with lunch. =/
  5. Last, but certainly not least, is Loss of Biodiversity.  This one really hits home with me.  I think I’m tearing up just thinking about it.  All farmers displace natural ecosystems to plant their crops and feed their livestock.  Millions of acres of mature ecosystems have succumbed to these practices and all that diverse plant and animal life is replaced with a monoculture like a cornfield or grazing pasture.  I dun like it one bit.

Fortunately for the earth and these strange things living on it, there are eco-friendly alternatives to every single downside that I mentioned up there.  So that’s what we’ll talk about tomorrow.  I love you, if you’re in the States: Sleep well, cupcake.  If you’re in the UK: have a great day, my ray of sunshine

edit: I know I promised a tribute to Wangari Maathai to be posted yesterday, but I feel like I need to do a little more research to do her justice, i’m soz.  *pic is from eco-asia.info and it does not belong to me.

The personal computer is the mainstay of this American boy’s modern life.  Obviously, I spend a little too much time on this manmade contraption.  If you’re reading this, then you’re a wordpresser, and thus a blogger, and whether you like it or not, you waste a lot of electricity through that computer screen looking at you dead in the eyes.  I found out the other day that the more white being displayed on that screen, the greater amount of electricity consumed.  So am I right to assume that there is an opposite effect when the screen is displaying more black?  Yes, yes I am.  Blackle.com has proven this, just check it out and see for yourself.  I have to go read, but remember, my friends: when you’re not using that computer, shut off that monitor.  Tomorrow we’ll take a look at the person of the week, a certain Ms. Wangari Maathai.

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