So much for zero-emission cars (for now, anyway). Unfortunately, Scientific American is running an article in its July issue exposing the myth behind electric cars. Basically, the electricity you are plugging your car into comes from sources that are still pretty dirty (think: coal). The dirtiness of your car's footprint depends upon where you plug in and what the sources of electrical generation are used in that region. On balance, the article concludes that driving a plug-in electric car (such as Nissan's soon-to-be released Leaf) will be more carbon-costly than driving a hybrid electric vehicle (and yes, that hybrid part includes some gasoline). So it looks like the next big step should not be for everyone to start driving electric cars and hope this will slow global warming. Instead, we must focus on getting some massive clean energy sources online to power the grid into which those cars are plugged. That includes solar, wind, wave, and (like it or not) probably nuclear. Plus we'll need a great deal more conservation and improved efficiency, both of which will cut down on the need for so much dirty power. So wherever you live, push your power company and whatever government regulator/entity grants its authority (state, county, city, etc.) to move toward more clean energy sources. And even during this difficult economic time, we all need to be ready to pay a little more for electricity and use a less, because those are the only ways this transition toward more sustainable energy use has any chance of occurring.
If California bans plastic grocery bags, it will be a great step toward decreasing our impact upon the ocean ecosystem, eliminate a lot of unnecessary cleanup of beaches and natural areas, and cut down on resource use, including a small amount of fossil fuels in the plastic. Hopefully, the California State Senate will follow the lower house's lead and vote accordingly, after which this bill would go to the Governator for his signature. And then perhaps, the rest of the country will follow. Here is a link to the NY Times article:
Energy used by the US food system was responsible for 80% of the increase in American energy use for the most recent period surveyed, according to a report from the United States Department of Agriculture. Apparently, this means we are becoming more dependent on food processing and farm mechanization. Americans are eating higher and higher on the food chain. As resources become increasingly scarce, this is not a good trend.
The following post provides an excellent summary of this report (and to some extent, its importance). I like the idea it mentions of listing energy consumption on packaged foods, but unfortunately it's more likely we'll have another oil price spike before we get around to that type of legislation/regulation. As soon as oil prices shoot up again, your wallet will tell you which food choices are most energy intensive, because they'll suddenly be doubling and tripling in price. That will force us back to basics, but based on the trends indicated in this report (not least of which is the marked decrease in farm labor), we'll have a harder fall than we would have had a few years ago.
I grow as many of my own berries as I can, and buy the rest from local organic growers at farmer's markets. There is a good reason I do not buy "conventional" strawberries and it's called methyl bromide. MB is a dangerous and carcinogenic greenhouse gas that's been banned in most of the world but continues to be used in the U.S. under a special exemption. Now, here comes a second reason not to eat chemical berries: methyl iodide. You know how lab scientists give cancer to lab rats so that they can test for cures? Methyl iodide is the crap they give these rats to CAUSE the cancer. But it must be OK for us, because the world's largest pesticide company (Arysta Lifesciences) got the federal government to approve this poison, which it proposes to use for fumigating California's strawberry crop! (Strawberries, by the way, absorb chemicals, much more so than most other produce.) And FYI, California produces 80% of the nation's strawberry crop and more is exported, so wherever you live, you have a stake in this issue.
A story like this is so sickly stupid that it would not even pass muster in a bad novel, yet the corporate sell-off of our country is so complete that nobody pays attention. Well, normal people are not paying attention, but scientists are. Apparently, some 50 distinguished chemical scientists, including Nobel Prize winners, sent a letter to the U.S. E.P.A. warning them not to approve methyl iodide, but the Bush-era feds did approve it (wonder who owns them?). In the letter, the scientists referred to methyl iodide as a "well-known cancer hazard" in the chemical community because of its propensity in a laboratory "to modify the chemist's own DNA". Further, "broad use of this chemical in agriculture will guarantee substantial releases into air, surface waters and groundwater, and will result in exposures for many people." In the letter, the scientists then cite the E.P.A's own research that this chemical causes thyroid toxicity, permanent neurological damage, and fetal losses in lab animals, effects which the scientists believe could extend to a large number of people as a result of agricultural use. Again, the E.P.A ignored the warnings and approved this garbage. Yet it seems the California Department of Pesticide Regulation either hasn't gotten its check yet or is actually staffed by some reasonable people, because it has not yet approved the pesticide. Not that it isn't being pressured to do so, I'm sure.
Here's where you come in: the state has proposed approving methyl iodide and the public comment period is open now until June 14. And the Obama feds have signaled that California's decision may influence them to change course also. There are times when voters speak louder than money, and this could be one of those times. Click this link to sign a petition telling the state to REJECT Arysta's proposal to poison even more land, crops, air, groundwater, and human beings. And again, wherever you live, there's a good chance those are California berries in your local supermarket…and in your jam, berry yogurt, smoothies, etc. So you have every right to be as furious about this proposal as anyone who lives in the state. After you sign the petition, it invites you to e-mail your friends and tell them to do the same. Please do. Thank you!
Scientists' letter to E.P.A.: http://www.panna.org/files/meiReg20070924.pdf
Take Action! Sign a petition: http://action.panna.org/t/5185/p/dia/action/public/?action_KEY=975
I was just watching a CNN video clip of flooding in Tennessee. It shows an interstate highway turned into a river. A big house floats past a group of cars that are submerged (link below). Well, if it's not flooding in one area, it's a drought someplace else, or an earthquake, or volcano ash, or fires, ice storms, oil spills… the list goes on. Partly, we are noticing this because we have become a global society and we're living in the information age (insert your favorite cliche phrase here), so a problem in someone else's backyard is beamed live onto your computer or TV, whereas 20 years ago, maybe you wouldn't have known or cared.
Beyond that, there's no denying that global climate patterns have shifted, and will continue to shift. All the experts have warned us to get ready for more extreme weather. So what kind of a food garden do you plant if you don't know whether fire or ice will strike next? Here are several suggestions:
(1) Research what grows well in your climate and is adapted well to your growing conditions. Those plants will be more likely to survive even if temperatures are a little extreme. Look for disease resistant varieties also. Feel free to push the envelope and try to grow some things that are marginal in your location, but make sure to grow some safe, dependable ones also and you'll be much more likely to succeed if the weather is unpredictable. (2) Use plenty of organic matter in your soil, such as compost, manure, leaf mulch, charcoal, and the like. Mulch with organic matter as much as possible. If you don't have a lot of organic matter, you can mulch with just about anything: newspapers, cardboard, plastic sheeting, fresh kitchen waste (unfinished compost, but not in direct contact with edibles like carrots or lettuce), sticks and stones, etc. This cuts down on moisture loss from evaporation, so plants can thrive when moisture is scarce. Also, mulch serves as a protective blanket to hold in heat (during cooler spells) and it moderates soil temperature during heat waves (partly by allowing the soil to retain more water). (3) Keep some seeds on hand for short-season varieties of vegetables, and plant some along with your favorite long-season maturing vegetables. Look at the # of days to maturity that is printed on each seed packet, and compare these. For example, if there is an especially cold spring or winter that never seems to end, then when it finally does warm up, try some cherry tomatoes along with your gargantuan beefsteak tomatoes, since cherry tomatoes will produce bountiful armloads a lot quicker and continue to give you food over an extended period. It might take 80 days for one variety to mature and just 65 days for another comparable type. Try to fit in an extra fall crop of short season veggies like peas, lettuce, and turnips. For peas, go with the bush/dwarf types that produce a lot more quickly than the tall, vining pole types. Peas love cooler weather. Radishes, turnips, and anything in the cole/brassica family (kale, broccoli, kohlrabi, cauliflower, brussels sprouts) actually tastes sweeter after being exposed to a good frost or two. (4) Consider getting some row covers, cold frames, or a small green house to extend your season. If you use raised beds or containers, think about some ways to insulate or cover these or move the containers to a warmer or cooler location.
During a heat wave, you can use your patio or rooftop as a cooktop surface, while ice storms are great at shredding lettuce for your salads. Okay, I'm looking a little too closely for silver lining here, but you get the general idea. Plan for the unexpected and you'll have a flexible approach to gardening that may serve you well in this very uncertain future.
Recently, I blogged about the U.S. military's admission that oil demand will soon exceed production, starting as early as 2012. That one was reported in the British media, but not in the U.S. (except for a few blogs and websites). Similarly, the U.S. Dept. of Energy has said that oil may begin to decline from 2011. This was reported in the French publication Le Monde by their intrepid reporter who has been after this admission for some time. Again, the U.S. media failed to track this one down, though a few more websites picked it up from Le Monde. Strange, since I would think that the imminent demise of affordable energy is just a LITTLE more important than who won American Idol or which celebrities are sleeping together. We are driving 90 mph towards the edge of the cliff and most people do not know or are in deep denial. Get started with your post-petroleum garden, folks…
From the Guardian (UK): "The US military has warned that surplus oil production capacity could disappear within two years and there could be serious shortages by 2015 with a significant economic and political impact.
The energy crisis outlined in a Joint Operating Environment report from the US Joint Forces Command comes as the price of petrol in Britain reaches record levels and the cost of crude is predicted to soon top $100 a barrel."
Full article is linked below. This is confirmation from the U.S. military (believed to be the single largest consumer of fossil fuels in the world) that we are hitting peak, followed by decline in the fuel that runs the world economy. All the more reason, I say, to learn some skills that will be valuable in this new and emerging world. Start by growing some of your own food, even in containers on a patio or doorstep. This is a great time of year to get going and start a few plants that can help keep you in fresh vegetables all summer. Remember: a couple of tomato plants can grow you enough to eat, more to give away, and perhaps enough to dry or can some into sauce. A handful of bean seeds means ARMLOADS of fresh green beans through the late summer. A handful of lettuce seeds means bowls and bowls of "cut and come again" lettuce for weeks or even months (even perpetually, with continuous sowing). A couple of zucchini (summer squash) plants planted now means no need to buy vegetables this summer; just keep some various spices on hand so you won't get too sick of eating squash every night! Or raise your own chickens for eggs, dwarf fruit trees, berry bushes, the list goes on. You DO NOT need much space at all.
It really isn't hard to get started. Now is the time. Our society is driving 90 mph towards the cliff, and now is the time to learn these skills before we may truly need them on a day to day basis.
A lot of folks are going through tough times. One great way to save a little money on food is to grow some of your own fresh food. Even a few plants, grown in the ground or in containers, can produce armloads of vegetables that you will not have to buy. As a recession-buster, a seed company in Colorado is offering free tomato seeds for anyone who is unemployed or has a family in need. 2B Seeds will honor this offer for heirloom tomatoes as long as their supplies last. "Buyers" must pay shipping costs of $1.95 for each packet of tomato seeds, but to offset shipping costs, 2B seeds will send you double the normal quantity. During the Great Depression, the owner's grandparents gave away free seeds to those in need, so they wanted to do the same by taking no profit. And no, this is not an April Fool's Day posting. Link: http://www.2bseeds.com/free-tomato-seeds.shtml
A quick check of eBay, using the search term "tomato seeds" and limiting results to their "Buy It Now" format revealed more than 100 item listings for immediate purchase at $1.99 and under. Most of these are seed packets of 10-30 seeds for various varieties. Many are from amateur sellers and seed collectors, so quality is not a given, but the selection and prices are quite impressive. Your local nursery or hardware store may sell seeds for a similar price also. Also check with your local Master Gardeners to see if there is a seed exchange program in your area (not all areas have these, but if yours does and it's free, then you can't beat the price).
Are you planning to buy tomatoes this summer at the store, fruit stand, or farmer's market? Two dollars buys you a handful. But if you only plant one seed, you'll be looking at armloads of fresh food (but plant a few for good measure anyway). And homegrown tomatoes taste a lot better, are grown using organic methods, and are more nutritious straight from the garden. Talk about doubling, tripling, quadrupling, or (more likely) ten- or twenty-tupling your investment. Can't do better on the stock market!
If you have been thinking of starting a garden but avoiding it, now's the time to try. Tomatoes are America's favorite homegrown crop for a good reason (they taste great, are easy to grow, and produce prolific quantities of food). But consider that the same logic applies to other things you and your family like to eat…carrots, spinach, lettuce, green beans, potatoes, squash, blueberries, apples, etc. All this can be done even on a balcony, patio, or rooftop if that's all you have.
A quick word of warning: food gardening is a slippery slope. Once you get started, it's addictive, and you'll want to grow more and more. You won't look back. It will change your life and improve your family's health, nutrition, sense of taste, and connectedness with nature. Your life will never be the same!
Recent news reports of the disappearing island in the Bay of Bengal (link below) remind us that sea levels are continuing to rise. Somewhat separately, there has been a conservative uproar over some glaring errors in the 2007 climate change report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The conservative denialist belief is that the scientists had an "agenda" and purposefully exaggerated scientific results to show that climate change was worse than it actually is. It looks like this was true in some parts of the report. But overall (and unfortunately for all of us), a close reading shows how the opposite may be true: the report conservatively UNDER-estimated the results of climate change in terms of sea level rise. In fact, sea levels may rise much more than predicted, especially given that the same models the IPCC used have already UNDER-estimated (by 50%) the last 40 years' worth of sea level rises. The following NEWSWEEK article, and the RealClimate analysis it cites, show how the IPCC arrived at its numbers, which by no means describe a worst-case scenario (the worst case could be much worse). Of course, any of these scenarios will wreak havoc on agricultural growing areas, making it a much more difficult task to feed the world. Let's hope they're all wrong, but continue preparing for a more difficult future.
NEWSWEEK: Where's the outrage when the agency lowballs the threat? http://www.newsweek.com/id/235366
RealClimate analysis of IPCC report: http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2007/03/the-ipcc-sea-level-numbers/
Island in Bay of Bengal disappears: http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/wireStory?id=10188225
Farmers on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, Canada, are reporting losses of up to 90% in their honey bee colonies. Colony collapse is not a new story by now, but it continues to take twists and turns, devastating agriculture. So much of our food production system is highly dependent on pollinators and our chemical agriculture is killing the bees and/or dampening their defenses to parasitic pests. Yet another reason to grow some of your own food to address future uncertainty, yet we should all be mindful that a lack of pollinators could doom civilization as we know it. One of my joys in spring is watching honey bees and bumblebees buzzing through the blueberry, plum, and apple blossoms. They're back again this year where I live, but if they don't show up one of these springs, I'll keep my paintbrushes handy for some hand pollinating…
"Deconstructing Dinner" has done a nice job reporting on this and I encourage you to visit the link to access their audio file.