In response to article: http://www.worldchanging.com/archives/005052.html
based on the article: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/mg19225731.100
There is a very deep point in that image that I think was missed by all but one commenter who mentioned it in passing. The image is based on an assumption, and that assumption is a most likely a lie.
We have already exceeded the natural system limits for CO2 alone. If we maintain the current CO2 production, the Oceans will all die due to acidification.
We have already reached a tipping point, where previous (lasting several warming periods) permafrosts are melting. One dramatic example of this is swamp areas in Siberia that are melting, and will (unless humanity takes aggressive action to prevent this) melt and release massive amounts of methane and CO2 that have been produced for thousands of years. These greenhouse gases are stored in ice, and the short term release is a tipping point that starts other tipping points in a domino-like chain reaction.
Other examples of things that are happening *right now* that will continue if we are here or not: ocean dead zones are growing, desertification of the Earth to hit 33%-50% based on glacial disappearance and climate change (50% based on minor greenhouse effect), sea level rise of 200 feet (if CO2 in atmosphere hits 300 ppm, all of the ice melts. We are currently 382ppm and rising logarithmically), and many more (species loss, water table loss, etc).
If we walk away from the Earth right now, the Earth as a living system may actually die. The same is also true of returning to pre-industrial levels of technology.
Based on my study of the environmental living systems, I claim that the image featured in the article is completely false.
Regarding species loss as natural: yes species die, but the crucial functions they provide are still necessary. If other species provide that same function, they often increase to fill the void in the niche. If all species capable of a crucial function die, what happens next?
Another falsehood was thinking that Genetically Engineered organisms simply disappear from the biosphere. This is an outright lie, and we don't even need massive studies to proove it. GE crops infect other crops. See Monsanto in Canada, Mexico and GE Corn, the GE Grass on the loose in Oregon that doesn't require germination, etc.
Lastly, there is another possibility for complete and utter destruction of all life on Earth that I call "green goo" instead of "grey goo". There is Department of Energy funding for genetic engineering (an outright competition) to turn cellulose into ethanol. The organism is supposed to be fast breeding, but containment doesn't appear to be an issue. I have friends at labs where people are competing for this funding prize. What would it mean if any competing lab "leaked" GE organisms (bacteria or virii) onto their cotton clothing? The potential death of all plant life. Green goo - the world's plants turning to ethanol.
I do agree with Alex Steffen, and I'm working on creating a sustainable civilization. Not a qualitatively "slightly better but still horrible" version but a truly sustainable future that can be proven as sustainable.
Sunday, October 29, 2006
Saturday, September 16, 2006
Blogger Beta has been giving me problems since my third post. I haven't been able to syndicate (announce) my posts anywhere and it is getting rather annoying. I'm looking into hosting my own blog as my main blog, and then copying content over to blogger and livejournal for additional exposure. Annoying :/
Posted by Ian Smith at 12:02 AM
Saturday, September 02, 2006
So, sustainability math isn't something that people pay a lot of money for. It doesn't really get top advertising. Sustainability is a prominent topic but it is a buzzword, usually politicians branding their existing policies as sustainable to sell them, or supermarkets owned by people who drive SUVs trying to cash in on a niche market.
SCRI is a foundation funded in its entirety by me so far. Every dollar used for research, prototypes, testing, promotion, software, books, etc has all been money that I put into SCRI out of my paycheck. I've been trying to write a bit of code on the side and work on SCRI full time, launching the Eternal Garden Kit. We have 4 more projects lined up that we want to fund. I'm working on grant proposals, but I need to find someone with a PhD working at a university, with tenure or about to get tenure, before we will be eligible for any of the related grants.
One of the biggest criticisms I have heard regarding Living Systems as a model for sustainability and my concepts of sustainability in general is that I have not explained myself well. I have been accused of being rather close-lipped regarding my ideas three times, and that was not intentional. We created a website to help with community collaboration for SCRI, but I wasn't posting much. In no small way, this was due to a sense of perfectionism regarding publishing of theories. I didn't want SCRI to be held accountable for a math error or estimate regarding power or efficiency. The blog format was chosen because it is more forgiving, I can write without my mistakes being permanent.
There have been several things we planned to do in order to provide funding for SCRI. The first and foremost of course being successful products. Once a product has completed testing, it should leave the SCRI incubator and enter the market. Other methods are book or product sales through Amazon.com, Google Adsense and Paypal donations. None of these are really expected to fund amazing changes to the world since I'm not doing a book review per week, writing about real estate or how to make money on the internet/ebay, and we aren't exactly a 'pictures of baby seals' for donations organization.
All of the "Recommended Books"I have read all or in part (as many excerpts as I could) and I consider very good. I will add a "Related Books" section that I haven't read, or don't wholeheartedly endorse, with some designation which is which. For example, I read and enjoyed Ishmael by Daniel Quinn quite a bit but there was too many math errors, conceptual errors, and contradictions by well established research in this book and others by Quinn for me to recommend them.
Perhaps I am a little too annoyed at Amazon's fine print. While most affiliate systems provide referral credit on sales for 30 to 90 days, Amazon.com only provides credit 24 hours after a click. We do not receive credit if you close and open your browser again. We don't receive credit if a gift certificate is used to make an order. We don't receive credit if you claim to have ever heard of us before clicking the link (orders "on behalf of customers or orders for products to be used by you or your friends, relatives, or associates in any manner"). The FAQ and Operating Agreement disagree on several topics including gift certificates.
If you do want to support us through donations, thank you very much. If you purchase through
Amazon.com and intend for us to receive credit, close any open Amazon.com pages, click our link or search for the product you wish to buy, and complete the order the same day.
Thursday, August 31, 2006
Greenhouse gases are a topic of much discussion, and many people are left at the end wondering, "What can I do?" or "How bad am I doing?" To answer the second question here are a bunch of personal calculators that will estimate your emissions. I included my own data for comparison, and comments on how the figures may be skewed. Scattered through many of the calculators was tips and suggestions on what you can do, in some cases updating emissions to what they would be if you adopt the changes.
No site I found seemed interested in some of the most critical CO2 data: how much meat you eat (1 pound of beef uses more water than not bathing for 6 months), how far your food traveled (average distance 1900 miles), how many pounds of trash you produce (2-4 pounds per month). Some calculators were interested in how much you recycle (I'm at 80-90% recycled/reused) but none of them asked how much trash was produced. No one asked how many trees per yard or per person were planted, nor the number of indoor house plants used to offset CO2. No site claimed to include other greenhouse gases like Nitrous Oxide or Methane.
reference.aol.com 3697 pounds per year.
My utility bills are split 2 ways. This calculator adds CO2 for each person in a family, instead of dividing the resources among people. We share refrigerator use, and that is the best way to cut down on power consumption. Using household numbers for utilities, 6156 pounds. I think their explanation is simple, but they don't make it clear that they provide per household data, instead of per capita data. Public transportation wasn't included.
ClimateCrisis 300 pounds per month(?)
The biggest flaw is they don't say what they measure. Looking at the calculation page, they compared usage based on month. Public transportation wasn't included. Electricity production based on region was used, so they adjust figures based on how my region gets its power. (hydroelectric, coal, natural gas, nuclear, wind/solar in that order.)
This site doesn't offer a complete calculator, but talks about how to calculate facts and figures. Also has some great minor suggestions.
ConservationFund .82 tons per year=1640 pounds (see below)
I couldn't input my data. I use a lot less trash than the average person, I know the amount, it only allows me to use typical data for most fields. They wanted to charge me $5 to pay $3.28 to plant a single tree to offset my usage. I know the figure they gave is wrong, I couldn't input my data. So I need 2 trees.
Nef.org.uk 932 pounds per year
They actually show the conversion data, which is really nice. They do use British measurement (BTU, etc) mixed with the metric system (Kg) so a bit of conversion was needed. Google calculator does that quite well.
EPA.gov 4,972 pounds per year
Another site where you need to input your portion of the bills to get your footprint. They excluded public transportation, gave me a discount for my recycling but didn't ask what my actual trash was. (1 typical grocery bag per month not recycled, 4-5 bags recycled) This estimate is higher than the other by about the weird trash penalty. They suggest recycling more, but didn't suggest having less trash to begin with.
Misc EPA Calculators
A lot of miscellaneous calculators here sorted by scope (home, individual, business), focus (travel, car, solid waste, etc) and calculators from other countries. I think this is a great resource for people who want to make their own calculations or software.
I'm still composing a list of what settings and fields should be in these calculators in case someone wants to write a (hopefully) much better one.
Tuesday, August 29, 2006
I spent several days wrestling with a seemingly simple problem to someone who is familiar writing software and making little tables comparing actions, costs, effects. I wanted to create a simple chart showing the different components of a sustainable system theory, and then evaluate each to see what parts they contained and which parts they lacked. Of course, it wasn't done with such a nice summary in the top down style, but rather a wrangling with a topic and wondering what I was really trying to say and do. More frustrating, it wasn't working and I didn't know why. Well, I was attempting to come up with the Sustainability version of the Grand Unified Theory and then show what was lacking in current implementations.
I think I'll start off with a basic list of what I read and study, and try to follow the bottom up path rather than force an instant epiphany. The list below is limited to my own experience, and I will abbreviate "as far as I know" with AFAIK.
Carrying Capacity - how much life will a system support (AFAIK measures one species only)
Ecological Footprint - estimates of open systems production/consumption ability, and when they fail
Solar Energy Joules (SEJ) - estimate of total energy for a system, related to sunlight. Related to eMergy.
4 System Conditions - basic guiding principles to sustainability
2020 Vision: Indicators - industry specific interpretations of 4 system conditions
Resources Funnel - qualitative comparison between available resources and consumed resources (see carrying capacity and ecological footprint)
Bounded variations in total system energy (early draft July 05) - Similar to SEJ but includes conversion costs, not just 'transformity'
Living Systems Metrics - based on complete living systems, limits of subsystems
Entropy and Energy Slides - thermodynamics thought experiment that will be a critical component of any complete sustainability metric
Carrying capacity is used in population estimates, and most species (wolves hunting moose) will create self limiting behaviors.
Footprint calculations are rather difficult to wrangle with, because there are many estimates and observations combined to form a single aggregate. There is an implicit model in understanding how these estimates and observations interact, but the models are not usually documented. In some cases the source of the estimates is included, and I find this to be highly respectable but rather rare.
SEJ and Emergy by Odum embrace many concepts that eventually become ridden in terminology. Some versions (1998) include tidal power and geothermal energy but others (1996) are restricted solely to sunlight. Natural systems use chemical energy as well (chemosynthesis, usable by many forms of life that also use photosynthesis) but this is not included AFAIK. Human systems can use sunlight, tides, geothermal heat, inertia based wind (Earth rotation), nuclear power and chemical energy as sources of energy. Of these, human activities are currently limited to using sunlight, stored sunlight (fossil fuels), thermal wind (sunlight based wind), and nuclear power. We use chemical power (non fossil fuels) for industrial practices but not to generate electricity directly. Wind systems are being deployed in Denmark on the open ocean, but adoption is low and it is unknown by me if these are thermal currents from sunlight or based on the rotation of the Earth. Complicating the issue, rotation of the Earth causes wind which interacts with thermal currents. (Anyone know a climatologist?)
SEJ and eMergy are related to sustainability because we use available energy to create and function within our environment. I have read several papers and Fair Use excerpts of the textbook, but I have not read enough to feel competent assessing SEJ or Emergy in any meaningful way. The concepts also evolve greatly over time, and sometimes involve concepts like entropy directly or indirectly but not clearly to me.
The 4 Systems Conditions of Natural Step are based on a consensus of scientists including physicists and chemists. They are very 'top down' in nature and express generic ideas which require a great deal of thought and expert knowledge to apply. The laws of thermodynamics are clearly involved and well stated. I am not sure this is a complete system, but it seems impossible to measure given the approach. It is a very simple qualitative metric that can clearly illustrate if some action is in accordance with the 4 systems conditions. ("Is this chemical found in nature? If no: Is this chemical increasing in nature? If yes: don't use it") The deeper systems understanding is very hidden in Natural Step, and many of the core lessons I see stated in other systems are only vaguely hinted at. Some proponents (Natural Step for Business) point to the combination of several very high level concepts and claim that specific recommendations follow from vague descriptions. (e.g. high energy vs low energy states of matter to reduce industrial entropy.) These 4 conditions are referred to as "tree branches" of sustainability and encourage people to not get lost in the "leaves" of specific statistics. I would like to see more of the "tree limbs" presented.
SCRI's systems (my own affiliation) are based around measuring energy, chemical entropy, resources, and primarily Living Systems. Living Systems shows how systems interact, system failure, important variables and parameters, how living systems deal with information overload and other many important aspects to understanding living systems. A systems approach may lead to a more complete understanding and more accurate systems models. A system can be sustainable without such low level information, but without a complete theory of sustainability we won't know.
All of these different methods of measuring sustainability are useful for identifying warnings. Once the warnings are sounded, we need to fix the issues to be sustainable. The Natural Step is probably the best system for sounding off early warnings AFAIK. Living Systems based models are intended to be a low level understanding, but require a great deal of understanding to make the model. Deeper understanding leads to better choices, and we are facing many hard choices.
Saturday, August 26, 2006
I am still preparing the "how do we currently measure sustainability" article, and I thought I should include this first. Here are 8 conditions to sustainable infrastructure, presented as a work in progress.
To be sustainable, a system must avoid failure. Failure to a higher system means that as a subsystem, it failed to do its necessary function. Some aspects to plumbing may change (like toilets that don't use water) but the function of providing transportation for water will be necessary. If our system dictates fresh water in the home, that system will almost certainly involve pipes. I'm not going to discuss water infrastructure in the example, I will limit the discussion to 'sustainable plumbing in the home'.
Systems can fail in a myriad of interesting and painful ways. To avoid failures we need to figure out "How" to avoid the failures. We know that when something fails, it wasn't Sustainable. Are we smart enough to figure out if something is not sustainable before it fails? Apparently not so far. I have checked hundreds of groups. Nobody knows what "sustainable" really IS. Our collective knowledge seems limited to knowing "failure = bad" and "sustainable = no failure". That tells us nothing for planning, measurement or evaluation.
How do we have sustainable agriculture? The answers are there, but we don't know how effective, scalable, and adoptable they are. We know that mulching and not using oil as fertilizer is important, but we don't know how long we can keep any particular path going without a means of measurement.
In the open system that is Earth, we may not ever be able to figure that out. Smaller closed systems are measurable, they get faster feedback, and many other advantages. I propose that we make small communities designed to be sustainable - In A Measurable Way. Those measurements will allow people outside the communities to choose sustainable living or adapt aspects of the smaller communities into larger ones.
So, in the interests of sustainable infrastructure in general and sustainable plumbing as a specific example, here are a few requirements of a Sustainability Metric e.g. knowing if something is sustainable.
1. Building materials should be made from renewable or recyclable resources.
2. The installation and repair should be performed with renewable or recyclable resources.
3. The infrastructure used to build the materials, installation parts and performance should all be renewable or recyclable.
Renewable materials are classified as being made available through natural cycles, like wood, mud, possibly clay. Renewable resources each have a different time delay to replenish the resouce. Typical farmed pine is on a 24-25 year cycle, tropical forests are on a 300 year cycle. (David Holmgren, 2003) Using recyclable resources boils down to "if we can make it, we can unmake it and remake it." Some plumbing glue for example, is not renewable unless someone can make the raw materials necessary, in this case oil. Most of the plumbing glues are oil based, and no oil means no plumbing glue. Most insulation, binding and wrapping is oil based.
So with the current plumbing, we may just run out of parts or glue some day. PVC pipes are also made from oil. Many of these parts cannot be recycled, since the polymers break down and become brittle (they become not plastic after a few cycles, or in UV light, or other conditions).
Recycling is a way of renewing a resource, but in the case of some (there are over 20,000 kinds) plastics the heat to reshape them damages the bonds. Most plastics have a lifetime, and the lifetime varies, often cut shorter through recycling. This does not mean recycling won't work, it means there will be losses going through the cycles. The ability to recover the losses alters the long term renewability.
Steel can be recycled very well, but it also rusts during its life cycle. This leads us into the next segment. Energy in and energy out. We can recover iron from rust, and turn it back into steel with a lot of energy (also requires some rare metals in the process). The amount of energy needed vastly exceeds any sort of reasonable amount. Not to mention the collection of the rust and removing extra particles, etc. There may be some other chemical to add that rips away the oxygen from the iron, but is the production of that other chemical renewable and energy efficient? Usually no. Cheaper yes, renewable, no. Almost all industrial processes involve entropy. Taking something from a high energy state, and putting it into a low energy state. We just gather the stuff in the higher state from nature, and then use and refine it at our leisure.
4. All processes must involve a reproducible amount of energy without undue strain.
5. All processes must be reversible with a reproducible amount of energy.
We can turn rust back into steel, but the electrolysis necessary would be extremely intense. We only perform electrolysis on rare occasions, contributing an electron directly to each atom is extremely expensive. In order to reverse the chemical processes, we would often be required to perform electrolysis. The Hall-Heroult process is one example of electrolysis still used in industry. Aluminum requires 3 electrons for each atom, and consumes 15KWh per Kg of aluminum produced.
Far more commercially viable is using chemicals in a higher energy state (like natural gas or oil) and moving them to a lower energy state. The methane reforming method of producing hydrogen is approximately half the price ($2 per liter) of the electrolysis of water to produce hydrogen ($2 per liter). In order for a society to be sustainable, it must either create (or recreate) the higher energy state chemicals, or not rely on these practices. The reliance on open systems to create higher energy states (like peat moss in swamps creating coal, plankton buried to create oil, etc) generally dictates their exploitation, and that exploitation occurs faster than their production. The production of methane from decomposing matter creates a high energy state material as for producing hydrogen, but it is produced from a higher energy state material than itself. The creation of higher energy state materials is linked to available energy, in this case sunlight used to grow plants and produce cellulose. This is another topic I will write more about later.
6 Each component must be able to be recycled or reused in some fashion.
This is an extension of 4 and 5, claiming that not only does every process need to function in fully closed loops, but each part must function in a closed loop as well. If the pipes are sustainable, the glue and binding needs to be as well for the whole system to be sustainable.
7 Every component needs replacement parts, or a sustainable alternative.
This is basic "no single point of failure." You could have the most efficient, most recyclable plumbing system on the planet, but if you can't replace a single part when you need to, the whole thing is broken. If there are no spare parts, it must never fail.
8 Components must be able to be produced with available resources.
The definition of "available" really depends on the system involved. Assuming that we are dealing with a global economy to create plumbing, the resources of the Earth can be used. I have read, but not confirmed, there is not enough of the element nickel on the Earth to create stainless steel sinks for everyone in China and India. Recycling steel for plumbing is easier than recycling steel for plastic, but the limits of steel available prevent wide scale adoption. If only a smaller segment of the population has stainless steel, that might be a sustainable system. If global adoption is not permitted, then a different global solution must be found. (The simple answer is: don't make sinks. People don't need to live like middle class America.)
This isn't a complete list, but there seems to be a shortage of these low level mechanical lists. An alternative style would be the Living Systems Sustainability, which I will probably create after I have written about Living Systems more.
Friday, August 25, 2006
I thought that 2000 calories was too high eating the minimalist way, and I doubted my diet was much different. Here is what I ate today:
260Cal Quaker Apples and Cinnamon Oatmeal (130)x2
75Cal Nori Seaweed (10)x2, Miso soup (40), Shittake Mushrooms (5), Spirulina (10)
1065Cal 1/4 cup wheat berries (160)x4, 1/2 stick butter (405)
220Cal 1 stalk Broccoli (78) and 1/2 chicken breast (142)
0Cal 1 pot of green tea from China: zhen zhu wang (0)
1620Cal Daily Total
Sometimes I alternate wheat berries with long grain brown rice, quinoa, or soba (japanese buckwheat) noodles. In place of butter I will use cheese (similar calories) or soy sauce (almost no calories). An alternative to the flavored oatmeal is Kashi cereal, hot variety or cold crunch variety. 3 Eggs with butter (fried) or ketchup (scrambled) is also something I eat. Dessert I have 2-3 times per week, I prepare tapioca from scratch with 2 cups milk, tapioca pearls, teaspoon of imitation vanilla and my zero calorie splenda. I would estimate that at 160 calories, since some of the milk sugar cooks off. Each serving would be 40 calories. I average 1 gallon of milk (1400 calories) per week, or I start to feel uncommonly weak (I think it is the biotin I need). Other vegetables I eat a lot of are asparagus, spinach, etc.
Every 3-7 days I do binge and eat a lot, but it messes up my insulin intake and there is a very good chance I won't be able to function. In those circumstances I eat a 20" pizza by myself, or 2 Bacon Ultimate Cheeseburgers from Jack in the Box with 4 tacos.
Without the butter on the wheat berries, my calorie intake would match what I projected as reasonable in the previous post. I'm also 6' tall and have an enormous appetite for my weight (160 pounds). It is good to see that when I use soy sauce instead of milk, my calorie intake matches my previous estimates. I'm interested in trying wheat berries and spirulina exclusively for a week the way I documented it. I honestly don't think that a 2000 calorie per day diet is possible eating whole grains, no sugar and no dairy.
I probably consume 4 gallons milk worth of milk products per week, mostly cheese. Measurements show milk production at 12000 L per hectare. I probably consume around 5500 liters annually making a diet with similar dairy consumption added to the minimal estimate require an additional 5000 sq meters. If goats were used instead of cattle, and spirulina instead of hay, alfalfa, grass, etc the number would be much much smaller, ballpark 10-30 sq m.
Here is an incrementally sustainable business idea: raise cattle or goats on spirulina, and grow more spirulina using manure as fertilizer. It won't be a completely closed loop because you need to supply the nutrients not metabolized each loop (unknown what they are) and the nutrients lost by exporting milk. On the other hand, the chemicals to add might be very inexpensive versus feed.
Another option is raising milking goats on kudzu, offering kudzu removal services in the American southeast. Goats are one of the few known methods to kill kudzu, based on overgrazing.
These minimalist numbers are based on 0 transportation overhead. Food in the US is typically shipped 1900 miles, and we sometimes spend a gallon of gas to buy a gallon of milk (13 mile round trip, buying 2-4 things at a weekly shop). I walk 2 doors down to a convenience store and buy at $3/gallon. I won't pay $4/gallon and $2.60/gallon is common for a 1km walk, sometimes $2/gallon on sale. Our energy consumption is much higher, soon I will write about the different existing systems for measuring sustainability and what they mean.
Are these entries too long? I spend 2-4 hours on each.
Posted by Ian Smith at 10:16 PM