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The Mid-Atlantic's Coming Green Revolution

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In establishing the Healthy Soils Program, Maryland has begun to officially view soil in terms of biological populations, organic content, structure and water-holding capacity, and carbon sequestration. Everybody wants healthy soil, but for the past 70 years, conventional agriculturalists have been satisfied merely with healthy crops. Food for those crops has been supplied by chemicals known to help them grow. The soil fell into neglect, and in the process, we lost a lot of carbon from the soil and released a lot of nitrous oxide through chemical production. The Healthy Soils Program, then, is a way to recover from this unforeseen consequence of the Green Revolution by reducing the severity of our recent interventions in soil fertility.

In promoting healthy soils, Dr. Sara Via brings out a few principles farmers and gardeners should follow. I have annotated them here with my comments for gardeners:

Rotate crops - some crops, e.g. tomatoes, should be rotated over 3 or more yearsLimit so…

First Things First

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Last night, I was fortunate to hear Dr. Sara Via, a University of Maryland biologist, give her talk on "Ecology of the Soil" to my county's Master Gardeners. She recommended a 2016 paper from Nature entitled Climate-Smart Soils. One of the gems in this paper is the decision tree it offers for the coolest things to do with agricultural land, depending on its nature and condition. It says that marginal lands should be planted in perennials, and histosols (soils containing high organic matter, i.e. former bogs) should be restored to wetlands. Aside from those cases, the paper proffers a hierarchy of various measures that can be taken to improve soil health, such as cover cropping and no-till. The final measure in the hierarchy - adding soil amendments, such as biochar - is not based on the soil condition, but on the availability of the amendment - the more, the merrier (though 2" of compost per year may be a good upper bound).

This decision tree clarifies matters great…

Carbon Nation

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It is fortunate that Project Drawdown left CO2 capture and storage (CCS) out of their solution set, because the IPCC left us with a mixed bag by including it as a key element among their recommended approaches*. Environmentally-minded organizations such as the Post-Carbon Institute (PCI) are all too happy to explain that CCS doesn't pencil out when you consider such fixed costs as a network of pipelines in the U.S. equal to that of the entire oil industry. As implied by their name, however, the Post-Carbon Institute discounts the value of all of the extra tight oil that might be recovered and burned by enhanced oil recovery using all the captured CO2. Considering how polluting coal and other industrial combustion processes can be, it makes sense if you can exchange the CO2 output for a more clean-burning petroleum product, but the extra pipelines and other CCS components required really does cause it to look like CCS would be a net economic loss (until oil prices rise). The fact t…

Drawing Down - 3rd World Style

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If  you are the independent type, third world solutions, otherwise known as appropriate technology, can be pretty great. The Drawdown project sees the biggest benefit of small methane generating anaerobic digesters in parts of the world where wood fired cookstoves are commonplace. Distributed digesters in the Drawdown model are fed livestock manure exclusively. Paul Hawkins' group estimates that 36.5% of manure in Asia is currently being run through small digesters and that we can bring that percentage up to 52.6% for all regions of the world where agriculture is dominated by small farms. For the rest of the world, they estimate much greater savings through the use of industrial sized anaerobic digesters. Yet, in marketing their product to the first world, HomeBiogas claims, even without displacing a cookstove, that their food scrap fed digester will save as much GHG emissions as if you stopped driving a car. In my case, it would also save on electricity to run cooking appliances …

Loosening the Grip of the Grid

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One of the distinctions made by zero waste advocates is that incineration of waste to reduce landfill use exacerbates pollution. Waste industry apologists credit Maryland Governor Larry Hogan's decision to withdraw limits on landfill expansion as an effort to avoid shifting the burden to incinerators.

That might be a defensible position if Maryland's landfill gas emissions were well controlled and not the highest human-caused source of methane in the state. Fortunately, the U.S. Appeals Court rode to the rescue in their recent ruling against the EPA's delay tactics on oil and gas well methane emissions. Since the EPA has also postponed the implementation of new landfill gas emissions requirements, expect that the court will also find that decision to be unreasonable, arbitrary, and capricious. More landfills will then be required to incorporate gas collection and control systems. This should serve to pressure states to become more waste conscious.

Waste consciousness shoul…

Drawdown - Guidance for Policymakers

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In The Humanure Handbook, Joseph Jenkins assails our habit of wasting things.
We have kitchen “waste,” garden “waste,” agricultural “waste,” human “waste,” municipal “waste,” “biowaste,” and on and on. Yet, our long-term survival requires us to learn to live in harmony with our host planet. This also requires that we understand natural cycles and incorporate them into our day to day lives. In essence, this means that we humans must attempt to eliminate waste altogether.  In Don DeLillo's novel, Underworld, the waste underlying modern life resurfaces throughout the tale. The advocates at eco-cycle Solutions are all about solving the waste problem. They and the folks at Trash-Free Maryland were surely disappointed when Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced an end to Maryland's Plan to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle Nearly All Waste Generated in Maryland by 2040.

Stepping away from waste reduction is a mistake. We can benefit both economically and environmentally by improving indust…

Save up to $100K through this Eco-lifestyle Adjustment

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Slums constitute the living arrangement for one-fourth of today's world population. In the least developed countries, those living in slums exceed three-fourths of the population. Any urban area can descend quickly into slumdom when water and sewerage stop functioning. This can happen in any urban environment where the electric supply is lost for a week or where general mayhem prevails. Take Yemen, for instance. Facing a crisis of war, famine, and social collapse, 14 million people there lack access to safe drinking water or sanitation. The conditions are ripe for outbreaks of disease, which is currently appearing in the form of the most massive cholera epidemic this century
Cholera is spread by ingestion of Vibrio cholerae, which lives in the water where infected people have released sewage. If not quickly and properly treated, it can cause death in 50 to 60% of those infected. Currently, the number of cases in Yemen is 200,000 carriers of the bacteria. In the 2008 - 2009 Zimba…