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Showing posts from 2017

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…

You Can't Be Green Enough These Days

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Helpful as their contributions are, the efforts of most established agricultural literacy organizations do not extend to encouraging young people to take up farming. Aside from the Future Farmers of America (which I've always seen as geared to keeping the kids down on the farm) and 4-H, organizations like National Agriculture in the Classroom and the American Farm Bureau Foundation seem to be geared toward PR for agribusiness. The mission of FoodCorps is somewhat better because it involves children in gardening and appreciating healthy, fresh food that they help to grow.

Though all those organizations raise agricultural literacy, none of their programs will prepare the next generation of adults for what they are about to face. For that, permaculture education must be emphasized. Big Ag will go away with deindustrialization. Folks are going to have to know how to provide for themselves without relying on lengthy, automated supply chains.

Since the public school system does not appe…

Apprenticeship - a Short-Lived Remedy for a Dead End Economy

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Old Blowhard doubled the federal dollars to administer the apprenticeship advocacy program run by the Department of Labor. Secretary Acosta said the redoubled effort, "helps states expand apprenticeship, an evidence-based approach to preparing workers for jobs." A model program is found in South Carolina, yet Germany's program is the sine qua non that appears currently out of reach for the U.S.

In promoting apprenticeship, the Blowhard administration and the Green Party are agreed:

The Green Party views learning as a lifelong and life-affirming process to which all people should have access. We cannot state more forcefully our belief that in learning, and openness to learning, we find the foundation of our Platform...e.Promote a diverse set of educational opportunities, including bilingual education, continuing education, job retraining, distance learning, mentoring and apprenticeship programs. However, the budget cuts from other workforce development programs leave me w…

The Road to Reparations

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In the process of getting to know the Green Party, sooner or later you realize that we favor African Americans to the point of calling for reparations for over 200 years of discrimination. This is ultimately what it will take to heal race relations in our country, but rather than diving headfirst into what would quickly become a major bone of contention, we should practice the art of the possible by going for a series of small wins. Black women have it particularly hard, as detailed in a report put out this week by The National Domestic Workers Alliance. One of their priority recommendations is:
Policymakers and workforce development leaders should adopt strategies to promote gender and racial/ethnic equity in access to higher-paid career training opportunities. Workforce development programs that recruit and train Black women in specific skills can help them gain access to career ladders and upward mobility and can reduce their concentration in lower-paying jobs. The Green Party pri…

Giving Back

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Andrés Manuel López Obrador is planning to pay salaries to housewives in Mexico. After yesterday's election, in which his leftist party narrowly lost a key race, his prospects of next year becoming president of his country are still strong. The race for governor in Mexico State was so close that the results are being contested. Regardless of who won, López Obrador's chances of winning the Presidency in 2018 are gaining momentum.

Mexico is not seen as having much influence compared to economic behemoths like the U.S., however ideas can penetrate walls and a socialist revolution in Mexico could catch on among the disenfranchised classes in neighboring countries. The idea of paying people in some way for their time and labor spent in fulfilling socially beneficial roles is, in fact, already included in the Green Party key values.
6. Community-Based Economics We support redesigning our work structures to encourage employee ownership and workplace democracy. We support developing new…

Liberation Theology - The Stuff of Real Revolutions

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By reversing recent progress in civil rights enforcement, the Blowhard administration's budget runs counter to one of the fundamental ideals of the Green Party. The Green Party's Ten Key Values places Social Justice And Equal Opportunity second only to grass-roots democracy:
As a matter of right, all persons must have the opportunity to benefit equally from the resources afforded us by society and the environment. We must consciously confront in ourselves, our organizations, and society at large, any discrimination by race, class, gender, sexual orientation, age, nationality, religion, or physical or mental ability that denies fair treatment and equal justice under the law.
To confront is to stand up to another, to "meet (someone) face to face with hostile or argumentative intent." Confrontation places the parties on the verge of (but doesn't necessarily provoke) physical conflict. The intent can be hostile or merely argumentative. My advice is try to keep it argu…

The Fugger Factor

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Five hundred years ago, as the Reformation was brewing in Germany, the Fugger family soared to
heights of wealth never before attained by captains of industry. Though the Fuggers strove to monopolize all of their markets, other capitalists caught on to the possibilities and managed to join the conspicuous ranks of the aristocracy. On the brink of Europe's most sweeping cultural change in centuries, the wealth of the upper class brought about what Will Durant called "the greatest economic disparities as Europe had not known since the millionaires and slaves of Imperial Rome."

In commemoration of this quincentennial, I would like to offer a new metric for recognizing the potential for disparities in economic wealth to bring about radical societal disruption; introducing "the Fugger factor." I'll leave it to folks like Thomas Piketty to quantify this metric, but suffice it to say that today's Fugger factor in the U.S. is as high as it's been since the…

It Takes a Pillage

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The preliminary version of the Department of Education's budget proposal looks like they took the Green Party platform on education and came up with ways to do everything the opposite.


Green Party PositionBlowhard BudgetThe Green Party supports equal access to high-quality education, and sharp increases in financial aid for college students.The Blowhard administration supports unequal access to high-quality education by promoting private schools, and sharp decreases in financial aid for college students.The Green Party is strongly opposed to the dissolution of public schools and the privatization of education. We believe that the best educational experience is guaranteed by the democratic empowerment of organized students, their parents and communities along with organized teachers.While advocating local control, DeVos proposes to use federal dollars to entice districts to adopt school-choice policies, adding new investment in alternatives to public schools.We must stop disinvestme…

Sonny, Don't Blow Up the Kids!

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In my previous post, I referred to rising U.S. food prices and included a link to the latest monthly data as evidence. Critical readers may have questioned whether that supported the idea that we are seeing food price outpace inflation over any significant period of time, rather than just the latest month. You may research it yourself or take my word for it, but I took the PPI data from the BLS pages and compared the cumulative food price rise to core inflation over the 7+ years of data given and determined that food prices have, indeed, risen faster than inflation by 0.2 percent - not enough to even notice, but my statement stands. I could have researched CPI data and come up with slightly different results, but since my initial reference was based on producer prices, PPI should be adequate for this discussion.

The global picture is much more stark. Using data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, it is easy to see from this graph that, since around 2000, food prices have ris…

Apocollapse Now

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I may have missed it, but in my twelve years as a cost analyst for the Department of Defense, including the highest level of certification from the Defense Acquisition University, I never once heard of Baumol's Cost Disease. Nonetheless, the late William Baumol was famous for his discovery of how the cost of services rises implacably while the cost of goods decline. Cost analysts could be spared much consternation through this principle, but it also clarifies the situation for the man on the street.

When you look at the declining productivity gains over the past few decades, much of the slowdown can be attributed to this "disease," wherein more and more employment has shifted away from manufacturing and into services. Manufacturing processes are more easily automated than most service jobs, so the shift to large-scale, centralized manufacturing has improved efficiencies and profits in that sector.

I have built my projection of our economic future on the concepts in The L…

Everything is Fine

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Wages are up and unemployment down in the latest monthly figures for the U.S. economy. Everything is fine...except that the rise in employment probably doesn't make up for the drop in productivity, which is caused, at least in part, by the sour mood of national politics. At least the economy keeps humming along... which is actually the problem.

We cannot continue to pursue growth in a fossil fueled economy. It's a dead end - at the edge of a cliff - dropping off into the raging sea which is pounding at the cliff and threatening its collapse. Old Blowhard is opening up the throttle of free enterprise and disconnecting the governor. At this speed, our runaway engine won't be able to avoid sending us off the cliff. We need to back down on the throttle and steer in a new direction. A renewable economy would steer us away from the cliff, though that is a course Old Blowhard has clearly abandoned with his appointment of Daniel Simmons to head the Office of Energy Efficiency and …

NAFTA Sucks

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The best thing that I got out of the Climate March in D.C. on Saturday was meeting someone with a similar background who is also a permaculturalist. Even if they fail to catch the attention of politicians, protest marches and rallies serve to build community and solidarity around ideas and solutions. More protests followed the next day and again the next with a focus on the rights of workers. Seems the honeymoon hasn't led to a very happy marriage.

The May Day protests included a large contingent of immigrant rights advocates who have their own particular difficulties under a hostile administration in addition to being able to earn a decent living. New entrants to the U.S. workforce, immigrant or not, have had to struggle with stagnant or declining wages since 2000. Yet, worker productivity has continued to climb year after year, although the rate of increase has halved to less than 1% per year over the past decade.

Old Blowhard thinks that people are hungry for jobs, but the econ…

Robbing Hood

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Here's the kind of tax philosophy we were hoping to get from a people's president who promised to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.
... make corporations and the super-rich pay their fair share ... progressive taxation, shifting tax from individuals to corporations, taxing "bads" not "goods," taxing unearned income at the same rate as earned income, taxing speculation on Wall Street, and cutting corporate tax giveaways ... comprehensive tax reform to simplify the tax system ... eliminate loopholes and other exemptions that favor corporate and wealthy interests over tax justice ... Small business, in particular, should not be penalized by a tax system which benefits those who can "work" the legislative tax committees for breaks and subsidies. ... substantive and wide-ranging reform of the tax system that helps create jobs, economic efficiencies, and innovation within the small business community ... end "corporate welfare."  Campaign pr…

Good Neighbors Make Low Fences

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Regarding migration, which Samuel P. Huntington called "the central issue of our time," the Green Party takes a humanitarian, internationalist view. In the long run, the Green position is that North America should become more like the European Union with regard to border policies, rather than building walls on the U.S. southern border.

This week may be decisive as to whether Blowhard's promised wall will be built. He wants to get it into the bill that continues funding the government, but the 60% majority needed for its passage appears to be out of reach. He's even threatening to shut down the government for his pet project.

Spending oodles of tax dollars on a big wall to keep Latinos out would be a net negative. If Jared Diamond's observation that good international relations with neighboring countries is key to avoiding collapse, then we would probably be better off without a giant wall.  Good fences might make good neighbors in New England farm country, but th…

First they came for the Muslims, but I did not speak out - Because I was not a Muslim...

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George Calvert's vision for Maryland was a religiously tolerant colony where citizens would be entitled to live as landed gentry.  Lord Baltimore had embraced Catholicism, though much of Europe was turning to Protestant puritanism. As a consequence, Maryland became a refuge for all faiths; for Catholics especially.

It is not unlikely that there were even some Muslims among those who settled early in Maryland, but most came later to the colonies as slaves. It is estimated that up to 1/3 of the slaves in the colonies were Muslim. Their faith did not flourish in the new world, however, as religion was just another part of their liberty that their Christian overlords decided to withhold.

Repression of Islam by American society (like that which occurred in the early years of our democracy) has surfaced again since we became embroiled in constant war in the Middle East. A homegrown propaganda industry has warped many Americans' perception of Islam no less than the Russian propaganda…