I had a conversation with my mom the other day, and she was telling me about a documentary she watched that slammed renewable energy like wind and solar.
I’ve written before about all of the issues with renewables. They are definitely not perfect. Yet, neither is conventional coal or natural gas by ANY means.
Energy works like magic. It gives the ability to do the once unimaginable. All magic has its price, and all energy has its price, too.
I don’t know if we will ever find an energy source or system that does not cause negative ramifications in some way.
Water energy impacts aquatic life immensely, natural gas hydraulic fracturing impacts our water table, solar electric requires lots of land and extraction resources, and coal and oil pollute the air and waterways with all sorts of toxins. I really can’t think of a 100% no mess energy system that exists. Even biofuels impact our soil quality.
Anyways, just thought I’d share this experience and thought process.
If you could design the energy system, what would it look like?
Today I wanted to talk a little bit about renewables. As energy producers like solar panels and wind turbines slowly become welcomed to the market, the debate over whether or not renewables will be sufficient continues.
While I support a grid that is diverse, versatile, and decentralized, I can also recognize the limitations to renewable energy resources. It is vital to understand and accept limitations so that we can better adjust and implement solutions.
There are a variety of renewables.
Hydropower (water wheels, dams, pumped storage) can be considered the OG of renewables. The problem with hydropower is that there is a limited number of locations that are viable for this type of energy production. Most hydropower locations are either already in use or protected from such infestation (and rightfully so). Additionally, hydropower is dependent on the amount of water and flow power. As you can probably guess, climate change and overuse of water both negatively affect hydropower’s consistency and ability – decreasing its reliability. Also, hydropower like dams have a detrimental effect on wildlife. For example, fish spawning (reproduction) is totally diminished when a dam is in effect because the fish cannot easily travel up and down stream. Very sad! Finally, as water pools up in dams, the salinity or saltiness builds, making the water unusable for human use like agriculture. That’s a major issue as our water supply is already stretched thin in many parts of the world.
Wind is also very well-known in the renewable world. Wind occurs due to change of temperature, as the hot air is constantly trying to move to places that are not hot. There are not many places where wind blows all the time. Shorelines are the best places for wind turbines because of the difference in air temperature in the land and water. However, the best spots near and offshore are often far from the grid – so transporting the energy is expensive. They don’t last very long, either, only about 20-25 years. So, investing in them might not always pay off. Wind turbines make the most energy when they are very high up, so making them tall might help with the cost. However, he efficiency also makes the turbines more hazardous. Which brings me to my next point: wind turbines are extremely difficult and costly to maintain because of their location and physicality. Finally, some people would argue wind turbines are just downright ugly.
Solar seems to currently be the shining star *pun intended* of the renewables. There are many ways to approach solar, like water heating, solar cooking, and photovoltaics (PV aka solar panels). In any case, solar is still comparable to land-use size as both coal and natural gas, as solar requires a lot of land to produce sufficient energy. This also depends on the location, and it does not make sense to put the panels just anywhere. Solar PV does not last very long, just like wind turbines, and they need to be replaced every twenty years or so. Electronic waste is a major concern around the world, and solar PV definitely contributes to the waste. This is true not just for the upkeep, but also for the materials used. Most solar cells are made of silicon tetrachloride. Many producers of the solar cells have been found to dump their waste from producing these materials into the surrounding land to save money on recycling. This definitely detriments the environmental health because these are hazardous materials. Solar energy is also intermittent, in that it only produces energy when sun is available, and humans do not wait for the sun to come out to turn on their tv or start their dishwasher. Storage is not yet widely available either, and there are even some concerns with sourcing the battery storage materials.
These are obviously not all of the renewables that exist, but probably the major three.
Renewables totally have their role in our energy system, but perhaps this post may have opened your perspective as to why these energy producers have not yet taken hold in our society. There are clear limitations, yet absolutely solvable.
Hope you enjoyed! Let me know what you think about renewables and how they compare to nonrenewables.
Today I wanted to talk about what food is. Food is the stuff we eat, right? But just because we CAN physically eat something, does that make it food? We don’t chomp on tree trunks, even though we probably could.
Some people eat tree bark, bugs, whale fat, pigs’ feet. This might seem a bit odd to some, but these are foods that are staples in some cultures (not to mention – full of nutrients!)
Others eat hard candy, twinkies, soda, and ultra-processed meats. These are pretty common in Standard American culture, but totally unheard of in some parts of the world. But what exactly is it about these products that make us accept them as edible?
To me, food is digestible earth or earth product, like plants and animals. I’d argue that 99% of the food humans eat comes from the earth, while the other 1% comes from a lab (but yes, even the lab was produced because the earth made it possible).
The specific food one person eats is determined by their connection to the outside world, other people and history. Shared commonalities impact the choices people make about what they swallow. Therefore, genetically modified corn, those twinkies and candy, and pink-sludge meat can all be considered food. It may not be a “quality” food in some corners of the world, but it is ingested by communities, often joyously.
What is food to you? Do you eat anything that might seem weird to others?
What are your thoughts about how food has evolved in our modern world?
Okay. This is one of my favorite topics. Not because it is positive, but because not many people know about eutrophication.
In simplest terms, eutrophication is when bodies of water fill up with excess nutrients and minerals. This might sound great at first- what’s wrong with more nutrients, right?
However, plant life (algae) overgrows to extremes. This algae buildup is referred to as an “algal bloom” and is a seriously thick layer of algae. The algae not only blocks vital sunlight from entering to the underside of the water, but it also sucks up all of the oxygen in the water. Without oxygen, a “hypoxic” environment is created, and life cannot survive. Furthermore, drinking water quality is at risk. Yikes.
How do all these nutrients end up in the water? Well, mainly from fertilizers and heavy tillage which causes erosion.
When soil is tilled (and in conventional ag it is tilled extensively) the soil becomes weak and subject to the elements. Add fertilizer to the soil, and when wind or rain occurs, that soil and fertilizer flows right into bodies of water with ease. Conventional farmers often account for this erosion and add even MORE fertilizer to their land so that the extra that does not erode into water bodies will stay on their land.
Not only is this an issue for our soil reserves, but this is exactly what causes eutrophication aka dead zones in the water!
So, what can we do? For one, stop using chemical fertilizers on your own land. Opt instead for building your own nutrient dense compost, or heck, buy some cows, chickens, pigs, sheep, goats or whatever else and use the dung for nutrients! This in turn will also help build the soil and anchor it in its place.
Speaking of which, to stop erosion, you can plant native species that are adept to the conditions of your environment. Consider plants with exceptional root systems that work as an anchor on the soil. And, as always, contact your state and local representative and urge them to support policy against heavy fertilizer usage.
Clearly, I could talk about this forever! But to keep this short and sweet, I’ll end this here and leave some resources for you to check out down below.
Before we go, what are your thoughts on this? Have you experienced eutrophication in your area? Let us know in the comments!
These is something fulfilling about waking through a field of grasses and flowers, all a slightly different shade of green and brown with pops of color, while a butterfly floats past into the abyss. This scene is all too familiar in the Corn Belt of America. Although, this melodious image is too quickly transforming into barren fields of nothing but corn rows.
Before the corn takeover, this region in Central America was (and in some places still is) composed of a compilation of ecosystems like wetlands, prairies and forests. The lush natural landscapes are home to an abundance of species, all working together to provide humanity and the world with services like sustaining, provisioning, regulating, and cultural services. However, hundreds of acres of one crop (monocrop) fail horrendously to produce such accomplishments.
The Corn Belt supports a wide range of species. The most iconic, arguably, is the Monarch Butterfly. Elementary children of the Midwest likely recall watching these little critters bloom from caterpillars to beautiful flying creatures as they released them from their classroom. But, most kids – and adults – likely do not totally grasp the importance of monarchs.
Outside of their beauty, monarch’s are most well known for being pollinators. We all know pollinators are important. They provide us with our plump juicy tomatoes to chop up and put in our salads or blend with garlic to spread on fresh bread (1).
Plants rely on pollinators to fertilize their female organs from their male organs. Unfortunately, monarchs and other pollinators are losing their resources for reproduction, like milkweed and other plants. Corn is taking over pollinators resources, making it harder (and more expensive!!!) to grow fruits and veggies that give us pizza, BLTs, and pasta sauce.
In the last 160 years or so, Illinois has lost over 90% of its wetlands, 99% of prairies and 80% of forests (5).
What’s the problem with corn replacing these lands? Well, maize fields lack regulating services (atmospheric carbon sequestration, stabilization against soil erosion), is unstable (it is readily ravaged by pests and invaded by exotics), steadily loses nutrients (in the absence of legumes), lacks many cultural services prairies provide (aesthetic and inspirational value), and comes up short on most other ecosystem functions and services even though it gets high marks for food production (4).
So, the previous wetlands, forests and prairies that once serviced us in wastewater treatment, stormwater management, recreation, aesthetics, and habitat are practically gone (2).
The United States produces approximately 40%–45% of the world’s corn supply and is responsible for 70% of the total global exports (3). Corn is a major resource to our modern world. Everyone who uses batteries, consumes packaged foods, and eats conventional meat is supporting the saturation of the ecosystem.
Ecological fate has three choices. We can either attain a life-sustaining equilibrium, oscillate between harsh and equitable conditions, or collapse to sterility.
A wise man would likely strive for the first option. But, at least for now, maize trumps monarchs, and that is the merciless truth.
What are your thoughts on this subject?
Thanks for reading.
In Soil We Trust,
(1) Andrés, José. (2014, Sept. 23). Why We Need to Protect Monarch Butterflies. National Geographic. Retrieved from: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/culture/article/jose- andres-why-we-need-to-protect-monarch-butterflies (2) Childers, D., Cadenasso, M., Morgan Grove, J., Marshall, V., McGrath, B., & Pickett, S. (2015). An ecology for cities: A transformational nexus of design and ecology to advance climate change resilience and urban sustainability. Sustainability (Basel, Switzerland), 7(4), 3774–3791. https://doi.org/10.3390/su7043774 (3) Kucharik, C., & Ramankutty, N. (2005). Trends and variability in U.S. Corn yields over the twentieth century. Earth Interactions, 9(1), 1–29. https://doi.org/10.1175/EI098.1 (4) Levin, S. A., & Carpenter, S. R. (2012). The Princeton guide to ecology. Princeton University Press. (5) University of Illinois. (2021). Ecosystems and Habitats in Illinois. Illinois Natural History Survey, Ecosystems and Habitat https://www.inhs.illinois.edu/outreach/habitats/.
All you need for a little garden is… Scraps! The seeds, bulbs and roots of fruits and veg that you’ve already used are all you need to replant for cheap. (Oranges, lemons, limes, sweet potatoes, avocados, carrots, beets, onions, and ginger work well!)
You’ll also need containers (I like to use used plastic fruit containers, milk jugs, sour cream containers). Potting soil is also good, or just grab some soil from outside! & of course, water.
Here’s how you’ll wanna do it for…
For big seeds, like an avocado, you’ll want to let it dry out for about two days. Then, plant the seed in a pot with pretty moist soil – but make sure to leave the tops of seed/pit exposed to the air, out of the soil. Or, you can use toothpicks to boist the pit up over some water in glass – with the water just high enough to touch the bottom of the pit. Just be sure to change the water once a week. The roots will sprout in about 1-2 months!
The easiest little seeds to grow are from citrus like oranges, lemons, grapefruit, and limes. Just plant three to four of seed one inch deep in the pot of moistened soil. In 2-4 weeks the seeds will sprout! After six weeks (be sure to keep the soil moist!) you can transfer into a bigger pot as the seedlings turn to trees. It’ll be a few years before citrus actually bears fruit BUT the leaves of the plants are fragrant.
Root crops like beets, parsnips and carrots can be “beheaded” to sprout new top growth. Just slice off the head end along with one to two inches of the root and place it in a saucer filled with pebbles for support and water. New greens will appear on top in about a week. In a week or so new greens should appear from the top. Once you’ve got that, put the root into a soil!
Garlic and onions are good example of this. Just put the cloves or blubs in soil, just enough to cover the whole clove/bulb. That’s pretty much it, just keep the soil moist!
Alrighty! Enjoy. Also… here’s the resource I used for this post 🙂
It’s no secret that DIVERSIFIED farming is the best farming.
The more diverse your farm, the more resistance to any trauma there is because each element can protect one another.
Today I’d like to discuss a chicken’s best friends, and some of the animals or landscapes your chickens should probably avoid.
Starting with who/what you should definitely keep your chickens around…
Cattle, sheep, meat goats, & horses. Chickens are great at picking through these animals’ manure and utilizing the nutrients from it. They also help decrease fly and other parasites on the land that can be found in the manure by eating the larvae. For horses, chickens can help them spook less.
Orchards & pastures. With these types of environments, chickens get to get in their exercise, follow their natural instinct to forage, & breathe in fresh air and sunlight. All the while, they eliminate bugs, repurpose unusable plant material and fallings, and fertilize!
Chickens’ “Just friends”:
Turkeys. Chickens can become immune to certain diseases by hanging around turkeys, but also can get more susceptible to other diseases. Kind of a roll of the dice.
Gardens & forests. Chickens do wonders for fertilization in both areas. They also have the opportunity to get exercise, breathe fresh air, and receive sunlight. But, they can cause damage to plants if not monitored and can also attract predators.
Chickens’ “No, Thank You’s”:
Dairy goats & pigs. Dairy goats tend to eat the chickens’ food. & Pigs and chickens can easily spread disease to each other, especially avian tuberculosis.
Wetlands. Damp environments in general are unhealthy, and can be a host of parasites and other bugs that are harmful to chickens.
Alrighty! These seem to be the big ones. Hope this brought you some guidance and general information for how to best raise your chickens in a diversified landscape.
Remember, just because chickens don’t mesh well with some of these animals does not mean you can’t have both! Just keep them separate and always pay close attention to any health signs.
Government is defined as an organization that can legitimately use coercion.
Okay. What does that mean?
Here we go.
Organization: This is an institutional structure where people have tasks related to a specific purpose.
Legitimacy: This part is a bit more intricate. Legitimacy was historically gained by government by claiming divinity. Now, legitimacy is often predisposed to citizens. Citizens simply accept the legitimacy of government, and they generally accept that the government serves the public interest. Government also hangs onto this by solving problems for the public.
Coercion: This piece permits government to accomplish tasks. Coercion is like the government’s currency or stock in trade. One example is eminent domain, or the legal procurement of property to enhance public good. This can be used for good… or evil.
Government is tricky, complicated, gross, and important. This description above is what government is at its CORE.
Government is important to sustainability and soil because government MAKES DECISIONS by using their legitimate coercion.
Half of all people in the world live in a city. Even after the shock of 2020, that is not going to change.
Most of urban expansion will start in the developing world.
Cities account for only 3% of land, but makeup 60-80% of energy consumption, and over 75% of CO2 emissions.
These are some pretty significant stats I learned from my time at university.
While these are the current figures… sustainable professionals have other plans for the future…
Here are the targets for a sustainable future in regards to cities:
Ensure access to safe & affordable housing
Improve road safety (more foot traffic, less parking lots)
Strengthen efforts to protect culture
Less people affected by economic loss due to disaster
Decreased environmental impact in cities (air quality, waste)
Access to green and public spaces
Link people, planet, & profit.
I realize these are all vague. This is more a list to get the sustainable mind thinking. Also, it’s good to have a list like this covering broad topics so that when we think of specific solutions, we can still see the other issues.
IE. If we try to decrease air pollution, but that causes economic turmoil, we are solving one problem but creating another.
In Sustainability, we like to focus on the three P’s. Which, as you guessed it, are people, planet & profit. These three pieces often make up what is called the “Triple Bottom Line”.
When making decisions with a sustainable mindset, considering these three components are essential. Achieving a balance is ideal, but obviously not always realistic… for now at least.
People might mean consumers, community members, employees, teachers, students, etc. People matter, and people’s freedom and well-being really matter. We have to consider people, because at the end of the day people are what make this whole humanity thing work.
Planet means really considering the environment from a holistic and long-term perspective. We must value the world around us. People and profit are NOTHING without the planet. For many, this P is the core of sustainability. But we definitely still have to consider the other two.
Profit, otherwise called prosperity. Whether we like it or not, this world runs off money and therefore we have to make decisions that will be profitable. Allowing a sustainable business to, well, sustain itself, requires a steady flow of income. If we leave out profit, those who are indifferent about the other two Ps will be totally against a sustainable mindset.
So yeah. This is just a brief summary of how a sustainable mindset views the world.