TagEnvironment

Almond errata

I’ve found a better source of information on how much water almonds use and now have a better estimate of how much water per gram of fat and protein it takes to grow them. It’s about four times what I’d originally estimated, which makes them nowhere near as efficient as I’d originally estimated. Which makes sense — I always thought those numbers were wrong.

But even having adjusted those numbers, almonds are still slightly more efficient in terms of fat per gallon of water than cow’s milk, and use about half the amount of water per gram of protein as beef. So my original conclusion that beef is a far worse problem than almonds still stands, but I do now think almond farming is a problem.

Coconut milk appears to be a good alternative to almond milk, at least based on the So Delicious environmental footprint website. And based on the same report that I got my updated almond numbers from, hazelnuts use almost as much water, in total, as almonds, but use very little irrigated water.

Report: Solar Power Will Soon be as Cheap or Cheaper Than Conventional Electricity

Bloomberg on a Deutsche Bank report on solar energy prices:

Even if the tax credit drops to 10 percent, solar will soon reach price parity with conventional electricity in well over half the nation: 36 states. Gone are the days when solar panels were an exotic plaything of Earth-loving rich people. Solar is becoming mainstream, and prices will continue to drop as the technology improves and financing becomes more affordable, according to the report.

Full Story: Bloomberg: While You Were Getting Worked Up Over Oil Prices, This Just Happened to Solar

Given the current grid’s struggles to keep up with demand, this can’t happen soon enough.

Mutation Vectors: Worst Case Scenarios Edition

Nomad from Hardware

Status Update

Taking a week off work.

Browsing

 Uncivilization festival

After posting about Warren Ellis’ extinction aesthetic thing on Monday, I figured I should look into the Dark Mountain Project a bit more. I figured the New York Times Magazine profile of Paul Kingsnorth would be as good a place to start as any.

Reading this led me to wonder what the current worst case scenarios for climate change, ocean acidification and peak soil are, which led me to a long piece from The Nation that, if I understand it correctly, reports that we could see a 3.5 Celsius increase in global temperatures as early as 2035. An increase of 3.5C would kill off the earth’s remaining plankton, which are already dying quickly thanks to ocean acidification, which would kick off a series of events leading to the death of most of our food sources.

In other words, we could be facing human extinction in just 21 years.

Actually, I imagine it would take at least a few more years after 2035 for the human species to actually go extinct. Maybe we’ll discover that some people can live on smaller amounts of food, or but it doesn’t sound like things will be pretty for the survivors.

And if we don’t hit those numbers by 2035, there’s a ticking time bomb of methane stored in arctic permafrosted soil, and that’s going to be thawing out sooner or later. And when that happens, temperatures are likely to go out of control fast.

Even if we make it to 2050, current projections estimate that our soil will only be able to produce about 30 percent of the amount of food we do today. That’s particularly bad news because new population projections predict that instead of peaking peaking at nine billion around 2050, we’re going to hit 11 billion by 2100 and keep growing (unless of course we all starve to death decades before we ever reach that point).

The good news is that these are just the worst case scenarios. Many scientists still think we can turn this around, at least somewhat. The bad news is that the worst case scenarios keep getting worse.

Other cheery subjects:

Good news: stop and frisk is all but gone in New York City and violent crime is still dropping. Bad news:

The police remain a visible presence in the borough’s Brownsville neighborhood, where the vast and violent expanse of public housing had made the neighborhood a proving ground for the department’s use of the tactics as a way to curb gun violence. As part of a new strategy called Omnipresence, the officers now stand on street corners like sentries, only rarely confronting young men and patting them down for weapons. But the residents of Brownsville, conditioned by the years of the stop-and-frisk tactics, still view these officers warily.

Elsewhere: Deb Chachra revisits Betsy Haibel’s article on the the tech industry’s consent problem and finds many more examples.

Watching

Wilson from Utopia

This week I watched Hardware, not realizing that human sterilization and population control were subplots. And finished watching the second season of Utopia (the British drama, not the U.S. reality show). I seem unable to escape the themes of human extinction and involuntary sterilization.

(You can read the first few issues free online)

Reading

Stray Bullets issue 3 "The Party" cover

Stray Bullets: Uber Alles Edition, which is the sort of thing that makes you think that humans deserve to go extinct.

Listening

The Bug: Angels & Devils

GOD: Possessions

The Internet of Things Could Be Bad for the Environment

pollution-getty

A bit more contrarianism from me at Wired today:

The pitch is that the Internet of Things will make our world a greener place. Environmental sensors can detect pollution, the voices say. Smart thermostats can help us save money on our electric bills. A new breed of agriculture tech can save water by giving crops exactly the amount they need and no more.

But this vast network of new online devices could also end up harming the environment. Manufacturing all those gadgets means expending both energy and raw materials. In many cases, they will replace an older breed of devices, which will need to be disposed of (so long, non-smart thermostat). And eventually, every IoT device you buy–and people are predicting there will be hundreds of thousands–will need to be retired too. Since all these devices will connect to the net, we should even consider the energy used by the data centers that drive them.

Full Story: Wired: The Internet of Things Could Drown Our Environment in Gadgets

Previously: The Dark Side of the Internet of Things

Why the Solar Roadways Project on Indiegogo is Actually Really Silly

Solar Roadways

Joel Anderson says the Solar Roadways that raised over $1.5 million is visionary but extremely impractical:

But why NOT use our roads? I mean, roofs, roads, who cares, right? Well, in short, because we drive our cars there. Our big, metal, heavy cars. There’s currently a virtually endless supply of places you could install solar panels that DON’T have cars driving over them and, as such, don’t require fancy high-tech glass covering them. Or, for that matter, don’t mean you have to worry about the long term wear-and-tear of millions of tons of steel and rubber driving over them at high speed every year.

This, I’m guessing, is why the question of cost doesn’t come up at any point in either the IndieGoGo video OR the couple’s website. It’s why their idea doesn’t actually make any sense. This is basically just a pitch for a new way to install solar capacity that would cost a lot more than the ways we currently have for installing solar capacity. Which might make sense if we had already exhausted our options for places we could build solar panels on the cheap (we haven’t).

Full Story: Equities: Why the Solar Roadways Project on Indiegogo is Actually Really Silly

(via GlobalInfoWatch)

Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers

The New York Times reports:

The accelerating rate of climate change poses a severe risk to national security and acts as a catalyst for global political conflict, a report published Tuesday by a leading government-funded military research organization concluded.

The CNA Corporation Military Advisory Board found that climate change-induced drought in the Middle East and Africa is leading to conflicts over food and water and escalating longstanding regional and ethnic tensions into violent clashes. The report also found that rising sea levels are putting people and food supplies in vulnerable coastal regions like eastern India, Bangladesh and the Mekong Delta in Vietnam at risk and could lead to a new wave of refugees.

In addition, the report predicted that an increase in catastrophic weather events around the world will create more demand for American troops, even as flooding and extreme weather events at home could damage naval ports and military bases.

Full Story: The New York Times: Climate Change Deemed Growing Security Threat by Military Researchers

See also: Pentagon Bracing for Public Dissent Over Climate and Energy Shocks

Reminds me that Bruce Sterling wrote in 2009:

If I wanted to be politically effective, rather than visionary, I’d disguise myself as a right-wing Green, probably some kind of hunting-shooting NASCAR “conservationist,” and I’d infiltrate the Republicans this year. […]

So we publicly recognize the climate crisis: just as if we suddenly discovered it ourselves. And we don’t downplay the climate crisis: we OVERPLAY the crisis.

“Then we blame the crisis on foreigners. We’re not liberal weak sisters ‘negotiating Kyoto agreements.’ We’re assembling a Coalition of the Willing tp threaten polluters.

“We’re certainly not bowing the knee to the damn Chinese — they own our Treasury, unfortunately, but we completely change the terms of that debate. When the Chinese open a coal mine and threaten the world’s children with asthma, we will take out that threat with a cruise missile!

That’s our new negotiating position on the climate crisis: we’re the military, macho hard line.

An Open Source Kit for Growing Edible Insects

silkworm-burgers-660x495

My latest for Wired:

The world’s population is expected to grow from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050, according to a World Resources Institute report published last year, and that means we’ll need to increase food production about 60 percent in the coming decades — a task made all the more difficult by expected shortages in water, fuel, fertilizer, and arable land. One solution could be entomophagy. Last year, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations suggested that insects could be an increasingly important and sustainable food source in the future, and Imrie-Situnayake agrees. Insects are high in protein. They require little space to raise. And they don’t produce much methane or other greenhouse gases.

Two million people around the world already eat insects on a regular basis, and many consider them a delicacy. But here in the West, the situation is very different. Entomophagy is largely taboo, and our culture just isn’t geared towards finding and raising insects for food. That’s why Imrie-Situnayake and Tiny Farms have created what they call Open Bug Farm — a high-tech kit for raising your own edible insects. They’re trying to hack the Western agriculture world, and in true hacker fashion, they plan on open sourcing the kit’s basic design, so that anyone can build their own for free.

Full Story: Wired: Out in the Open: Raise Your Own Edible Insects With This Free Kit

NASA Study: Industrial Civilization Headed for Collapse

Nafeez Ahmed writes:

A new study sponsored by Nasa’s Goddard Space Flight Center has highlighted the prospect that global industrial civilisation could collapse in coming decades due to unsustainable resource exploitation and increasingly unequal wealth distribution.

Noting that warnings of ‘collapse’ are often seen to be fringe or controversial, the study attempts to make sense of compelling historical data showing that “the process of rise-and-collapse is actually a recurrent cycle found throughout history.” Cases of severe civilisational disruption due to “precipitous collapse – often lasting centuries – have been quite common.”

The research project is based on a new cross-disciplinary ‘Human And Nature DYnamical’ (HANDY) model, led by applied mathematician Safa Motesharri of the US National Science Foundation-supported National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center, in association with a team of natural and social scientists. The study based on the HANDY model has been accepted for publication in the peer-reviewed Elsevier journal, Ecological Economics.

Full Story: The Guardian: Nasa-funded study: industrial civilisation headed for ‘irreversible collapse’?

(via Eleanor)

I haven’t had a look at the study yet, but will be published here. It sounds a lot like Peter Turchin’s Cliodynamics research.

See also: Ahmed on peak soil.

On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny

Scott K. Johnson reviews On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth by Toby Tyrrell:

Spiritual groups that hope to attract your interest may exhort you to “Be a part of something bigger than yourself!” But James Lovelock would tell you that you can already check that off your to-do list.

In the early 1970s, Lovelock—with the help of Lynn Margulis—developed the Gaia Hypothesis, which views the Earth and its ecosystems as resembling a sort of superorganism. Lovelock was working for NASA at the time, developing instruments that would aid the Viking landers in looking for signs of life on Mars, so he was thinking about how life interacts with its environment on a planetary scale. And Margulis was famed for her ideas about symbiosis.

This intellectual background led to the idea that organisms are not just passive inhabitants riding a big rock that determined whether they lived or died. Organisms were active participants in the molding of their environment, tweaking and improving conditions as part of a massive, self-regulating system.

In On Gaia: A Critical Investigation of the Relationship Between Life and Earth, University of Southampton Professor Toby Tyrrell sets out to comprehensively put the Gaia Hypothesis to the test, using everything we’ve learned about life and its history on our planet.

Full Story: Ars Technica: On Gaia tests whether the hypothesis holds up to scientific scrutiny

See also:

Creator of the Gaia hypothesis says “enjoy life while you can”

Manuel DeLanda: “Don’t call me Gaia”

How Stewart Brand Helped Kickstart the De-extinction Movement

Nathaniel Rich’s article on the de-extinction movement includes this letter by Stewart Brand to George Church and Edward O. Wilson:

Dear Ed and George . . .

The death of the last passenger pigeon in 1914 was an event that broke the public’s heart and persuaded everyone that extinction is the core of humanity’s relation with nature.

George, could we bring the bird back through genetic techniques? I recall chatting with Ed in front of a stuffed passenger pigeon at the Comparative Zoology Museum [at Harvard, where Wilson is a faculty emeritus], and I know of other stuffed birds at the Smithsonian and in Toronto, presumably replete with the requisite genes. Surely it would be easier than reviving the woolly mammoth, which you have espoused.

The environmental and conservation movements have mired themselves in a tragic view of life. The return of the passenger pigeon could shake them out of it — and invite them to embrace prudent biotechnology as a Green tool instead of menace in this century. . . . I would gladly set up a nonprofit to fund the passenger pigeon revival. . . .

Full Story: The New York Times: The Mammoth Cometh

The details of how it de-extinction would actually work are fascinating, and if you stick with the article long enough, it does include some criticism from mainstream biologists. For one thing, this isn’t really bringing back an old species so much as it easy creating a new species that is very close to the old. In fact, one environmental lawyer has already suggested that such species could be patentable.

(Thanks Bill!)

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