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.
Previously: The Dark Side of the Internet of Things
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
See also: Ahmed on peak soil.
The New York Times on Oslo, Norway’s garbage problem:
This is a city that imports garbage. Some comes from England, some from Ireland. Some is from neighboring Sweden. It even has designs on the American market.
“I’d like to take some from the United States,” said Pal Mikkelsen, in his office at a huge plant on the edge of town that turns garbage into heat and electricity. “Sea transport is cheap.”
Oslo, a recycling-friendly place where roughly half the city and most of its schools are heated by burning garbage — household trash, industrial waste, even toxic and dangerous waste from hospitals and drug arrests — has a problem: it has literally run out of garbage to burn.
The problem is not unique to Oslo, a city of 1.4 million people. Across Northern Europe, where the practice of burning garbage to generate heat and electricity has exploded in recent decades, demand for trash far outstrips supply. “Northern Europe has a huge generating capacity,” said Mr. Mikkelsen, 50, a mechanical engineer who for the last year has been the managing director of Oslo’s waste-to-energy agency.
Some cities in Sweden are selling garbage to Oslo, but Sweden is also importing garbage from Norway.
From the press release:
A 15-unit apartment building has been constructed in the German city of Hamburg that has 129 algae filled louvered tanks hanging over the exterior of the south-east and south-west sides of the building—making it the first in the world to be powered exclusively by algae. Designed by Arup, SSC Strategic Science Consultants and Splitterwerk Architects, and named the Bio Intelligent Quotient (BIQ) House, the building demonstrates the ability to use algae as a way to heat and cool large buildings.
Becky Kazansky writes:
Through a mesh network first launched in November 2011 through a local nonprofit, residents after the storm were able to alert people to their needs over social media and check up on relatives. Access is limited and the network could, at the time, support only about 100-150 connections simultaneously. But in the wake of a disaster that created a new camaraderie in Manhattan around cellphone charging stations and free wifi, New Yorkers can appreciate that when the neighborhood goes dark, even a scrap of a link to the outside world is better than nothing.
My interview with The Doctor is here.
See also: Government-less internets
State representatives on Friday advanced legislation to launch a study into what Wyoming should do in the event of a complete economic or political collapse in the United States.
House Bill 85 passed on first reading by a voice vote. It would create a state-run government continuity task force, which would study and prepare Wyoming for potential catastrophes, from disruptions in food and energy supplies to a complete meltdown of the federal government.
The task force would look at the feasibility of Wyoming issuing its own alternative currency, if needed. And House members approved an amendment Friday by state Rep. Kermit Brown, R-Laramie, to have the task force also examine conditions under which Wyoming would need to implement its own military draft, raise a standing army, and acquire strike aircraft and an aircraft carrier.
This may sound like wingnut survivalist paranoia, but this is pretty interesting. Much of the state quite vulnerable to system shocks. Services ranging from food shipping to postal mail processing depend on out of state resources. The state is extremely petroleum dependent, so gas shortages would hit people hard. I’ve been told that although Wyoming produces huge amounts of coal, but is highly dependent on out of state resources for electricity (but I’m not sure that’s true).
Have any other states proposed official bills for state resilience?
Update: This has already been shot down.
Jeremy O’Leary is a steering committee member of the Multnomah Food Initiative and was an initial organizer of the City of Portland Peak Oil Taskforce. He’s a member of Portland Peak Oil, Transition PDX, and the Portland Permaculture Guild. He’s a contributor to the online publication The Dirt and maintains his own blog Biohabit. You can view his presentation on “20 Minute Neighborhoods and Emergency Response” here.
Klint Finley: What do you think the biggest/most important food security problems we have in Portland are?
Jeremy O’Leary: During the City of Portland’s Peak Oil Taskforce, we had a conversation with the management of Safeway where we learned that, for example, an apple from Hood River would be driven to LA and then back up to Portland. I think this example indicates one of the many problems with the food system. Many of the food issue we have in Portland are similar in other areas.
One of the things we have discussed in the steering committee meetings for the Multnomah Food Initiative is our area has one of the highest levels of hunger.
Which personally I’ve always found odd as we are also one of the leading cities for the local food movement. The following is from Multnomah Food Initiative:
Why a Food Initiative?
Multnomah County is at the epicenter of the local food movement. There are countless food-related, grassroots efforts being made in the community, as well as numerous projects and initiatives led by local government. The prevalence of local Farmers’ Markets and growing interest in organic gardening indicate strong community support for local food, but we must do more. To achieve a truly sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, all partners must help reach a common vision and share responsibility for the implementation of a strategic action plan.
It makes more sense than ever to implement a local food initiative. Despite the energy generated by local food in communities throughout Oregon, statistics show that our food system is broken:
Oregon is ranked second in hunger by the United States Department of Agriculture.
About 36,000 Multnomah County residents access emergency food boxes each month.
Half of all adults in Multnomah County are either overweight or obese.
Chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke are on the rise
Half of all Multnomah County children will be on food stamps at one point in their childhood.
Only a small percentage of the food that we consume is grown locally (estimates indicate 5-10%).
We lack a coordinated strategy to ensure the vitality of our local food system.
One thing I’ve been puzzled by is how if you don’t have food in your house for tonight, it is a social justice issue. However if you don’t have food in your house for 72 hours (standard Red Cross recommendations) it is an emergency management issue.
Just to narrow the conversation a little, as the food system is more than a little complex, just talking about organic food sold at places like People’s Coop, New Seasons, Wild Oats … the fact that stores only have a three day supply of date sensitive food is one aspect that I’m concerned about.
More broadly speaking I sometimes think that the best way to describe our food system is (mind you I have a somewhat dark sense of humor) is Death by Convenience.
How is that even though we’re one of the leading local food cities, we still only produce about 5-10% of the food we consume here?
It is in the same vein as the discussion of Portland being the Greenest City in the US, basically we are being graded on a bell curve. I’m always filled with pride and terror when it is pointed out that Portland is leading the charge on sustainability.
Just how problematic is the fact that we only produce about 5-10% of our own food? Do we export a lot of food? And do you know what they’re counting as local? For example, would they be considering Forest Grove local?
This may seem like an aside but it is related….
In Yellowstone national park, analysis of trees prior to 1850 shows that 50% of the nitrogen was of marine origin. 50% of the nitrogen arrived in the form of salmon. So it is not as if a long supply is necessarily a bad thing.
Efforts like the 100 mile diet are interesting, but it really depends on how the food arrives. Grain shipped in via trains from the mid-west is considerably better then strawberries flown in from Chile.
As for what food we export, I don’t have specific information about that.
Taking a completely different angle on things… I did my own sociological experiment by going to the one of the local gun shows and talking about sustainability to self-described “right-wing gun nuts.”
Basically, if you ask whether it’s a good idea to take a typical single family house and re-design it so you can live without power fairly well for a week if it is January or July, to have a large pantry, rain water cisterns, veggie gardens, fruit trees, … the response to this was basically “duh.”
My conversations with the “gun nuts” led me to the view that it is much better to focus on what you want and stop. The key detail when talking about a problem: you can debate whether that problem is actually a problem then never actually start effectlvely talking about actions.
It seems like the environmental movement has progressed from talking about renewable resources, to sustainability, and now to resilience. What exactly is resilience?
I can’t speak for the environmental movement, just for what I’m focusing on which is community and resilience. I think part of the focusing on resilience is that it is a more accurate meaning of sustainability…. how you sustain yourself/family/community is a rather important detail.
Sustainability seems to have been mostly about a long term vision, which is great, but doesn’t do you much good if you don’t have a vision for tonight or next week.
I think resilience is an example of what folks want.
Based on your experience on the gun show, do you think there’s more overlap between the left and the right if you re-frame what you’re talking about as resilience instead of “environmentalism”?
On the community level, very much so. On the level of Washington DC, I have no idea.
(Above: an example of a rainwater cistern at Columbia Credit Union in Vancouver)
What can individuals do to improve their community’s resilience - whether that be in Portland or elsewhere?
I would suggest one of the 1st steps is to re-enforce the school buildings to withstand an earthquake, use the food certified kitchens in the schools to process locally grown food, and store emergency provisions at the schools.
If you mount solar PV panels on the roofs and place HAM radios there you can be fairly sure of having islands of communication even if things go really sideways.
You would need to have rain water cisterns at the schools, which could also be used for the urban orchards and the veggie gardens.
More broadly speaking, knowing your neighbors and being on good terms with them is possibly the 1st thing to do. It’s only then that conversations about sharing resources can be possible.
It sounds like you’ve picked schools as the epicenter for resilience in communities. Why?
At least in the case of Portland, they are arranged so there is usually a school within a 1/2 mile of you at any point in town. Community centers, churches, a mall…. these would of course work as well.
(Above: The Columbia Ecovillage)
Transition PDX is interested in applying permaculture principles to the city. Are there good working examples of urban permaculture already?
As applied to dirt, very much so. The Columbia EcoVillage would be a good example that is more or less open to the public. For me permaculture comes down to good design, which translates into other disciplines.
In the case of my backyard, I have things lined up so I’m getting fruit consistently from early may until late Sept. Once the Kiwi matures, I can get another harvest in late November.
People who rent, instead of own, single family houses can have a hard time applying permaculture to their homes. Is there anything at all people who live in multifamily housing can do in terms of applying permaculture?
Yes, for this I would refer folks with what Leonard Barrett has been doing - Permaculture for Renters.
Above: Image from the Permaculture for Renters post Create a Container Food Forest
So what Leonard is doing is also applicable in multi-family housing?
Admittedly I’m not the best source of suggestion around permaculture for folks who don’t have some land to work with. You can do some pretty nifty things with container gardening on a balcony for example. But there are also examples of folks finding ways to share resources or buy things in bulk together.
What is the minimum amount of space needed to grow enough food for one person to survive? And for one person to have a reasonably healthy diet?
Quite a bit fits inside. I would point to books by John Jeavons such as How to Grow More Vegetables Than You Ever Thought Possible on Less Land Than You Can Imagine. I would also point to materials by Toby Hemenway such as The Self-Reliance Myth.
I guess we’re just about out of time, so I will ask one last question: If people reading this interview come away with only ONE message, what message should that be?
Using “Maslow’s hierarchy of needs” as a point of reference, society seems to spend the vast majority of our focus on whether we are sufficiently amused. This is an arrangement that by definition is unsustainable.