Jan 5, 2011

Peak Oil and a Changing Climate | The Nation

The Nation | January 5, 2011 The scientific community has long agreed that our dependence on fossil fuels inflicts massive damage on the environment and our health, while warming the globe in the process. But beyond the damage these fuels cause to us now, what will happen when the world's supply of oil runs out? Peak Oil is the point at which petroleum production reaches its greatest rate just before going into perpetual decline. In “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate,” a new video series from The Nation and On The Earth productions [1], radio host Thom Hartmann explains that the world will reach peak oil within the next year if it hasn’t already. As a nation, the United States reached peak oil in 1974, after which it became a net oil importer. Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and the other scientists, researchers and writers interviewed throughout “Peak Oil and a Changing Climate” describe the diminishing returns our world can expect as it deals with the consequences of peak oil even as it continues to pretend it doesn’t exist. These experts predict substantially increased transportation costs, decreased industrial production, unemployment, hunger and social chaos as the supplies of the fuels on which we rely dwindle and eventually disappear. Chomsky urges us to anticipate the official response to peak oil based on how corporations, news organizations and other institutions have responded to global warming: obfuscation, spin and denial. James Howard Kunstler says that we cannot survive peak oil unless we “come up with a consensus about reality that is consistent with the way things really are.” This documentary series hopes to help build that consensus. Peak Oil and a Changing Climate: An Introduction Featuring Bill McKibben, Noam Chomsky, Nicole Foss, Richard Heinberg and more January 12: Richard Heinberg January 19: Nicole Foss January 26: James Howard Kunstler February 2: Dmitry Orlov February 9: Noam Chomsky February 16: Bill McKibben February 23: Greg Palast March 2: Thom Hartmann March 9: Jean Laherrère March 16: Mike Ruppert

Hot Cars by Hans Tore Tangerud

Wonderful web site link on cars and trucks, old and new, sent to me by my friend, Mike Smith! I especially like the Brochures of US Cars and Trucks. Its's Comprehensive! ... Monte

Reflecting on the "early days" of sustainable agriculture research and education - world.edu

Today, many public universities including my own promote their research and educational efforts in support of a more sustainable agriculture.  It wasn’t always this way.  The end of the year seems like a good time for reflection – to see what we can learn from our past.  So lets look back to the “early days” of sustainable agriculture, the late 1980′s, when a loosely organized contingency of farmers invented an idea they called “sustainable agriculture.”
The  early advocates of sustainable agriculture were mostly  farmers. They generally managed mid-sized farms, but there was no consistent pattern, no typical type of farm that led the way into sustainable agriculture.  Some were organic, others not.  The unifying characteristic among these early advocates was that all had weathered the severe financial stress of the mid-1980′s – and they were still farming.
In the late 1980′s, the concept of sustainable agriculture was poorly defined and much debated.  It received immediate and vocal support from the environmental community – resulting in immediate and vocal distrust from mainstream agricultural institutions.  The cries of the environmentalists generally reflected a poor understanding of agriculture. The response from agricultural commodity groups, agribusiness, and public universities ranged from confused to openly hostile.
But these farmer-driven and farmer managed sustainable agriculture organizations persisted.  Perhaps uneasy with much of the debate, they simply got down to work and began doing research and education on their own.  Some of the farmer-led sustainable agriculture organizations became well established, and began calling for assistance from their public research and educational institutions.
The response from the public university system to their call for help was at best mixed and at worst loaded with animosity, derision and ridicule.  Some faculty reacted to the call for help with respect and curiosity, and these individuals were initially marginalized by most mainstream faculty and college leadership.  This was a lonely time for the early advocates of sustainable agriculture within the university system.  But this had to change, as the signs that “modern farming” was in trouble were becoming increasingly obvious to anyone willing to look.  Remember….
  • In the late 80′s we were emerging from a farm crisis that had accelerated the rate in which farmers were leaving the farm.
  • The public had been frightened by two major media events causing us to worry about pesticides on our food, one concerning the safety of apples, the other concerning grapes from Chile.
  • Pesticide residues were being found in rural wells, surface waters, snowfall, windblown soil and fog.
  • Soil erosion made the front page of the Chicago Tribune and the CEO of Archer Daniels, Midland Co. claimed that soil loss was more dangerous a threat than nuclear war.
Overtime, more faculty and administrators came to look on sustainable agriculture as an opportunity rather than a threat.  When public funding became available through theU.S.D.A. Low-input Sustainable Agriculture program, university scientists began to pay more attention.  At first cautious but eventually more enthusiastic partnerships between the universities and the non-profit organizations (which were required for public funding) emerged.   Today, public research and education in sustainable agriculture is almost “mainstream”.  But this transition took time.
Most Americans probably assume that public institutions have an obligation to serve the public good.  And how better for a public land grant university to serve the public than to address the continued degradation of the land that provides our sustenance?   Solving important public problems is what public university science shouldbe all about.  But in the 1980′s many agricultural scientists could not admit there was a problem.
Reports that only 5% of rural wells had traces of pesticide andonly 12% of rural wells had high nitrate levels were not viewed as a problem by apologists for industrial agriculture inside and outside the university.  During the winter of 1989-90, an analysis of every major snowfall event across the corn belt found only traces of the commonly used corn herbicide, Atrazine.  This was declared simply the cost of doing business – the “price of bounty.”
Even once we acknowledged evidence that all was not right, the debate continued as to whether the problem was indeed worth our attention. The scientists inside the public university system who had invested so much in the development of industrial agriculture remained reluctant to accept that something might be wrong.  It took public groups to bring pressure on the university system to begin to address these problems.   In a democracy, the public must be involved.  While science can help define the problem, community values and public debate must help determine where public resources are focused.
As a young scientist deeply engaged in the sustainable agriculture controversy, I found the response of some of my colleagues disappointing.  Somehow I expected scientists to respond with more curiosity to the claims being made by farmers and environmentalists that something was not right with American agriculture.  
Today, most university agricultural programs are willing to address the environmental degradation and resource depletion associated with modern agriculture.  But new ideas are often stillmet with skepticism, and some of the most interesting work being done  in sustainable food and farming is not initiated inside the university, but by creative practitioners.  New ideas that came from outside the university, and deserving of our attention are:
  • permaculture and forest gardening,
  • rotational grazing and seasonal dairying,
  • food sovereignty,
  • carbon farming,
  • urban agriculture, and
  • edible landscapes….
We still need to face some unpleasant truths about the public university system.
We will likely continue to be skeptics, as that is the nature of science.  But I hope we can learn to be more open to innovation and creativity when it comes from outside the institution.   Many farmers have criticized the public land grant universities as being reluctant to consider new ideas generated in the field (the “not invented here” syndrome).
There is some truth to this critique.
If we are to learn from the “early days” of sustainable agriculture, we must recognize that criticism from outside the institution should be welcomed. It says that someone cares about what we do and how we are doing it. And if we are willing to listen, the criticism helps us focus on what we should be doing. It keeps us sharp – and it pushes us to do better.

Please don’t stop caring and criticizing YOUR public university.

I’d appreciate it if you would share this post with your friends.  And for more ideas, videos and challenges along these lines, please join my Facebook Group; Just Food Now.   And go here for more of my World.edu posts.

Free Online Tool for Farm Mapping - farm-file.com

Farm-File provides a simple way to accurately make a farm map. Via the website you can map your farm, mark out and measure areas and produce professional working farm maps.The basic plan is free to sign up for. Here’s a short video showing how it works: Great free tool... Monte

Jan 4, 2011

8 Shops to Buy Rustic Reclaimed Wood Furniture From | BarefootFloor.com

I’m sold on rustic decor and its use of sustainable reclaimed wood furniture. If you aren’t yet, take my word for it until you see the photos or get up to speed with my first post in the series. The short story is that adding country-inspired furniture and accents is a fun new trend, reclaimed wood is eco friendly, and it lets you keep family heirlooms without going for totally country decor. This post is dedicated to the best places to window-shop for rustic furniture, in no particular order since I like them all.
Hudson Furniture Reclaimed Wood Table and Chairs

Bees in freefall as study shows sharp US decline | Environment | The Guardian

Rare bumblebees comebackBumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and crops around the world. Photograph: RSPB/PA

The abundance of four common species of bumblebee in the US has dropped by 96% in just the past few decades, according to the most comprehensive national census of the insects. Scientists said the alarming decline, which could have devastating implications for the pollination of both wild and farmed plants, was likely to be a result of disease and low genetic diversity in bee populations.

Bumblebees are important pollinators of wild plants and agricultural crops around the world including tomatoes and berries thanks to their large body size, long tongues, and high-frequency buzzing, which helps release pollen from flowers.

Bees in general pollinate some 90% of the world's commercial plants, including most fruits, vegetables and nuts. Coffee, soya beans and cotton are all dependent on pollination by bees to increase yields. It is the start of a food chain that also sustains wild birds and animals.

But the insects, along with other crucial pollinators such as moths and hoverflies, have been in serious decline around the world since the last few decades of the 20th century. It is unclear why, but scientists think it is from a combination of new diseases, changing habitats around cities, and increasing use of pesticides.

Sydney Cameron, an entomologist at the University of Illinois, led a team on a three-year study of the changing distribution, genetic diversity and pathogens in eight species of bumblebees in the US.

By comparing her results with those in museum records of bee populations, she showed that the relative abundance of four of the sampled species (Bombus occidentalis, B. pensylvanicus, B. affinis andB. terricola) had declined by up to 96% and that their geographic ranges had contracted by 23% to 87%, some within just the past two decades.

Cameron's findings reflect similar studies across the world. According to the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology in the UK, three of the 25 British species of bumblebee are already extinct and half of the remainder have shown serious declines, often up to 70%, since around the 1970s. Last year, scientists inaugurated a £10m programme, called the Insect Pollinators Initiative, to look at the reasons behind the devastation in the insect population.

Cameron's team also showed that declining species of bee had higher infection levels of a pathogen called Nosema bombi and lower genetic diversity compared with the four species of bee that were not in decline –B. bifarius, B. vosnesenskii, B. impatiens and B. bimaculatus.

The N. bombi pathogen is commonly found in bumblebees throughout Europe but until now has been largely unstudied in North America. The infection reduces the lifespans of individual bees and also results in smaller colony sizes.

The reduction in genetic diversity seen in the declining bees means that they are less able to fight off any new pathogens or resist pollution or predators. "Higher pathogen prevalence and reduced genetic diversity are, thus, realistic predictors of these alarming patterns of decline in north America, although cause and effect remain uncertain," Cameron wrote today in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Insects such as bees, moths and hoverflies pollinate around a third of the crops grown worldwide. If all of the UK's insect pollinators were wiped out, the drop in crop production would cost the UK economy up to £440m a year, equivalent to around 13% of the UK's income from farming.

The collapse in the global bee population is a major threat to crops. It is estimated that a third of everything we eat depends upon pollination by bees, which means they contribute some £26bn to the global economy.

Other identified causes of bee decline include parasites such as the bloodsucking varroa mite and viral and bacterial infections, pesticides and poor nutrition stemming from intensive farming methods.

"Pollinator decline has become a worldwide issue, raising increasing concerns over impacts on global food production, stability of pollination services, and disruption of plant-pollinator networks," wrote Cameron. "In accordance with the goals of the United Nations convention on biological diversity to reduce the rate of species loss by 2010, such efforts to elucidate the causes and ecological impacts of bumble bee decline, in co-ordination with informed conservation strategies, will go a long way to mitigating further losses."

A walk in the greenhouse « The Farming Engineers

One of our experiments this winter has been growing produce in the ground in our unheated greenhouse. We first learned about this idea from Eliot Coleman’s writings, and got many more specifics from several of John Bierbaum’s presentations at the MOSES conference last winter.
The whole idea of keeping vegetables of any kind alive all winter in central Indiana without supplemental heat when it’s below zero outside may seem a little crazy.. but what’s starting to seem crazy now is leaving the greenhouse empty in the winter! Take a look inside of our hoophouse, as of today.
Long view - greenhouse
Spinach, kale, lettuces, arugula, chard, cilantro, and a few assorted mustard greens are growing right now. We’re standing in front of a hay bale wall. Later on in the spring, we’ll pull down the bales to build tables for our seed starting flats.
Weeding with a hoe
Between the rows, that white stuff is polyester row cover. We put two layers of it on the wire hoops over the rows. Sometimes we use old greenhouse plastic instead, which is stiffer. Greenhouse plastic handles better when frozen and/or wet, but we don’t have enough of it yet for all of the beds.
Watering is kind of a hassle, but we don’t have to water very often during the winter. We have an outdoor spigot about 100 feet away from the hoophouse. When there’s a sunny day above freezing, we haul a hose out to the spigot, hook it up, uncover the greens, and do the watering. Then we unhook the hose, haul all the hose back into the hoophouse, and let the leaves dry off before covering the plants back up. We try to water every 10 days or so. The plants stay pretty moist with the two layers of row cover on.
With this arrangement, the limiting factor in growing greens becomes day length. Right now, in early January, days are very short and everything is growing very slowly. Greens grown for cut & come again use just don’t grow back very fast. We’re planning to put up a second hoophouse during the 2011 growing season that is twice as long, so that we can have more greens and other items available throughout the fall & winter.
There are definite limits on what can be grown this way- notice that we are growing cold-tolerant leafy greens. We had radishes and salad turnips in the beds earlier, which also did well. Certainly nothing is in the beds that can’t handle a frost.
spinach bed
Spinach anyone? It gets sweeter after every cold spell. The sugars are a natural form of antifreeze.
Assorted kale
However, kale is what will really get you to live forever.