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The once and future carbohydrate economy
David Morris, American Prospect
The carbohydrate economy could transform agriculture as well as energy, reviving producer co-ops, and giving farmers a hedge against voilatile commodity prices.
Less than 200 years ago, industrializing societies were carbohydrate economies. In 1820, Americans used two tons of vegetables for every one ton of minerals. Plants were the primary raw material in the production of dyes, chemicals, paints, inks, solvents, construction materials, even energy.
For the next 125 years, hydrocarbon and carbohydrate battled for industrial supremacy. Coal gases fueled the world’s first urban lighting systems. Coal tars ushered in the synthetic dyes industries. Cotton and wood pulp provided the world’s first plastics and synthetic textiles. In 1860, corn-derived ethanol was a best-selling industrial chemical, and as late as 1870, wood provided 70 percent of the nation’s energy.
(8 April 2006)
You are what you eat (Omnivore's Dilemma by Pollan)
A journalist traces the meal on his plate back through the food chain
Bunny Crumpacker, Washington Post
THE OMNIVORE'S DILEMMA: A Natural History of Four Meals
By Michael Pollan
Penguin Press. 450 pp. $26.95
Most of us are at a great distance from our food. I don't mean that we live "twelve miles from a lemon," as English wit Sydney Smith said about a home in Yorkshire. I mean that our food bears little resemblance to its natural substance. Hamburger never mooed; spaghetti grows on the pasta tree; baby carrots come from a pink and blue nursery. Still, we worry about our meals -- from calories to carbs, from heart-healthy to brain food. And we prefer our food to be "natural," as long as natural doesn't involve real.
In The Omnivore's Dilemma , Michael Pollan writes about how our food is grown -- what it is, in fact, that we are eating. The book is really three in one: The first section discusses industrial farming; the second, organic food, both as big business and on a relatively small farm; and the third, what it is like to hunt and gather food for oneself. And each section culminates in a meal -- a cheeseburger and fries from McDonald's; roast chicken, vegetables and a salad from Whole Foods; and grilled chicken, corn and a chocolate soufflé (made with fresh eggs) from a sustainable farm; and, finally, mushrooms and pork, foraged from the wild.
The first section is a wake-up call for anyone who has ever been hungry. In the United States, Pollan makes clear, we're mostly fed by two things: corn and oil. We may not sit down to bowls of yummy petroleum, but almost everything we eat has used enormous amounts of fossil fuels to get to our tables. Oil products are part of the fertilizers that feed plants, the pesticides that keep insects away from them, the fuels used by the trains and trucks that transport them across the country, and the packaging in which they're wrapped. We're addicted to oil, and we really like to eat.
(9 April 2006)
Many other articles on Pollan's new book are online.
Oslo's Sewage Heats Its Homes
Alister Doyle, Reuters via ENN
OSLO — In an extreme energy project tapping heat from raw sewage, Oslo's citizens are helping to warm their homes and offices simply by flushing the toilet.
Large blue machines at the end of a 300-metre long tunnel in a hillside in central Oslo use fridge technology to suck heat from the sewer and transfer it to a network of hot water pipes feeding thousands of radiators and taps around the city.
"We believe this is the biggest heating system in the world using raw sewage," Lars-Anders Loervik, managing director of Oslo energy company Viken Fjernvarme which runs the plant, told Reuters. The plant opened this week.
(10 April 2006)
From Brazil: A different kind of bus system
Jennifer Langston, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
Jaime Lerner has a favorite saying: A car is like a mother-in-law -- you need to have a good relationship, but you shouldn't let her dictate your whole life.
The former mayor of the Brazilian city of Curitiba -- and an architect and international sustainability guru -- is a champion of public transit systems that use buses in a different way.
The buses run in dedicated lanes so they don't get stuck in traffic. Tubular stations on the street help make boarding swift and easy in Curitiba, where roughly 2 million people use them.
More than 80 cities around the world today are using or building similar "bus rapid transit" systems, which Lerner says can be constructed 20 to 100 times more cheaply than light rail or subway systems.
Visiting Seattle this week, Lerner shared his impressions about how to tackle this city's traffic:
(12 April 2006)