Our Greatest Flaw: A Response to Richard Manning’s ‘The Oil We Eat’

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading Richard Manning’s article “‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain Back to Iraq”, what struck me most was Manning’s claim that the green revolution is the worst thing to happen to the planet. I will argue that the green revolution itself is not the worst, as it stems from a much deeper and more pervasive flaw: humanity’s tendency to defy nature. Especially in the United States, we build in deserts and pipe water from distance reservoirs to grow green lawns where lush grasses are not meant to grow. We create fertility in dry, nutrient-poor soil through the generous application of fertilizers, erect cities in floodplains, construct dams, drain entire lakes, divert streams, and create entirely new water bodies. The human race has long prided itself in its ability to bend nature to its will. This, I believe, is its greatest mistake.

It is time to stop testing the limits of our ability to defy nature. We know we can do it. We’ve already proven our ingenuity. The question is not whether or not we can, but whether or not we should. As unappealing as it may initially seem, it is time to work with nature instead of against it. After all, we are guests on this planet, and as guests we are obligated to maintain the health of the environment. But even if you don’t buy in to the inherent value of the natural world, there are cold, hard facts that point to the necessity for us in the United States to cut back. Manning writes that the return on investment for oil in 2004 was only 10 barrels of oil for every barrel invested, whereas it was 100 barrels for every barrel invested in the 1940’s. He also references Dave Pimental, a well-known energy expert, who says that the world would run out of oil in about seven years if the world population were to adopt the diet of the United States today. If what Manning and Pimental say are true, it is fragrantly clear that United States agriculture cannot continue on its current path, nor should our agricultural system be replicated elsewhere in the world.

Fortunately, finding our way back to nature doesn’t have to be difficult. We put much more effort into our agricultural system than is necessary. What surprises me the most is the amount of calories of fossil fuel energy we put into each calorie of food we produce. For example, Manning argues that it takes ten calories of fossil fuel energy for every calorie of processed food energy produced, thirty-five calories of fossil fuel energy to make a calorie of grain-fed beef, and sixty-eight calories of fossil fuel energy to make one calorie of grain-fed pork. By producing crops and raising livestock naturally, we would save effort, energy, money, water, and chemicals, as well as prevent environmental damage and public safety hazards caused by nutrient and chemical runoff and contamination. The biggest hurdle is our political system, which subsidizes the current agricultural system and promotes its expansion. However, taking action at the individual level can act as a crucial first step toward changing things on a greater scale. By making simple changes such as eating less processed food, eating in season, buying local, gardening at home, and choosing grass-fed meat, we can eat healthier foods for much less effort and environmental cost.

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Saving The Community by Saving Money

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Sustaining our environment is by far one of the most pressing issues that our generation must confront. In order to succeed at conquering all of the environmental issues that exist, society must combine our efforts as a whole and work together to help improve the environment through building community awareness.

While I was at the New Bedford downtown farmers market, I ran into Carlos Betancourt. He is a Home Base Self Sufficiency Coordinator for PACE in New Bedford. While talking with him we discussed ways in which New Bedford can become a more progressive community.

His main point was that we need to clean up the streets and get more people working so they can afford housing. This means that the town needs to become more creative with how they employ citizens and by helping people save money through modern practices. The South Coast Energy Challenge is an environmentally friendly organization that not only creates jobs but also helps create genuine change for people by teaching them how to make simple life choices through out their day.

To help people make better life choices I want to  bring no-cost Home Energy Assessments to people who normally couldn’t through our program. Many people we talk to out of New Bedford do not qualify for an HEA. I want to change this so that the people who really will benefit from us can take advantage of the opportunities we offer.

I my self currently live in an apartment complex that houses people who would benefit from an HEA. The first step I’m going to take is to talk with my landlord to see if he wants to go through Mass Save to give our apartment community HEAs. If he were to agree and Mass Save wanted to do it we could potentially save 5% off of 500 peoples energy bill just like that. People are capable of changing their lives, all they need is the right guidance, and awareness is the first step.

 

 

 

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Energy and Environmental Myths, Misconceptions, and Controversies – Nuclear Part 2

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Last week, if you forgot (and you probably did, let’s be honest), we talked about how nuclear energy works.  Yanno, nuclear fission and all that.  Hopefully you retained at least 25% of that information, because we’re now going to talk about the various pros and cons of nuclear power and why it is such a controversy.

What makes nuclear power interesting is that, unlike many other energy types, the opposing sides can’t be described as “environmentalist” and “non-environmentalist”.  Unlike, say, coal, which environmentalists oppose and non-environmentalists support, or wind power, which environmentalists support and non-environmentalists oppose, nuclear power is supported and opposed by both environmentalists and non-environmentalists.  The reason for this is simple – many people cannot decided whether or not nuclear power is environmentally friendly or not.

Basically, nuclear power just works -different- than most other kinds of energy.  One major benefit of it is that its carbon emissions are much lower than that of many other types of energy production, such as coal.  Theoretically, a perfectly run nuclear power plant would be a much cleaner alternative to other widely used types of energy production plants.  The main problem is what happens when a nuclear power plant -doesn’t- work perfectly.  Nuclear power plants produce large amounts of radioactive waste which, if not disposed of properly, can cause serious health and environmental issues.  If the nuclear power plant itself becomes damaged (such as with Chernobyl), then it can cause the surrounding area to become dangerously radioactive for miles.

A perfectly run nuclear power plant will have very few issues or drawbacks.  Radioactive waste can be disposed of and stored safely (and sometimes even reused), and carbon emissions can be kept very low.  The problem is that mistakes and accidents can happen.  Modern nuclear power plants have a lot of safety measures that pretty much negate the chance of a nuclear meltdown from human error, but there is little people can do to protect a plant from things like natural disasters or terrorist attacks.  Nuclear power is high-risk, high-reward.  It all comes down to whether or not people are willing to take that risk.

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Not Another Plastic Bag!

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

My sustainability goal has been to reduce the amount of plastic bags I use. I had my plan all laid out in my head. I had my goal, I had my reusable bags, and I was ready to go. I went to the super market yesterday, got my groceries, and the second I got to the checkout a sense of panic instantly crawled in to my head. I planned so well so that I could practice my sustainability goal and then when it came down to it I had failed. I had forgotten all my reusable bags and I was already halfway through the register. I realized that part of the process of becoming a more sustainable person was getting over old habits. I have already placed my reusable bags in my car so that the next time I go shopping I know that I am prepared. I still plan on succeeding at my goal by the end of the summer.  All I need to do now is be more aware before I go shopping and I think that forgetting last time will actually help me remember for the long run.

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My Family’s Experience with Solar Panels

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

This past week my Dad finally got solar panels installed on his house, which has been very exciting for all of us. Although, this isn’t the first experience we have had with solar panels. About 15 years ago my parents bought a tiny cabin up in Vermont to spend our summers in. Initially there was no electricity at all. Their goal was to make it as self-sufficient as possible, so they installed solar panels to power the whole cabin. Despite being a relatively new technology, they functioned really well and made the cabin so much more practical. Although the cabin was very bare-bones, I still cherish those memories as some of the best. I learned that simplicity is far from a bad thing, and it ultimately brought us closer together as there were much fewer distractions.

About 2 months ago before I started working here, my dad was approached by one of our partners in his area. After signing up, he was informed that he had a south-facing house and was a perfect candidate for solar panels. Some of his neighbors have solar panels as well and had nothing but good reviews. Given his experience with solar panels in the past, I’m sure he was much more open to it than the average person.

The panels are installed, but now we are waiting for NSTAR to switch out the meter so it runs two ways. My dad was told to resist the temptation to turn on the system because he would be paying for some of his neighbors electricity and wind up with a huge bill at the end of the month, which several impatient customers learned the hard way. I’ll keep the blog updated from time to time about how everything is going once the system is up and running!

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Water’ya Waitin’ For? Drink From the Tap!

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

Our little blue planet gets its colorful description from the huge bodies of water that collectively cover over 70% of the world’s surface. Water is almost everywhere on Earth – even inside of you - about 54% of an average human’s body weight is attributed to water. In fact, life as we know it simply could not exist without water. This wonder-molecule is made up of a single Oxygen atom covalently bonded to two Hydrogen atoms. The way these atoms interact with each other gives way to water’s unique polar geometry. This polarity is why it’s so special – water’s shape makes it a universal solvent – allowing life’s basic components (DNA, proteins, etc) to have a place in which they can exist and interact.

So what’s the big deal? Well, a United Nations report published in 2008 revealed that approximately one billion people worldwide lack access to safe drinking water. This shocking statistic is humbling, and it makes me realize how grateful I should be to have access to clean drinking water. Many Americans take for granted the luxury of being able to turn on a faucet and quench their thirst. Many claim they “don’t like the taste” of tap water, but is this honestly a concern when 1 in 7 individuals would be thankful to have access to that same faucet water? I don’t think so, and so as part as my sustainability goal I aim to significantly reduce my use of bottled water. I’ve been a slave to bottled water for too long, and I’ve just now come to understand that the plastic that I’m wasting by consuming bottles of water is not at all necessary. So, for the 1 in 7, and for the sake of environmental sustainability, I went out and a got a hip new reusable water bottle. I’m super excited to break it in and to finally end my addiction to bottled water by making use of the clean faucet water available almost anywhere in Massachusetts!

Mike Salhany

 

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Disgusted with my Food

Jun 30 2014 • Posted by

After reading ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq and watching the film King Corn I was deeply shocked and started becoming more intrigued about the food we eat. I thought King Corn was a more though provoking movie as it made me question more about the food I eat every day. For those of you who have not seen the movie, it is a about two friends who decide to grow an acre of corn after discovering that their bodies, and most Americans, have traces of corn in their bodies after a hair analysis. They then learn all about the history of corn and trace what happens to the corn they grow after it leaves their field and learn that most corn either is turned into corn syrup or becomes animal feed. It really awakens you to how processed some of our food can be.
It really makes you start thinking about what you are putting in your body; for example the bowl of Frosted Mini Wheats I ate this morning or the Snapple I’m currently drinking, both contain High Fructose Corn Syrup and I am slightly disgusted with myself when I think about where it came from and how it was made. The awful impact it had on the environment to grow that corn, process it, and turn it into food, makes me enjoy it so much less when I didn’t know anything about it. All the fertilizers and chemicals that are used to make crops grow faster and bigger usually end up polluting other areas of land through water runoff, cross pollinations, and many other ways.

In ‘The Oil We Eat’ Following the Food Chain back to Iraq Richard Manning says, “ The Mississippi River’s heavily fertilized effluvia has created a dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico the size of New Jersey”. The state of New Jersey is roughly 9,000 square miles, which just means that there is a large area that is no longer inhabitable by living things and it’s all because of the chemicals we are putting in the ground. It’s even worse to think that almost every product in a normal grocery store is derived from either corn in the form of high fructose corn syrup or from corn based animal feed; both of which are two of the main leading contributors of the obesity epidemic in America.
Now when I eat food, I’m going to start thinking about all the energy that was used in getting it from soil to my plate. I will probably start buying more local and organic fruits and veggies because I don’t even want to think about all the harmful chemicals I have already ingested from the twenty years of eating mass produced food. Hopefully other people start realizing that what they eat has a significant impact on the environment.

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The Rebeiro Family Effort to Obtaining Sustainability, Week 1

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

There are 8 [eight] of us: an old-world wife, a new age husband, three giddy girly girls and three of the best bad boys I’ve ever come to know. I am known amongst friends and family for happily being polite, some might even say too polite. “Ladies first” is an ideal that I hold in my heart as the correct order of things and to my understanding of her very broken English, my wife appreciates that quality about me quite a bit. Even though this is a value I try to keep within my everyday actions to make the women in my life feel special, the boys were first in the birth order. I feel as if they cut in front of their sisters in the “line of life”, which I guess is why I try to enforce that value onto my boys as much as possible because in some weird way.

We are nothing like the Brady Bunch, although by looking at the arrangement of our family, it is humorously close but with a twist. As of right now, we live in very tight quarters and pray for more living space faithfully every night before bed. The saying “more is not always better” makes at least four of my children roll their eyes in a way that then causes me to have the same reaction, but for slightly different reasons. They want more games, toys, snacks, candies, clothes, shoes, etc.; while my wife and I just want more space, patience and financial security, which would all bring the two of us some peace of mind. It seems like the only thing that our kids don’t want more of is, well, more kids.

As you can imagine, this wish a very sturdy common ground we share with our kids, especially the older ones. But I think our rationale might be different. The problem is that they have this twisted idea- if we have more kids, the less things they will receive on special occasions like Christmas and birthdays. Mrs. Rebeiro and I had known for some time now that this was not the case, even before the point of no return when we found each other and fell in love. We knew that life would not be all that kind to us if we remained weak minded and afraid with myself having three children and her with two. As a result, we chose to solidify our love and commitment to one another through marriage and with one more bundle of joy. Not the best thing we could have done for our pockets, but it was the only thing we could think of that could of filled our hearts with that feeling of eternal and everlasting love, and it did the job very well.

You must be asking yourself right about now, “What does this have anything to do with obtaining sustainability for the Rebeiro family?” It is a challenge every day to find a way to use and reuse what resources we have at our disposal to keep our way of life stable without using too much. If we use too much and don’t track our consumption of certain facets of our life then towards the end of the month we will be without certain things that we feel that we need to keep us and the kids satisfied and comfortable. In my opinion, we are very resourceful due to the nature of our financial status.

I believe that we could use our “financial brokenness skills” to help us lower our carbon footprint and heighten our awareness through certain daily/weekly actions. I think these actions greatly affect the world in which our children will become adults, or at least the frame of mind they will have in the future, no matter what the world looks like. One examples is that since we are consistently eating fruits and vegetables in our home, I suggested that we stop throwing the scraps of such foods away in the trash and start a simple compost bin or pile in the backyard. In time we would then be able to use this compost in our fairly large garden boxes that are in the backyard as well. They have great potential to grow a very healthy harvest again and again each year.

Although it is pretty late in the season, I also suggested that we start growing food together as a family and make days where all we do is spend the day tending to our garden and letting the kids pick what they want to help grow. Teaching them about gardening would be something that would be relaxing, therapeutic and could spark some interest and more ideas that the kids could get excited about and act upon themselves. My wife has extensive knowledge of farming and I have several years of experience in urban agriculture, however, neither of us have really used these skills to pass onto our kids due to life just being a bit hectic. However, now that our family is complete, we can start thinking about creating a structure of sustainability and I believe that we should start with composting, gardening and teaching our children about how the simple act of planting a seed and showing it the proper love can feed us in more than one way throughout the entirerty of our lives. Eventually, I believe gardening could feed the soul of my family and bring us closer than ever before.

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Creating an Energy Efficient Apartment

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

This month has been an exciting one between the new job and the new apartment I just moved into. I’ve lived in college dorms and apartments, but they don’t come with the same responsibilities of renting on your own. Namely, bills. Utilities are included in tuition, so prior to this job I had little knowledge of just how much energy costs each month. My second day at the new apartment was also my first day working at the South Coast Energy Challenge. While watching the videos and listening to the presentations, I began brainstorming numerous ways I could save energy and cut down costs in my new apartment. However, I ran into one major roadblock. The entire apartment complex does not provide a means of recycling whatsoever. There are several large dumpsters placed throughout the complex, but I couldn’t find a single recycling bin. This made me realize an even bigger problem. Out of the hundreds of people living in this complex it is likely that close to none of them recycle. When I took out the trash last week I saw dozens of recyclable goods sitting in the dumpster, and realized this was an issue that should be brought up to the managers.

My goal is to speak with my landlord and ask if there is a way the complex could buy and set up recycling bins throughout the complex. I may need to speak with the manager of the complex as well. If they are unwilling to do so, then my second goal will be to find a nearby location that I can bring my recycling to. It may be inconvenient, but it is certainly worth it. However, I would like my neighbors who may not be as motivated as I am to have an accessible and convenient way to recycle. Several hundred people live there and it could be significantly beneficial.

Aside from the recycling issue, a few other actions have been taken as well. The previous renter still had all incandescent light bulbs in the ceiling fixtures. We replaced all of those CFL light bulbs. Although the weather has been pretty mild so far this summer, I also want to make an effort/goal to use the ceiling fan as opposed to the air conditioner as much as possible. Additionally, once I have a little more savings I would like to buy an indoor clothes hanger/dryer that Karen mentioned in one of her presentations. There are coin-operated dryers in the building, but I can see that becoming an unnecessary expense each month, and would prefer the alternative that Karen mentioned.

I will continue to try to find ways to be more sustainable in my energy consumption and ultimately save money throughout the summer. I’ll keep the blog updated with my ideas and projects. Thanks for reading!

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Week 1 Struggles

Jun 26 2014 • Posted by

This was my first week at trying to achieve my sustainability goal of driving less. For the most part it did not go as well as I thought it would, mainly because I was working a lot so I was forced to drive. Even when I wasn’t working, I had to run little errands at the bank and the supermarket. You would be surprised though at how far you drive from your home to these places that are in your town. To the super market it is a short drive, but it’s like an eighteen mile round trip which I never noticed until now. I have to start debating whether I need to go out and get it immediately or if I can wait until when it’s convenient.

On the plus side, I did start doing things to my car that will save on gas when I’m driving. I finally discovered the great invention of cruise control, allowing me to stay at a constant speed while on the highway. This way, I don’t waste fuel accelerating or decelerating. I can’t believe it took me this long to actually use it, highly recommend it to everyone who uses the highway. Another thing that helped me work on my sustainability goal was that I was allowed to work from home one day since I was only doing event research. I didn’t have to drive the 35 minute commute to work that day which saved me plenty of gas. I also looked up some ways to help save gas while driving and I plan on using those actions for the rest of the summer.

Next week, I may attempt to bike to my other job which is in my hometown and about a 10-15 minute drive by car. It will be a challenge, but it will definitely help me lower my carbon footprint and it will be a good workout. I plan on also checking my tire pressure this weekend as well to make sure it is at the optimal level since not only will it lower my carbon emissions, but also increase my safety when driving . The tires are one of the most crucial parts of the car and it is vital to the efficiency and my safety that they are properly inflated. Plus, this action is totally free of cost and will save me an estimated 332 pounds of CO2 emissions and will allow the car to operate closer to its highest fuel efficiency.

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