Monday, September 28, 2015

Conserving Food

Food, water, agriculture and energy are interconnected. Each of these factors needs to be addressed if this planet is going sustain a world population expected to surpass 10 billion in years to come.

For years I have studied food waste and food conservation, as well as having worked with numerous organizations attempting to start composting enterprises. 

Conserving food requires lessening waste and better management in every link of this nutrient chain.  From the farm, factory, store and home; the US wastes enough food to feed Canada. Every year, consumers in industrialized countries waste almost as much food as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (222 million vs. 230 million tons).

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that Americans waste 133 billion pounds of food every year, or 31 percent of their overall food supply.  In the USA, organic waste is the second highest component of landfills, which are the largest source of methane emissions.  30-40% of the food supply in the USA is wasted, equaling more than 20 pounds of food per person per month. Last week, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced a goal to cut the amount of food that Americans waste by 50 percent by 2030.

Roughly 80 percent of fresh water goes to food production.  A recent study by the World Resources Institute (WRI), about one-third of all food produced worldwide, valued at about US $1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. In a world full of hunger, volatile food prices and social unrest, these statistics are environmentally, morally and economically outrageous.
 A standard kilogram of food consumed today in the U.S. travels 1,500 miles from farm to plate ( While the average American spends several thousand of dollars on food consumption or roughly 9 percent of our gross national product amounting to almost $900 billion dollars. When we better manage all facets of our food it will lessen hunger, and reduce landfilling.  Also conserving food saves energy.

Additional factors impacting food production and waste;

* 70 percent of water goes into irrigation.  As water becomes more and more scarce,  humans will need to find ways to make the agricultural cycle become more efficient.

* US agricultural practices are estimated to erode 2 billion tons of soil while worldwide 40 percent of the world’s agricultural land is seriously degraded.

* American soil erodes at an average of 7.1 tons per acre per year, which is 14 times faster than rates at which soil is created.

* It is estimated that soil erosion and water run-off costs the U.S. $44 billion annually.

* Pesticides which cost US farmers $ 4 billion annually, are estimated to cause $2-4 billion in health and environmental damages including an estimated 20,000 cases of pesticide caused cancer each year.

* Five billion livestock in the United States produce some 41.8 billion tons of manure each year.

* One third of the solid waste stream is food packaging.

* The farm population is less than 2% or at last count 4.6 million people (so low the Census no longer keeps separate records of it).

* A typical family discards 10 -15 percent of their food purchases.

"Any harm done to the environment, therefore, is harm done to humanity."  Pope Francis

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Lessening the Carbon Gridlock in the USA

Americans drive over a trillion miles each year. Today the Washington D.C. area has the worst traffic jams - commuters spend 82 hours each year stuck in gridlock.  We have also another form of carbon gridlock.  Our Congress is not addressing our international climate crisis. Tragically many Americans today deny there is any present danger despite the alarming and increasing scientific evidence. 

Worldwide we emit ten billion metric tons of CO2 while we were discharging in the early 1990's six billion metric tons of carbon. For ten centuries up to the industrial revolution climate scientists observed carbon dioxide around 280 parts per million (ppm).  By 1992, CO2 levels reached 350 ppm.  Because of these increases our global temperatures have risen almost 1 degree resulting loss of half the Arctic ice cap, and tens of thousands of cubic miles of Antarctica ice, and hundreds of millions of acres' of our oxygen producing trees.

President Obama has made an "ambitious but achievable goal." Cars and light trucks are supposed to have the fuel efficiency on the average of 54 percent per gallon in the next decade according to new rules by the Department of Transportation.  According to the White House's new rules they calculate that the U.S. will lower our emissions by twenty-six percent by 2025. 

Sweden has reduced their emissions by about twenty-three per cent in the past twenty-five years while their economy has grown more than fifty-five per cent.

Close to home how we collectively best manage our emissions has global significance. Years ago there was a Pogo cartoon with a picture of an oil tanker in a backyard, and the caption read, “We have met the enemy and it is us.” 

Nearly four decades ago one of my environmental science text books alerted me to oil polluting my local watershed of Little Falls in Bethesda, Maryland, which ends into the major drinking water reservoir for the nation’s capital.

Each year according to EPA, Americans generate 1.6 million tons of hazardous household waste (HHW) including e-wastes, used oils, paints, cleaners, batteries, and pesticides. Also there are many small businesses and farms generating hazardous waste and exempt from managing their stuff if it is less than 100 pounds per year of harmful materials. Presently it is believed that a small percent of this toxic material is recovered, and the cost to do so can be expensive. Improper disposal of this non-point pollution threatens public health and the environment in many ways that must awaken us to this real terror in our very homes. 

We use numerous types of harmful petroleum-based chemicals that are dangerous in their disposition and/or emissons. An EPA study documents that many petroleum-derived products pose an elevated cancer risk to two-thirds of Americans. Roughly 200 million people are regularly exposed to some 32 toxic chemicals. 

The good news is that people now are driving less. We consumers of harmful products must safeguard the health of our families and communities. There is no more critical time frame to begin to protect our earth and ensure future hope. We are the source of this carbon traffic jam and its solution. We all benefit if we follow Sweden's example.  Let's untaggle America's carbon gridlock with hundreds of millions of conserving acts.  

Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Find Comfort from the Pain

For almost a quarter of a century I have lived in the middle of the woods for most of my week. Over the years if I am not in the forest after a few days I feel exposed.  Also being in such a stress free environment enhances my very well being.  With today's increasing challenges finding how to best how to best cope with our ecological crisis is vital. 

Maybe this is why at times I feel anxious, unsettled, despairing, and depressed. In the course of my life I have observed much disconnection, distraction and denial of what we are doing to our planet. However, I have shifted my focus from the macro to the micro. My inside game or mind-set allows me new freedom and possibility.

Glenn Albrecht has a name for psychological condition. In a 2004 essay, he coined a term to describe it: “solastalgia,” a combination of the Latin word solacium (comfort) and the Greek root –algia (pain), which he defined as “the pain experienced when there is recognition that the place where one resides and that one loves is under immediate assault . . . a form of homesickness one gets when one is still at ‘home...’.

Six years ago the British trip-hop duo Zero 7 released an instrumental track titled “Solastalgia,” and in 2008 Jukeen, a Slovenian recording artist, used the word as an album title. “Solastalgia” has been used to describe the experiences of Canadian Inuit communities coping with the effects of rising temperatures; Ghanaian subsistence farmers faced with changes in rainfall patterns; and refugees returning to New Orleans after Katrina. 1

Yes, our mind and the health are connected to this earth. So to feel such pain is a normal reaction if we are sensitive to what is happening regarding to our present degradation. From an eco-psychological perspective being numb, overwhelmed or powerless reflects humanity’s current divorced relationship as we diminish our natural eco-systems.

Such mental suffering forces many to explore our collective unconscious so to see how we can best adapt to this tremendous eco-adversity. One course of action is to lessen our consumption and ecological footprint to battle becoming so despondent. Another form of restorative therapy is seeking refuge by going into the woods or other natural surrounding.

Thomas Doherty, a leading ecosychologist as developed a model that which equates mental health with the impulse to “promote connection with nature.” This profound ecological minds-state is one model developed for the American Psychological Association Climate-change Task Force.

I have been so blessed to be able to spend much time outside in Shenandoah Valley.  I have a gotten a tremendous greatest gift my well-being enjoying this amazing place. As we develop greater consciousness and explore our shadows an organic unification happens. However, difficult or painful such introspection is required to better ourselves and this world. When we separate ourselves from our world, we disconnect from our eco-soul or our earth spirit. Our whole is greater than the sum of many broken parts.

Anyway we improve our sense of interconnectedness healing happens. I challenge you to see my your experience when you become reconnected to a greater part of nature.  I have discovered a profound result from my eco-adventure. Without courage to change your course you may become lost in a very self destructive pattern instead of allowing your spirit to better heal. Go out in the woods and find out!

1 Daniel Smith, “Is There an Ecological Unconscious?” New York Times, 1/27/10