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Solutions & sustainability - July 30

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Many more articles are available through the Energy Bulletin homepage


Social ecologist Murray Bookchin dies at 85

Associated Press
BURLINGTON, Vt. --Murray Bookchin, an early proponent of what he described as social ecology, died at home early Sunday at the age of 85.

...Murray Bookchin long was a proponent of left-leaning libertarian ideas and was among the first people in the early 1960s to promote the then-emerging field of ecology into political debate.

He published "Our Synthetic Environment" under the pseudonym Lewis Herber in 1962 in which he called for alternative energy supplies among other environmental proposals. It was in that book, which predated by five months the better known work Rachel Carson "Silent Spring," that Bookchin introduced the notion of social ecology.

He argued that only a completely free and open society can resolve the problems that confronted the environment at that time.
(30 July 2006)
One of the great thinkers of the ecology movement has passed on. -BA
Related:
Bookchin archives
Wikipedia
Interview.

UPDATE: Longer article: Murray Bookchin, Visionary Social Theorist, Dies At 85 (Znet)


Redefining American Beauty, by the Yard

Patricia Leigh Brown, The New York Times via TruthOut
When Cecilia Foti, a seventh grader at the Bancroft Middle School here, was asked to write a "persuasive" essay for her English class in the spring semester, she did not choose a topic deeply in tune with her peers - the pros and cons of school uniforms, say, or the district's retro policy on chewing gum and cellphones.

Instead, she addressed the neighborhood's latest controversy: her family's front yard. "The American lawn needs to be eradicated from our society and fast!" she wrote, explaining that her family had replaced its own with a fruit and vegetable garden. She argued for the importance of water conservation, the dangers of pesticides and the dietary benefits and visual appeal of an edible yard. "Was the Garden of Eden grass?" she reasoned. "No."

In this quintessential 1950's tract community about 25 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, the transformation of the Foti family's front yard from one of grass to one dense with pattypan squash plants, cornstalks, millionaire eggplants, crimson sweet watermelons, dwarf curry trees and about 195 other edible varieties has been startling.

"The empty front lawn requiring mowing, watering and weeding previously on this location has been removed," reads a placard set amid veggies in oval planting beds fronting the street.

The sign is a not-so-subtle bit of propaganda proclaiming the second and most recent installment of Edible Estates, an experimental project by Fritz Haeg, a 37-year-old Los Angeles architect and ersatz Frederick Law Olmsted. The project, which he inaugurated on the Fourth of July weekend in 2005 in a front yard in Salina, Kan., is part of a nascent "delawning" movement concerned with replacing lawns around the country with native plants, from prairie grasses in suburban Chicago to cactus gardens in Tucson.
(13 July 2006)


The environmental benefits of vegetarianism

Gabe Bronk and Arthur Su, GateHouse Media
Vegetarianism is not only a response to the inhumane practices of factory farms; it is also a way to conserve natural resources, improve the environment and benefit human health.

The meat industry is very wasteful of natural resources. An inherent problem with eating meat is that an animal must be fed roughly ten pounds of plants to produce one pound of meat. Therefore, much more food is consumed to support the animals than would be needed if more people were vegetarians. Seventy percent of the grain grown in the US is used to feed livestock. Because of the growth of so much animal feed, half the water consumed in the U.S. is used by the meat industry, and our groundwater is being withdrawn 25% faster than it is being replenished. In the High Plains states from South Dakota to New Mexico, it is projected that the aquifer will be depleted in 60 years. Erosion and nutrient depletion caused by animal feed production and overgrazing by livestock are destroying vast areas of arable land.

We are currently in an oil crisis, and the meat industry is exacerbating it. Eight times as much fossil fuel energy is used in the production of animal protein as is used in plant protein production due to the fuel required to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides for animal feed, to operate farming machinery, for transportation and for irrigation. Four hundred gallons of fossil fuels are used to produce food for the average meat-eating American each year.
A meat eater requires two to four times more farmland than a vegetarian. To make room for enough farmland, the meat industry constantly destroys vital ecosystems, thus taking away the habitats of myriad species and reducing biodiversity. The vast Amazon rainforest is rapidly being destroyed to make way for ranching and growing animal feed and will be gone by the end of this century if the current rate of destruction continues. Do you want to let this happen?
(5 July 2006)
Contributor Rick Dworsky writes:

It is useful to examine the ecological and fossil fuel impacts of our diets. Individual choices determine global outcomes.

Vegetarianism is a great way to lower ecological harm. However, the industrial food system is so destructive that any form of feeding from it is unsustainable (and involves the death of animals through poisons and firearms). For those of us aspiring to true sustainability in a crowded world, it may be ecologically beneficial, and actually less cruel, to eat some meat, though probably far less than the average in current western diets. Why is this so?

It will depend on the bioregion and particular circumstances. However in most cases the most efficient way to feed ourselves is to create and integrate ourselves into complex ecosystems of useful plants and animals. These systems can actually improve the quality of our environment, rather than depleting it.

Ecosystems need animals to consume and recycle nutrients -- speeding up the ecosystem's metabolism, making it more productive. We can perform some of those services ourselves. But our systems will be more complete and much more productive if we integrate other animals, especially ones which can perform services like weeding, digging and pest control in the process of feeding themselves -- a mutually beneficial relationship.

We will find that the animal numbers will increase beyond what we have the capacity for, which gives us the opportunity, and (it could be argued) responsibility, to play the role of the predator to keep the system in balance. Selected animals can turn human inedible things like grass and tree fodder into edible proteins such as milk eggs and meat, allowing us to use more marginal resources.

Our aim in an era of energy descent must be to find ways of being as productive as possible with as little land, effort and outside resources as possible. These ideas can and are being implemented in permaculture systems which can be implemented in backyards and community gardens at any time. But for most people, living off the supermarket, vegetarianism or at least limiting meat intake is a good way to go.
-AF


Sustainability Network Newsletter #60
(670 Kb PDF)
Elizabeth Heij, CSIRO (Australia)
In this Update, the first feature from John Coulter revisits the nuclear power debate - in particular the question of whether implementation of nuclear power stations can make a difference to emissions reduction in the timeframe required. Elements of the alternative pro-nuclear case, as presented in the press, are then provided for reflective comparison.

Two short features then return to the theme of sustainability in the built environment, particularly the residential sector, with a look at how the forefront of sustainable design is dealing with integration issues across different aspects of environmental performance.

And further on, we look at intractable sustainability issues in terms of physics (how humans are agents of entropy) and biology (why human brains are wired to ignore climate change). Then, in the ‘Feedback’ section, the debate over organic foods continues …
(28 July 2006)

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