On the roundup and some resources

On our last show, Mike and I recapped some of what we learned as the hosts of Sustainability Now this summer. We highlighted the conversations and work of our guests who work and act on the broad front of sustainability. From energy audits to living machines, from bicycles to community supported agriculture, from the work of local culture and artisans to the disposal of our trash, from the problem of single-use plastic water bottles to the conservation of our own watershed, from renewable energy to community gardens we found a lot of hope in our area. Some people here are acting so that human beings and all life might flourish on planet Earth. There isn't much more beautiful than that.

When we think about sustainable agriculture, for example, we have to think about its many ramifications. Some people, including one of our regular callers, recite the mantra that "Our farmers feed the world." Even if that were true, which it is not, Mike asked, "At what cost?"

Our industrial chemical agricultural system may produce large yields, but its cost to air, soil, and water cannot be sustained. We poison the air, erode the soil, and both deplete and poison water. A recent Department of Energy report states that the U.S. emits about 6 billion metric tons of CO2 annually, about ¼ of all emissions globally. The total annual rate results in habitat destruction and transformation, glacial retreats, snowcap, and icecap retreats, and rising sea levels. Michael Pollan and others have noted that 1/5 of our greenhouse gas emissions come from the sum of our industrial food system - 1.2 billion metric tons and growing.
For example, a 2006 Cornell study in Journal of Environment, Development, and Sustainability found that topsoil erosion is occurring at 10-40 times replacement rate: ca. 38,610 square miles a year which is just a little bit smaller than the state of Virginia’s total area in top soil flowing into rivers, lakes, seas, and oceans. Now we have an expanding dead zone in the gulf of Mexico caused by the chemical fertilizers and pesticides that coat much of that eroded soil. Our food system is literally slowly making it more difficult for future humans and other species to feed themselves.

But some states are acting. Florida has now set rules for limits on urban and agricultural runoff to prevent their own dead zone problems. Maybe other states will now follow suit.

If readers and listeners are interested in more on this or any of the other topics we discussed on the show, then they might want to check some of the following resources.

Penn State's Center for Sustainability
The Center for Ecoliteracy
Pennsylvania Association for Sustainable Agriculture
David Orr's Ecological Literacy
Rachel Carson's Silent Spring
Aldo Leopold's A Sand County Almanac
Michael Pollan's The Omnivore's Dilemma
Francis Moore Lappé's Diet for a Small Planet
Wendell Berry's The Unsettling of America
Raj Patel's Stuffed and Starved (really for people who'd like to see how the same industrial food system starves many of the world's poor while fattening Americans)
James Garvey's The Ethics of Climate Change
John Ehrenfield's Sustainability by Design
* All book links are to Amazon.com but we encourage you to patronize your local bookseller.*

We do not have anything close to all of the answers. We don't even know all of the questions. But Mike and I are quite certain that as people living in the world's lone remaining political and economic superpower, we have to realign our ethics and our behaviors so that we, our kids, their kids, and the millions of other species that cohabit the Earth with us can flourish.


How are technology and our habits connected? Penn State's Center for Sustainability

This Friday we hosted Drs. Greg Olsen, Jude Simpson, and Andy Lau, three staff members from Penn State's Center for Sustainability, one of the most innovative and cutting-edge institutes for sustainability in action in the U.S. today.

On this show we asked them about their own work and the work we are all called to do today as earth's climate changes. Olsen works as head of the design and construction and focuses on our built environments notably on Penn State's Morningstar a solar home entirely off the grid that can also fuel an electric car. The Morningstar took 4th place in the international solar decathlon.

Simpson works on the American Indian Housing Initiative, "a collaborative effort to adapt and deploy sustainable building technologies on American Indian reservations. AIHI partners seek an educational exchange of cultural values and sustainable building technologies through collaborative and interdisciplinary partnerships." She is also an avid bicyclist and gardener.

Finally, Andy Lau is a mechanical engineer. He teaches classes on sustainable engineering and incorporates sustainability into much of the curriculum he designs including modules for middle and high school teachers.

Our launching point was John Ehrenfeld's definition of sustainability - "sustainability is the possibility that humans and other life will flourish on Earth forever." From there, Lau, Simpson, and Olsen led us through the technological hopes in sustainable engineering and design like photovoltaic cells and energy audits, to the daily mundane things we can all participate in like riding bicycles (Lau called them our cars in the future), gardening, and capturing our own rain water, to the ethical beliefs we have about the role of technology and our personal responsibilities to our neighbors and future generations of humans and all life.


Agriculture and Environment...

Today we sat down with Kristen Saake Blunk, Pete Klienman, and Bill Shuffstall to talk about their role in helping farmers, and agriculture in general to be more sustaiable. Kristen is the director of AEC or Agriculture and Environment Center here at PSU, where she coordinates a variety of research and outreach efforts. They were a lot of fun to interview, and we even got some callers. Check out the podcast for the entire show...


Local Bounty / The costs of food and how to buy locally

Recently, Michael Pollan, the author of the best-selling Omnivore’s Dilemma and In Defense of Food, told Bill Moyers that the American industrial food system contributes 20% of American greenhouse gas emissions (including transportation and infrastructure costs). Following from the IPCC and UN numbers, that means that American food production and distribution creates nearly 5% of global greenhouse gas emissions.

The average American’s activities result in nearly 20 tons of CO2 going into the atmosphere per year. Doing the math, we find that the average American’s diet generates 4 tons of CO2.

According to the United Nations Statistic Division, that is equal to the annual total emissions of one Mexican, a Brazilian couple, a Peruvian family of four, a Pakistani family of five, a small village of 20 in Cameroon, and a village of 60 people in Uganda. While we may not aspire to live in some of the desperate situations facing millions of people in these countries, we cannot help but note that in this regard, the way we eat is unequally contributing to climate change. And this says nothing of soil loss, pesticide pollution, or Type 2 diabetes all of which can be tied to our industrial “fast food” lifestyle.

Statistics like these are troubling to many. And it’s easy to want to bury our heads in the sand and just carry on. But there is help out there and our guests today, Amber Concepcion and Kate Sanfillipo from Local Bounty are here to help us figure out how to help us with these quandaries and tell us about a new business they've started that hopes to be part of the solution. "LocalBounty.org provides a user-generated directory of local producers, searchable by community and by category. Users can create listings as well as rate and review producers."

They'll be providing us with some tools to educate and empower ourselves, our neighbors, and our local economy in a more sustainable fashion.

Listen in to The Lion 90.7 fm today from 5-6 pm and call in with questions and comments.


Plastic H2O bottles? Pure waste. - Unsustainable Minute for 6.19.2009

In his essay, "Waste," author Wendell Berry states that waste is caused by "[A] symbiosis of an unlimited gree at the top and a lazy, passive, and self-indulgent consumptiveness at the bottom." In today's consumer culture, a lot of people have taken the plastic water bottle for granted without really considering its impacts on nature and on ourselves. Here are a few facts on the matter:

According to the Container Recycling Institute:

  • There were 215 billion plastic, glass, and aluminum beverage bottles and cans sold in the U.S. 2006.
  • 66% of recyclable containers were not recycled in 2004.
  • In 2004, 41,000,000,000 gallons of bottled water were consumed worldwide. The bottles alone that contained this water consumed 47,000,000 gallons of oil. That equals 1,000,000,000 pounds of CO2 put into the atmosphere, further accelerating climate change.
  • Buying bottled water costs you, the consumer, between 250 and 10,000 times more than it does from the tap.
According the Natural Resources Defense Council:
  • Most tap water quality standards are more rigorous and stringent than those to which bottled water are. According to testimony to Congress, the EPA's standards are higher than the FDA's and the lack of strict regulation does little to ensure that microbes like E. coli are not present in bottled water.
If you live in central Pennsylvania, why are you drinking from a plastic water bottle?


Podcast from our first show - 6.12.2009

Kevin Gombotz was awesome and enlightened us with some really great info on how we can save water and cut down on energy costs. We also touched on some bigger issues like sewerage, which consumes 30% of our local government's energy expenditures. A great first show.

We're looking forward to hearing from you on upcoming shows. Give us a call at 814-865-WKPS (9577).


Hummer's for sale - The Unsustainable Minute for 6.12.2009

General Motors reached a tentative agreement to sell Hummer to the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machinery Company, based in Chengdu, China. The New York Times reports that analysts estimate the price at $500 million. Is this going to be a $500 million investment in continued fuel inefficiency and extravagance or the revamping of one of America’s most fuel inefficient fleets of cars?

According to fueleconomy.gov, H3s from 2006-2009 get about 14 mpg city mileage and 16-18 mpg highway. It seems that lots of people once interested in the rugged Hummer image have lost that interest. Sales fell 51% in 2008 and are down 67% in 2009.

It’s hard to know how this will play out. There are some reports that Tengzhong will start producing more trucks that use diesel or ethanol – both of which continue to raise eyebrows and some hackles among environmentalists. The Washington Post reports that the emerging green movement China “has complained about its middle-class ostentatiousness and growing carbon footprint.” China’s total greenhouse gas emissions have now exceeded the United States’ though their per capita footprint is considerably lower. Some, including the Chinese government, which can block the deal, see the Hummer purchase as a step in the wrong direction.

So will Tengzhong actually green Hummer? Greenwash it? Or will they continue business as usual and pour more 7,000 pound vehicles that stand as a symbol of everything that has been unsustainable about the auto industry?


Welcome to Sustainability Now Radio


This is a new radio show on the Lion 90.7 fm (www.thelion.fm) that will air on Fridays from 4 to 5 PM that focuses on sustainabiliy in our community. This is a hot topic, as we all need to examine how we can live better for less.....

Our first show is coming up Friday afternoon 6/12, and I am PUMPED! Kevin Gombotz from Matson Environmental (www.matsonenviro.com) is going to share some of the really cool stuff that he has been doing helping people to be more energy efficient. Recently an energy audit at Whitehall Township building identified $25,000 in improvments that would save them $19,000 a year....that's an awesome turnaround on investment. Can't wait to get the details.

Additionally, I just talked with Jen Shuey at Clearwater Conservancy, and she will be coming on the show June, 19th. More details to follow on that.