Tag Archives: Mother Nature News

What Can I Put in the Compost Bin?

The weather is starting to warm up—finally!—and that means my thoughts are turning every more so toward the outdoors.  All winter long, I dutifully trudge out to the side yard and dump used coffee grounds, vegetable scraps, paper towels, etc. into the compost bin.

Come spring I will spend time turning the contents of the bin and incorporating some additional “brown” or carbon rich material—usually shredded newspaper—to maintain the proper balance between carbon rich and nitrogen rich materials.  However, spring is also the first time I really look at what is in my bin and wonder if I am putting in the right stuff.

I do not get too worked up about oils and fats being included in my bins because I never have anything like a stick of butter or a bottle of olive oil to compost.  It’s usually some oil on a towel or something like that.

Other people will tell you not to include bread or other baked goods.  Again, it’s not like I am disposing of a loaf of bread or a dozen donuts in the compost bin.  However, I know that hard crusts my daughter does not eat or the last few bites of a cookie have found their way into the steaming pile.

Heck, there are people I know who compost the entrails from slaughtering chickens on their small farmsteads with absolutely no problems.  Granted, the remains are not thrown on giant open piles but it shows how far you can take the premise of composting.  If you were so inclined you could even go the whole humanure route.  I am not there yet.

Regardless of what you compost or what rules you are following the important fact is that you are composting.  Compost happens, man.

Friday Linkage 3/8/2013

It’s always hard to come back from vacation, but it is hard to get back into the swing of things when you leave weather that is mid-70s and sunny for weather that is mid-teens and snowy.  Oh well, it’s the price that I pay for living in Iowa.

On to the links…

AirBot and WaterBot to Democratize Pollution Monitoring—I want both of these!  Now!  Can you imagine the power in unleashing distributed monitoring of pollution in our air and water?  Bring it on.

New York Times Green Blog Bids Adieu—I am going to miss the Green blog on the New York Times, which was unceremoniously killed March 1st.  As other  major outlets cease providing journalistic coverage of environmental news I can only shudder in fear for the hackery that will follow.

A Snapshot of Drilling on a Park’s Edges—On the edges of Glacier National Park there is a boom in fracking and drilling for natural gas.  Tony Bynum, a photographer who is known for his work in Big Sky Country, has created an interactive map to show what is going on.  It’s a fitting goodbye post for Green.

China Must Send a Clear Message to Consumers on Ivory Trade—I am going to get this out there right away, China is essentially the bane of wildlife’s existence right now.  If there is an endangered species out there right now, it’s threat is usually a result of demand for body parts in China for some bizarre cultural tradition, invented or otherwise.  Granted, other countries are doing the same thing—I am looking at you Japan when it comes to whales and dolphins—but China is a common enemy of wildlife.

Images of Japan’s Barren Tsunami Coast Two Years Later—It’s amazing how little progress has been made in repairing the damage to the coast of Japan following the devastating tsunami.  I understand that the process is long—trust me, Cedar Rapids just now feels like it is getting back to normal after a brutal flood in the summer of 2008—but it seems like Japan is just caught in stasis.

Solar PV has Reached Unsubsidized Grid Parity in India and Italy—You want your mind blown?  Solar PV is now at a price level where it is competing “even Stevens” with fossil fuels.  It’s an inflection point that may accelerate the decarbonisation of our energy system.

Coal Use Declining in U.S., Going Up Everywhere Else—The U.S. is reaping the fruit of its boom in natural gas by supplanting coal generation, but a lot of the rest of the world is not so “lucky.”

BP Bows Out of Solar—Does anyone remember when British Petroleum was going “beyond petroleum?”  Yep, it’s pretty much a dead campaign now.  At least the outlook for solar as an industry, on the whole, is looking good.

Lancaster, California Requires all New Homes to Have Solar Roofs—Talk about a bright spot.  If you build a new house in Lancaster, California it will have, at a minimum, a 1kw solar array on its roof.  Homes on larger lots will be required to have larger systems.  Dig it.

The Loophole That’s Letting Conservatives Manipulate Renewable Energy Standards—Why do conservatives, in general, hate renewable energy?  It seems like a “win-win” for the U.S. to produce as much of its power from domestic sources that can never run out.  However, nothing lines the pockets like manna from Exxon-Mobil.

CREE LED Light Bulb Hits Price Point—Is $10 per bulb the price point at which LED bulbs fly off the shelves?  I have purchased “off brand” LEDS for about $10 and found their performance to be acceptable, but nothing like the $40 or so bulbs I bought for a pair of high use lamps.  Maybe CREE has cracked the ceiling or floor, as it were.

In A Grain Of Golden Rice, A World Of Controversy Over GMO Foods—I have a problem coming to grips with the role of genetically modified organisms.  On one hand, it seems ridiculous to engineer an organisms genetic structure to make it resistant to herbicides to further a chemical farming regime that is unsustainable.  On the other hand, if something could be done to reduce the incidence of critical malnutrition there may be value.  I hate nuance.

A Cheat Sheet to Win Climate Arguments—Keep this handy infographic ready to joust with climate deniers:


Friday Linkage 1/18/2013

Friday turns into Saturday and all of a sudden it’s Sunday afternoon before you realize that you have failed to post the links.  Whoops.  Sorry about that.

On to the links…

In Rural Minnesota, a 70 Acre Lab for Sustainable Living–How many places like this exist throughout the United States?  Places where people are putting to the test all of the ideas and theories about how we can live in modernity without placing ever greater strain on the planet.

Will 2013 Continue 7 Year Trend of Decreasing Driving–Lost in the noise lately has been the continued trend of Americans driving less.  Don’t believe me?  Check out the graph:


Not only are Americans driving less, but if you listen to the car people at any auto show or in any trade rag and the primary concern is the waning love affair with the automobile.  Maybe there is hope for us yet.

Animals versus Automobiles–As someone who grew up in southeastern Minnesota, I was intimately familiar with the intersection of animals and automobiles.  Most notably, deer were a common hindrance to continued forward progress on the roads.  Wait a second, it’s an infographic:


Clean Energy Investment Fell 11% as Government Cut Subsidies–Okay, so for anyone who does not believe the production tax credit is vital to the continued growth of domestic renewable energy witness this story.  I take back that statement about their being hope for us yet.

Solar Could Meet all the World’s Electricity Needs by 2050 with 1% of Land–It will never happen, but can you imagine a world where we replaced all fossil fuel electricity generation with distributed solar?  Yeah, I cannot imagine that world either because it seems so wonderful.

Why the Government Should Pay Farmers to Plant Cover Crops–As if we did not know our domestic farm policy was crap, there seem to be so many sensible, low cost ideas out there to make things better that it seems even more stupid when you really think about things for a moment.  I suppose if the government promoted cover crops then Monsanto and company would sell a few bags less of GMo seeds.  Now I get the problem.

Beijing’s Air is so Bad…–This is just a story that begs for a series of jokes patterned on the old “Your mama is so” meme from the 1990s.  Oh yeah, I referenced the 1990s like it was sooooo long ago.  First, what the heck is in the air?  The Guardian took a stab at it:

Climate desk Beijing air pollution

Or, you could go the NPR route and wonder what it looks like from space

Black Carbon Larger Cause of Climate Change than Previosuly Thought–We do not know what we do not know until we really spend time researching the problem.  It’s too bad that scientists have to spend countless hours defending their work on climate science because a small percentage of people–hack scientists and quack politicians–have “doubts” about the integrity of their work.  How come no one every gets to question a Republican politician’s integrity when it comes to positions that they take on issues?  Like, what is their agenda exactly?

Sweet Sodas and Soft Drinks May Raise Your Risk for Depression–Basically, soda and soft drinks are just bad stuff.  There is no place in our diet for such beverages.  Just put down that one gallon soda from the corner conveinence store and grab a bottle of water.  Make sure it is not water in a disposable container.  Okay?


Friday Linkage 12/14/2012

I don’t have an open this week.  Everything just seems a little off today with the school shooting in Connecticut.  It’s a sad and scary world.

Here are the links…

The Great Schism in the Environmental Movement—Every few years someone writes an essay about a particular shift in the green or environmental movement.  A while back it was about how the environmental movement was dead.  Now, it’s about a shift to so-called eco-pragmatists.  Okay, whatever.  Here’s my two cents.  It’s not a shift, but an expansion of eco-consciousness that now comprises more demographics than those commonly associated with patchouli and Birkenstock sandals.

The people who have concerns about the environment and the natural world are still present, but a new crop of people are taking to the cause in a different way.  It’s a big enough tent for everyone to participate in the discussion without this turning into the progressive version of the right wing’s “purity tests” that lead to political candidates for high office like Rick Santorum, Michele Bachmann, and Mike Huckabee.

Another Look at a Beverage Ingredient: Brominated Vegetable Oil—Do we really, as a country, have any idea what the ingredients are in the food we buy?  Hopefully, we buy as much unprocessed food as possible because it seems like something comes up every day that is more frightening.  Today, it’s brominated vegetable oil in your soda.  Basically, the stuff is banned all over the world except for the U.S.  Surprise, surprise.  The line that scared me those most from the article was as follows:

“About 10,000 chemicals are allowed to be added to foods, about 3,000 of which have never been reviewed for safety by the F.D.A., according to Pew’s research. Of those, about 1,000 never come before the F.D.A. unless someone has a problem with them; they are declared safe by a company and its handpicked advisers. “

Teaming Up to Make New Antibiotics—Antibiotics are one of the true miracles of modern medicine.  Through the use of these compounds humans and animals have been freed from the cycle of death related to infection.  Now, through humans’ overuse of antibiotics and a general malaise with regard to developing new compounds, our mastery over infection is waning.  The time to act is now.

How Agroforestry Can Help Combat Climate Change—I read articles like this and it makes me wonder if we have even begun to explore the myriad ways our traditional agricultural systems could adapt.  It seems that if it is not using a giant machine from John Deere the world does not notice.  BTW, don’t the pigs in the pictures look happy?

How to Feed the World without Destroying It—Unlike what some boosters of industrial agriculture say we do not need to destroy the natural world in order to feed humanity.  Plus, the answer is in infographic form:


Bringing Local Food Communities Online—Farmigo is trying to make the farmers market experience so easy that it’s like ordering the latest garbage book about strange bondage behavior from Amazon.  Sure, you might lose the experience of walking the farmers market, interacting with growers, and being part of a community but it is better, way better, than getting your produce from WalMart.

U.S. Solar Photovoltaics Install 684MW in Q3 2012—The figure of 684MW in quarter 3 of 2012 represents a 44 percent increase over the same period in the prior year.  The installed capacity brought online in the first three quarters of 2012 already exceeds the total for the entire year in 2011.  These are good numbers, but it is my belief that it only represents a fraction of the potential of solar photovoltaic in the U.S.

Solar Panels for Every Home—A resilient power grid would add as much distributed generating capacity as possible because disruptions like those post-Sandy would be lessened.  Furthermore, the condition of our national power grid does not really accommodate the addition of a lot of new power.

Wind and Solar Paired with Storage Could Power the Grid 99.99% of the Time—I think what is missing from the discussion about expanding the use of renewables is that these technologies have moved beyond fringe, in terms of being able to provide power.  Now, the question becomes how much of our grid can be powered with renewables.  Bring it on.

Permafrost 101: Why We Need To Account For Thawing Ground In Climate Projections—The world may not end in 2012 as many people believed the Mayans predicted—I believe they just figured it was too far out in the future to worry about so why waste the time—but there are still things to be worried about.  Zombies?  No.  The effect of permafrost thawing?  Yes.  Honey Boo Boo?  Hell yes!

The Bayou Corne Sinkhole: Massive Oil and Gas Disaster You Probably Know Nothing About—I admit that I had heard nothing about this and I read a lot.  Most of it is not even about Honey Boo Boo.  Honest.  It’s not a natural disaster either.  It’s the result of oil and gas drilling.  This is just horrific.

Friday Linkage 10/5/2012

October is here!  It’s really not a lot different than the last week of September, but the turning of another calendar page makes it seem different.  Casseroles in the oven, apple pie scents wafting through the house, my daughter sneaking an extra marshmallow for her hot cocoa…

The next couple of nights are supposed to bring temperatures below 30 degrees Fahrenheit for eastern Iowa.  Yippee!  A lot of people do not appreciate the changing of the seasons—hoping for the mind numbingly consistent weather of the sunbelt.  There is something about the change of the seasons that is revitalizing to the soul.  Break out the fleece!

On to the links…

Debunking the Supposed Decline in Clean Energy—Republicans and their media minions—yes, I am looking at you Fox News—have never let the facts about clean energy get in the way of a good sound bite.  It’s all Solyndra, all the time.

Solyndra Hypocrisy Illustrated—Speaking of Solyndra, just take a look at the relative magnitude of the loss that the loan program endured:

Clean Energy Showdown in Arizona—Why Arizona has not whole heartedly embraced solar photovoltaics is beyond me.  Why it is even a discussion is beyond me.

How CAFE Killed Compact Pickups and Station Wagons—The guys over at The Truth About Cars have done an excellent job showing how the complicated mechanics behind the CAFE rules have killed entire classes of vehicles.

Mississippi River at its Healthiest in a Generation—Success stories like this need to get more publicity.  When I was a small child growing up near the Mississippi River we treated it like it was a Superfund site.  You did not swim near the river.  You did not eat fish from the river.  Heck, you felt scared to even look at the river for fear of some toxic river monster leaping out to grab you.  Not so much anymore.

How Food Justice Starts at Home—The intersection of environmental and social justice is best exemplified in any movement to improve our food—including the quality of the food and the conditions under which it is produced.

“Pink Slime” Lawsuit May be Frivolous, but it Could Chill Speech—The people behind everyone’s favorite gross meat additive are suing ABC News for airing a story about pink slime.  Never mind that the specifics had been in the press for years and it was just a moment of cultural zeitgeist that propelled the issue to the forefront.  Nope, these guys are going to court.  Good luck.

New Breed of Hunter Shoots, Eats, and Tells—It’s funny that this is a new trend because I knew people growing up in southeastern Minnesota who had freezers full of meat that they had personally “harvested” from the woods.  I guess if Mark Zuckerberg does it, it’s a trend.

Repair Still Rules in India, Can America Bring it Back?—Repairing things in the U.S. is a non-starter.  You can barely find parts to repair something, let alone find someone to actually do the repair if you are not so inclined.  When my stove broke a few years ago all it took to complete the repair was a new heating element, a Phillips screwdriver, and about fifteen minutes of time, most of which was spent unscrewing the plate that hid the heating element.  Cost?  $50.  Friends were shocked that I did the repair rather than looking for a new stove.  Huh?

Greenest College Campuses—Because I cannot get enough of infographics:

Friday Linkage 5/25/2012

School is out for summer…school is out forever!

With apologies to Alice Cooper, the kids are out of school for the summer today which is one of those signposts that officially announce summer has arrived even if the alignment of the planet does not agree.  Just like baseball’s opening day, sandal tan lines, and the first few tomato starts…summer is here!

On to the links…

Young Americans Shift Away from Car Culutre–Apparently, kids these days do not obsess over automobiles like prior generations of American youth.  There is hope for our future:

Deep Craft—Craft is not just about making something on a smaller scale or making something by hand. Trust me, spend some time on Etsy and see some of the crap masquerading as craft. Instead, craft is about making something very well by methods that cannot be easily reproduced in a mass setting.

Mini Modern Cabins Made from Hardware Store Sheds—I have no idea what is about tiny houses or sheds or writer’s shacks or whatever that captivate me so much. Maybe it’s because I read Michael Pollan’s book about building a writing retreat and I wanted one myself. There is something romantic about a hermitage.

Home Gardening Infopraphic—Some people hate them, but I love infographics. Here is one about home gardening in the United States:

Unplug These 6 Gadgets in Your Home—Just go around your home when you are done weeding the garden and unplug these gadgets. You will be amazed at how much stuff is just sucking electricity from the grid without doing anything productive. The very definition of waste.

Domino’s Pizza Refuses to Phase Out Inhumane Pork—Not only does Domino’s make crappy pizza, by their own admission their pizza was vile before a redo and a lot of people would argue it has gotten little better, but the company uses pork sourced from companies that still utilize gestation crates. There is no excuse for allowing this brutal practice to continue.

Judge Rules Pom Wonderful’s Advertising is Misleading—Really? Having ads claiming that some juice from a fruit is going to give you better health is misleading? Wow, I never would have thought. Never mind that the people behind Pom Wonderful are complete a$$ clowns.

Secret Life of Strawberries—Are California’s strawberries really world class? I would argue that an in-season strawberry from a u-pick farm close to home is better than any gigantic red orb in a plastic clamshell from California. Like tomatoes, strawberries have been totally ruined by the industrial agriculture machine that prices yield above all else. If it tastes like red mush is it still a strawberry?

Fishing for Asian Carp with the Perennial Plate—The Asian carp problem in Illinois rivers seems to be reaching some sort of epidemic or catastrophic proportions. There may be little that can be done to save these ecosystems short of complete destruction. Or, maybe just maybe, we can eat our way to salvation. Trust me, if this fish could become a staple of Friday night fish fries than the population would be in decline tomorrow.

Test Drive of a Honda Civic Fueled by Natural Gas—The Civic Natural Gas, formerly known as the Civic GX, has been around for a while. It’s been used by fleets and others looking for a clean alternative to traditional liquid fueled automobiles. The guys over a The Truth About Cars took one for a test drive and it makes you wonder why we do not see more of these on the road.

Plan to Recreate Lindbergh’s Historic Flight in an EV Plane— I think we fail to realize the power of singular achievements like Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic Ocean. Something like this shows what is possible. If an electric plane can make the journey, what stops the technology from proliferating? It allows people to dream.

We are So Fat

America is fat.  Not just fat, but obese according to many studies.  How do I know?  It’s not because of some government study or think tank white paper or Michael Pollan.  It’s because I saw this at the store this weekend:

Yep, it’s now a salient point that a chair is 20% wider for our collectively fat rear ends.  There is nothing like addressing the symptom of a problem as opposed to addressing the problem.

I think about obesity a lot because I have children and I have struggled with my own weight for decades.  I want to see my children grow up healthy and I want to be healthy with them as well.  I do not want to spend my later years in the titanic struggle with diabetes or other lifestyle illnesses.  But as a country America is quickly becoming a lost cause.  How bad is it?

According to a study published by Cornell University 21 percent of health care spending is tied to treating obesity related conditions.  Think about that for a moment.  America already spends more per capita on health care than any other country in the world and over one fifth of that amount is spent to treat illness associated with being fat.  Now consider that by 2020 it is estimated that upwards of 75 percent of the U.S. population will be obese, which is an increase from approximately 35 percent at the beginning of the decade.

What does our fat future look like?  Here’s one take:

As I posited in an earlier post, social justice, the food movement, and the environmental movement are intertwined.  Getting people better food, healthier food, more sustainable food will lead to better social outcomes because conditions like obesity can be reduced.  Why are we so fat?  Because it is so easy to consume bad calories.  It is so cheap to consume bad calories.  I can walk into almost any McDonald’s in the U.S.—prices higher in Alaska and Hawaii—and walk out with a McDouble for $1.  So, for one dollar I can walk away with a prepared bomb of questionable origin meat and sugared up bread.  I cannot buy a head of cauliflower or broccoli for a dollar.

How is that possible?  How can McDonald’s assemble all of the ingredients, pay someone to assemble the ingredients, and run a storefront selling a burger for a dollar when I cannot get a head of cauliflower for less than two dollars?  How has our food system become so warped that this is a common occurrence.

On a lighter note, the Economist—that final bastion of imperial Britain—has noticed an increase in the size of pants while the stated size has not increased.  This “panflation” means that a size 10 is now really a size 14.  Uh oh!

But these mac & cheese muffins looks so tasty…