Thursday, June 11, 2009

Academy of Environmental Medicine warns against genetically tampered food

== Summary == g...When did we sign up to be Monsanto's lab mice? Image via Wikipedia

Doctors Warn: Avoid Genetically Modified Food

On May 19th, the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (AAEM) called on "Physicians to educate their patients, the medical community, and the public to avoid GM (genetically modified) foods when possible and provide educational materials concerning GM foods and health risks."[1] They called for a moratorium on GM foods, long-term independent studies, and labeling. AAEM's position paper stated, "Several animal studies indicate serious health risks associated with GM food," including infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system. They conclude, "There is more than a casual association between GM foods and adverse health effects. There is causation," as defined by recognized scientific criteria. "The strength of association and consistency between GM foods and disease is confirmed in several animal studies." (much more here).

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Estimating your own energy demand (cont.)

A natural gas processing plantA natural gas processing plant. Essentially all industrial agriculture depends entirely on fertilizers derived from natural gas, just one of many reasons that the energy used to produce industrial food often dwarfs the energy content of the food itself. (Image via Wikipedia)

Last time the discussion showed you how to convert the three most-obvious forms of energy purchases to common units (kilowatt-hours, kWh). They were electricity, natural gas, and gasoline, the most recognizable types of energy that people in Salem commonly buy.

Recall that the global average energy consumption (total consumption divided by total world population) is about 48 kWh/day per person. This is the energy equal to burning 20 100w light bulbs for 24 hours. And the average consumption in the US is about six times as much -- burning 120 of those 100w bulbs all day and all night.

But this overlooks a disguised kind energy buying that we all do. The reason it is disguised is that we don't think of these purchases as involving energy at all, because we conceal the energy content of the purchases under another name: calories.

That's right, buying food means buying energy. That's all that food is, actually: one big macronutrient (energy, usually counted in calories) and a variety of micronutrients that the body needs in order to be able to access and use the food to make energy.

And food (energy in plant or animal form) is amazingly energy-dense. 860 food calories -- which you can easily get in a single dessert -- is the energy of 1 kWh, so it's the same energy that would keep 10 of our 100w light bulbs burning for an hour. So if you're on the nominal 2000 calorie diet, your daily energy intake represents 2.33 kWh of your daily energy consumption. If you're a man on the nominal 2500 calorie diet, you consume the equivalent of 2.9 kWh/day in food form.

Thus, a man eating 2500 calories a day and using only 48 kWh/day, the global average, consumes 6% of his daily energy as food, leaving him only 45 kWh left for everything else. His partner, a woman eating 2000 calories a day, uses 5% of the global average daily energy consumption to support her diet.

Where it gets really interesting is when you try to figure out how much energy it took to grow the food, process it, and deliver it to you. That's a complex question that's impossible to answer with certainty; however, numerous groups have tried to estimate this for the US, and the figure that is commonly heard is that every calorie we eat represents about 10 more (mostly from fossil fuels) that were burned delivering that one calorie to us. So our a daily 2500-calorie diet actually demands 25,000 calories, which is 29 kWh (23.25 kWh for the 2000-daily-calorie woman).

Staggering isn't it? The average global citizen only uses 48 kWh per day; in the US, we use 50-60% of that just to feed ourselves, even if we stay in bed all day with no heat or lights on, and certainly not driving or flying or using any electrical devices or tools.
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US Dept. of Energy officially wakes up to Peak Oil

Petroleum: top consuming nations, 1960-2006The US: still the third-ranked oil producing nation, but the one with the smallest reserve capacity (2% of global reserves). So "drill here, drill now" means exhausting our domestic reserves even faster. Wikipedia

This is very good news about some hard news. The first step to dealing well with reality is recognizing it. The DOE energy forecast group (Well-respected?! By who?) has previously been about as useful as a roomful of mystics on hashish.

So here's the headline for you: For the first time, the well-respected Energy Information Administration appears to be joining with those experts who have long argued that the era of cheap and plentiful oil is drawing to a close. Almost as notable, when it comes to news, the 2009 report highlights Asia's insatiable demand for energy and suggests that China is moving ever closer to the point at which it will overtake the United States as the world's number one energy consumer. Clearly, a new era of cutthroat energy competition is upon us.

Peak Oil Becomes the New Norm

As recently as 2007, the IEO projected that the global production of conventional oil (the stuff that comes gushing out of the ground in liquid form) would reach 107.2 million barrels per day in 2030, a substantial increase from the 81.5 million barrels produced in 2006. Now, in 2009, the latest edition of the report has grimly dropped that projected 2030 figure to just 93.1 million barrels per day -- in future-output terms, an eye-popping decline of 14.1 million expected barrels per day.

Even when you add in the 2009 report's projection of a larger increase than once expected in the output of unconventional fuels, you still end up with a net projected decline of 11.1 million barrels per day in the global supply of liquid fuels (when compared to the IEO's soaring 2007 projected figures). What does this decline signify -- other than growing pessimism by energy experts when it comes to the international supply of petroleum liquids?

Very simply, it indicates that the usually optimistic analysts at the Department of Energy now believe global fuel supplies will simply not be able to keep pace with rising world energy demands. For years now, assorted petroleum geologists and other energy types have been warning that world oil output is approaching a maximum sustainable daily level -- a peak -- and will subsequently go into decline, possibly producing global economic chaos. Whatever the timing of the arrival of peak oil's actual peak, there is growing agreement that we have, at last, made it into peak-oil territory, if not yet to the moment of irreversible decline.

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More on phosphorus: More like this please!

Upper Tualatin RiverImage via Wikipedia

Here's an encouraging story about a sewer treatment plant that has added a phosphorus recovery module. There are still huge problems with using sewage sludge as fertilizer --- because we don't have separate treatment facilities for industrial and commercial operations, our wastewater treatment plants are producing sludge loaded with heavy metals and other nasties that should not be allowed anywhere near food-producing land. But the phosphorus from the liquid component of the waste stream (urine carries much of the phosphorus we excrete) is not going to have that issue; the metals and such are going to be in the solid sludge component.

This is the sort of thing we need in every aspect of society: doing away with the idea of "waste" and closing all of our waste streams, turning them into loops instead. Note that this process turns what was a pollutant back into a valuable commercial resource. There are similar opportunities everywhere you look.

Ostara's technology removes 90 to 94 percent of the phosphorous and 20 percent of its ammonia the first time through, then transforms the nutrients into tiny, fertilizer pellets about the size of barley.

The fertilizer takes nine months to dissolve in soil -- a speed so slow it never leaches into the water table, Baur said.

Ostara is working with Mt. Angel-based Wilco, St. Paul-based Marion Ag Service and other partners in Oregon and Canada to distribute the new product.

Phosphorus, a nonrenewable and dwindling resource, is an important ingredient in fertilizer. Currently, it is mined in Florida and shipped across the country to Oregon and elsewhere, said Kennedy, who now serves on Ostara's board.

Crystal Green's local, less energy-intensive creation will make it less expensive, Baur said.

Of the 20 tons created at Durham since the Ostara reactors began operating in April, 11 were sold to the British Columbia Ministry of the Environment, which dumped it into nutrient-poor streams to help nourish the salmon population, Baur said.

The reactors are expected to produce 40 tons each month. Ostara used its first 20 tons as a test-run of the facility. Starting with fertilizer produced Wednesday, Ostara will pay Clean Water Services a per-ton amount that is expected to bring in at least $400,000 a year.

Along with money saved through operating efficiencies created by the new process, Clean Water Services expects to pay back its $2.5 million investment in five years or less -- and start making money after that.

Washington County Commissioner Roy Rogers has already had some experience with the product. His said his wife tossed some onto a Christmas cactus that hadn't bloomed for years. Now, he said, "The thing will not stop blooming."

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