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California went big on rooftop solar. Now that’s a problem for landfills

California went big on rooftop solar. Now that’s a problem for landfills

Illustration of solar panels discarded into large piles with the sky behind them.
Solar panels purchased for home use under incentive programs many years ago are nearing the end of their life cycle. Many are already winding up in landfills. (Jim Cooke / Los Angeles Times)

California has been a pioneer in pushing for rooftop solar power, building up the largest solar market in the U.S. More than 20 years and 1.3 million rooftops later, the bill is coming due.

Beginning in 2006, the state, focused on how to incentivize people to take up solar power, showered subsidies on homeowners who installed photovoltaic panels but had no comprehensive plan to dispose of them. Now, panels purchased under those programs are nearing the end of their typical 25-to-30-year life cycle.

Many are already winding up in landfills, where in some cases, they could potentially contaminate groundwater with toxic heavy metals such as lead, selenium and cadmium.

Sam Vanderhoof, a solar industry expert and chief executive of Recycle PV Solar, says that only 1 in 10 panels are actually recycled, according to estimates drawn from International Renewable Energy Agency data on decommissioned panels and from industry leaders.

The looming challenge over how to handle truckloads of waste, some of it contaminated, illustrates how cutting-edge environmental policy can create unforeseen problems down the road.

“The industry is supposed to be green,” Vanderhoof said. “But in reality, it’s all about the money.”

California came early to solar power. Small governmental rebates did little to bring down the price of solar panels or to encourage their adoption until 2006, when the California Public Utilities Commission formed the California Solar Initiative. That granted $3.3 billion in subsidies for installing solar panels on rooftops.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Our Economy In a Nutshell

Our Economy In a Nutshell

The economy has reached an inflection point where everything that is unsustainable finally starts unraveling.

Our economy is in a crisis that’s been brewing for decades. The Chinese characters for the English word crisis are famously–and incorrectly–translated as danger and opportunity. The more accurate translation is precarious plus critical juncture or inflection point.

Beneath its surface stability, our economy is precarious because the foundation of the global economy– cheap energy–has reached an inflection point: from now on, energy will become more expensive.

The cost will be too low for energy producers to make enough money to invest in future energy production, and too high for consumers to have enough money left after paying for the essentials of energy, food, shelter, etc., to spend freely.

For the hundred years that resources were cheap and abundant, we could waste everything and call it growth: when an appliance went to the landfill because it was designed to fail (planned obsolescence) so a new one would have to be purchased, that waste was called growth because the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) went up when the replacement was purchased.

A million vehicles idling in a traffic jam was also called growth because more gasoline was consumed, even though the gasoline was wasted.

This is why the global economy is a “waste is growth” Landfill Economy. The faster something ends up in the landfill, the higher the growth.

Now that we’ve consumed all the easy-to-get resources, all that’s left is hard to get and expensive. For example, minerals buried in mountains hundreds of miles from paved roads and harbors require enormous investments in infrastructure just to reach the deposits, extract, process and ship them to distant mills and refineries. Oil deposits that are deep beneath the ocean floor are not cheap to get.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Waste

The Waste

I make some broad statements about work. These are my opinions generally, but most of my opinions are based in recorded — and therefore verifiable — fact and direct experience. To say how I arrived at these statements would take up a library of books and perhaps a good deal of “walking in my shoes”. But there are some generalities that I can address in an essay. I have not because I think most of my readers thus far have reached similar conclusions in their experienced lives, so I feel like we’re all on the same page. But now it may be that I am beginning to reach a larger swath of people, many of whom have not shared in these experiences, most of whom have not even had the time to do so in their young lives. I suspect some have formed the opinion that I’m just a crazy old bat with yet another blog of dubious advice. So I’d like to address that. I’d like to talk about the waste of work today. Today seems a good time to do so, given the enormous waste work is unleashing on the world in the form of holiday shopping.

I’m going to start with that. I used to own a kids’ bookstore. Like most small retail business owners, I did an outsized part of my sales in the last weeks of the year. I did little to accommodate or encourage that. It was just how the industry works. There are more books released in the autumn than at any other time of the year, and this is especially true for the children’s and young adult markets. I never counted, but catalog listings for books released in the fourth quarter were easily as numerous as all the rest of the year combined…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Ecological Economics and the Threat of Constant Growth

 

Heal the Planet for Profit – Redux


Giorgione The Tempest 1508
“Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.”

I wrote that 4 years and 2 months ago today, and I’m still thinking about it. It came to mind again, along with the article it comes from, see below, when I saw a few recent references to climate change, and to how any policy to halt it should be financed. It’s all painfully obvious.

Bill Gates, while on a virtual book tour, says governments should pay. In particular for the innovation needed. We’re going to solve it all with things we haven’t invented yet. That kind of thinking never fails to greatly boost my confidence in people and their ideas.

Overall, Gates’ words feel like a stale same old same old been there done that tone. But one thing is changing. Since Joe Biden became the most popular US president ever, according to his vote count, there is now a climate czar at the US Treasury, and a climate change team at the US Fed. Progress! At least for those seeking to use your money to solve their problems.

Bill Gates: Solving Covid Easy Compared With Climate

Mr Gates’s new book, How to Avoid a Climate Disaster, is a guide to tackling global warming. [..] Net zero is where we need to get to. This means cutting emissions to a level where any remaining greenhouse gas releases are balanced out by absorbing an equivalent amount from the atmosphere…

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

How Waste Due to the Coronavirus Is Hurting Our Oceans

How Waste Due to the Coronavirus Is Hurting Our Oceans

In an attempt to protect themselves and others from the coronavirus, millions of people are donning plastic masks, gloves and other types of personal protective equipment. From restaurant staff to medical personnel, workers and the general public are using and discarding thousands of single-use plastic PPE every day. Often, these items end up in parks and parking lots and on front lawns and sidewalks. They’re also making their way into our oceans.

Whether the wind blows them into waterways or beachgoers carelessly toss them in the sand, masks, gloves, empty hand sanitizer bottles and other plastics are beginning to appear on the water’s surface, beaches and along the ocean floor. Conservationists have even found hundreds of masks on the uninhabited Soko Islands off the coast of Hong Kong. This new addition to the waste already littering our seas spells even more trouble for marine life and the health of ocean ecosystems.

Waste Management Dilemmas

On top of public carelessness, the vulnerable state of many waste-management systems is also adding to the dilemma. In the informal economy, waste pickers collect millions of tonnes of plastic waste each year. However, since many don’t have job security or health benefits, they’re beginning to succumb to the virus or refraining from work altogether. Subsequently, more plastic PPE is remaining in garbage dumps, increasing the likelihood of them blowing away and ending up in waterways or oceans.

Cynical Opportunism

Of course, the plastic industry isn’t helping the matter, either. Instead of encouraging people to protect themselves with washable masks and other reusable PPE, the industry has insisted that these are unsanitary. Although this statement has no medical evidence to support it, you might have listened to them out of fear for your own safety, opting to buy disposable PPE over making your own.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Kowhai Festival
 Photograph by author, Trish Allen.

Permaculture Alternatives to Waste-to-Energy (W2E)

Waste-to-energy (W2E), particularly incineration, is being promoted as a good alternative to landfills – it gets rid of all that plastic we use and generate energy, right? In this article I’d like to first outline what’s wrong with W2E and then talk about permaculture alternatives.

So What Is Wrong With W2E Incineration?

W2E is a continuation of the ‘take-make-dispose’ economy which lulls people into the belief that we can continue our wasteful ways without changing our behaviour. But we live on a finite planet and most environmental harm comes at the extraction stage – so why would we want to burn resources and get rid of them? It doesn’t make sense. We need to get away from an extractive to a regenerative culture.

There are multiple negative impacts of W2E plants, which are seeing many being decommissioned internationally. For example, the toxic ash that remains after burning still has to be disposed of in a landfill.  This can be up to 25% of the original volume of waste material, but with more toxicity. So incinerators don’t do away with the need for a landfill, instead they require a landfill for more toxic and dangerous waste.

Aside from the toxic ash, W2E incineration plants create an on-going demand for waste to fuel the incinerator. They are very expensive to build, have huge embodied energy, and once built, have to run for years to get a return, locking us into a destructive system.  Right now our planet’s ability to sustain life is seriously at risk. We cannot afford the luxury of investing in bad ideas.

Our young people are calling for Climate Action now and we have a major responsibility to urgently reduce emissions. Incinerators create emissions. New Zealand’s electricity is currently 80% clean (water, wind, solar, geothermal) so why would we want to start burning trash to generate power?  It just doesn’t add up environmentally, economically or socially.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

What a Waste

What a Waste

Our modern industrial economy traces a straight line from resource extraction to manufacturing to sales to waste disposal. Since Earth has finite resources and limited ability to absorb pollution, the straight-line economy is unsustainable; it is designed for eventual failure.

Why not make the economy circular, with waste from one process feeding into other production processes, thus dramatically reducing the need both for resource extraction and for the dumping of rubbish? We should mimic nature: it’s a central ideal of the ecology movement, with roots in indigenous wisdom worldwide. Doing so requires that we reduce, reuse, repair, and recycle—and replace nonrenewable resources with renewables wherever possible.

The circular economy is needed now more than ever. America alone currently produces almost 235 million tonnes of waste per year from homes and businesses, which works out to almost 4 kilograms per person per day. But that’s only 3 percent of all the solid waste in the US economy; the other 97 percent is generated by agricultural and industrial (e.g., mining and manufacturing) processes. If the total US waste stream (including wastewater) is allotted on a per capita basis, each American is responsible for 1.8 million kilograms of waste per year.

Only about a third of waste from homes and businesses is recycled; the rate for industrial waste is much lower, with only 2 percent of the total waste stream currently being recycled. Meanwhile, the 2,000 active landfills in the US that hold the bulk of household trash are reaching their capacity. The US is among the highest waste-producing nations of the world on a per-capita basis, and the federal government has no strategy for dealing with the problem.

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Green New Physics

Green New Physics

Johannes Vermeer The lacemaker 1669-71

You could probably say I’m sympathetic to the schoolchildren protesting against climate change, and I’m sympathetic to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her call for a Green New Deal. Young people are the future, and they deserve a voice about that future. At the same time, I’m also deeply skeptical about their understanding of the issues they talk about. 

In fact, I don’t see much understanding at all. I think that’s because they base their comprehension of the world they’ve been born into on information provided by the very people they’re now protesting against. Look kids, your education system sucks, it was designed by those destroying your planet, you need to shake it off and get something better.

But I know what you will do instead: you’re going to get the ‘proper’ education to get a nice-paying job, with a nice car (green, of course) and a nice house etc etc. In other words, you will, at least most of you, be the problem, not solve it. And no shift towards wind or solar will make one iota of difference in that. Want to improve the world? Improve the education system first.

Climate change is just one of an entire array of problems the world faces, and in the same way the use of fossil fuels is just one of many causes of these problems. And focusing on only one aspect of a much broader challenge simply doesn’t appear to be a wise approach, if only because you risk exacerbating some problems while trying to fix others. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

The Real New Deal

The Real New Deal

Wassily Kandinsky Succession 1935

While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.

Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse. 

Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best. 

Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:

Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point:  that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure.  One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious.  People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.” 
 
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter.  Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. 

 …click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Humanure Part 2: Dealing With It

HUMANURE PART 2: DEALING WITH IT

In part 1(1) of this article I explored a little into why humanure is beneficial to the planet, including the need to replenish our aquifers and for people to have access to safe drinking water, the high phosphorous content of human poo compared to the finite and dwindling supply of phosphate rock as an agricultural product, and the reconnection of the ‘human nutrient cycle’ (2). In this part I will look more deeply into the different ways you can safely use humanure, and make some practical suggestions for beginning the process of redressing the human nutrient balance, even while we live within an unbalanced system.

Ways to deal with our crap

In ‘The Humanure Handbook’ (2) , Joseph Jenkins points out that we as a species have four different ways to deal with human excrement:

  1. To treat it as a waste product and dispose of it – this includes all water-based sanitation techniques such as flush toilets. As mentioned in part 1, this method ends up contaminating water even if the sewage is later treated, exacerbates the spread of water-borne diseases, and ignores the principle of ‘Produce No Waste’.
  2. To use it unprocessed in agriculture – at the time of the Handbook’s publication (1999) this was apparently still a common practice in parts of Asia (2). As you may guess, spreading unprocessed human waste on fields can be quite a large health risk because of the pathogens which are present in fresh humanure. This practice, euphemistically known as ‘night soil collection’ (3) , has apparently now been banned in many countries although there are some reports of people continuing to use fresh human waste, or ‘faecal sludge’ on their crops, for example in India (4) .

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

 

How To Have Zero Waste in Your Kitchen

How To Have Zero Waste in Your Kitchen

Ready Nutrition- How To Have Zero Waste in the Kitchen
How would you like to save a LOT of money, and benefit the environment while you are at it? There are many tricks and tips you can use to do both.

Unfortunately, many of us generate a lot of waste – which damages our bank accounts and the planet. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be that way.

Just how much waste does America generate?

According to a 2013 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) report, it is an astonishing amount:

In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash and recycled and composted about 87 million tons of this material, equivalent to a 34.3 percent recycling rate. On average, we recycled and composted 1.51 pounds of our individual waste generation of 4.40 pounds per person per day.

Municipal solid waste (more commonly known as trash or garbage) consists of everyday items we use and then throw away, including product packaging, grass clippings, furniture, clothing, bottles, food scraps, newspapers, appliances, paint, and batteries. This waste comes from our homes, schools, hospitals, and businesses.

This is a shame because most of the trash we throw away can be reused, repurposed, or recycled for another use.

Food waste, in particular, is a huge problem and is unnecessary and especially tragic.

According to a study funded by the United States Department of Agriculture and published earlier this year, American consumers waste about one pound of food per day or 225-290 pounds per year. This means US households throw out about 150,000 tons of food each day, total.

Put this into perspective: this means that about 20% of all the food put on our plates is tossed out every year – enough to feed 2 billion extra people annually. It is equivalent to about a third of the calories the average American consumes.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Massive Deficit Spending Greenlights Waste, Fraud, Profiteering and Dysfunction

Massive Deficit Spending Greenlights Waste, Fraud, Profiteering and Dysfunction

America’s problem isn’t a lack of deficit spending/consumption. America’s problems are profoundly structural.

The nice thing about free to me money from any source is the recipients don’t have to change anything. Free money is the ultimate free-pass from consequence and adaptation: instead of having to make difficult trade-offs or suffer the consequences of profligacy, the recipients of free money are saved: they can continue on their merry way, ignoring the monumental dysfunction of their lifestyle.

This explains the appeal of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT), which holds that deficit spending is the “solution” to all our problems because governments can’t go broke–they can always emit whatever currency they need via printing or borrowing.

The problem with government deficit spending is it’s free money to the recipients: there are no feedback mechanisms to enforce any consequences for spending that’s wasteful, fraudulent or inefficient/ineffective.

Deficit spending simply enables the wasteful, corrupt, rewarding-insiders profiteering state-cartel kleptocracy to continue gorging on public spending.So what desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the higher education cartel by handing the cartel another trillion dollars of public spending? None.

What desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the healthcare cartel by handing the cartel trillions of dollars in publicly funded “Medicare for all”? None.

What desperately needed efficiencies and improvements are imposed on the national defense cartel by handing the cartel additional trillions of public spending? None.

What kind of sense does it make to encourage wasteful consumption on a finite planet with limited resources? The entire rationale of Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is that the productive capacity of the economy isn’t being maxed out because we’re not consuming enough.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Everything That Dies Does Not Come Back


Charles Sprague Pearce The Arab jeweler c1882

There are a lot of industries in our world that wreak outsized amounts of havoc. Think the biggest global banks and oil companies. Think plastics. But there is one field that is much worse than all others: agro-chemicals. At some point, not that long ago, the largest chemical producers, who until then had kept themselves busy producing Agent Orange, nerve agents and chemicals used in concentration camp showers, got the idea to use their products in food production.

While they had started out with fertilizers etc., they figured making crops fully dependent on their chemicals would be much more lucrative. They bought themselves ever more seeds and started manipulating them. And convinced more and more farmers, or rather food agglomerates, that if there were ‘pests’ that threatened their yields, they should simply kill them, rather than use natural methods to control them.

And in monocultures that actually makes sense. It’s the monoculture itself that doesn’t. What works in nature is (bio)diversity. It’s the zenith of cynicism that the food we need to live is now produced by a culture of death. Because that is what Monsanto et al represent: Their solution to whatever problem farmers may face is to kill it with poison. But that will end up killing the entire ecosystem a farmer operates within, and depends on.

However, the Monsantos of the planet produce much more ‘research’ material than anybody else, and it all says that the demise of ecosystems into which their products are introduced, has nothing to do with these products. And by the time anyone can prove the opposite, it will be too late: the damage will have been done through cross-pollination. Monsanto can then sue anyone who has crops that show traces of its genetically altered proprietary seeds, even if the last thing a farmer wants is to include those traces.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Common Composting Problems and Solutions for the Beginning Composter

COMMON COMPOSTING PROBLEMS AND SOLUTIONS FOR THE BEGINNING COMPOSTER

Composting is standard practice on any permaculture site. This is the case for several reasons. It creates a closed waste cycle between vegetable scraps and vegetable production, often with the added bonus (an in-between stop) of animal fodder. It helps to rebuild or maintain healthy, balanced soil by feeding the soil life and creating a steady replenishment of nutrients, and nutrient-rich soil makes for nutrient-rich food. In simple terms, composting is a most useful natural process that any human-supporting, sustainable system needs.

While it is standard practice to compost, that isn’t to say that doing so is always foolproof or works out exactly the way folks are aiming. There are many methods to make compost. Some sped up the process into 18-day creations. Others, such as with composting toilets, go through a year-plus of maturation before they are considered user-friendly. There are even composting systems that gurgle and burp out methane gas that can be used for cooking. In all these incarnations, at some point, something is bound to go wrong.

However, what most people do with compost bins is somewhat in between, something in which the peels of potatoes or bananas, the remnants of breakfast or garden pruning, are meant to decompose into rich earth with minimum effort. That’s a perfectly legitimate way to make compost as well, but it’s also the one from which people are often turned off with composting altogether. These bins turn into sludgy messes or stagnant piles of organic garbage, causing would-be composters to throw up their hands and call it quits.

But, the solution might be something really simple.

…click on the above link to read the rest of the article…

Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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