Oct 20, 2007
A Common Sense Approach
The world today is fraught with a number of problems: war, pollution, global warming, energy and water shortages, over-population, an excesses of garbage, sewage and animal waste, and the list goes on and on.
I grew up in a city, but fortunately my parents were raised on farms and ranches. They were raised before farms became mechanized and mono-crop agriculture became the norm, and before electricity arrived. There were actually animals on farms at that time that weren’t consider pets.
Both my parents loved to have their hands in the soil. We always had an extensive garden in both the summer and winter, and there were flowers everywhere.
All that is really not that important or unusual. What is unusual in terms of today is how my parents went about their small scale agriculture on our half acre homestead.
All organic waste generated from a household of six people was composed. This included all paper. A household of this size generates a lot of organic material.
I was trained early, and to this day I compost everything. I live by myself, but I manage to produce a sizable amount of waste.
Waste, garbage and sewer is a major problem in the western industrialized world, and really in all metropolitan areas of the world. This waste creates not only disposal problems, but has a major impact on global warming by creating tremendous quantities of greenhouse gases.
Recently there has been much talk and action in the USA about producing ethanol from corn so the ethanol can be added to gasoline to reduce its carbon footprint. This has sent the price of corn soaring and brought a lot of marginal land into production.
As far back as 1932, studies by the US Department of Agriculture show that the soil was being depleted of its mineral and organic content, thus requiring greater and greater quantities of inorganic petroleum based fertilizers. This in turn lowers the nutritional quality of the food produced.
Ethanol produced from corn is a wash, because it requires as much energy to produce it as is generated.
A recent article described how in Germany farms have become generators of electricity. This is accomplished by building sealed holding tanks, putting all the organic material in the tanks and letting micro-organisms digest this material. The resulting contained methane gas is used to run a conventional generator.
The digested and composted organic matter, after it has produced the methane is used as an organic fertilizer that rebuilds and restores depleted soil.
Methane burns cleanly and has little impact on global warming when burned. Unburned methane is a major producer of global warming.
Recently it came out that livestock production generates 18% of global warming. This is because of the methane produced by animal waste.
Large cattle feedlots and hog raising operations produce an incredible amount of animal waste. Currently this waste generates huge quantities of methane gas that is released into the atmosphere. This waste is also polluting rivers and waterways, and contaminating the aquifer and creates an odor problem.
It is estimated that a 100,000 head hog raising operation generates as much animal waste as the City of New York produces sewage.
Many people are advocating electric cars as a way to reduce the carbon imprint of human beings on the environment. That would eliminate a great deal of the carbon footprint produced from the burning of fossil fuels. However, it begs the question of where the electricity will be generated.
Currently mountain top removal is taking place in the US and around the world to expose coal which is used to generate electricity.
Mountain top removal causes massive erosion and often times pollutes the water table.
The use of coal to generate electricity has the largest carbon footprint of any type of electrical generation and is a major contributing factor to global warming.
The US and Europe have hundreds of coal generating plants planned over the coming decades. China is planning to build over a thousand of these plants.
Solar, wind and wave generated electricity still seems to be quite some time in the future.
A number of cities around the world have started recycling. Residents pre-sort their garbage and it is disposed of accordingly.
Organic material in a landfill produces methane gas which leaks into the atmosphere and contributes to global warming.
Incinerating waste produces a large carbon footprint that contributes to global warming.
Since the planet Earth came into existence and acquired an atmosphere it has been a self sustaining and self-regulating entity.
It was only with the advent of the industry revolution that the human race as been able to throw a monkey wrench into the natural order of the planet.
The monkey wrench didn’t get flung very far until farms became mechanized and started relying on petroleum based fertilizers to produce their crops, and cities became overly large. This removed the majority of organic matter from the farm where it could be utilized and put it in the city where it became a pollution and disposal problem.
I am trained and educated as an anthropologist, though I’ve spent most of my adult life working as a writer.
My favorite professor at the university I attended was the late William Kelly. He had a PhD in Anthropology from Harvard. He always used to say, “Most any problem can be solved if people keep their commonsense about them.”
Currently there seems to be a shortage of common sense in the world.
The USA is currently engaged in two wars largely to control the rights to petroleum or natural gas. Meanwhile the USA is producing more than enough organic waste to generate all the energy it needs, and by doing so it would solve a major pollution and disposal problem while at the same time do a lot to alleviate the global warming issue.
This is applicable worldwide and does not strictly pertain to the USA.
What is being proposed here is not based on rocket science, but based on biology, microbiology, and smart stewardship of the planet based on millenniums of human experience, and it doesn’t really require that much additional effort.