Thursday, 14 April 2011

They'll all be humming this one down at the beach

Whales have their own musical culture that's passed under the water-waves, rather than over the airwaves..

'Remixes' top humpback whale song charts..  published on EarthTimes today

Monday, 11 April 2011

Wind power 'not renewable' claims overblown - and missing the point

The news that harvesting the wind for  power may itself hit climate-changing problems has lathered a lot of froth in the blog-o-sphere. But looking to what natural limits there may be for sun, wind and wave power is a long way from saying that they can't be part of a sensible sustainable future. And maybe we should actually be looking to cool our energy burn-out, rather than pushing ever higher towards such limits.

Wind power may have limits - but we don't need to push them.. article published on EarthTimes

Friday, 8 April 2011

Legislative ping-pong in Washington

Exciting stuff on the lawns of Capitol Hill the last two days

Ping! the Senate slams the EPA into the clear....
.... Pong! the House knocks the ball out the court in a huff

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Where we will we turn when the oil runs out?

Article published on EarthTimes a couple of days ago :  Will 'Peak Oil' save the planet?

Look out the window, the chances are you'll see the price of oil rising to the stratosphere... if this is a sign that Peak Oil is here to stay, is that good news or bad for the planet? 

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Organic food: not a fad, but a foundation for the future

Like many issues related to the environment, organic food is one that is often seen through a something of a soft-focus lens. A 'healthy, nicer and tastier' message has dominated the sales message from purveyors of organic food. And it has achieved wonders for the organic 'brand' – when times were good. Whilst there is a little extra change in their pockets, consumers can be quite happy to shell out for food that is better for the environment; or lacking in worrying pesticides; or that they think will taste better.

But when times are tight, and people are focused on just ensuring there is food on the plate, those 'fluffy' concerns can drop away alarmingly quickly. The report from the UK's Soil Association, of a fall in organic food sales in 2010, is one of the latest strands of evidence of this. The soft-sell approach, of tying the message of environmental issues to a 'cuddly' consumer appeal, makes the organic food something of a fair-weather banner.

That is a shame – and also a worry. Because, behind the benefits that individuals may receive from chomping down on that tasty organic tomato, there's a more concrete hard-headed reason to go organic. It's a little more complex, and a little more scary – the future of our food security may depend on it.

At the heart of organic farming – since ideas around a more natural system of food production were first being molded – is the health of the soil. Healthy organic soil is a complex and thriving ecosystem in its own right, home to fungi, earthworms, bacteria and a host of tiny insects and arthropods. Plant matter is broken down by the actions of this bustling community, building up stocks of humus, which improves the soil's texture and ability to hold water. Carbon is stored, mineral elements made readily available, and plant health boosted, through a partnership between roots, and the fungi that grow with them.

The pioneers of the organic movement saw industrial agriculture's liberal application of pesticides, herbicides and artificial fertilizers as destroying this community – and so the vitality of the soil. Given that the whole basis of modern life is rooted in the bounty of that soil, poisoning it with chemicals is a dangerous short-term expedient; one that is likely to come back and bite us, if it continues unchecked.

When soils become sterile, and just bare repositories for industrial farming's chemicals, they become vulnerable. They are lost to winds and rains, as the lack of humus no longer holds them together. Without organic matter to bind nutrients, the plants growing in them need artificial fertilizers just to keep going. And when Peak Oil starts to make inorganic fertilizers too expensive too apply, industrial farming methods on a barren soil could lead to plunging harvests.

That is the most basic argument for going organic – recognition of the fact that our very future depends on healthy soils that will continue to feed us. If that argument was made more forcefully – and 'food security' is a button that governments will respond to if pressed – then it's possible that real action may follow. Not just from the fickle consumer, but from concrete government action to tackle the hidden costs of industrial farming – and so move us towards safeguarding the fruits of the land for our children and grandchildren.