Sunday, April 12, 2009

Rainwater Collection Barrel

I installed my first rainwater collection barrel on Friday (see picture). Saturday night it rained. The 55 gallon barrel was filled to overflowing. The barrel sits about 20 feet from my vegetable garden. The water from the barrel will be perfect for watering the garden. The barrel should reduced the amount a city water I need for my garden.

I obtained the barrel at a class my city presented on rainwater collection. As part of the $10 class fee, each student received a water barrel. The barrels came from a food supplier who had used them to shipped tomatoes or jalapenos. In class, the students added a hole in the cover and a spigot to make the barrels suitable for rainwater harvesting. At home, I moved the barrel next to a rain gutter down spout and ran the spout into the barrel. I put the barrel on some cinder blocks so the spigot would be high enough to place a bucket under. Seems to work great.

Saturday, March 21, 2009


I've been thinking about composting for a while. Several weeks ago I purchased a SoilSaver composting bin. I thought about making a homemade bin which is easy enough to do but never gotten around to it. I decided to purchase the SoilSaver bin when I saw it as Sam Clubs for $40. This is not a bad price for a retail compost bin. The bin itself is made from 100% recycled plastic.

I began filling it with leaves and grass from the yard. I've also been adding plant based food wastes: vegetables and fruit scraps, tea bags and coffee grinds. The bin is about 15 cubic feet. It takes a lot of organic stuff to fill it up especially since the grass hasn't started growing and leaves won't be available in quantity until fall. However, I hope to have some composted soil from want I can put in it now in a couple of months. I'll write updates as I get results. In the mean time, I am keeping some food wastes out of the trash bin.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Agricultural-Industrial Complex

I've been reading a lot lately about how food is manufactured in this country. The natural process of growing food, raising farm animals and processing food had become totally industrialized. Today's global corporation can't wait on nature to provide the food they want to sell. Nature is two slow and unpredictable for today's executives and boardrooms. Food must be able to be manufactured on a predictable time schedule just like any other manufactured good or commodity. Even farm animals have been reduced to "meat production units" which are a given growth hormones and antibiotics to maximize their production.

Today integrated food conglomerates control everything from the genetically engineered seeds to the final processed product we purchase in a cardboard box that contains a list of ingredients we can't pronounce and can't comprehend. The food produced is not to provide nutrition for people but to provide profits for corporations. The way the food is produced may not be friendly to the environment or healthy to consume but it ensures a large supply of edible stuff that can keep corporate profits high.

The most common name for the industrial food business is Agribusisness. It is a portmanteaux that combines Agriculture and Business. Other terms include Corporate Farming and Factory Farming. I don't think any of these words captures the complexities of the physical processes, corporate entities, food processing factories and relationships between agriculture, business and the government that exist in bringing edible food substances to the tables of America. So I coined a new term:

Agricultural-Industrial Complex

Agricultural-Industrial Complex borrows from the Military-Industrial Complex that was in common use in the 1960s and 1970s. The term military-industrial complex represented the essense of tight relationship between the military, defense industry and the civilian parts of our government including the Congress. The same type of relationship exists today between agriculture, business and the government. The governments support of industrial agriculture is inherent in the farm bill passed last fall and all the farm bills for the lass 30 years. The subsidies in the bill support industrial agriculture and the comgalmorate food processors. I think Agricultural-Industrial Complex is the best term to describe how food gets manufactured and delivered from the farm all the way to our mouths.

The Corporate Farming page in Wikipedia provides a great overview of the Agricultural-Industrial Complex

Friday, December 26, 2008

Autumn Leaves

In North Texas, leaves don't begin to fall off the trees in earnest until December. My red oak tree still had nearly all its leaves when I snapped a picture on December 13. So even though it is now winter, the pragmatic environmentalist is just now having to clean up the autumn leaves from his yard.

The pragmatic environmentalist does not like dealing with the autumn leaves that fill his yard any more than the next person. The one thing he wants to avoid is and raking and bagging all the leaves. He further does not want to haul all the bags to the street for the trash pickup. It is just too much work. Its not environmentally friendly either. A neighbor used more than twenty 30 gallon plastic trash bags to hold the leaves from his yard. A trash truck then needs to burn fuel to hall these leaves away. It doesn't make use of all the good organic material in the leaves. There must be a better way to deal with these leaves.

An alternative is composting. The pragmatic environmentalist also see this as a lot of work. It still evolves a lot of raking and hauling to get the leaves to the compost bin. Then over the next months it means tending to the bin. It you want to compost your leaves I think that is great. The organic soil created will be very useful when you start your spring gardening.

What the pragmatic environmentalist did do that is just as good as composting. He mulched the leaves into the grass. All one needs to do is first rake the leaves from the edges of the yard to the middle. Then, just get out the mulching lawn mower and run it over the leaves. All the organic material in the leave is mulched into the grass and the leaves are gone. It much less work than raking and bagging leaves and much easier than composting. It also adds good organic material to the soil in the yard.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Energy Debate

It seems to me that the Republicans and Democrats just can't get over their petty politics, ideologies and ties to special interests long enough to put together a pragmatic energy policy that will be good for all Americans, break our costly dependence on foreign oil, improve our economic and national security and combat global warming.

The Republicans seem tied to drilling our way out of the oil crisis and continue to provide tax breaks and incentives to the oil, gas and coal companies. They can't break away from 20th century energy solutions that aren't working. Republican also seem to have no appreciation for the benefits the environment provides and hate energy efficiency and renewable energy. To most Republicans, global warming is not a problem that needs to be addressed.

The Democrats, on the other hand, love energy efficiency and renewable energy. They are big into environmental protection. They don't want to open up any new areas for more domestic drilling. Not only do the Democrats want to take away unwarranted tax breaks from oil, gas and coal companies, but also want to add a wind fall profits tax on oil companies to punish oil companies. Democrats seem to be opposed to any new fossil fuel energy development even if strict, effective and enforceable environmental safeguards are put in place. To Democrats, global warming is the biggest problem.

I think the Republicans and Democrats need to be aside their partisan, ideological and special interest dogmas and start working on a pragmatic comprise on energy policy.

The Democrats could allow offshore oil drilling if strict environmental safeguards are put in place. The Republicans should not object to these safeguards. With oil north of $130 per barrel, there is plenty of money to pay for the safeguards and provide oil companies big profits too.

Energy efficiency and renewable energy are a very important part of the energy future. The Republican should support the renewal of the investment tax credits for renewable energy. Republican need to stop protecting the oil can coal industries. Republicans should support that 20% of our energy come from renewable energy by 2020. By stifling U.S. efforts on renewable energy, the Republicans are simply letting foreign countries increase their technological lead over the U.S. They are also letting the energy hole we are in get deeper and deeper.

Both the Republicans and Democrats need to stop going after scapegoats like speculators, OPEC and environmentalist. A real energy plan would mitigate efforts by these groups and other to limit energy supplies and manipulate prices. Both the Democrats and Republicans also need to prepare for peak oil. Peak oil occurs when world oil production stops growing and eventually starts to decline as oil fields deplete. Sure we may have oil for another 100 years. But the production rates will be much lower than they are today.

Basically, we need Democratic and Republican statesmen and stateswomen to go beyond petty politics, ideologies and special interest to create pragmatic energy policies that will provide a healthy and prosperous future for America.

Hummer vs. Prius - Round 2

Several years ago there was bogus information going around the web that the Hummer was the more environmental friendly vehicle when you considered cradle-to-grave total energy costs (see my previous post here)

Well now comes round two of the Prius vs. Hummer and I think the Prius is delivering the knockout punch. GM is considering ending Hummer production and closing the Hummer plant (see here). In the mean time, Toyota can't build the Prius fast enough to meet demand. Dealers can't keep them on their lots and Toyota will be starting Prius production in the US (see here)

With gas averaging over $4 per gallon, the Hummer just couldn't keep pace with the Prius. In the end, the gasoline price is what cleared the air on the Prius vs. Hummer energy obfuscation. The Prius won hand down. The debate is over.

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

De facto Carbon Tax is Here

The most efficient way to regulate carbon dioxide emissions is to institute a tax on carbon. This is how many economists and environmentalists see it. However, creating a new tax is a non-starter since it is political suicide in the U.S. to propose any type of new tax even if it replaces an existing tax or funds are returned to the public. This is why complicated cap and trade emissions trading plans are being proposed. Cap and trade avoids the word tax and provides so called market incentives to reduce carbon.

But we now have in effect a de facto carbon tax. We have the tax due to the failure of our political leaders to enact an effective energy policy. Oil is nearing $150 per barrel and gasoline is over $4 per gallon, which is double the price of only a few years ago. The ever escalating price of oil is just like having a carbon tax except for one thing: the money is going to Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other foreign countries instead of the U.S. treasury. So the U.S. taxpayer and consumer gets no benefit from this tax and it damages our economy.

This de facto carbon tax is having the same effect as a real carbon tax to reduce carbon dioxide emissions. People are driving less and abandoning SUVs for fuel efficient cars. Detroit is scrambling to move from SUV and pickup truck production to high gas mileage vehicles. We don’t need CAFE standards anymore since Detroit is now being forced into building fuel efficient cars due to high oil prices and market pressures. Airlines are trying every way they can to reduce their fuel consumption to save costs. You can see people worried about living in car dependent suburbs and starting to change their driving and living habits. Cities are planning mix-use zoning plans to make walking to stores and work possible again. Mass transit is making a comeback. People are talking about bike trails and riding bikes to work. Motor cycle and motor scooter sales are rising. These are the things we need to do to combat global warming. These are the things a carbon tax is suppose to put in motion. This shows that a real carbon tax would very effective at limiting carbon dioxide emissions.

Who is to blame for this de factor carbon tax. There are many bogeymen. Speculators, OPEC, Congress, President Bush, American saber rattling against Iran, oil companies, auto manufacturers, environmentalists, SUV drivers, the ambivalent American public, new demand for oil from China and India, peak oil, the falling dollar, failure for the U.S. to enact an effective oil policy, terrorism, political instability in many oil producing areas of the world. Probably all of these factors have some part in the current high price of oil. Because of all the varied forces driving up the price of oil, don't expect the price of oil and the de facto tax on carbon to come down anytime soon if ever.

Only effective energy policies can reduce this de facto tax on carbon. I don't think our politicians have the guts needed to bring about the necessary energy policy changes.