Tuesday, December 28, 2010
We're living in a time of large-scale paradigm shifts, motivated by unsustainable lifestyles and skyrocketing consumption trends. I propose that we grow mushrooms in cities as a method of limiting the environmental and economic costs of urban waste export and food import.
First let's take a look at the earth's status quo:
Around 1990, humanity's total ecological footprint exceeded the earth's biological capacity, meaning that it took longer than a year to regenerate the resources used in that year. By 2002, it took 14 months for the earth's biosphere to generate what was used in 12 months. We are on a collision course with resource exhaustion: future modes of production and resource management need to be sustainable.
There's another key piece of the global consumption picture: consumption rates are drastically higher in first world countries. "North America, Western Europe, Japan, and Australia consume resources like oil and metals, and produce wastes like plastics and greenhouse gases at about 32 times the rate that those resources are consumed in the developing world" (Jared Diamond, January 2, 2008, NYT). If China caught up with the U.S.'s consumption rate, world oil consumption would increase by 106 percent and metal consumption by 94 percent. (Diamond)
Wackernagel et. al. argue that "the global effort for sustainability will be won, or lost, in the world's cities". In 2008, for the first time ever in the history of humanity, more people lived in cities than in rural areas. We need to design the cities of the future, the survival of our species depends upon it.
Urban mushroom farming can greatly limit the need to import food, and export waste from cities. Here's how it works:
Since mushrooms are not phototrophic organisms, they don't need much light to thrive. This is important because it makes them easy to grow indoors. Mushrooms, like all fungi, are the major decomposers. As such, we can use them to break down some of our trash and turn it into useful, locally grown, organic food.
Oyster mushrooms happily grow on spent coffee grinds and cardboard, utilizing the organic materials which would otherwise be shipped to a landfill.
The concept is to create a partially closed ecological loop within the urban landscape, by taking readily available waste materials: spent coffee grinds, cardboard, etc... and converting the latent energy into a food with a protein-rich nutritional profile, and one that may have cancer-fighting properties. Oyster mushrooms are delicious, and an expensive delicacy, currently sold for around 15 dollars a pound. But they could be a cheap, readily available food, consumed in the same neighborhoods they are grown.
With simple laboratory equipment and climate control, these mushrooms can be grown in any space. There's no reason a city like New York, which spends around 300 million dollars a year on waste processing and shipping, shouldn't divert some of its budget to constructing mushroom-facilities.
Urban mushroom farms are the waste processing and food production centers of the future. What are we waiting for?
Thursday, October 7, 2010
Before listening to Al Gore speak at Columbia's World Leader's Forum on Monday, I scribbled down the following question in my notebook:
- Money managers and CEOs operate in a world of quarterly reports. CEOs of major companies were asked the following question: Would you invest in something that would increase your profits over the next fiscal year, but cause you to fall short of your quarterly earning target? Eighty percent responded no, preferring to achieve quarterly earnings goals instead of making the prudent long-term investment.
- Regulators recently tried to change the way stock markets operate by forcing each offer to buy or sell a stock to remain open for one entire second. Traders went into an uproar, and the reforms were never instituted.
Friday, October 1, 2010
Monday, September 27, 2010
Tuesday, September 21, 2010
This picture shows mega-ripples along the banks of the Columbia River. Ripples form from the agitation of particles in a current-driven or wave-driven fluid. For example, you can witness structures like those depicted in this picture forming in wave-modulated currents along the ocean coast. However, those ripples are typically a few centimeters in height and spaced a few tens of centimeters apart. The sheer dimensions of these mega-ripples indicates a flow strength many orders of magnitude greater than any ocean current.
Monday, September 20, 2010
Last Wednesday I had the opportunity to see Prime Minister Jigmi Y. Thinley of Bhutan speak at Columbia University as part of the annual World Leader's Forum. The title of his speech was “Well-being, Happiness, and Leadership.”
While Thinley's speech was certainly informed by Bhutan's unique governing philosophy of Gross National Happiness, he focused on the nature of leadership and five complex global problems that will require innovative solutions in the upcoming century:
*The explosion of populations, especially the elderly who are being increasingly marginalized. Thinley believes everyone should age without the “fear of insecurity or loneliness.”
*The fast rate of bio-diversity loss, caused by deforestation, monoculture farming, and climate change. As the dominant species, Thinley argues that humans have the burden of Earth stewardship.
*The persistent reliance on fossil fuels and unchecked consumption. To solve this problem we need to understand two things: it is possible to live well with less, and markets, which dictate energy usage, are fundamentally near-sighted, i.e. there are no markets for measures of return on the time-scales of 100's of years.
*Relentless growth of weapons industry. The 19th century logic of “security” and military alliances needs to be replaced by a new consciousness of a single planet.
*The combination of unhealthy lifestyles and a lust for longer life. This contradictory juxtaposition is leading to rising health care costs.
He ended his speech with a few simple ideas to generally increase happiness.
*Restructure of the 9-5 40-hour work week to a 25 hour work-week of intensely focused and productive activities. This would help spread employment and increase physical/mental health.
*The contemplation of the impermanence of self and others.
Listen, Thinley himself admitted that some of his ideas have components of naivete. But that's beyond the point. I think he's identified the long term issues facing the world.
Of course, the elimination of poverty should be the utmost priority. Thinley emphasized this, saying that he felt no pride in Bhutan's achievement of Millennium Development Goals, given that other countries have not yet made the same progress.
It was refreshing to hear a world leader with a sense of humility and compassion for other nations. Thinley has come to understand that short-term, greed-based approaches to governance and development are out-dated and ultimately self-defeating. Going forward, we're going to need a more holistic, far-sighted and cooperative approach. The longer it takes to adopt this philosophy, the more suffering humanity will endure.
Tuesday, September 14, 2010
Yesterday I was looking over the Op-Ed page and couldn't help but feel angry while reading an editorial piece by staff writers and an opinion contribution by Robert Mazur. The thing is, I actually agreed with what these pieces were saying. The factual premises were sound, and through logical reasoning both authors arrived at a solid conclusion.
So why did these pieces make me angry? It's because they utterly missed the point, in the same way that an article about genital washing misses the point about the economic stimulus.
Logical fallacy #1
The first piece is about an EPA decision to allow the use of lead bullets for hunting animals. Why is lead in bullets a bad thing? Because it has been linked to bird poisonings.
The logic goes like this: lead kills animals unnecessarily. Killing animals when they don't have to die is bad. Therefore we should avoid putting lead into the environment.
The problem is, hunting itself kills animals. Usually it's just for the sake of someone's twisted conception of "sport", the animal is mercilessly killed by a human with an insanely unfair advantage, and then often left in the wilderness to rot. Now if a bird happens to die later because of lead poisoning that's obviously sad, but it completely misses the underlying problem.
Why not kill two birds, not with a bullet, but with one stone, and eliminate gun hunting completely?
Logical Fallacy #2
The second article, a column called "Follow the Dirty Money" by Robert Mazur, is significantly more disturbing because it ultimately deals with people killing people, a worse evil than people killing animals. In fact, Mazur actually stands to profit off of people killing each other if his ideas are implemented.
Mazur points out that international banks, ones with big, famous names that we see advertising on TV, are involved in shady underworld dealings to launder billions of dollars of money related to criminal activities. He brings up the example of Wachovia moving $400 billion of drug money out of Mexico. Many of these banks have been caught, and forced to pay hefty fines for their activities. However, these fines, deals brokered between the banks and prosecutors, were just a way for prosecutors to see "a small piece of the action".
Instead of handing over fines to the government, Mazur proposes that bank employees should be put in jail. To catch these people he suggests the creation of a task force, composed of individuals like himself, to go undercover and understand the inner workings of international money laundering. He also mentions that he wrote a book about his life as an undercover money launderer.
Here are some facts:
-More than 28,000 people have been killed in Mexico's drug war since 2006. (http://www.cleveland.com/world/index.ssf/2010/08/drug_wars_death_toll_in_mexico.html)
-The cartels get the money for their massive weapon arsenals from drug and human exports, largely to the United States.
-Drugs are illegal, but hugely popular in the U.S. That's why Mexicans can make so much money importing them to us.
-Immigration to the United States is likewise illegal in most circumstances. That's why cartels do so well from human importation.
-Mazur is actually profiting off of this situation, while doing nothing to ameliorate it. He made money from his previous book, "The Infiltrator". He would make more money from a job in a task force, which would give raw material for another, potentially lucrative, book.
Now Mazur doing these things hinges on Mexican drug cartels existing. He needs something to infiltrate. If the cartels went away, he wouldn't have anything left.
The cartels will never go away from the futile war Felipe Calderon is currently waging against them. Nor will the imprisonment of morally corrupt bank employees cause them to vanish.
The only actual solution is to undermine their profit sources. That is, eliminate the demand for illegal importation of drugs and humans. To do that, we need a guest worker program, a stronger Mexican economy, and the elimination of demand for illegal drugs (the simplest method would be legalization).
Until these things happen, there will continue to be well-armed cartels, shady banks to help them transport their money, and individuals like Mazur to profit off of the situation. His band-aid task force would do nothing to solve the underlying issues and is simply a way for him to gain prestige and money off of cartels that he fundamentally has no interest in stopping.
It is sad that the New York Times, in both cases, published articles that don't really help the problems they tangentially address. The articles at first seem interesting to read, a new angle on an important world issue. However, they are just smoke and mirrors intended to distract from the fundamental issues, no better than a genital washing story.
The editorial about lead bullets can be found here:
The opinion contribution about money laundering:
Wednesday, September 8, 2010
Friday, September 3, 2010
Sunday, August 29, 2010
Wednesday, August 25, 2010
Thursday, August 5, 2010
Monday, July 26, 2010
After doing this, I can immediately perceive the changes in my consciousness. I don't end up losing any time, because I get ready for the day in a more mindful manner. I have an easier time concentrating at work, since concentrating on something interesting becomes easy compared with the obscure task of following the breath. Most importantly, I start to notice things. For example, I notice that a church the shuttle bus passes every day has an arch composed of superbly detailed angelic creatures. I begin to not only listen to every word people are saying, but how they are saying it. I start to notice what thoughts are creeping into my head.
In case you don't believe me, there's an amazing study I just discovered from the University of Wisconsin. It was published in 2004, and, according to Google, has been cited 307 times since then.
What the Wisconsin researchers did is measure brain activity, through an electroencephalogram (EEG), of two groups: Buddhist monks, who have logged tens of thousands of meditation hours over their life, and a group of college kids who spent a a week learning to meditate. They tested both normal, relaxed mental states and states of active meditation. They then compared something called gamma synchrony, which is "thought to reflect large-scale neural coordination."
What they found is astounding. The monks had levels of gamma synchrony which is "the highest reported in the literature in a nonpathological context." During meditation, the level of gamma synchrony in monks was over twice that of the control group. Even while, relaxed, the monks had consistently higher values of gamma synchrony.
What this means is that "the endogenous gamma-band synchrony found here could reflect a change in the quality of moment-to-moment awareness." In other words, meditation actually allows you to perceive the world more fully, to really see everything that is there.
It's like the difference between a flip-book with ten frames per second and a movie shown at 24-fps. I was blown away by this research.
The article is Long-term meditators self-induce high-amplitude gamma synchrony during mental practice by Lutz, et al.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
- George Washington Bridge
- Brooklyn Bridge (from the river level, at night, and during the day)
- Marine Parkway
- Riis Beach
- The Party
Monday, June 14, 2010
- Mower's mushrooms (http://www.mushroomexpert.com/panaeolus_foenisecii.html)
- Oyster mushrooms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oyster_mushroom) Oyster mushrooms metabolize oil and could be used to clean up the massive spill in the Gulf of Mexico.
- Old, crumbly shelf mushrooms (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laetiporus)
- Small mushrooms are almost never edible.
- Parks are the best places to look, but any bit of dirt or tree is a possible substrate.
- Mushrooms like it hot. Some species require multiple days above 90 degrees to grow.
- The mushroom is the fruiting part of a vast, underground system of hypha. An event, usually a period of drying after rain, triggers the mushroom to sprout up. The fruit is a spore dispersal system - allowing the mushroom to expand.