Recently in Ecology Category

I went to meet Dean Ornish the other day with Larry. We talk about various things trying to tie together free culture and health. After the meeting, Dean Ornish gave us his new book, The Spectrum. While the book isn’t focused primarily on this, Dean Ornish points out the relationship between nutrition and the environment which I found very interesting.

…according to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s report Livestock’s Long Shadow, animal-based agribusiness generates more greenhouse gasses than all transportation combined. The livestock sector generates more greenhouse gas emissions as mesured in carbon dioxide (CO2) equivalent than does transportatino (18 percent versus 13.5 percent). Also, it accounts for 9 percent of CO2 derived from human-related activities. It generates 65 percent of human-related nitrous oxide, which has 296 times the global warming potential of CO2. It’s also responsible for 37 percent of all human-induced methane, which is twenty-three times more warming than CO2. Nitrous oxide and methane come mostly from manure. Imagine about 56 billion “food animals” pooping every day.

Also, livestock now use 30 percent of the earth’s land surface, mostly for permanent pasture, but also including 33 percent of global arable land to produce feed for them. Clearing forests to create new pastures is a major driver of deforestation - some 70 percent of forests in the Amazon have been turned over to grazing.

I’ll try to write more about the book when I finish it, but it might be the most practical nutrition book I’ve read so far. I may tune my diet a bit afterwards.

UPDATE: The report he is referring, which was published in 2006, is is online.

Yesterday, we started planning our veggie garden and started a compost bin. I'm trying to figure out what percentage of my total food intake I can grow at home. We have a relatively large yard by Japanese standards so most of this will be a matter of personal energy. I'm going to start small this year but try to increase my nutritional independence from commercial networks every year.

My goal is to be able to cover nearly all of our fertilizer needs through the composting of all of our biodegradable garbage this year.

Thinking through the various scenarios, I realized that I could significantly reduce inputs and outputs from our house by going this route. When I imagine walking over to the garden every morning, picking my veggies, then chucking the waste into the compost bin, I get a happy feeling inside. I realize this is pretty simple and not so significant, but "just add water and sunlight" is very appealing.

I think that I can also make a significant impact on my energy inputs through photovoltaics and maybe some day get off of the power grid. This requires a larger financial investment but is an area that I've already done a bit of work in this area from my time at ECD.

In my lab/office/Tokyo pad we just finished setting up (thanks to the folks at WIDE) a dark fiber connection to the WIDE box at the Japanese Internet exchange. It is currently a 1G connection. WIDE is a research project and I'm only paying for the dark fiber. WIDE is routing for me. I am not going through a single licensed telecom provider for my Internet connectivity. Consequently, going from 1G to 10G is just a matter of buying more hardware and has no impact on the running cost. More bandwidth is just about more hardware. The way it SHOULD be.

It's exciting to think about making my footprint smaller and smaller in nutrition and energy and thinking about nutrition, energy and bandwidth more and more as assets that I operate rather than services from big companies.

I was going to Twitter this as I was sitting here drinking my morning tea, but it turned into a blog post. Thanks Twitter. ;-)

Today I heard a presentation by Michael Molitor from Climate Wedge. He is an expert on environmental issues and his company has created a fund that buys and sells "Voluntary Carbon Units" (VCUs).

Carbon credits or Carbon Units are basically a unit that represents one metric ton of CO2 emissions. The EU has a market called a Compliance market where companies can buy credits to offset their EU Allowances. For example if company X only has an allowance of 100 tons of CO2 emissions, they have the choice of either buying carbon credits on the market or lowering their emissions by that much. Emission allowances will continue to go down driving prices of credits up and/or causing companies to innovate instead of paying for these credits. It is any interesting and now exceedingly common practice that makes it easier for companies to become "carbon neutral" while providing incentives for companies to innovate.

In addition to the formal compliance market which is mostly for EU regulated companies to buy and sell their credits to meet their allowances, there is a voluntary market which involves "softer" carbon credits and allows companies that are not yet regulated to play in this market. HSBC, for instance has announced that it is now "carbon neutral". It is not required by law to do this, but as people become more sensitive to the issues of global warming, carbon neutrality will have an increasing impact on customer and investor relations.

There are a number of individual level carbon neutral initiatives. Airlines, automobile companies, oil companies are beginning to provide carbon neutral products where a portion of the cost or the payment of an addition expense go toward making the use of that product or service carbon neutral. The interesting thing is that in most cases the costs are quite small. To make your whole life carbon neutral it costs roughly 1% of your income.

I think this is a great idea and the notion of being carbon neutral is very appealing. I am going to try to do this immediately.

However, a few things concern me.

I've googled around for companies and non-profits that offer carbon units and some look rather sketchy and/or expensive. There is also the issue of the quality of the carbon unit. Some little city threatening to build a coal power plant, then not doing it in exchange for carbon units seems less sincere than someone rolling out a photovoltaic power generator. "Good" carbon units like those on the Compliance Market trade at a premium because they are more closely audited and provided from reputable organizations. I think that these markets will grow quickly and hope the scam artists don't steal money from too many good intentioned people.

The other thing that scares me a bit is that although I like markets, I worry that a lot of money will flow to companies trying to innovate in this space. I see a VC bubble in energy technology right now too. When I see lots of money pouring into an industry like this, I worry that a bubble will form causing inefficiencies, reduction in quality of investors, noise level increases drowning out experts and other things that I saw during the dot com bubble.

Finally, this is not enough. This is all a huge step in the right directly, but we need to be doing everything we can, and even that may not be enough. It will sure feel good to be carbon neutral, but we definitely can't stop there.

I blogged about the movie An Inconvenient Truth after I saw a screening of it. I think that EVERYONE should see the film. There is now a site dedicated to getting more people to see it. Please take a look and direct people to it if you can.

I went to a screening of an inconvenient truth (IMDb). an inconvenient truth is a film directed by Davis Guggenheim about global warming and Al Gore's life long effort to learn about and educate the world about the reality and risk of global warming.

My position on global warming had always been that it was probably a bad thing. Pollution was clearly increasing and it increased the risk of some non-linear event occurring. Having said that, I wasn't THAT concerned and thought that there was still some dispute in the scientific community.

Watching this film has caused me to change my opinion. I now believe that global warming our most urgent and important crisis and something that we all need to rally behind. The movie presents a scientific, moral and political argument that is convincing and also fun to watch. I also felt I got to know Al Gore through the movie in a completely new way.

I've always been a big fan of both Davis and Al Gore, but this movie has really solidified my respect for both of them. I urge everyone to go see this movie. It opens in select theaters on May 24, but the big opening is the first weekend in June. Your turnout to the movie will determine how broadly the movie ends up playing. Considering the importance of this film, it would be great if the maximum number of people possible saw it.

In an effort to cut down on energy consumption, Japan has implemented "Cool Biz". Cool biz facilities keep the temperature at around 28 degrees Celsius (approx 82.4 Fahrenheit) in the summer. It often feels hotter than that. In these offices, people don't wear suits. Most government buildings and many public facilities are now cool biz. First of all, 28 degrees is hot, even with a t-shirt. Second, when you travel around buildings requiring various dress codes, this system doesn't really work.

This isn't a new thing, but it appears that it is being implemented with renewed vigor this year. I blogged about this back in 2002. According to the Japanese Wikipedia, they think that it will save about $1B.

I suppose I'm a schmuck for complaining about something so socially and fiscally good, but for some reason this kind of suffering feels very Japanese and annoying. There is something very ceremonial and inefficient about it. Maybe it's just that I'm sweating my ass off in a cool biz zone. Maybe this is a signal to me to figure out a way to save $1B for the Japanese economy and help the environment. Maybe we can start by firing all of the retired bureaucrats that they force companies to hire who get paid a mint and driven around in black limos.

Rogerpayne
I sat next to Dr. Roger Payne at lunch. He talked to me about the songs of the Humpback Wales that he has been recording for decades. He is the authority of this field. He explained to me that Humpback Whales sang beautiful songs. They copy from each other, remixing the songs and add to the songs. These songs evolve over time and riffs get passed from whale to whale across the world. The songs have lots of interesting variations and even have rhymes. He made an interesting observation that the whale songs of the 60's were much more beautiful than the whale songs these days.

I suggested that he made some of these songs available online via Creative Commons and he agreed that this would be a cool idea and agreed to work on this. For now, you can find three of his CD's on Amazon.com: Whales Alive, Deep Voices and Songs of the Humpback Whale.

I look forward to when we have some whale songs on ccMixter.

Sorry about the light blogging. I was participating in an interesting conference in Kyoto called Science and Technology in Society with a very interesting international mix of scientists, politicians and business people. There were lots of really interesting presentations from some really smart people. I'll try to post more later, but here are some notes from a lunch speech by Sherwood F. Rowland, Donald Bren Research Professor of Chemistry and Earth Systems, University of California at Irvine and Nobel Laureate in Chemistry (1995).

The population of the world is about 6B now and it is expected that it will stabilize at around 9B in the middle of the century. We've grown from 3B to 6B in the last half century so we've done this before. We output about 6B tons of carbon dioxide. That's an average of 1 ton per person. In the US the average is about 5 tons per person and in India and Nigeria it's about 0.2 tons per person. If you added the US and population to India's population, it would be about 1.4 tons, or approximately the rate at which Albania creates carbon dioxide. 85% of our energy comes from fossil fuels, coal, gas and oil which create carbon dioxide. These are green house gasses. In 1800 there was about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 800 parts per billion of methane in the air. Today we are at about 380 parts per million of carbon dioxide and 1750 parts per billion of methane.

A calculation of the natural greenhouse effect of the earth is 32 degrees centigrade. The enhanced greenhouse effect puts us at more like 33 to 37 degrees centigrade. The average temperature of the earth has increased 6/10th of a degree in the last century. The warmest days since we have begun recording temperatures about 150 years ago have all been since 1990. In order to stabilize the increase in carbon dioxide (at a much higher level than it is now), we would need to cut back 60% of our output. Conservation can help, but it is unlikely that conservation itself can take us to a sustainable situation. Alternative carbon free energy sources like solar, nuclear, and wind must be explored, but we must understand that we are in a situation that requires immediate action.

I was scribbling notes during lunch and I may have mangled some of this. Please let me know if I've misquoted something and I'll fix it.

One important "take-away" from this meeting was that global warming and the risk did not seem like some sort of disputed theory as some politicians seem to lead us to believe. All of the scientists involved in energy and ecology that I heard speaking seemed to believe that our earth was immediately at risk and that we had to act now. The combination of the increase in population and our addiction to energy would not allow us to stabilize at any sustainable equilibrium without drastic changes in the way we make and use energy.

Bjorn Lomborg

What if hospitals only dealt with patients who made the most fuss. That's what it seems like we do with global resource allocation for global problems. Why don't we prioritize? What if we had an extra$ 50Bn to allocate. What would you spend it on?

HIV aids?
Schools?
Climate age?
Malnutrition?

We need rational basis on our spending.

The Copenhagen Consensus was a group of leading economists who got together to try to prioritize based on best information available.

What we would do:

1- Prevent HIV - $27Bn will save 29M lives
2- Micronutrients - $13Bn will help more than 1/2 the world
3- Free Trade - would create more than $2000Bn / yr
4- Treat Malaria - $12Bn could come back 10X or more

What we wouldn't do?

Kyoto (global warming) is not a good use of money

Focus on high benefit projects.

We now have the list. We have to get the rest of the world on board.

Bill Joy

I think there will be a crisis or catastrophic event that will take our attention away from terror or war and as a positive response may redefine our focus of the century.

A global pandemic/epidemic - the positive response: New found respect for natural systems and focus on health.

Environmental tip. A phase change with a irreversible climate change - the positive response: Understanding balance with natural systems.

Over self-consumption like the oil supply - the positive response: Might help wastefulness and make it a century of efficiency.

A web site by a women who races her motorcycle through the Chernobyl "Ghost Town." Amazing photos.

about town where one can ride with no stoplights, no police, no danger to hit some cage or some dog..
via Markoff

I sat next to Sir Martin Rees at dinner last night. He is the Royal Astronomer of the UK and the Master of Trinity College. I met him last year at the same dinner. He's amazingly smart and funny.

Ever since I'd posted my entry on aviation and global warming, I've been trying to figure out how to get to the bottom of this issue. The journalists told me that they just cited experts and the trick was to find good experts. I figured Sir Martin Rees would probably have an educated and balanced view.

Sir Martin Rees told me that he thought it was probably true that global warming was happening and that CO2 emissions contributed to it. He said that his main concern with global warming with the possibility that something non-linear would happen. In other words, his worry was not just the melting of the ice caps or the increased heat, but that this would cause something unpredictable and significant, such as a change in the circulation of the oceans.

He talked about some of the interesting mail he got. He said that he once got contacted by a cryogenic company which wanted his opinion on the idea of "the end of involuntary death" by freezing yourself before you die. When he replied that he'd rather be buried in a cemetery than a freezer in Calfornia, the company posted on their web site that "Rees is a deathist".

In a controversial book that he wrote called "Our Final Hour" he says that there is a 50/50 chance that our civilization will end this century. He mentioned that the original title of the book was "Our Final Century?" The British publishers took out the question mark and made it "Our Final Century". Then the US publishers change it to "Our Final Hour". ;-)

The dinner was off the record. "Nothing leaves this room. Just like Las Vegas." But I received permission from Sir Martin Rees to blog his comments. Sir Martin, if you see this and I've quoted you in error, please let me know. I don't have your email address.

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