Category Archives: earth

Don’t Look Now, But We Need a Substitute for … Sand!

We are running out of sand.

Not the stuff we find in desserts. There is loads of that stuff. We are running out of the type of sand used to make concrete. And  given how much concrete we will need in the 21 st century  to build expanding cities, that is a HUGE problem. Keep in mind that concrete is over 70% sand.

Scientists – get to work!



Do Kids Need to Farm?

Not too long ago, it was considered a good idea for youngsters to leave the farm to get an education. Getting a degree was the way forward!

That is what my Estonian grandfather did. He was born on a farm in the tiny area called Paistu in the year 1890. His father had helped his own father to establish the farm. But my grandfather had a problem that would disqualify him from following in their footsteps. for reasons that we do not know for sure, he couldn’t walk without experiencing pain. It might have been infantile polio. Whatever. But he realized at a young age (at the turn of the 20th century) that he could get an education and change his identity. And he dd just that. He got a medical degree in Moscow and came back to Estonia as a doctor.

Here is the thing — in the 20th century millions and millions of folks took that path. They got degrees that shaped their identities. They became a person wrapped in a  knowledge package. And they left the farm behind.

Meanwhile, back at the farm, things changed. Farming morphed into big business. Plants and animals became resources — inputs. And the food we eat became products. There is nothing inherently wrong with that until we realize two things.

  • very few of us actually know how our food is produced or by whom
  • very few of us understand whether the system in place is sustainable, let alone optimal

This is a cultural problem. And cultural problems demand cultural solutions. One way forward might be to re-introduce our kids to the countryside. Take them back to the farm, not to make them farmers, but to educate them how farms actually function. How they produce our food.

That is happening at a farm in New York. called Spout Creek Run by some very plucky women, the farm has been doing this job from over 20 years. It works.

Image result for Sprout Creek farm

And it is in trouble.

Could you help? Do you want to? Check out this article to learn more!

We are Waking up to Our Plastic Problem

In itself, plastic seems to be rather mundane. And we use plastic for lots and lots of stuff. But it is becoming apparent that our massive uses of plastic are causing some problems.

There may be some health risks, though it is unclear how serious they are. As important, we are creating too much plastic waste that does not bio-degrade easily. That is a problem that needs correction.

Sorry to gross you out, but this image  of a whale that died from ingesting huge amounts of plastic says it all. Gross!

Image result for whale plastic

And this

Image result for beach plastic

The UK is enacting some regulations on single use plastic that will help. But we can and should expect a lot more until we start getting our plastic addiction under control.

Thinking about Ducks and Load Curves

The price of solar is going down, and that is great! And as the price plunges, usage goes up, and that is great too! So what is the problem? It’s the duck.

The duck?

Yes. The duck load curve. That is the shape of the curve you find when solar is generating lots of power during the day (when the sun is shining) but not so much in the morning or around dinner time. The problem is that utilities need extra power in those peak times, and don’t need it during the day. That variation in loads produces the so called “duck curve” and a headache for those trying to find economical ways to meet power demand through the day and evening.

So how to handle the duck curve?

The ultimate answer is better energy storage – batteries. But our battery technology is not that good yet. Too expensive. So, we need other options to deal with the duck curve until we get those super batteries.

How will that work? Paul Denholm discusses the problem — and the solutions that might allow us to get to an 80% renewable future.

Who would have thought that reading about energy use would be so fun!

Citizens of Tartu Ask to be Heard about their Home Environment

You may or may not have heard that Tartu (my home city) is facing a rather difficult issue. A group of private investors who have made a significant amount in the wood industry are proposing to build a  billion euro wood pulp mill just upriver from the city.

The concerns relate to the effects that this mill would have on the environment around the planned facility as well as to the river and to the city of Tartu. Those concerns are magnified by our own vision of Tartu’s future as a university town, and attractive place in part because of its clean environment. One wonders how such an industrial facility fits into that vision.

The government of Estonia has given the project a special status under Estonian law that is reserved for “strategic works”. What is strategic here? The argument, as far as I understand it, is that “Estonians” would benefit from adding value to wood before it is exported. I place Estonians in quotations because, that extra value added primarily would go to the small group of shareholders of the project — and not to the people of Tartu or Estonia, for that matter.  So I, for one, question why such a private sector project would have this status.

Continue reading Citizens of Tartu Ask to be Heard about their Home Environment

Is There a Path to All Renewable Energy Use?

Some folks I talk to are very pessimistic about climate change. They don’t believe that humanity will figure out a way to change behavior patterns radically enough to stop, let alone reverse the trends that are at work now.

So what is likely to happen? No one really knows. Certainly the drastic drop in cost of solar energy is cause for optimism. If it continues to fall, the economics of burning fossil fuels to produce energy changes. But there are other challenges. This TED ED video gives an overview. Enjoy!