Posts Tagged ‘biomimicry’

Five modern trends in sustainable architecture

 

Five modern trends in sustainable architecture

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Posted24 September 2011, by Pratik Basu, EcoFriend (Instamedia), ecofriend.com

 

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With so many ecological concerns coming up every year, the need for the hour is to grasp the concept of Eco-friendly and sustainable architecture. The dawn of this green architecture came from the Eco-build in London, Cannes and the Earth Day and it seems to be develop rapidly in the developed countries. Green architecture can change the world. With rapid advancements in the field of Eco-friendly products, there is a huge demand for making buildings and construction techniques more greener and sustainable and less harmful for Earth. The world has grasped this idea very well. The need for new techniques and materials which can be easily recycled are taken into consideration. Here’s showcasing 5 trends in green and sustainable architecture which is a focus of attention amongst Eco-designers.

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1. Vertical Farming

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Vertical farming. Trends in sustainable architecture

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With an expected increase in population to 9.1 billion people within the year 2050, feeding all the people around the globe is a cause for major concern. Food production needs to increase by 70%. This would mean having higher crop yields and expansion of the area cultivated. However land available for cultivation is not evenly distributed, while others are suitable for cultivating only a few crops. Thus architects have been designing buildings where one can grow crops on all the edges surrounding the building. This gives more area for cultivation and helps solve the expansion crisis. The vertical farms can be integrated with residential buildings too, with farms being set up on the external periphery of the buildings. This provides a clean environment for the residents to live in.

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2. Straw

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Straw House. Trends in sustainable architecture

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Straw is a sustainable material which can be used as a building material. Many designers and builders today are making use of this natural material to make phenomenal designs which are Eco-friendly. These buildings can be made from prefabricated panels using straw. These panels can be assembled from locally sourced star which can be fit into the panel frame made from timber. This production style helps save money and energy and decrease build times and carbon emissions. Electricity can be generated by photovoltaic and solar thermal panels and the extra electricity can be sold to the electricity grid. The homes made by straw would be considerably cheaper, as straw is a product which is available in vast quantity. This low cost makes it more popular to the general masses.

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3. Phase change materials (PCMs)

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House from PCMTrends in sustainable architecture

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Phase change materials are used to store both cooling and heating energy. These new age materials can be embedded in the ceiling and the wall tiles from where they absorb heat to keep the space cool and reduces the need for air conditioning. These Phase change material tiles have micro capsules made of a special wax which is developed to contain heat during the day. Some companies selling phase change materials claim that using the material reduces temperature of your indoor surrounding by almost 7ºC, hence reducing air conditioning costs.

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4. Bees and biodiversity

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Bees and diversityTrends in sustainable architecture

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Bees are an integral part of our biodiversity. A small garden or a rooftop is all that is required to keep bees. They help in making delicious honey from plants and flowers in your gardens, parks and the tree lined roads. It is important to make an environment in cities that safeguards wildlife and also helps in further diversity. By incorporating biodiversity into architecture, we can make a cleaner and greener world. Hence keeping bees and making bee hives are an important step that needs to be taken to ensure a cleaner, greener environment. In London, vast number of bee hives have been created on the roof tops of buildings, attracting many bees.

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5. Sustainable materials

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Sustainable materialsTrends in sustainable architecture

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Apart from the many products used in construction made from recycled materials, many researchers are looking at the construction industry for other sustainable materials from other sectors which are rarely used in design and construction.

Thousands of samples have been taken from countries all over the world. These selected materials provide an Eco-friendly alternative to other resource hungry materials which generally have many by products which are harmful to the environment. These samples are being studied and their properties are made good use of. So it is essential that we find sustainable materials which can be easily recycled and are durable and appropriate for construction.

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http://www.ecofriend.com/entry/modern-trends-sustainable-architecture/

Cat-Inspired Computing of the Future

Cat-Inspired Computing of the Future

Why your cat is 83 times smarter than your computer, or how government funding can bridge the gap.

image by uabels via Shutterstock

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Posted 21 September 2011, by Maria Popova and Brain Pickings, io9, io9.com

 

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Today we’re highlighting the promise of public science through an intersection of two of our running themes – biomimicry and the future of computing, which converge in the work of University of Michigan researcher Wei Lu. In 2010, Lu led a biologically-inspired computing research project, in which his team used the face-recognition circuitry of the cat brain to model a new kind of machine that promises to outsmart a supercomputer in learning and recognizing faces, making complex decisions, and performing more simultaneous tasks than current computers can manage. For comparison, a typical supercomputer with 140,000 CPUs and a dedicated power supply performs 83 times slower than a cat’s brain. The research was made possible through DARPA funding.

“We are building a computer in the same way that nature builds a brain. The idea is to use a completely different paradigm compared to conventional computers. The cat brain sets a realistic goal because it is much simpler than a human brain but still extremely difficult to replicate in complexity and efficiency.”

~ Wei Lu

To mimic how feline brains perform higher-level computations as their synapses link thousands of neurons into complex pathways that store past interactions, Lu’s team connected two electronic circuits with one memristor. This created a system capable of a process called “spike timing dependent plasticity,” which is thought to be the foundation of memory and learning in mammalian brains.

Lu’s research is not only a pinnacle of the cross-disciplinary exploration at the heart of some of the most groundbreaking innovation, but also holds remarkable promise for everything from supercomputer performance to memory and facial recognition technology to sophisticated artificial intelligence decision-making. It’s also a reminder that, rather than a glamorous Eureka! headline, the most valuable research, the kind that serves as a wayfinding signpost for future study, is often just a small but significant step in the incremental process of innovation – a step that takes countless person-hours in the lab, a great deal of technical and intellectual resources and, yes, public science funding to make it all possible.

This article is part of the Public Science Triumphs series. Do you have a story about how publicly-funded science is making the world a better place? Share it at tips@io9.com, with the subject line “public science triumphs.”

This post originally appeared on Brain Pickings. Brain Pickings has a free weekly newsletter and people say it’s cool. It comes out on Sundays and offers the week’s best articles. Here’s an example. Like? Sign up.


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http://io9.com/5842688/cat+inspired-computing-of-the-future

Permaculture institute celebrates 25 years in Basalt


Permaculture institute celebrates 25 years in Basalt

Basalt permaculturist Jerome Osentowski collects the fruits (and vegetables) of his labor at his greenhouses. Scott Condon/The Aspen Times

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Posted 18 September 2011, by Scott Condon, The Aspen Times (Swift Communications, Inc.), aspentimes.com

 

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BASALT — There’s a Garden of Eden carved into the piñon and juniper forest on the sunny south side of Basalt Mountain, a one-acre paradise where fruit trees and grape vines flourish outside and greenhouses cradle everything from fig trees to particularly prolific passionfruit.

The Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute (CRMPI) is celebrating its 25th year, an amazing feat considering permaculture’s overshadowed status in the gardening world and a catastrophic fire in October 2007.

The paradise is the creation of Jerome Osentowski, who has been involved in growing food in one way or another for more than 30 years and is recognized as an expert in building greenhouses and successfully filling them.

Perhaps the crowning achievement of his career is what he has accomplished — with staff, friends and volunteers — at the 1,800-square-foot Phoenix greenhouse, so-called because it replaced a greenhouse that burned down four years ago. It’s an amazing place, 2.5 miles from downtown Basalt, that makes visitors feel like they’re in a tropical jungle, sans the dangers.

A passionfruit vine dominates a section of the overstory, racing along 40 feet on a trellis in one direction and 20 feet in another. It was allowed to climb all over to shade the greenhouse interior from the sun and keep it cooler during the summer. The vine will be cut back this fall so the sun heats a flagstone patio and stone gabion walls on the north wall of the greenhouse. The rocks will release their heat after dark and help stabilize the greenhouse during the long nights of fall and winter.

Along with the passionfruit vine, the lush overstory in the greenhouse is completed with papaya, guava, avocado and dragonfruit plants along with four types of citrus trees. The banana plants, with huge leaves drooping down like elephant ears, command the entire west end.

The understory looks like a Rocky Mountain garden gone wild. There are common plants — peppers, cucumbers and sweet potatoes — but they reap the constant benefits of a warm, humid environment.

“We take what’s outside, put it inside and bump it up a few climate zones,” Osentowski said.

The subtropical environment of the Phoenix greenhouse won’t drop below 40 degrees at night, and it stays between 70 and 80 degrees during the day. A sauna heated by a wood stove is attached to the greenhouse. Warm air will be released from the sauna into the greenhouse during the coldest periods of winter. Numerous vents keep it cool during warm weather.

Solar panels provide the power necessary for the greenhouses; CRMPI is off the grid.

Mixed in with the veggies in the understory are exotic varieties of plants: fragrant night-blooming jasmine, Chinese date trees and aromatic medicinal plants like ginger.

Osentowski said he and his staff follow the forest-garden model where there are layers of cohabiting plants outdoors. “We try to mimic that,” he said.

All spaces are filled with plants. Sometimes they don’t work out in a particular place, but usually they find their niche.

“We’re not trying to play God,” Osentowski said. “We’re doing some logical mimicking of nature.”

The soil beds in the south section of the Phoenix greenhouse, clear of the lush overstory, is laid thick with annuals and winter salad greens. The diversity of plants means there is always something to harvest — “phases of abundance,” as Osentowski calls them. The idea, he said, is to avoid being one-dimensional like agri-business and most other greenhouses.

A smaller Mediterranean greenhouse adjacent to Phoenix is dominated by a massive fig tree that Osentowski calls “the grand dame” of CRMPI. The fig started from an 18-inch-high cutting 15 years ago and is now a twisting tree with numerous branches that take up roughly 100 square feet and produces mouth-watering fruit.

CRMPI is constantly building the soil of its greenhouses with leaves from the orchard outdoors and from rotting vegetation from the indoor plants themselves. When a huge leaf falls off the banana plant, it’s best left at the base of the plant to provide nutrients rather than tossed out. Tidiness isn’t necessarily a virtue in the greenhouse. Mulch covers the soil beds and certain areas are devoted to particularly thick mulch, where worms are added in heavy concentration. They break down the mulch and create rich humus.

A small pond on the property is home for ducks and tilapia. The soil from the pond is occasionally scraped up and used as fertilizer, as is the manure from chickens and Nigerian goats on the property. The “waste” goes back into the system. That sustainability is central to the permaculture concept of whole systems management.

Osentowski teamed with other instructors to teach CRMPI’s 25th Annual Permaculture Design Certification Course in August. The two-week course teaches students the essential elements of permaculture so they can better design and maintain sustainable systems such as forest gardens and greenhouses.

Osentowski said public interest in permaculture is picking up. The New York Times ran a lengthy article this summer about its growing popularity, and Osentowski and his staff have received a book contract to write about the system and CRMPI’s history.

Still, permaculture hasn’t been embraced to the degree Osentowski thinks it deserves.

“The floodgate hasn’t opened. It’s still a small movement,” he said.

He senses it will grow, particularly if the economic challenges continue to plague the world for years to come. Osentowski is proud that CRMPI has its own woodworking shop so the staff can create what it needs. It produces its own food. Passive solar and solar electric systems supply the power.

“We’re the ultimate survivalists, really,” Osentowski said. “The beauty of CRMPI is it’s built on a shoestring budget, it works and it’s replicable.”

scondon@aspentimes.com

 

 

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http://www.aspentimes.com/article/20110918/NEWS/110919857/1077&ParentProfile=1058

The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities

 

The Food Movement: Its Power and Possibilities

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Posted 14 September 2011, by Frances Moore Lappé, The Nation, thenation.com

 

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Editor’s Note: Frances Moore Lappé’s essay below kicks off our forum on the food movement. Raj Patel, Vandana Shiva, Eric Schlosser, and Michael Pollan have contributed replies.

For years I’ve been asked, “Since you wrote Diet for a Small Planet in 1971, have things gotten better or worse?” Hoping I don’t sound glib, my response is always the same: “Both.”

As food growers, sellers and eaters, we’re moving in two directions at once.

The number of hungry people has soared to nearly 1 billion, despite strong global harvests. And for even more people, sustenance has become a health hazard—with the US diet implicated in four out of our top ten deadly diseases. Power over soil, seeds and food sales is ever more tightly held, and farmland in the global South is being snatched away from indigenous people by speculators set to profit on climbing food prices. Just four companies control at least three-quarters of international grain trade; and in the United States, by 2000, just ten corporations—with boards totaling only 138 people—had come to account for half of US food and beverage sales. Conditions for American farmworkers remain so horrific that seven Florida growers have been convicted of slavery involving more than 1,000 workers. Life expectancy of US farmworkers is forty-nine years.

That’s one current. It’s antidemocratic and deadly.

There is, however, another current, which is democratizing power and aligning farming with nature’s genius. Many call it simply “the global food movement.” In the United States it’s building on the courage of truth tellers from Upton Sinclair to Rachel Carson, and worldwide it has been gaining energy and breadth for at least four decades.

Some Americans see the food movement as “nice” but peripheral—a middle-class preoccupation with farmers’ markets, community gardens and healthy school lunches. But no, I’ll argue here. It is at heart revolutionary, with some of the world’s poorest people in the lead, from Florida farmworkers to Indian villagers. It has the potential to transform not just the way we eat but the way we understand our world, including ourselves. And that vast power is just beginning to erupt.

The Work

In a farmworker camp in Ohio, a young mother sat on her bed. She was dying of cancer, but with no bitterness she asked me a simple question: “We provide people food—why don’t they respect our work?” That was 1984. She had no protection from pesticides, or even the right to safe drinking water in the field.

Twenty-five years later, in Immokalee, Florida, I walked through a grungy, sweltering 300-foot trailer, home to eight tomato pickers, but what struck me most was a sense of possibility in the workers themselves.

They are among the 4,000 mainly Latino, Mayan Indian and Haitian members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, formed in 1993—more than two decades after Cesar Chavez’s United Farm Workers’ victorious five-year grape strike and national boycott. In the 1990s, CIW’s struggle over five years, including a 230-mile walk and hunger strike, achieved the first industrywide pay increase in twenty years. Still, it only brought real wages back to pre-1980 levels. So in 2001, CIW launched its Campaign for Fair Food. Dogged organizing forced four huge fast-food companies—McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Burger King and Subway—to agree to pay a penny more per pound and adhere to a code of conduct protecting workers. Four large food-service providers, including Sodexo, were also brought on board. Beginning this fall, CIW will start implementing these changes at 90 percent of Florida tomato farms—improving the lives of 30,000 tomato pickers. Now the campaign is focused on supermarkets such as Trader Joe’s, Stop & Shop and Giant.

The Land

In Brazil, almost 400,000 farmworker families have not only found their voices but gained access to land, joining the roughly half-billion small farms worldwide that produce 70 percent of the world’s food.

Elsewhere, calls for more equitable access to land in recent decades have generally gone nowhere—despite evidence that smallholders are typically more productive and better resource guardians than big operators.

So what happened in Brazil?

With the end of dictatorship in 1984 came the birth of arguably the largest social movement in the hemisphere: the Landless Workers Movement, known by its Portuguese acronym MST. Less than 4 percent of Brazil’s landowners control about half the land, often gained illegally. MST’s goal is land reform, and in 1988 Brazil’s new Constitution gave the movement legal grounding: Article 5 states that “property shall fulfill its social function,” and Article 184 affirms the government’s power to “expropriate…for purposes of agrarian reform, rural property” that fails to meet this requirement. Well-organized occupations of unused land, under the cover of night, had been MST’s early tactic; after 1988 the same approach helped compel the government to uphold the Constitution.

Because of the courage of these landless workers, a million people are building new lives on roughly 35 million acres, creating several thousand farming communities with schools serving 150,000 kids, along with hundreds of cooperative and other enterprises.

Nevertheless, MST co-founder João Pedro Stédile said early this year that the global financial crisis has led “international capitalists” to try to “protect their funds” by investing in Brazilian “land and energy projects”—driving renewed land concentration.

And in the United States? The largest 9 percent of farms produce more than 60 percent of output. But small farmers still control more than half our farmland, and the growing market for healthy fresh food has helped smallholders grow: their numbers went up by 18,467 between 2002 and 2007. To support them, last winter the Community Food Security Coalition held community “listening sessions,” attended by 700 people, to sharpen citizen goals for the 2012 farm bill.

The Seed

Just as dramatic is the struggle for the seed. More than 1,000 independent seed companies were swallowed up by multinationals in the past four decades, so today just three—Monsanto, DuPont and Syngenta—control about half the proprietary seed market worldwide.

Fueling the consolidation were three Supreme Court rulings since 1980—including one in 2002, with an opinion written by former Monsanto attorney Clarence Thomas—making it possible to patent life forms, including seeds. And in 1992 the Food and Drug Administration released its policy on genetically modified organisms, claiming that “the agency is not aware of any information showing that [GMO] foods…differ from other foods in any meaningful or uniform way.”

The government’s green light fueled the rapid spread of GMOs and monopolies—so now most US corn and soybeans are GMO, with genes patented largely by one company: Monsanto. The FDA position helped make GMOs’ spread so invisible that most Americans still don’t believe they’ve ever eaten them—even though the grocery industry says they could be in 75 percent of processed food.

Even fewer Americans are aware that in 1999 attorney Steven Druker reported that in 40,000 pages of FDA files secured via a lawsuit, he found “memorandum after memorandum contain[ing] warnings about the unique hazards of genetically engineered food,” including the possibility that they could contain “unexpected toxins, carcinogens or allergens.”

Yet at the same time, public education campaigns have succeeded in confining almost 80 percent of GMO planting to just three countries: the United States, Brazil and Argentina. In more than two dozen countries and in the European Union they’ve helped pass mandatory GMO labeling. Even China requires it.

In Europe, the anti-GMO tipping point came in 1999. Jeffrey Smith, author of Seeds of Deception, expects that the same shift will happen here, as more Americans than ever actively oppose GMOs. This year the “non-GMO” label is the third-fastest-growing new health claim on food packaging. Smith is also encouraged that milk products produced with the genetically modified drug rBGH “have been kicked out of Wal-Mart, Starbucks, Yoplait, Dannon, and most American dairies.”

Around the world, millions are saying no to seed patenting as well. In homes and village seed banks, small farmers and gardeners are saving, sharing and protecting tens of thousands of seed varieties.

In the United States, the Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, estimates that since 1975 members have shared roughly a million samples of rare garden seeds.

In the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh—known as the pesticide capital of the world—a women-led village movement, the Deccan Development Society, puts seed-saving at the heart of its work. After the crushing failure of GMO cotton and ill health linked to pesticides, the movement has helped 125 villages convert to more nutritious, traditional crop mixes, feeding 50,000 people.

On a larger scale, Vandana Shiva’s organization, Navdanya, has helped to free 500,000 farmers from chemical dependency and to save indigenous seeds—the group’s learning and research center protects 3,000 varieties of rice, plus other crops.

In all these ways and more, the global food movement challenges a failing frame: one that defines successful agriculture and the solution to hunger as better technologies increasing yields of specific crops. This is typically called “industrial agriculture,” but a better description might be “productivist,” because it fixates on production, or “reductivist,” because it narrows our focus to a single element.

Its near obsession with the yield of a monoculture is anti-ecological. It not only pollutes, diminishes and disrupts nature; it misses ecology’s first lesson: relationships. Productivism isolates agriculture from its relational context—from its culture.

In 2008 a singular report helped crack the productivist frame. This report, “The International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development” (known simply as IAASTD), explained that solutions to poverty, hunger and the climate crisis require agriculture that promotes producers’ livelihoods, knowledge, resiliency, health and equitable gender relations, while enriching the natural environment and helping to balance the carbon cycle. Painstakingly developed over four years by 400 experts, the report has gained the support of more than fifty-nine governments, and even productivist strongholds like the World Bank.

IAASTD furthers an emerging understanding that agriculture can serve life only if it is regarded as a culture of healthy relationships, both in the field—among soil organisms, insects, animals, plants, water, sun—and in the human communities it supports: a vision lived by many indigenous people and captured in 1981 by Wendell Berry in The Gift of Good Land and twenty years later by Jules Pretty in Agri-Culture: Reconnecting People, Land and Nature.

Across cultures, the global food movement is furthering agri-culture by uniting diverse actors and fostering democratic relationships. A leader is La Via Campesina, founded in 1993 when small farmers and rural laborers gathered from four continents in Belgium. Its goal is “food sovereignty”—a term carefully chosen to situate “those who produce, distribute, and consume food at the heart of food systems and policies, rather than the demands of markets and corporations,” says the declaration closing the group’s 2007 global gathering in Nyeleni, Mali. La Via Campesina connects 150 local and national organizations, and 200 million small farmers, in seventy countries. In 2009 it was included among civil society players on the UN Committee on Food Security.

And in the urban North, how is the food movement enhancing agri-culture?

For sure, more and more Americans are getting their hands in the dirt—motivated increasingly by a desire to cut “food miles” and greenhouse gases. Roughly a third of American households (41 million) garden, up 14 percent in 2009 alone. As neighbors join neighbors, community gardens are blooming. From only a handful in 1970, there are 18,000 community gardens today. In Britain community gardens are in such demand—with 100,000 Brits on waiting lists for a plot—that the mayor of London promised 2,012 new ones by 2012.

And in 2009 the Slow Food movement, with 100,000 members in 153 countries, created 300 “eat-ins”—shared meals in public space—to launch its US “Time for Lunch” campaign, with a goal of delicious healthy school meals for the 31 million kids eating them every day.

An Economics of Agri-Culture

Agri-culture’s unity of healthy farming ecology and social ecology transforms the market itself: from the anonymous, amoral selling and buying within a market structured to concentrate power to a market shaped by shared human values structured to ensure fairness and co-responsibility.

In 1965 British Oxfam created the first fair-trade organization, called Helping-by-Selling, in response to calls from poor countries for “trade, not aid.” Today more than 800 products are fair-trade certified, directly benefiting 6 million people. Last year the US fair-trade market passed $1.5 billion.

The Real Food Challenge, launched by young people in 2007, is working to jump-start a US swing to “real food”—defined as that respecting “human dignity and health, animal welfare, social justice and environmental sustainability.” Student teams are mobilizing to persuade campus decision-makers to commit themselves to making a minimum of
20 percent of their college or university food “real” by 2020. With more than 350 schools already on board, the Challenge founders have set an ambitious goal: to shift $1 billion to real food purchases in ten years.

Farmers’ markets, the direct exchange between farmer and eater, are also creating a fairer agri-culture. So rare before the mid-’90s that the USDA didn’t even bother to track them, more than 7,000 farmers’ markets dot the country in 2011, a more than fourfold increase in seventeen years.

Other democratic economic models are also gaining ground:

In 1985 an irrepressible Massachusetts farmer named Robyn Van En helped create the first US Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program, in which eaters are no longer just purchasers but partners, helping to shoulder the farmer’s risk by prepaying for a share of the harvest before the planting season. On weekends, “my” CSA—Waltham Fields, near Boston—is alive as families pick and chat, and kids learn how to spot the yummiest strawberries. Now there are 2,500 CSAs across the country, while more than 12,500 farms informally use this prepay, partnership approach.

The cooperative model is spreading too, replacing one dollar, one vote—the corporate form—with one person, one vote. In the 1970s, US food cooperatives took off. Today there are 160 nationwide, and co-op veteran Annie Hoy in Ashland, Oregon, sees a new upsurge. Thirty-nine have just opened, or are “on their way right now,” she told me.

Funky storefronts of the 1970s, famous for limp organic carrots, have morphed into mouthwatering community hubs. Beginning as a food-buying club of fifteen families in 1953, Seattle’s PCC Natural Markets has nine stores and almost 46,000 members, making it the largest US food cooperative. Its sales more than doubled in a decade.

Producer co-ops have also made huge gains. In 1988 a handful of worried farmers, watching profits flow to middlemen, not to them, launched the Organic Valley Family of Farms. Today Organic Valley’s more than 1,600 farmer owners span thirty-two states, generating sales of more than $500 million in 2008.

The Rules

The global food system reflects societies’ rules—often uncodified—that determine who eats and how our earth fares. In the United States, rules increasingly reflect our nation’s slide into “privately held government.” But in rule-setting, too, energy is hardly unidirectional.

In 1999, on the streets of Seattle, 65,000 environmentalists, labor and other activists made history, blunting the antidemocratic agenda of the World Trade Organization. In 2008 more citizens than ever engaged in shaping the farm bill, resulting in rules encouraging organic production. The movement has also established 100 “food policy councils”—new local-to-state, multi-stakeholder coordinating bodies. And this year, eighty-three plaintiffs joined the Public Patent Foundation in suing Monsanto, challenging its GMO seeds’ “usefulness” (required for patenting) as well as the company’s right to patent seeds to begin with.

Even small changes in the rules can create huge possibilities. Consider, for example, the ripples from a 2009 Brazilian law requiring at least 30 percent of school meals to consist of food from local family farms.

Rules governing rights are the human community’s foundational guarantees to one another—and the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights gave access to food that status. Since then, nearly two dozen nations have planted the right to food in their constitutions. If you wonder whether it matters, note that when Brazil undertook a multifaceted “zero hunger” campaign, framing food as a right, the country slashed its infant death rate by about a third in seven years.

Food Power: Only Connect

This rising global food movement taps universal human sensibilities—expressed in Hindu farmers in India saving seeds, Muslim farmers in Niger turning back the desert and Christian farmers in the United States practicing biblically inspired Creation Care. In these movements lies the revolutionary power of the food movement: its capacity to upend a life-destroying belief system that has brought us power-concentrating corporatism.

Corporatism, after all, depends on our belief in the fairy tale that market “magic” (Ronald Reagan’s unforgettable term) works on its own without us.

Food can break that spell. For the food movement’s power is that it can shift our sense of self: from passive, disconnected consumers in a magical market to active, richly connected co-producers in societies we are creating—as share owners in a CSA farm or purchasers of fair-trade products or actors in public life shaping the next farm bill.

The food movement’s power is connection itself. Corporatism distances us from one another, from the earth—and even from our own bodies, tricking them to crave that which destroys them—while the food movement celebrates our reconnection. Years ago in Madison, Wisconsin, CSA farmer Barb Perkins told me about her most rewarding moments: “Like in town yesterday,” she said, “I saw this little kid, wide-eyed, grab his mom’s arm and point at me. ‘Mommy,’ he said. ‘Look. There’s our farmer!’”

At its best, this movement encourages us to “think like an ecosystem,” enabling us to see a place for ourselves connected to all others, for in ecological systems “there are no parts, only participants,” German physicist Hans Peter Duerr reminds us. With an “eco-mind” we can see through the productivist fixation that inexorably concentrates power, generating scarcity for some, no matter how much we produce. We’re freed from the premise of lack and the fear it feeds. Aligning food and farming with nature’s genius, we realize there’s more than enough for all.

As the food movement stirs, as well as meets, deep human needs for connection, power and fairness, let’s shed any notion that it’s simply “nice” and seize its true potential to break the spell of our disempowerment.

Nation Contributors Reply:
Raj Patel, “Why Hunger Is Still With Us
Vandana Shiva, “Resisting the Corporate Theft of Seeds
Eric Schlosser, “It’s Not Just About Food
Michael Pollan, “How Change Is Going to Come in the Food System

 

About the Author

Frances Moore Lappé
Frances Moore Lappé just released EcoMind: Changing the Way We Think to Create the World We Want (Nation Books)…

Also by The Author

The article offers a discussion about world hunger and wealth distribution. It is argued that calls for the end of hunger fail to challenge the systems that prevent solutions. Hunger has grown 43 percent in five years in the United States. More hungry people live in India than in all of sub-Saharan Africa. Hunger is caused by an economic system that is driven by the rule: highest return to existing wealth. Because of this system, economic inequality is worsening in most of the world.

Focuses on the status of ownership of Industry in Sweden as of February 1983. Name of the trade union which is lobbying for the passage of the ownership of industry in the hands of the workers; Type of proposal given by the workers’ organization, Social Democratic Party to industrialists in exchange of the ownership of Swedish industry; Way in which the workers would get controlling interests in Sweden’s major companies.

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Powered by seaweed: Polymer from algae may improve battery performance

Powered by seaweed: Polymer from algae may improve battery performance

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Posted 08 September 2011, by Staff, Clemson University, clemson.edu

 

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Igor Luzinov image by: Clemson University

CLEMSON — By looking to Mother Nature for solutions, researchers have identified a promising new binder material for lithium-ion battery electrodes that not only could boost energy storage, but also eliminate the use of toxic compounds now used to manufacture the components.

Known as alginate, the material is extracted from common, fast-growing brown algae. In tests so far, it has helped boost energy storage and output for both graphite-based electrodes used in existing batteries and silicon-based electrodes being developed for future generations of batteries.

The research, the result of collaboration between scientists and engineers at Clemson University and the Georgia Institute of Technology, is being reported Thursday in Science Express, an online-only publication of the journal Science that publishes selected papers in advance of the journal. The project was supported by the two universities as well as by a Honda Initiation Grant and a grant from NASA.

“Making less-expensive batteries that can store more energy and last longer with the help of alginate could provide a large and long-lasting impact on the community,” said Gleb Yushin, an assistant professor in Georgia Tech’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “These batteries could contribute to building a more energy-efficient economy with extended-range electric cars, as well as cell phones and notebook computers that run longer on battery power — all with environmentally friendly manufacturing technologies.”

Working with Igor Luzinov at Clemson University, the scientists looked at ways to improve binder materials in batteries. The binder is a critical component that suspends the silicon or graphite particles that actively interact with the electrolyte that provides battery power.

“We specifically looked at materials that had evolved in natural systems, such as aquatic plants which grow in saltwater with a high concentration of ions,” said Luzinov, a professor in Clemson’s School of Materials Science and Engineering. “Since electrodes in batteries are immersed in a liquid electrolyte, we felt that aquatic plants — in particular, plants growing in such an aggressive environment as saltwater — would be excellent candidates for natural binders.”

Finding just the right material is an important step toward improving the performance of lithium-ion batteries, which are essential to a broad range of applications, from cars to cell phones. The popular and lightweight batteries work by transferring lithium ions between two electrodes — a cathode and an anode — through a liquid electrolyte. The more efficiently the lithium ions can enter the two electrodes during charge and discharge cycles, the larger the battery’s capacity will be.

Existing lithium-ion batteries rely on anodes made from graphite, a form of carbon. Silicon-based anodes theoretically offer as much as a tenfold capacity improvement over graphite anodes, but silicon-based anodes so far have not been stable enough for practical use.

Among the challenges for binder materials are that anodes to be used in future batteries must allow for the expansion and contraction of the silicon nanoparticles and that existing electrodes use a polyvinylidene fluoride binder manufactured using a toxic solvent.

Alginates — low-cost materials that already are used in foods, pharmaceutical products, paper and other applications — are attractive because of their uniformly distributed carboxylic groups. Other materials, such as carboxymethyl cellulose, can be processed to include the carboxylic groups, but that adds to their cost and does not provide the natural uniform distribution of alginates.

The alginate is extracted from the seaweed through a simple soda-based (Na2CO3) process that generates a uniform material. The anodes then can be produced through an environmentally friendly process that uses a water-based slurry to suspend the silicon or graphite nanoparticles. The new alginate electrodes are compatible with existing production techniques and can be integrated into existing battery designs, Yushin said.

Use of the alginate may help address one of the most difficult problems limiting the use of high-energy silicon anodes. When batteries begin operating, decomposition of the lithium-ion electrolyte forms a solid electrolyte interface on the surface of the anode. The interface must be stable and allow lithium ions to pass through it, yet restrict the flow of fresh electrolyte.

With graphite particles, whose volume does not change, the interface remains stable. However, because the volume of silicon nanoparticles changes during operation of the battery, cracks can form and allow additional electrolyte decomposition until the pores that allow ion flow become clogged, causing battery failure. Alginate not only binds silicon nanoparticles to each other and to the metal foil of the anode, but they also coat the silicon nanoparticles themselves and provide a strong support for the interface, preventing degradation.

Thus far, the researchers have demonstrated that the alginate can produce battery anodes with reversible capacity eight times greater than that of today’s best graphite electrodes. The anode also demonstrates a coulombic efficiency approaching 100 percent and has been operated through more than 1,000 charge-discharge cycles without failure.

For the future, the researchers — who, in addition to Yushin and Luzinov, included Igor Kovalenko, Alexandre Magasinski, Benjamin Hertzberg and Zoran Milicev from Georgia Tech; and Bogdan Zdyrko and Ruslan Burtovyy from Clemson — hope to explore other alginates, boost performance of their electrodes and better understand how the material works.

Alginates are natural polysaccharides that help give brown algae the ability to produce strong stalks as much as 60 meters long. The seaweed grows in vast forests in the ocean and also can be farmed in wastewater ponds.

“Brown algae is rich in alginates and is one of the fastest-growing plants on the planet,” said Luzinov, who also is a member of Clemson’s Center for Optical Materials Science and Engineering Technologies (COMSET). “This is a case in which we found all the necessary attributes in one place: a material that not only will improve battery performance, but also is relatively fast and inexpensive to produce and is considerably more safe than the some of the materials that are being used now.”

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http://www.clemson.edu/media-relations/3825/powered-by-seaweed-polymer-from-algae-may-improve-battery-performance/

Singapore International Water Week Launches Blue Paper and Solutions

Singapore International Water Week Launches Blue Paper and Solutions

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Posted 0-5 September 2011, by Staff (Singapore International Water Week), Asia Corporate News Network, acnnewswire.com

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Singapore, Sept 5, 2011 – (ACN Newswire) – Key ideas from the Water Leaders Summit 2011 and a recap of the activities at Singapore International Water Week 2011 have been captured in the latest Water Week 2011 publications, Blue Paper and Solutions, respectively. The publications were launched by Dr Vivian Balakrishnan, Minister for the Environment and Water Resources at the International Desalination Association (IDA) World Congress on Desalination & Water Reuse in Perth, Western Australia today.

The Blue Paper serves as a strategic resource for global water leaders in the development of sustainable solutions in their own cities. It documents, amongst others, key discussions from the Water Leaders Summit including the inaugural Water Conversation with Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Water Ministers Plenary, and Water Leaders Roundtable.

Salient takeaways from these dialogues outlines imperatives such as the need to price water not just to reflect the cost of production and delivery but also its scarcity value while ensuring that water was affordable; the need to harness desalination and water reuse technologies to overcome long-term water challenges; recognising correlation between food security and water security; and the need for governments to address the water-energy nexus by adopting an integrated approach for water-energy planning and management to reap greater efficiencies. The full excerpt of salient points captured in the Blue Paper can be found in the Annex.

Themed “Desalination: Sustainable Solutions for a Thirsty Planet”, the IDA World Congress 2011 is expected to draw over 1,200 industry professionals and leaders from over 40 countries. One of the key events on the global water calendar, it brings together the desalination industry’s greatest thinkers and achievers, from leading scientists and researchers, to end-users, suppliers and manufacturers. The theme of this year’s congress underscores the increasing importance of desalination in addressing challenges in the security of water supply, and the impact that climate change has on water resources planning.

Singapore’s participation and launch of Blue Paper and Solutions at the IDA World Congress cements the strong and synergistic partnership between Singapore and IDA in developing sustainable water solutions. In 2005, PUB played host to the World Congress, with a record of over 850 attendees from 47 countries. Both organisations then moved on to organise the Singapore Desalination and Water Reuse Summit in 2007. That set the stage for closer collaboration between IDA and PUB on the Singapore International Water Week, Water Leaders Summit, research and development, and the IDA Fellowship Award programme.

More significantly, Singapore shares IDA’s commitment towards desalination and water reuse as two sustainable sources of water. Recycled water, branded NEWater in Singapore, and desalinated water are part of PUB’s Four National Taps, a long term water supply strategy to ensure a robust and sustainable water supply for Singapore.

Singapore’s commitment towards pursuing innovation in desalination saw PUB embarking on a partnership with Hyflux in April this year to develop Singapore’s second and largest desalination plant – Tuaspring Desalination Plant, with a long term goal for desalination to meet 30% of Singapore’s water demand. PUB is also engaged in various R&D collaborations to chart new milestones in desalination, with projects aimed at reducing the energy consumption by over 50%, and using biomimicry to mimic natural desalination systems such as mangrove plants and saltwater fishes to further improve the energy efficiency of desalination processes.

Singapore International Water Week 2012

Following the successful staging of Singapore International Water Week 2011, which saw a record 13,500 participants from 99 countries/regions, the fifth Singapore International Water Week will be held from 2 to 6 July 2012 at the Sands Expo and Convention Centre at Marina Bay Sands.

The United Nations projects that by 2050, urban and industrial water use will double while climate change and rapid urbanisation will place mounting pressures on urban systems. In the face of these global challenges, the Singapore International Water Week 2012 theme “Water Solutions for Liveable and Sustainable Cities” reinforces the pressing need to integrate sustainable water management strategies into the urban planning process.

Held in conjunction with the 3rd World Cities Summit and the inaugural CleanEnviro Singapore, delegates, trade visitors and exhibitors will also have more opportunities to promote practical and sustainable water solutions and tap into a vast network of public and private sector players in urban solutions.

“Beyond the basic provision of water supply and sanitation, water management is crucial for cities to be liveable and sustainable. At Singapore International Water Week 2012, we will continue to look at water solutions for cities, focusing on the essential integration of sustainable water management strategies into the process of urban planning,” said Maurice Neo, Managing Director of Singapore International Water Week. Nominations for the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize 2012, a highlight of the Water Week, are now open till 31 October 2011. The Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize is an international water award that honours outstanding contributions towards solving global water problems by either applying technologies or implementing policies and programmes which benefit humanity. For nomination guidelines and form, please visit www.siww.com.sg.

About World Cities Summit

The World Cities Summit is a premier event that brings together practitioners and policy makers with leading experts in their field to identify innovative solutions to the most pressing challenges facing cities today. For more information, visit www.worldcitiessummit.com.sg.

About CleanEnviro Singapore

The inaugural CleanEnviro Singapore showcases waste management, energy and resources recovery companies, plant, machinery and equipment and cleaning technologies. Trade visitors will be able to source new waste management solutions and environmental technologies, meet global clients and hear experts on emerging issues on industry trends. For more information, visit www.wastemetasia.org.

About Singapore International Water Week

The Singapore International Water Week is the global platform for water solutions. It brings policymakers, industry leaders, experts and practitioners together to address challenges, showcase technologies, discover opportunities and celebrate achievements in the water world. Comprising the Water Leaders Summit, Water Convention, Water Expo and Business Forums, it culminates in the presentation of the Lee Kuan Yew Water Prize, a prestigious international award to recognise outstanding contributions in solving global water issues. The fourth Singapore International Water Week will be held from 4 to 8 July 2011. The theme is Sustainable Water Solutions for a Changing Urban Environment. For more information, log onto www.siww.com.sg.

Contact:

Quek Ai Choo
Singapore International Water Week
Tel: +65 6731 3293
Email: quek_ai_choo@pub.gov.sg

Sept 5, 2011
Source: Singapore International Water Week

Topic: Research / Industry Report
Sectors: Water, Environment General
http://www.acnnewswire.com
From the Asia Corporate News Network

Copyright © 2011 ACN Newswire.

 

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Growing “nanoflowers” could restore eyesight

Posted 02 September 2011, by Staff, LaserFocusWorld (The OptoIQ Digital Network (PennWell Corporation)), laserfocusworld.com

Eugene, OR–Nanoflowers seeded from nano-sized particles of metals that grow or self assemble in a natural process–diffusion limited aggregation–could communicate efficiently with neurons and restore sight to the visually impaired. University of Oregon (UO) researcher Richard Taylor is on a quest to grow these fractal nanoflowers that could help people who have lost their sight (to age-related macular degeneration or AMD, for example) to see again.

Fractals are “a trademark building block of nature,”  (Ed Note: emphasis added by me) Taylor says. Fractals are objects with irregular curves or shapes, of which any one component seen under magnification is also the same shape. In math, that property is self-similarity. Trees, clouds, rivers, galaxies, lungs and neurons are fractals, Taylor says. Today’s commercial electronic chips are not fractals, he adds. Eye surgeons would implant these fractal devices within the eyes of blind patients, providing interface circuitry that would collect light captured by the retina and guide it with almost 100% efficiency to neurons for relay to the optic nerve to process vision.

In an article titled “Vision of beauty” for Physics World, Taylor, a physicist and director of the UO Materials Science Institute, describes his envisioned approach and how it might overcome the problems occurring with current efforts to insert photodiodes behind the eyes. Current chip technology is limited, because it doesn’t allow sufficient connections with neurons. “The wiring–the neurons–in the retina is fractal, but the chips are not fractal,” Taylor says. “They are just little squares of electrodes that provide too little overlap with the neurons.”

Beginning this summer, Taylor’s doctoral student Rick Montgomery will begin a yearlong collaboration with Simon Brown at the University of Canterbury in New Zealand to experiment with various metals to grow the fractal flowers on implantable chips. Taylor’s theoretical concept for fractal-based photodiodes also is the focus of a U.S. patent application filed by the UO’s Office of Technology Transfer under Taylor’s and Brown’s names, the UO and University of Canterbury.

The project is based on “the striking similarities between the eye and the digital camera. The front end of both systems,” says Taylor, “consists of an adjustable aperture within a compound lens, and advances bring these similarities closer each year.” Digital cameras, he adds, are approaching the capacity to capture the 127 megapixels of the human eye, but current chip-based implants, because of their interface, are only providing about 50 pixels of resolution.

Among the challenges, Taylor says, is determining which metals can best go into body without toxicity problems. “We’re right at the start of this amazing voyage,” Taylor says. “The ultimate thrill for me will be to go to a blind person and say, we’re developing a chip that one day will help you see again. For me, that is very different from my previous research, where I’ve been looking at electronics to go into computers, to actually help somebody … if I can pull that off that will be a tremendous thrill for me.”

Taylor also is working under a Research Corp. grant to pursue fractal-based solar cells.

SOURCE: University of Oregon; http://uonews.uoregon.edu/archive/news-release/2011/5/forecast-calls-nanoflowers-help-return-eyesight
Posted by: Gail Overton

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http://www.laserfocusworld.com/articles/2011/05/nanoflowers.html