Friday, September 23, 2005

Friday Hope Blogging

This week, it was a temptation to focus on BushCo's continued disintegration, but I convinced myself to hold off until I see the Plame indictments. Instead, I'm concerning myself primarily with issues relating to plants and agriculture.

WorldChanging reports that in the island nation of Vanautu, coconut oil is increasingly being used as a substitute for diesel.

Unlike with many biofuels, coconut oil doens't need to be transesterized - mixed with sodium hydroxide and alcohol to change its chemical composition - to run in a diesel engine. Filtered and warmed to temperatures about 25C, coconut oil is a better than satisfactory substitute for "mineral diesel" - it burns more slowly, which produces more even pressure on engine pistons, reducing engine wear, and lubricates the engine more effectively.
What I find appealing about this is that it's a local, low-tech solution. A smaller-scale, decentralized approach to petroleum fuel replacement, in which alternative fuels are produced from regional plants with a minimum of transportation and processing, is an attractive idea. It's ideal for an island chain with a small population, of course, but I'd like to think it might also applicable to fueling municipal vehicles, farm equipment, and the like.

One thing the article doesn't specifically mention is that diesel fuel is normally transported to Vanuatu by ship, which - of course - requires considerable fuel inputs. So if a regional switch to coconut-based fuel were possible, it seems logical that it'd reduce fuel transportation costs, as well as the potential for spills. UNDP Equator Initiative identifies another important benefit:
In common with many small and medium sized island economies Vanuatu is a net importer of goods, importing about three times the amount it exports. Diesel fuel accounts for about US$9 million, or about 10 per cent of the total value of imports. If a sizeable proportion of imported diesel could be substituted by an indigenously produced fuel, it would make a significant difference to the balance of payments deficit.
Closer to home, Treehugger discusses compostable plastic utensils made from corn and potato starch. There's nothing really new here, except that the material can be worked by existing machines designed for plastic production, which I found interesting. reports on research indicating that a coating of aloe vera gel works to protect fruits and vegetables from spoilage. This could be an attractive, harmless replacement for sulfur dioxide and other common synthetic preservatives.
Valero and his associates dipped a group of common table grapes (Crimson Seedless) into Aloe vera gel and stored them for five weeks under low temperature while exposing a group of untreated table grapes to the same conditions. The colorless Aloe gel used in this study was developed through a special processing technique that maximized the amount of active compounds in the gel, Valero and associates say. The gel can also be applied as a spray, they add.

The untreated grapes appeared to deteriorate rapidly within about 7 days, whereas the gel-coated grapes were well-preserved for up to 35 days under the same experimental conditions, the researchers say. The gel-treated grapes were firmer, had less weight loss and less color change than the untreated grapes, measures which correspond to higher freshness, they say.
Speaking of pesticides, here's a fascinating story:
For the first time, scientists have identified an ant species that produces its own natural herbicide to poison unwanted plants....The research focused on devil's gardens, mysterious tracts of vegetation that randomly appear in the Amazonian rainforest. "Devil's gardens are large stands of trees in the Amazonian rainforest that consist almost entirely of a single species, Duroia hirsuta, and, according to local legend, are cultivated by an evil forest spirit," write Frederickson and her colleagues in Nature. "Here we show that the ant, Myrmelachista schumanni, which nests in D. hirsuta stems, creates devil's gardens by poisoning all plants except its hosts with formic acid. By killing other plants, M. schumanni provides its colonies with abundant nest sites--a long-lasting benefit, as colonies can live for 800 years."
I guess there's no "hopeful" component to this story, but it was so interesting I couldn't resist including it!

The Organic Consumers Association announces that public pressure has forced a delay in Congress's secretive attempt to destroy organic standards.
Over the past 72 hours, Organic Consumers Association network members have deluged the U.S. Senate with 35,000 emails and 10,000 telephone calls...This nearly unprecedented grassroots upsurge has temporarily rattled Congress and the industry, delaying the initial Sneak Attack in the Senate on organic standards, resulting in a compromise amendment September 21 calling for "further study of the issue."
The proposed changes would hobble small, innovative, sustainable firms for the benefit of poison-spewing agribusiness dinosaurs, thus restricting competition and consumer choice (and proving, once again, that the corporatist Right's devotion to the "free market" is chimaerical). They would also reduce opportunities for public input into government rule-making, which has been an increasingly common anti-democratic strategy under BushCo.

The battle isn't over, of course.
[W]e expect another, possibly even more serious, Sneak Attack in the House/Senate Conference Committee over the next week as Congress members put the final wording together for the 2006 Congressional Agriculture Appropriations Bill. Therefore OCA is calling on consumers and the organic community to start applying pressure to their House of Representatives members as well as their Senators to stop the Conference Committee from degrading the standards. In addition we urge everyone to start applying pressure to the Organic Trade Association, who are unfortunately spearheading this Sneak Attack. We ask everyone who has read our SOS Action Alert and signed our petition to Congress to call your House of Representative member at this toll free number: 877-762-8762, as well as the OTA: 413-774-7511.
The attack on organic standards is part of a larger pattern of disenfranchisement, secrecy, and corporate cronyism that affects all of us, so I'd suggest that it's a good idea to get involved even if this isn't one of your pet issues.

If all else fails, you can fight back from the grave. There was considerable worry, back in the 1980s, that the Japanese would bury us. It turns out that this might not be such a bad thing:
Environmentally friendly funerals featuring coffins made of cardboard from fast-growing trees and urns that decompose in the soil are becoming more popular...Saiju Temple in Kyoto made a "garden cemetery" in May, where they plant plants instead of setting up grave stones. Instead of urns, they use capsules made from tea leaves that decompose in the soil.
If you prefer a watery grave, you can have your ashes made into a coral reef.
Eternal Reefs can take your ashes and mix them with special concrete formula to mould "reef balls", which are then placed in the ocean to provide a marine habitat compensating for the many we are destroying. Your loved ones can do the mixing, if so desired, and they can observe your remains being deep sixed and be given a GPS reference, with the longitude and latitude of your living marine memorial.
Who says environmentalism is dead?

No comments: