March 2009

Monthly Archive

Ecotopia #26: Earth–The Sequel

Posted by on 31 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date: 1/31/09

This program is about greener, cleaner, energy. We interview Miriam Horn, co-author of a book called Earth: the Sequel—The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming. We talk with Miriam about some promising new technologies for generating green energy, and we also discuss the economics and politics of energy, particularly the controversial proposals for a “cap-and-trade” system for managing emissions.

Listen to Ecotopia #26 Online Now!
To download the file, right click (Mac Control-click) and select “Save Target As…”

Global News and Background on Green Energy

From ZD Net Asia, a business and technology news service comes speculation about where the green economy will be going in an economic recession and a time of global warming. Martin LaMonica writes:

As the person who coined the term “clean tech,” Nicholas Parker has been around the industry as long as anybody and he thinks people underestimate the potential of green business. To most people, green technology means renewable electricity, fuel efficiency, and perhaps water purification technologies. But to Parker, those technologies–most of which focus on addressing climate change–are still just a sliver of the innovation needed to address the world’s environmental woes. [,,,] Parker sees a need for technical and business solutions under the overall rubric of sustainability. “In a way, this is a design revolution. It’s not about doing things more efficiently or doing things less bad. It’s about redesigning everything from scratch,” he said. […] [G] overnment stimulus packages around the world will help propel green-tech industries, but a “price signal” in the form of a tax or carbon-trading system is still needed.

“Other countries are being as aggressive (on clean energy) if not more aggressive as we are here,” he said. “Whether we like it or not, China is coming to this space.”,39044229,62052663,00.htm

From Technology Review we have this analysis of President Obama’s proposal to “cap” carbon emissions and then “trade” carbon credits on the open market. Kevin Bullis explains:

President Obama’s budget numbers depend heavily on revenues from a proposed cap-and-trade program for reducing carbon dioxide emissions.[…]The cap-and-trade program does not yet exist: it will need to be established in future legislation. But the inclusion of future revenues in the budget, and a promise to pursue necessary legislation, is the strongest commitment yet that the administration will follow through with one of Obama’s campaign promises and establish a cap-and-trade system for carbon dioxide emissions.

Under such a system, the government sets an annual cap on carbon dioxide emissions–the budget calls for a cap of 14 percent below 2005 emissions levels by 2020, and 83 percent below 2005 levels by 2050. The government then issues a set number of credits for the total emissions allowed under that cap. Under Obama’s plan, those credits won’t be given away, as they were in the initial version of a cap-and-trade system employed in Europe. Instead, the credits will be auctioned off, and that money will be the source of government revenue. Polluters will be required to buy enough credits at the initial auction to cover their carbon dioxide emissions, or acquire more by trading with others at a later stage. Alternatively, they can reduce their emissions by investing in more efficient technologies.

Our Questions for Miriam Horn coauthor of a book called Earth: The Sequel—The Race to Reinvent Energy and Stop Global Warming:

Part I: Energy Entrepreneurs and Amazing Technology;

· You write that we are in the midst of “a new industrial revolution” with industries that are “capital intensive” but “shovel-in-ground” and “dedicated to greening the planet.” Please tell us about this revolution.

· Reviewers say that your book is filled with optimism, and we found that to be true. Let’s talk about some of the gee-whiz sci-fi technologies you’ve found in:

o Solar. You report that 100 square miles of solar voltaic could take care of U.S. energy needs. And there are solar We’ve got that much space in the southwest deserts. What’s to make that all happen. What’s promising in solar thermal? (How do grid transmission problems slow progress? What’s possible with “smart grids” of the sort IBM is advertising on TV?)

o Biofuels. Our romance with corn-based ethanol came to an end pretty quickly as we discovered that it jacked up commodity prices, chewed up farmland, and consumed a lot of petroleum in production. What do you see as the prospects for biofuels, in particular, cellulosic biofuel production. (Genetic engineering prospects and nightmares: “Plants that produce the enzymes needed to break down their own cellulose . . . [but might] “eat themselves alive in the field.”)

o Ocean energy and bouncing buoys with “acceration tubes.”

o Coal reconsidered. High-tech pollution controls, gassification, in-ground burning. Facts and myths about carbon sequestration.

o Nuclear energy—where does it fit into the future energy picture?

Part II: Free Market, the Will of the People, and the Role of the Government

· Underlying your book is a strong belief that cap-and-trade legislation is the key to a successful energy program globally. Why do you have such confidence in this approach?

· There are some pretty vocal critics of cap-and-trade arguing that cap-and-trade:

o plays into the hands and wealth of the big polluters.

o would create a new gamblers’ market akin to the stock exchange, where people who produce nothing make a lot of money in speculation.

· Why not just a carbon tax: make the polluters pay; they pass on the costs to consumers; the free market drives carbon out of business?

· Or, why not just let the new technologies work their magic—won’t clean energy eventually dominate on its own?

· President Obama favors cap-and-trade, with the government itself profiting from sale of credits. What do you think of Mr. Obama’s plan? What do you think are the prospects for significant climate change legislation in the next several years?

· You’ve also talked about the merit of prizes and other incentives (e.g., Richard Branson’s $25 million prize). What other incentives—private or public—might push us toward a greener planet?

· What’s your best guess (or best hope) for climate control over, say, the next two to three decades?

· What should listeners, concerned citizens, voters do at this point to bring about a greener energy program?

· And in closing, a question we like to ask on this program: How did you get interested in this movement and who are your role models or inspirational gurus?

The book is Earth: The Sequel and it is published by W. W. Norton & Company. You can also learn more about the Environmental Defense Fund where Miriam works on line at,

Do-It-Yourself Greenery

From Voice of America by reporter Mike O’Sullivan.

A study by the environmental organization Green Seal finds that four out of five Americans are buying “green,” environmentally friendly, but often more expensive, products despite the economic recession. But, the study also shows that consumers are uncertain which products are really green.”

[The study was based on 1000 phone calls done by the EnviroMedia polling firm and] shows that consumers are uncertain how to tell whether a product helps the environment. One in 10 relied on advertising and one in five said that product reputation helped them determine whether a product is green. One in five said that word of mouth – getting advice from friends – was an important source of information. [Green Seal] certifies products and services as environmentally friendly through a life-cycle evaluation – looking at the raw materials and the manufacturing process, transportation and recycling of old products.

From the Environmental Defense Fund website:

  • Interactive “green” maps that highlight firms in key manufacturing states poised to grow and create jobs under a cap on global warming pollution. A study on green jobs conducted by Duke University.
  • How to calculate your carbon footprint and cut emissions.
  • A “paper calculator” that allows you too look at paper consumption and find out about green and greener kinds of paper.
  • A “seafood selector” that presents information on fish and other seafood, from eco-best to eco-worst, including a Sushi Selector.
  • A link to EDFs “carbon offset” purchase site, where you can make donations to support companies that are exploring energy solutions, like a California Dairy that is converting cow manure to methane. The offset site sells these credits for $10 per ton and estimates that the average American produces 24 tons of C02 per year.

  • Petition links to the Obama administration and congresspeople to urge prompt action on Global Warming Issues.

From Green Living Tips, the Zeer Pot, a way of cooling food without electricity.

A pot-in-pot fridge consists of two unglazed terracotta pots, one larger than the other. […] A layer of sand is placed in the bottom of the large pot and the smaller pot placed inside. Sand is poured in the gap between the two pots to just below the rim.[…]Water is then poured on the sand until it begins pooling on the surface. The pot is then placed in a shaded area with good ventilation. The dampness penetrates the walls of the terracotta pots, which then evaporates. This evaporation cools the pot, the sand and the food/drinks that are placed inside the smaller pot. Wet fabric such as a tea towel or hessian is also placed over the smaller pot to assist further with cooling. The Zeer pot works best in areas with low humidity levels.

Playlist for Ecotopia #26

1.  Working on a Dream, Bruce Springsteen
2.  Effect and Cause, White Stripes
3. The Shop of Wild Dreams, the Tiptons Sax Quartet
4.  Solar Power Princess,  Nooshi, the Balloon Dude
5.  Wind Power David Suzuki
6. Weave Me the Sunshine, Peter, Paul, and Mary

Ecotopia #25 Systematic Innovation

Posted by on 24 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

This program is all about  innovation.  We will interview Tom Koulopoulos, author of a new book called The Innovation Zone.  He is interested in the process of innovation. We ask him about how we can use our understanding of innovation to create a more sustainable world in the future.

Global News on Innovation
Globally, innovation is a hot topic, especially as it involves giving countries a competitive edge:

From the Chinese News Agency, Xinhua (Bejing, March 22):  

Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao [One jah-bow] has called on enterprises and officials to place priority on industrial upgrading and innovation, urging them to move “early rather than late” to ride through the global financial crisis.  Chinese companies should focus on adjusting product structure, improving quality and upgrading technologies in the face of economic woes, said Wen during a visit to enterprises in the northeastern Liaoning Province from Friday to Sunday. 

From McKinsey Digital, a think tank on global innovation is a“heat map” of he world’s innovation hot spots, reported in   “Building an innovation nation” by André Andonian, Christoph Loos, and Luiz Pires” 26 February 2009:

The report analyzed 700 variables, including:  ”business environment, government and regulation, human capital, infrastructure, and local demand […plus indicators like] patent applications to identify trends among the success stories to come up with three metaphoric categories:

    • Dynamic oceans: large and vibrant innovation ecosystems …
    • Silent lakes: slow-growing innovation ecosystems  …
    • Shrinking pools: innovation hubs that are unable to broaden their areas of activity or increase their lists of innovators and so find themselves slowly migrating down the value chain…. 

From a company called Terrafugia, located in Boston’s famous Route 128 innovation corridor recently had  successful test flight of a flying car, the Transition.  Terrafugia writes in its promotional literature:

Every pilot faces uncertain weather, rising costs, and ground transportation hassles on each end of the flight. The Transition® combines the unique convenience of being able to fold its wings with the ability to drive on any surface road in a modern personal airplane platform. Stowing the wings for road use and deploying them for flight at the airport is activated from inside the cockpit. This unique functionality addresses head-on the issues faced by today’s Private and Sport Pilots.
But  Bill Schweber, writing in Environmental Engineering times, has reservations about the flying car, and asks, “Does innovation need a reality check?”  He writes:

My first thought [about the flying car]was “this is awesome!” The recurring dream we’ve all been told about–and have probably read about as “coming soon” in antique copies of Popular Mechanics from the 1950s–may be closer to becoming reality. New materials, improved electronics and innovative techniques have made possible the achievement of that dream

But then the rest of my brain got engaged and said, “Get real, what are you thinking?” Do we want the typical driver, who barely pays attention to the two-dimensional roadway, piloting a small plane? […]

Our ability to innovate needs a reality check: What is really worth doing, rather than what is possible? It’s hard enough to anticipate the impact of our innovations since the Law of Unintended Consequences is as firm as the laws of physics.

Our Questions for Tom Koulopolous:

Part I: Getting to Understand Innovation

  • Please tell us about the concept of the “Innovation Zone.”
  • You note in the book that “We often aggrandize innovation . . . We ascribe to it a mystical quality.”  So how do we move innovation from the realm of magic to something people can do routinely?
  • Thomas Kuhn, in The Nature of Scientific Revolutions, says that paradigm shifts take place only when the old ideas break down—then new thinking emerges. So what’s wrong with riding with the status quo until it no longer works?
  • You write a good deal about what we might call faux innovation, the creation of products that nobody really needs or wants, but we buy anyway. Could you give us some examples of those kinds of products? (We’re thinking, too, of Victor Papanek’s Design for the Real World, where he argues that we spend too much money engineering for pizazz, and too little for actual functionality.)
  • You say that innovators need to be tough skinned, to accept failure early and stick with the project.  But when and how do you know whether your project is just something crackpot or merely an idea whose time will come? (Please tell us the story of the Edsel).
  • We remember seeing John Harrison’s amazing clock in the Greenwich Naval Museum in London, the clock used to establish precise mapping of longitude in the 18th century. Please tell us that story.
  • You also talk about the killers of innovations, things like bureaucracies, lawyers, and accountants.  And we are constantly reminded that the bottom line is everything.  So how can one innovate in a dog-eat-dog capitalist world? (Maybe the story of the Post-It.)
  • Many of your examples come from large corporations—GM, IBM, Procter & Gamble, Oracle.  Can you give us an example or two from the mom-and-pop level? 

Part II:  Innovation and the Global-to-Local Economy

  • What are some of the ways that you think the innovation zone concept should be put to use in today’s staggering economy?  Is this the worst of times or the best of times for entrepreneurship and innovation?
  • President Obama seems to be a one-person innovation zone (supported of course, by a large staff and a landslide vote). How do you rate Obama’s performance as an innovator?  What advice might you give him (or maybe you have, please tell us)?
  • You see India and China as the major competitors with the U.S. over the coming decades, but you see ways in which the country can innovate without being protectionist or overly nationalistic.  What are the innovative options?
  • On this program, we are particularly interest in the movement toward local production and consumption—buy local if you can.  How can innovators take advantage of this movement?  Can the locals, in the long run, find a sustainable niche next to, say WalMart or Target or Home Depot?  Is this movement limited to farmer’s markets?
  • Please talk a bit about how one might create an innovation zone for, say, for one’s personal life. Can we use your techniques to, say, engage in self renewal or family happiness?
  • On this program, we’re always interested in finding out who are the role models of our guests.  Peter Drucker is obviously one for you. What was his impact?  Who else inspires you?

 The Innovation Zone  is published by Davies-Black Publications of Moutain View, and you can find it on Amazon.  You can also learn more about Tom’s work at the Delphi Group website, 

Do-It-Yourself Innovation

Wiki How has some really cool stuff on innovative thinking starting with “How to Think Outside of the Box.”

 Indications that it might be time to change your way of thinking if:

·         You are in a rut, you know you are in a rut, and no matter what you try, you fall back into the rut.

·         You can’t come up with a solution to a nagging problem. Finally, someone else does and the answer was an incredibly obvious one…and it happens a lot.

Wiki How suggests:

·         studying creative thinking strategies such as reframing or lateral thinking.

·         not assuming that creativity is just a matter of IQ

·         overcoming limiters: negative attitude, fear of failure, stress, .following rules, accepting as the status quo.

·         Asking lots of questions

 Equally interesting, WikiHow also recognizes reality and has some ways to :Think Inside the Box 

 In most real life situations, you are given specific hard parameters that cannot be changed. Creative thinking must involve inclusion of these boundaries.

Solutions that are created “outside of the box” cannot be implemented “inside of the box”. [We disagree, actually.] Thinking outside of the box is a powerful mental exercise, but it is not practical for solving actual problems.

·         Define parameters that frame your goal. This is the “box” in which you must work your solution. If you are drawing these boundaries, be careful where you draw it, and be aware of what can and cannot be moved, if necessary, about them. 

·         Make a list of solutions that have been tried unsuccessfully in the past. Ask yourself why each of these solutions failed.

·         Start a list of solutions that have not been tried. Write down every idea regardless of merit and filter them later.

·         Work backwards. Consider resources or solutions open to you and ask whether and how they could move you toward your goal

 And lastly, Wiki How has a wonderful set of suggestions on: How to Look Like You Are Thinking:

·         Squint your eyes and look down. Have your mouth open enough to show your teeth. This is how most people look while they’re thinking. You can also breathe in through your teeth as if you were lost in thought. Bite your lower lip, and tap your hand on the desk or your leg like you were trying to remember something. This will make it look like you’re thinking deeply, and people will be afraid to disturb you.

·         Look up while tapping your hand. Occasionally close your eyes for a few seconds. After a minute of this, write, (or pretend to write), something down on a piece of paper. Once you’ve written something, look back up and repeat. Make sure you never stop, not even for a few moments, because someone will try as hard as they can to ask what you’re doing as soon as you show signs of stopping.

·         Rest your head in your hand. Make sure you do this correctly, or it could look like you’re bored instead. Hum in monotone, and look upwards. If this isn’t convincing enough, write something down after doing this for a few minutes. Squint one eye while looking up as if trying to envision something.

·         Go on a computer. Just owning a computer makes you appear as if you think a lot. Type on the computer constantly so it looks like you’re doing something important. You can also wear headphones so it looks like you’re listening to something. Nod your head often while listening to your headphones to make it look like you’re listening to an information CD.

·         Read a book. Reading a book automatically makes you look like you’re thinking. Consider reading a book that is very difficult to read, so people will think you must be working very hard to understand it. If you don’t want to read, stick your iPod in the page and watch a music video. 

Playlist for Ecotopia #25:

1. The Future Freaks Me Out (Album Version)        3:37    Motion City   Soundtrack        I Am The Movie       

2. Opening:  The New World         5:05      Jason Robert Brown        Songs For A New World       

3. Innovator (DBS Remix)        8:19      Dynamik Bass System        The Mighty Machine       

4.     Somasonic         Future                       

5. kiew mission (LP Version)      9:19        Tangerine Dream           Exit                       

6. Weave Me the Sunshine        4:28        Peter, Paul And Mary       The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary       





Ecotopia #24 The Vernal Equinox

Posted by on 19 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date:  3/17/09

Vernal Equinox

Tonight’s show is a celebration of Spring and an exploration of the Vernal Equinox which occurs on March 20, marking the beginning of spring in the northern hemisphere and fall (autumn) in the southern hemisphere. It will occur at 11:44 (am) at Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) on this date.

Poetry Readings:

 “Today,”  Billy Collins
 “In Just-Spring,” e. e. cummings
 “Firstlings,” Louise Imogen Guiney
“Paschal,” Robert Pinsky
 “Mahayana,” Philip Whalen
 “Matanza to Spring,” Jimmy Santiago Baca
“The Gardner 85,” Rabindranath Tagore
“Time and the Garden,” Yvor Winters
 “Daffodils,” Robert Herrick
 “Spring, the Sweet Spring,” Thomas Nashe

Our poetry source is the Poetry Foundation

We also provide a good deal of factual, scientific, and cultural information about the spring equinox from Time and Date.Com and from—A-New-Mexico-Celebration.html.

 And we read some gardening tips for our region from Katherine Grace Endicott’s Northern California Gardening.

The Playlist for Ecotopia #24

1.  “Here Comes the Sun,” the Beatles, Abbey Road
2.  “Spring is Here,” Carly Simon, Torch
3.   “
I Got the Spring Fever Blues,” Ella Fitzgerald, All My Life
4.   “
Earth Anthem,” The Turtles, “Songs for Earth Day”
5.   “Spring Fever,” Orleans, The Essentials 
6.   “Feelin’ Groovy,” Simon and Garfunkle  




Ecotopia #23 Nukes and Other Scary Things

Posted by on 11 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

Date: 3/10/09

This program focuses on things nuclear. Our guest is Dr. Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma, Maryland. We talk with him about the potential and peril for nuclear electricity in coming years as well as the continuing threat to the world because of nuclear weapons.

Listen to Ecotopia #23 Online Now!
To download the show, right-click (Mach users control-click) and select “Save Target”.

Background for Our Interview with Arjun Makhijani.

We begin with an eyewitness description from July 16, 1945. The scene is the Manhattan project command bunker near Alamogordo, New Mexico, during the testing of the first atomic bomb: General Thomas Farrell observes:

In [a] brief instant in the remote New Mexico desert the tremendous effort of the brains and brawn of all these people came suddenly and startlingly to the fullest fruition. Dr. Oppenheimer, on whom had rested a very heavy burden, grew tenser as the last seconds ticked off. He scarce breathed. He held on to a post to steady himself. For the last few seconds, he stared directly ahead and then when the announcer shouted ‘Now!’ and there came this tremendous burst of light followed shortly thereafter by the deep growling roar of the explosion, his face relaxed into an expression of tremendous relief. Several of the observers standing back of the shelter to watch the lighting effects were knocked flat by the blast.

The tension in the room let up and all started congratulating each other. Everyone sensed ‘This is it!’ No matter what might happen now all knew that the impossible scientific job had been done. Atomic fission would no longer be hidden in the cloisters of the theoretical physicists’ dreams. It was almost full grown at birth. It was a great new force to be used for good or for evil. There was a feeling in that shelter that those concerned with its nativity should dedicate their lives to the mission that it would always be used for good and never for evil.

[A Harvard professor], threw his arms around Dr. Oppenheimer and embraced him with shouts of glee. Others were equally enthusiastic. All the pent-up emotions were released in those few minutes and all seemed to sense immediately that the explosion had far exceeded the most optimistic expectations and wildest hopes of the scientists. All seemed to feel that they had been present at the birth of a new age – The Age of Atomic Energy – and felt their profound responsibility to help in guiding into right channels the tremendous forces which had been unleashed for the first time in history.

General Farrell’s account appears in – Department of State, Foreign Relations for the United States Conference of Berlin (Potsdam) (1945); Lansing, Lamont, Day of Trinity (1965).

Would the power of the atom be “always used for good and never for evil”? In the sixty plus years since the testing of the A-bomb, General Farrell’s optimism seems naïve at best. The following is from an interview conducted just last Friday, March 6, by the National Journal Online. The interview was titled, “Entering A Nuclear Energy Crossroads” and the interview was with with Dale Klein, Chair of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, appointed by President Bush in July 2006 after serving as assistant to the secretary of Defense for nuclear, chemical and biological defense programs.

NJ: A recent International Atomic Energy Agency report said that Iran has enough nuclear fuel to build a bomb. The report explicitly connects having nuclear fuel with the ability to build a bomb, even though Iran hasn’t signaled that’s what it’s going to do with the fuel. How do you react to reports like this?

Dale Klein’s reply suggests the complexity of nuclear issues today including the fact that the science has become inextricably bound up with politics. Klein said:

In terms of the uranium program, that is one that is a very difficult situation. If you look at a country’s nuclear ambitions, very few countries would start off with needing the fuel enrichment capabilities that Iran is doing. They don’t have operating commercial reactors now and there is a surplus availability of fuel on the world market. So, from a technical standpoint, it doesn’t make sense that Iran is going so robustly with an enrichment program based on their current demand for fuel. Russia has indicated it would sell it. France has indicated it would sell them fuel. That has been a difficult position technically. Iran has also not been forthcoming with the [International Atomic Energy Agency] with their inspections. All of those raise questions as to what is really the Iranian intent. That makes it a very difficult problem, not only for the United States but for our allies and what should we do and what can we do. I think that story is yet to be told.

And from Maneater, the newspaper of the University of Missouri, comes this report, also dated last Friday, March 6. Recent legislation in Missouri has opened up the possibility that a new nuclear energy reactor might be built near an existing reactor in Callaway County: Greg Young writes:

With the passage of the Missouri Clean and Renewable Energy Construction Act passing in a House committee on Tuesday, an old debate in Missouri between the benefits and drawbacks of nuclear energy has resurfaced. The bill, which would repeal 1976 legislation prohibiting utility companies from raising rates on consumers while [nuclear plants are under] construction, has not only drawn ire […] about whether it has sufficient consumer protections, but also whether investment in nuclear energy is beneficial to the state of Missouri.

Opponents of the bill, and of nuclear energy, point out notable problems with nuclear energy in terms of storage of the radioactive nuclear material. Missouri Votes Conservation believes nuclear energy is dirty and will distract utilities companies from pursuing efficiency. […]. “Nuclear is not clean nor is it renewable, given that uranium is not an infinite resource,” [Missouri Coalition for the Environment] spokeswoman Erin Noble said [. . .]

[However] Warren Wood, a spokesman for the Missouri Energy Development Association, said public support for building of more nuclear [energy capability] has increased: “If you look back 20 to 30 years ago, if you polled the population you would find that it was very much a divided issue,” Warren said. “But now with the polling, you can get up there close of 80 percent of people are in favor of building a […] nuclear power plant.”

Another issue related to the controversy has been the transportation of nuclear waste across the state of Missouri. Sen. Kurt Schaefer, R-Columbia, has sponsored a bill to add fees to trucks that drive nuclear waste through Columbia, which passed the Senate unanimously two weeks ago. Despite these concerns, Schaefer said further investment in nuclear energy should be considered. “It is certainly a clean emission, and I think we do need to look at nuclear, and we do need to incorporate it,” Schaefer said. Recent ballot initiatives in Missouri have avoided concerns about nuclear energy. Proposition C, which passed last November by a considerable margin, does not include nuclear power in the language, which states that by 2021, investor-owned utilities in Missouri must have 15 percent of energy generated from renewable resources.

Our Questions for Arjun Makhijani

Our guest tonight is Arjun Makhijani, President of the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research in Takoma Park, Maryland. He has a wide range of interests including both nuclear weapons and the nuclear energy and waste disposal. Please tell us about the Institute for Energy and Environmental Research and your work there.

The first part of our interview focuses on nuclear energy:

  • Both presidential candidates talked of nuclear power as part of a sustainable energy mix for the US, along with “clean coal” solar, wind, geothermal. What do you see as the emerging reality here? What’s likely to happen?
  • Just how dangerous are nuclear power plants anyway? After all, we know that France and much of Europe are generating a lot of nuclear energy, so far, without incident. Were the American people overly frightened by Chernobyl and Three Mile Island?
  • Is nuclear energy “clean”?
  • We’ve lived in Nevada and are thus part of the not-in-my-backyard resistance to the proposed Yucca Mountain repository. There is also a good deal of evidence, including position papers from your institute, that says that Yucca Mountain is not a solution to nuclear waste disposal. Please discuss both that specific site and alternative to the disposal “problem”.
  • President Carter put an end to the “breeder reactor” programs that reprocess nuclear fuel into something fissionable plus byproducts with a very short half life (compared to 10,000 years for the wastes to be sent to Yucca Mountain). What do you think of breeder reactors as a source of “free” fissionable materials and a solution to waste disposal?
  • The 1950s saw “Project Ploughshare,” with ideas about using atomic energy for peaceful purposes, e.g. controlled bomb explosions to dig a new canal across the Isthmus of Panama. In our time, are there any hopes for the peaceful applications of nuclear energy?

In the next part of the interview, we focus on the bomb. The other night we watched the Stanley Kubrik film “Dr Strangelove,” with Peter Sellers and were reminded, once again, that sixty-plus years into the nuclear age, the threat of mutual destruction is still high. Also, the Doomsday Clock of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist is set at 5 minutes to midnight (not at close as it once was), but still frighteningly close at hand.

  • How close are we to a nuclear World War III? Where are the threats from? Hoe might it break out?
  • Do terrorists have or will they have a bomb? Are “rogue” nuclear weapons a threat to the US? the world?
  • What are the odds in favor of a genuine reduction of nuclear arms world wide? Can we hope for nuclear nonproliferation and a nuclear-free world? What is likely to come of President Obama’s initiative with Russia to reduce nuclear arms?
  • Activists in Chico are part of a national movement, “Beyond War: A New Economy is Possible.” We suspect you support demilitarization of the budget. What kinds of savings could be made through cutting back on nukes, e.g., not putting an offensive/defensive nuclear missile system in the Czech Republic or Poland?
  • More broadly, your institute publishes a newsletter called Science for Democratic Action. (We’ve been part of a teaching movement called “Science, Technology, and Society” that wants young people to think about the consequences of science, not just the magic and mystery.) Can Americans be “technologically literate”? Are we smart enough or can we know enough to make intelligent decisions about science?
  • What should our listeners do to keep themselves educated on science issues and to make their voices heard in places that matter?

Do-It-Yourself: Resources for the Nuclear Activist or Interested Citizen

We want to thank Halimah Collingwood of the Mainstream Media Project for putting us in touch with Arjun Makhijani. Mainstream Media has also prepared some excellent materials for people who would like to learn more about nuclear issues.

  • Project for Nuclear Awareness: PNA seeks to end the global threat of nuclear weapons by educating the public and lawmakers about the real danger of nuclear weapons, the need for nuclear disarmament, and the urgent necessity of nuclear non-proliferation.
  • Ploughshares Fund: A public grantmaking foundation, Ploughshares Fund pools contributions from individuals, families and foundations and directs those funds to initiatives aimed at preventing the spread and use of nuclear weapons and promoting regional stability, in the pursuit of a safe, secure and nuclear weapon-free world.
  • Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation: The Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation is a Washington, D.C.-based 501(c)3 non-profit, non-partisan research organization dedicated to enhancing international peace and security in the 21st century.
  • New America Foundation: Has a Geopolitics of Energy project that focuses on structural shifts in global energy markets have important political and economic implications that are not adequately understood or discussed in the ongoing debate over American foreign policy.
  • Council for a Livable World: a Washington, D.C.-based non-profit, non-partisan advocacy organization dedicated to reducing the danger of nuclear weapons and increasing national security. Their mission is to advocate for sensible national security policies and to help elect congressional candidates who support them.
  • Center for Defense Information: Provides analysis on various components of U.S. national security, international security and defense policy and promotes wide-ranging discussion and debate on security issues such as nuclear weapons, space security, missile defense, small arms and military transformation.
  • Carnegie Endowment for International Peace: Focuses on nonproliferation and disarmament, including anti-missle systems, biological weapons, chemical weapons, and nuclear testing.

Playlist for Ecotopia #23

  1. Nuclear Infected (Album Version) 2:16 Alice Cooper Flush The Fashion
  2. The Invention of Nuclear Power 2:46 Peter Adams The Spiral Eyes
  3. New Frontier (Album Version) 6:23 Donald Fagen The Nightfly
  4. Mutually Assured Destruction (Bonus track)) 3:13 Gillan Futureshock
  5. Masters Of War 4:36 Bob Dylan The Freewheellin’ Bob Dylan
  6. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary
  7. Long Ago and Far Away 2:21 James Taylor Mud Slide Slim & The Blue Horizon

Ecotopia #22 Dirt and Soil

Posted by on 03 Mar 2009 | Tagged as: Uncategorized

 Date: 3/3/09

Tonight we’re getting down and dirty—our topic is DIRT. We’ll be talking with Randy Senock, professor of Soil Science at Chico State to learn more about this amazing stuff and then with a guy who works with and in it,  Carl Rosato, the owner Woodleaf Farm, an organic farm in Oroville.

Digging Up the Facts on Dirt

To provide a little background for our interviews we begin with Michael Bloch, writing for Living Green Tips in September of 2008, who makes some key distinctions in providing us  “the dirt on soil.” he explains:

Dirt, or more accurately, soil, is amazing stuff and something that we very much take for granted. But not all dirt/soil is created equal. I’ve been fascinated with soil since I discovered how long and how much material it takes to make it. For the sake of clarification, let’s make a couple of distinctions.

Dirt – mainly mineral based; pebbles and finely ground rock

Soil – mineral, plant, fungi and animal based.

Soil is a smorgasboard of nutrients; animal droppings and decaying plants and creatures add to its fertility. It contains a multitude of life forms including insects, fungi and bacteria – it’s an ecosystem unto itself. Because there’s so much dirt around, we can tend to see it as a limitless resource; but so much of the dirt on this planet isn’t really capable of sustaining life. It’s easy to tell dirt and soil apart. Soil will usually be darkish in color and have a rich earthy smell. Dirt just tends to smell like dust.

From the Inter Press Service News Agency  on February 27, 2009 Comes this story by Stephen Leahy  about the  “ENVIRONMENT:  Dirt Isn’t So Cheap After All”

BROOKLIN, Canada, – He says that  “Soil erosion is the ‘silent global crisis/ that is undermining food production and water availability, as well as being responsible for 30 percent of the greenhouse gases driving climate change.

“We are overlooking soil as the foundation of all life on Earth,” said Andres Arnalds, assistant director of the Icelandic Soil Conservation Service.

“Soil and vegetation is being lost at an alarming rate around the globe, which in turn has devastating effects on food production and accelerates climate change,” Arnalds told IPS from Selfoss, Iceland, host city of the International Forum on Soils, Society and Climate Change […]. Every year, some 100,000 square kilometres of land loses its vegetation and becomes degraded or turns into desert.”Land degradation and desertification may be regarded as the silent crisis of the world, a genuine threat to the future of humankind,” Arnalds said.

There is no formal agreement on protecting the world’s soils. Delegates at the weekend forum in Iceland will consider propositions for an International Year of Land Care to focus attention on soil stewardship, which affects food and water security worldwide.

A “New soil map for African farmers” is being reported by  James Morgan, Science Writer for the BBC in a January 13 posting. He reports:

The first detailed digital soil map of sub-Saharan Africa is to be created. The £12.3m ($18m) project will offer farmers in 42 countries a “soil health diagnosis” and advice on crop yields. Scientists from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will take soil samples from across the continent and analyse nutrient levels. These will be combined with satellite data to build a high-resolution map, to be disseminated freely to poor farmers by local extension workers [. . . .]  The interactive online map, known as the African Soil Information Service (AfSIS), will be accompanied by advice on how to tackle soil deficient in nutrients. It is the first stage of project to build a global digital map – called – covering 80% of the world’s soils. The initial four-year programme is being funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (Agra). [ . . .] “From the farmer in the field, right up to to the secretary general of the UN, we need precision soil information,” said Pedro Sanchez, of Columbia University’s Earth Institute, a partner in the project.

In June of 2008, Science Daily reported on “Sophisticated Soil Analysis for Improved Land Use.”

Researchers investigated different components of variation in soil at diverse scales ranging from the nanoscale to entire biomes in order to improve predictions of soil processes. Scientists used a variety of mathematical approaches to explore patterns of soil properties including water content, water movement, corn yields, and remote sensing data. Soil variation occurs across multiple geographic scales ranging from vast climatic regions of the Earth to a 50 acre farm field to the molecular world of soil nano-particles in a pinch of soil. New methodological developments better enable us to separate out these different sources of variation by examining soil variability over a range of scales, which is important for linking soil properties with soil processes. These linkages have important predictive capacities, such as forecasting corn yields based on soil characteristics, or understanding where microorganisms live in soil and how human alteration to certain soil properties affects their livelihood.

Journal reference:  Logsdon, S. D., Perfect, E., Tarquis, A. M. Multiscale Soil Investigations: Physical Concepts and Mathematical Techniques. Vadose Zone Journal, 2008 7: 453-455 DOI: 10.2136/vzj2007.0160

Our questions for Randy Senock:

Randy Senock is professor of Geological Environmental Science at CSU, who specializes in such topics as land managaement, environmental physics, and sustainability.

  • What is soil ecology? What do you do as a soil ecologist?
  • You said in an e-mail to us that “soils are the foundation of many aspects of sustainability.” Can you talk about what you mean by that?
  • Often people think of dirt as, well, dirt. Just brownish dead stuff. But, in fact, the soil has a lot going on. What is happening in soil?
  • So the soil is a kind of ecosystem? What are the components of the soil eco-system? (We think of the old animal, vegetable, mineral game we used to play as kids.)
  • What are the regional differences in soil ecosystems? What causes those variations?
  • With all the rain we had in February and early March, we’re wondering about how the rainwater affects soil and its ecosystem?
  • What are the effects of air and temperature?
  • What concerns should we have in about the soil in our region?

Our Questions for Carl Rosato:  Carl Rosato is a very successful organic fruit grower from Oroville,and we recently had an opportunity to visit his Woodleaf Farm through David Grau’s organic gardening class at the Chico Grange. Carl is also a soil consultant and knows an incredible amount about our dirt.

  • Please tell us a little bit about the soil in our region of the Sacramento Valley and the foothills? What does it consist of?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of soil in our region?
  • You’re a farmer, and you consult with other farmers and gardeners. What are the kinds of things growers have to do to make the soil good for growing?
  • How do plants differ in their soil requiarements?
  • Can you tell us a little about the route that brought you to organic farming? What motivates you as a grower?

Do-It-Yourself: Understanding, Preserving, and Enhancing Soil

We began the program tonight with Michael Blochs “Green Living Tips” distinction between dirt and soil. We’ll end with some of his suggestions for “Things you can do to help save our soil”:

·        Start a worm farm and return the casting to the earth

·        Start up a compost pile

·        Mulch; this not only saves water in your garden but protects the soil and adds to it

·        Use natural fertilizers

·        Plant more trees and deep rooted vegetation

·        If you’re moving soil from one area to another, try to do it on a calm day or cover up the pile

·        Don’t pour hazardous waste and toxic substances onto the ground e.g. gas and oil.

From the City of Chico website, we find this information about Curbside Yardwaste Recycling

Lawn clippings, leaves, weeds, prunings and other yard waste make up about a third of the waste taken to the landfill each day. To protect groundwater and the environment, landfills are designed and operated to limit the flow of air, light and water. Without these elements, normal decomposition of yard waste does not take place. Additionally, state law requires cities and counties to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills. To make it convenient to recycle your yard waste, the City of Chico established a curbside yard waste recycling program.   This program is available through your garbage service provider for an additional monthly fee. The City of Chico also operates a compost facility in which residents and businesses can drop-off yard waste for a small fee for recycling. Finished compost is also available for sale at the Facility.

For more information call: 624-3529.

We’d also like to recommend a website for teaching children about soil. For example: Some experiments with “Soils, Water, Ecosystems, and Aquifers”

·        using an Apple as Planet Earth: A quick, simple illustration using an apple to help students understand the importance and limited nature of the soil resource or

·        creating a scale model of a soil profile: A simple illustration that gives students an opportunity to take home their own microscale model of a real soil profile.

·        using a sponge to examine several soil properties related to agriculture, water, the environment, and engineering.

·        demonstrating soil as a filter by  using different soil types to examine the filtering ability of soil when exposed to contaminants

·        showing how Soil Charges work by using magnets and paperclips to examine the mechanism of soil charges.

·        showing how Aquifers Hold (and Release) Water by using rocks, gravel, and coarse sand to visualize where water is stored in aquifers, and how it becomes available.

To find out more about these projects visit “Dr. Dirt’s” website:


1. Poor Old Dirt Farmer       3:53    Levon Helm      Dirt Farmer             

2. Mr. Soil’s Song      1:45    Singin’ Steve   Billy the Bean          

3. Dirt  4:20    Mary Mary  The Sound                                

4. Zemelya-Chernozem.   Black Soil. (Variations ) 3:35  Andrei Krylov Russian Classical Guitar Music. Vol 2. Romance, Folk Songs.                     

5. Dirt Made My Lunch         2:25    Banana Slug String Band    Dirt Made My Lunch                        

6. Weave Me the Sunshine  4:28    Peter, Paul And Mary           The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary           

7. Track 02     3:51    Angela Rose & Kate Stone March Sketch           Country