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Regrowing a Rainforest

Willie Smits shows what it takes to regrow a clearcut rainforest, restoring economic prosperity in the process.

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Sea of Plastic

Capt. Charles Moore offers a disturbing look at what happens to our throw away plastic once it makes it to the ocean. Yes, we’re talking about more than six-pack rings and sea turtles.

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Local ≠ Sustainable

For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong.—H. L. Mencken

I have been growing increasingly disenchanted with the local food movement. It strikes me as a simplistic solution to a complex problem.

Consider our love affair with food miles. In theory, locally grown foods have traveled shorter distances and thus represent less fuel use and lower carbon emissions—their resource footprint is smaller. And yet, for all the benefits of a local diet, eating locally doesn’t always translate into more sustainability. Because the typical farmers market is supplied by dozens of different farms, each transporting its crops in a separate van or truck, a 20-pound shopping basket of locally grown produce might actually represent a larger carbon footprint than the same volume of produce purchased at a chain retailer, which gets its produce en masse, via large trucks. (Spoiled: Organic and Local Is So 2008, MotherJones)

Thank you! It’s easy to buy something labeled organic and take no more thought to whether our actions are helping to solve anything. It’s time for us to tear down some of these icons that we’ve been worshiping.

On a mildly related note, I’m feeling my beans today, so I hereby commit that I’ve eaten my last beef, pork, and shrimp. I’m not advocating that everyone do likewise. Taking smaller actions like eating no meat before dinner can help build a sustainable system.

(via Bitten)

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Rare Earth Elements

This is something that I’ve worried about on occasion while sitting in computer engineering classes. What happens when we run out of a rare element? What if we exhaust our source of copper? Is making toys out of rare earth magnets a waste of precious resources? Could helium balloons someday be a thing of the past?

It turns out I’m not the only one who worries about stuff like this.

The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany’s University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet’s stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

Perhaps our landfills will someday be literal gold mines.


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