We Need to Believe in Change!

I think one of the hardest ideas to comprehend about climate change to is that we can reverse or reduce the damage humanity has already done to Earth. This doubt might prevent someone from taking action. Everyone says, “how is one person not recycling going to make a difference”, just as an example. Especially right now with many of the 2016 presidential campaign politicians still rejecting climate change as a fact. It seems like only one of the candidates is motivated to do something about climate change – maybe two but I am not sure if I trust what that individual has to say.

To understand if change can happen you can’t focus on what is happening politically. As we know there are many sources of greenhouse gases. All need to decrease significantly in order for modern society to live sustainably, but I want to focus on energy. This is the largest source of carbon into the atmosphere and the oceans. Finally, change is happening in this industry!

In 2000 the IEA Global Wind Council projected that wind power would account for 30 Gigawatts by 2010. By 2015, the amount of energy produced by wind turbine was 14.5x the projected amount. According to the Solar Energy Industries Association solar companies will add 16 gigawatts of panels in the U.S. in 2016. This is over double of what was installed last year (Ryan 2016). The triggers for the increase of solar installation were the price plunging by 67% since 2010 and a 30% tax credit that makes solar even more affordable. The price of solar has dropped so much that it is getting closer to cross the grid parity line, which is when the cost of renewable energy is less than the cost of fossil fuel. Once it crosses this line the incentive to invest in solar will be exponential.

The investment in renewable energy is happening around the world as well. 81% percent of the energy Germany uses comes from renewable sources. Many underdeveloped nations have been increasing the installation of solar panels (Sawin 2015). The Sustainable Energy for All is an international initiative with the goals of ensuring universal access to modern energy services, doubling the global rate of improvement in energy efficiency, and doubling the share of renewable energy in the global energy mix.

There is hope that we can get away from our reliance on fossil fuels. For a long time scientists have been working to increase the public’s understanding of what climate change is and how it works (for example, on TV news and science shows). Now that the global majority understand this, the next step is getting people to believe they should invest in a sustainable future. The most successful companies in the world tell the consumers why they believe in their product. Its not about what their product is or how it works. The climate change movement should start to send the message of why we believe renewable energy and other sustainable environmental practices will create a better future for society.

References:

Ryan, Joe. “U.S. Solar Growth Will More Than Double in 2016, Study Finds.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 9 Mar. 2016. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

Sawin, Janet L. RENEWABLES 2015 (n.d.): n. pag. http://www.ren21.net/. Renewable Energy Policy Network, 9 Apr. 2015. Web. 17 Mar. 2016.

http://www.se4all.org/our-vision_our-objectives_renewable-energy

Sustainable Industrial Agriculture?

The term industrial farming is often linked to animal cruelty and unsustainability. It has now become mainstream to criticize farming at huge, industrial scales. People are now more aware that industrial farming is harmful to the surrounding environment, dumping tons of excess nutrients into water ways and producing greenhouse gasses. Agriculture is the largest contributor to nitrous oxide which has a global warming potential 298 times more than CO2 (2). The agriculture industry is also a large producer of methane. The movement is to move towards small to medium sized farms which generate a variety of crops and have less impact on the environment. There has been a substantial amount of studying showing the benefits of this type of farming. Dairy systems that use rotational grazing have shown to be better for the environment and the cows but there is a downside. Farmers do not get as much milk from their cows forcing them to charge more per gallon of milk. With many people living on low income wages in this country switching to this type of farming in the future may not be the answer. A dairy farm co-op has been working and investing on a way to make their production more sustainable.

In Indiana, The Fair Oaks farming co-op is a 36,000 acre dairy production with $2 billion in annual revenue. The cows there produce 430,000 gallons of manure every day (1). This co-op is well aware of its effect on the environment. For over ten years this co-op has been investing in a sustainable future for their farming operation. The average carbon footprint for a gallon of milk, production to consumption, is 17.6 pounds of carbon dioxide. The Fair Oaks farming co-op has brought that down to 10 pounds of carbon dioxide per gallon of milk (1). Their path to large scale sustainability starts with poop.

The manure from the cows in this large operation supplies enough energy for the entire co-op. The manure is transported to a digester. With microbes and anaerobic conditions the digester produces methane. The Fair Oaks operation produces enough methane to fuel their own fleet of 42 trucks. The water from the manure is then pressed out so the manure can be used a fertilizer. The leftover water still doesn’t have a use but the co-op is planning on using it to create an artificial wetland where they can grow high-protein duckweed. Then they want to use the water that filters through the wetland for brewing beer.

Whether you like it or not industrial scale farming is a part of our food system. These large scale, mechanized farming operations have helped to create a cheap food market. On the environmental side this has led to the degradation of our rivers and atmosphere. I have heard in many other classes that the path to sustainable farming is to have small and medium sized farms. This would create a diversity of crops, decrease the amount nutrient runoff and help local economies. I have always questioned this because the further you go out west the big the farms become. This might not be a feasible goal for the future of the food system. The Fair Oaks goal to be carbon neutral is an innovative way of mass producing dairy and meat product in an environmental conscious way.

Sources:

(1) http://fortune.com/2016/01/27/fair-oaks-dairy-farm-manure-fuel/?iid=sr-link1

(2) http://www3.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gwps.html