Monday, December 29, 2008

2009 Eco Trends Explained (continued)

Continuing our 2009 trend explanations we’ll cover the following for trends today; Vertical Agriculture, Bio-Fuel Backlash, Declining Water Quality, and Peak Landfill.
Without further ado…
Vertical Agriculture
The Good – Vertical Agriculture is a pretty simple, yet revolutionary concept.  Take a skyscraper in the middle of an urban population, turn the whole tower into a green house, and grow food there.  Presto, a way to feed the extra 3 billion people projected to be in the world by 2050.  Plus “Getting product to market is one of the most expensive parts of traditional agriculture, but with a vertical farm, your retailers are just down the block.” And we can better use some of the 70 percent of the world’s fresh water that is used for farming according to
The Bad – In a word, cost.  In addition to the $84 million estimated that such a skyscraper would cost up front, and the $5 million a year in operating costs, which would include high energy bills, the cost of the food grown in this type of vertical farm would probably demand a premium price.  Yet, Dickson Despommier seems to think that at upscale Manhattan deli prices such a venture would be sustainable with profits around $18 million a year.
The Ugly – The only down side I can think of is the Wal-mart effect that this could have on small-scale farmers, I guess we’ll see what the farm lobbyist have to say in 2009.
My Take – I figure we have to learn how to farm indoors before moving to mars anyway right?  So why not start now.
Bio-Fuel Backlash
The Good – The Bio-fuel Backlash is the name we have given the response to the fact that the rich are now essentially competing against the poor for farm land. We are deciding to use grains to produce fuel instead of food.  In 2008 we saw rallies against Bio-Fuel such as the riots in Mexico.  If you’re hungry and poor, then the backlash is the good part.
The Bad – From one extreme to the other, Bio-Fuel was supposed to solve our oil dependency, but is seems we’ve only made things worse.  Congress this year decided to increase Bio-Fuel production by five times, a decision they should be taking another look at.
The Ugly – There is still the question of “Are Bio-Fuels really more green then gasoline?” It seems the discussion is still on going on whether they are good for the planet or not.
My Take – I think that reactionary decision can get you in a lot of trouble.  Similar to the clean coal issue, if we use enough Bio-Fuel to diversify our energy usage, then I believe this is a good thing, use to much though, and we start causing other problems.  The question is how do we find the balance?  Unless we just move all the real farming to vertical farms…
Declining Water Quality
The Good – Not really good at all, except for the fact that we are talking about it.  As with the rest of our infrastructure our sewer systems and water distributions systems are in disrepair.  I guess if Obama can make his investment in infrastructure work, that might be some good news for water quality, at least in the US.
The Bad – I think water in general is going to become more and more of a problem, but again with a declining supply and ever increasing population this is really an issue we need to take serious.
The Ugly – The worst part it seems is not only the fact that the issue is not getting enough attention, but that we are concerned with wrong things.  Pollution is bad, but the real problem is infectious diseases.  According to the linked article over 80 percent of such diseases in the US may be waterborne.
My Take – Add it to the list of things to fix in 2009, before the roads, right after the economy.
 Peak Landfill
The Good – Again, not really much good about it. There is some debate to whether or not we are actually running out of room in our landfills, people who own landfills say we could just build more, although local laws often forbid it.  Laws can be changed though. Most estimates give an average of about 10 more years to a large number of landfills.  We could however start using them more to produce power.
The Bad – The list of negative side effects of landfills is pretty long. From polluting air and water to lowering property value, the list goes on, but we have to put this stuff somewhere.
The Ugly – The fact is that we live in a throwaway society, everything is disposable.
My Take – As an optimist I think that things have been getting better.  Almost every grocery store I go to now sell and encourage using reusable bags, some have even started charging for plastic and paper bags to give you even more of an incentive to bring your own. I think that producing less trash is a step in the right direction.
That’s all for today folks, but check back before the New Year for that last installment of Eco Trends explained.
Nathan Shetterley (
EVO New Media Director