I'm migrating my blog here -- this was written 4 Sept 2006:
I'm going to just dive in, and put something in here -- I'm not sure where this will go.
My main concerns relate to "the direction the world is headed" -- environmentally, politically, etc., and I may just ramble, if that's okay? :-)
I'm participating in a discussion over at Silent PC Review, and it is nudging me to collect my thoughts on this.
There are lots of ways to be more efficient: we lose an inordinately large amount of electrical power to transmission losses. Simply by producing the power close to where it is used, we could save a lot of power.
If we used photovoltaic, or wind, or concentrated solar right at buildings, to power their own AC, this alone would be the single largest savings we could muster!!
Methane digesters in place of sewerage treatment would have two major benefits: the methane gas (which is the simplest hydrocarbon) could be used to generate electricity, and the carbon is "short cycled", which means it is not additional carbon being introduced into the environment. Or, the methane could be used to make plastics, or many other things that we current make from oil.
The second major benefit is the resulting slurry, after all the methane has been produced, is a high quality fertilizer. The nitrogen in it is not water soluable (like it is in most/all chemical fertilizers!), so unlike our current farming practices, this kind of fertilizer will actually IMPROVE the soil.
Another very promising energy, is methanol made from wood/plant fibers. This can be used in fuel cells to produce electricity, or it can be burned in today's internal combustion engines, and it is even better than gasoline. We can just GROW our fuel! The plants are perfect at concentrating solar power, and they add a lot of energy from water and carbon that they take in.
We can do simple and very cheap things: always inflate your vehicle's tires to an optimal pressure: this alone could save something like 3% of our fuel usage, which while small for individuals, the total is millions of barrels of oil.
Methane digesters completely "kill" the bad bugs. Now as to heavy metals, and other things that would survive the digestion process, I dunno. But the main point is, this would replace the oil and natural gas based fertilizers that we use now.
Google search results for "Methane Digesters"
I should add a point about methanol: I just heard about a study where they used a certain kind of fast growing willow trees, and in eight years the tree produces an optimal amount of ethanol.
Getting ethanol from corn is not smart -- corn itself is a very high energy crop. It requires a lot of fertilizer, and the yeild is not as good as other crops (as I understand it). Apparently, growing "switch grass" is much better: it requires no fertilizer or pesticides, it is a native plant, and it produces more ethanol per acre than corn, I think. I heard a news report that mentions up to 500 gallons per acre? Which is ~$1,500 per acre -- which is way more money than a farmer can earn with just about anything else!
Besides, the local electric company can lease land from the farmer for windmills -- and he can still farm most of the land, too...from what I hear, they can earn a lot by leasing space for windmills.
Composting waste is as "green" as it gets! In the past, the farmers removed the "night soil" -- and it indeed becomes soil. This is the natural process that is the basis of life as we know it.
The fact that we've messed things up by using chemicals that should not have been used, and given the fact that we introduced the heavy metals, drugs, etc., into the food stream is the problem.
Earth to earth...
There is a recent book that talks about the issues of food production, called "An Omnivore's Dilemma" that includes a discussion of the whole farming fiasco we have gotten ourselves into. I like the quote from Wendell Berry:
"Once plants and animals were raised together on the same farm - which therefore neither produced unmanageable surpluses of manure, to be wasted and to pollute the water supply, nor depended on such quantities of commercial fertilizer. The genius of America farm experts is very well demonstrated here: they can take a solution and divide it neatly into two problems."