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Environmental Crisis - Opinion

About this Crisis

This crisis is already happening in some regions of the world, the worst of it is some people are still asking if that is a real issue, and some trust the scientist will find some kind of solution which would put everything back to “normal” with no adjustment to their way of life.   I have decided to make this into a set of articles. From the second they will be about opinioned information basically from what I had made of different sources about global environmental crisis.   This is the most important crisis we face right now, it shows terrible consequences all over the world, from rising seas, epic hurricanes, drought, ice cap melting, to even unusual spreading of organisms and disease they bring with them, non-infectious illnesses which are environment related.   While this is going on, we find it very difficult to agree on a path of action and spend precious time on endless arguments about what to do first, and who will do it.   It becomes really difficult to remain silent, when leviathan comes, and, we are on its destruction path doing near to nothing.  

A Powerful Idea

Then a powerful yet moderate idea comes forth to change the whole balance, another world is possible, we only need to get together, organize, share ideas, spread action.   Communities are made of individuals who share some characteristic, land, work, consumption, ideals. They do not have to be physically connected; they do not even have to know each other personally as long as they can agree on a meeting place to share their interests and ideas.   Sharing different ideas people find better solutions to common problems, there are examples of people, whom had projects to make their communities sustainable, with very ambitious but precise goals, which were met, combining their individual ideas and capabilities to gather the resources needed to achieve their goals.   The ideas are very different, and they come from an infinite variety of interests and motivations. From the straightest forward interest of achieving zero waste, zero emissions; or, to achieve a beautiful community, or, a better way of life with higher quality, through the efficient use of the resources.  

What to do:

Here you have some suggestions of projects, which can grow form a small project for a few homes, in the community, to a big one which covers all of it. You might mix them as you like, of course, you might have your own project which is different to the ones illustrated here, and I will appreciate if you could share it with my community. The devtome writers.  

Rise funds through different sources.

There are several sources of information available online, including lists of funding options, you just have to play around with the keywords to find funding options for community development projects (i.e. USDA has a guide to find funding

Community sustained funding.

So you need funds to support a great project which will help your community, it is only fair to go to the community for funding right. Once you try this simple logic you learn it is not as straight forward as you first thought, you need support to ask money for great community projects. Some organizations offer that kind of support to local communities around the world1).

Corwdfunding.

It relies on the online community to rise funds2).

Government funding.

It is difficult to list all different government funding for community development. They have rules and forms to apply for funding, before asking for these funds is very important to have a written proposal with clearly specified goals which can be achieved with in the timespan agreed to be funded.

Usually a professional grant writer has to be hired to have a good chance to get the funding.

Civil association funds.

Again, each association3) has its own rules, but usually the share the benefit of developing the community. They share interest to have a successful project, because they will benefit directly from it.

Research funds.

It is best if you could associate your development with some sort of academic research, it gathers attention from different entities towards the project and to your community, the academic team could provide useful information to improve your project. It is very important to understand thoroughly, the topic being researched, and, the role the research team will have on your project, there must be no surprises or changes on what has been agreed.

Private funds.

Is usually best to avoid this founding source, but if you want to use it be sure to ask a lawyer to advise you on the terms of the contract associate with it.

Develop a plan to adopt an alternative source of energy in your community.

Solar farm.

There are many designs available harvest the sun energy, they are commercially available now. A good idea and a project is needed to justify the need of funding, the project must outline the advantages gained in such way, the skeptics in the community are convinced about the advantages and need to do it.

Wind farm.

These facilities are available commercially from many years ago too; engineering has become better over time, overcoming many initial problems. While deciding the plan to take advantage from alternative sources it might be good idea to mix around the options to find the best system for your specific needs.

While deciding on the mix wind generation from low speed turbines4)5) should be considered.

Waste to energy.

This is really a great tool to reduce our carbon footprint; it takes care of two problems at once. Energy is generated from resources which otherwise would not be used, by doing this the amount of residues which are need to be disposed is reduced significantly while energy produced this way has a reduction of emissions attached.

  1. Organic.

It amounts around 30-45% of the residues volume in urbanized communities, and, 40-70% in rural areas. Reducing this will take care of a big part of the problem.

  • Bio-processing aerobic (in presence and oxygen).

This solution is the one with the least warnings and potential dangers associated, it requires minimal initial investment and maintenance spending, it is usually the cheapest one; the outcome is a rich material named compost, it could be solid or liquid, it could be sold, but the profit margin is not big. The method does not generate energy, but in the end nearly all input material is recycled.

  • Anaerobic digestion (in absence of oxygen).

The products from this protocol are biogas, and heat. Biogas is a mixture which is composed, of methane, water vapors; it contains small amounts of sulfuric acid. There are several methods to “clean” and make biogas ready so it can be used a fuel, to power several technologies, one of the most commonly used is electricity generation.

Heat is not used on most protocols commercially available, but some applications to improve efficiency of the system could be tried for academic purpose.

This protocol leaves some residues after the digestion, the residue could feed the aerobic procedure.

  • Heat pyrolysis gasification6).

It is the process of producing a synthetic gas from residues using extremely high temperatures (between 1200-2000°C) to vaporize the residues under anaerobic (without oxygen) conditions. This technology is expensive and dangerous, could pollute the environment if it is handled poorly, if you want to try this technology you should contact serious advise to make sure is done properly. It requires a significant input of residues continuously to make it economically viable.

The bright side of this technology is. It has been developed and tested for several years now, so many problems associated are solved. The output is “clean” electric power and a minimal amount of residues. Gasification can be used to get rid of inorganic residues too.

  1. Inorganic.
  • Plasma pyrolysis gasification7).

Similar basic principle as with heat, but using a plasma arc to generate heat needed to process the residues, the process must be done in anaerobic conditions too and following safety considerations.

Both Heat and Plasma pyrolysis might be used on organic and inorganic materials, the main difference are the residues, which are minimal in both, bun treatment of inorganic matter generate a higher amount of them.

Waste streams.
  • Aerobic treatment (with oxygen).

Most treatment plants for polluted streams rely on aerobic fermentation to process and “clean” the stream to a certain degree which is acceptable, this method is quick, it has a constant production of sludge which could be integrated to one of the method for solid residues treatment previously exposed. Technology has been around several years too and it is mature.

  • Anaerobic (without oxygen).

This method is typically slower than aerobic treatment, it generates biogas, it need energy input since many protocols used need temperature higher than “room temperature” the fermentation procedure is slow, so steering is needed.

Sludge is produced with this method too, again, it could be incorporated to treatment with any of the other methods.

Project proposal and execution.

ALL these technologies require some degree of expertise to be performed, your community needs to know that, before starting to write the proposal, get proper funding, and, advise to avoid running into death ends.

Build a system which turns your community zero waste.

Separate residues.
  • This is the first step towards turning garbage into residues with economic value.
  • If you have heard it is only the beginning, is just the truth, remember nothing can start working without beginning.
  • It is so important most waste reduction plans have it in place, therefore, it is likely your community is doing it already.
  • If you are not doing it by now, start as soon as possible.
  • The whole community must be involved, remember this is the first step, you

need it to work if you plan to do anything else. Some people will resist, it is only natural, they have to make real changes in the most intimate part of their lives. When you try to make them do it, is better using a carrot, rather than a stick.

  • Design a mass media campaign.
  • Bring personalities together to back your idea.
  • Explain the benefits of turning garbage to residues, talk about the future, about the new sources of dignified work this strategy will generate for the community, about reducing the carbon foot print of everybody, about future landfills NOT being around the community in beautiful or underdeveloped pieces of land.
  • Have government officials involved actively. They must set example, take time to sit with them, explain benefits and help them get rid of trouble arising from this initiative. Involve the community in the decision making process with elected officials, so it becomes a compromise with their constituency rather than an act of good will.
  • Again remember you need the people to be convinced this is the best possible path, rather than force them. If you convince them, they will help to do this difficult task, try to force this idea upon them and you will be struggling at every step.
Reduce.
  • Residues reduction is actually the most important of the Three R's. It is not easy to make a system to profit from reduction and it promotes less acquisition of goods, this are the main reasons reduction is not advertised enough.
  • Consumers must be reminded at all times, there is no better way to deal with residues than not generating them in the first place.
  • The public must be made aware how many resources are spent to make everyday goods and how much those resources are saved by using long lasting alternatives.
  • reuse it web site could help with reducing and reusing8), please keep in mind this is only one suggestion, the purpose of this article is not to be reference, but to stir new ideas.
Reuse.
  • Reduce and reuse come with each other together better than with recycling. As said before, the best way to deal with residues is to not generate them at all. Recycle is a great idea, but it alone can only get you so far to achieve zero waste, you NEED reduce and reuse to even dream of going all the way.
  • Reusing things depends only of people's ingenuity, keep a continuous program of reuse fairs9)10)11) to stir new ideas about it.
  • Again involve elected officials and the community.
Recycle.
  • Usually requires a dedicated facility with good technological advance to turn the materials to new goods.
  • Capitalist entrepreneurs find this activity to be the most attractive of the three R's. It is good business, but its importance is overstated, mainly, because you could profit from it.
Residues to energy.
  1. Old Landfills
  • Waste to energy procedures are a good answer to recycling material, and, reducing waste volume, there is an issue left which we have not touched so far. What about landfills which are there now, should we just leave them there?

Old landfills in your community are a resource, they are not naturally occurring, even so they are a resource, they should be treated as such. Landfills are filled with biogas. You could take advantage from the fact that landfills are not natural. Since they are man-made, someone or some source must be available so you are able to find: Where? How old? And the volume of waste in your landfill, these data is needed to find out if is profitable to extract landfill gas from it.

  • This is a profitable activity; there are enough people available who want to have the profits. Just in the U.S.A., taking advantage from this resource generates more than 10 billion dollars per year and it is still growing according to this EPA report, there are several sources of funding and financial incentives available for these projects.
  • The community should take advantage of this mature market getting involved, asking for the areas you want to be prioritized and the returns for the community.
  • A partnership with those businesses having the expertise on landfill gas is ideal; make sure the community gets the highest benefit possible from your resource.
  • Make sure you know what is going to happen to the site after the extraction ratio for the landfill gas has gone below profitable standards.
Community sharing and give away.
  • The sharing economy is all about reusing, saving, and, making some profit from underused objects. If you are not taking advantage of it, this is a great time to start.

Find zero or near zero emissions vehicles which could become the model for the transport system; develop a mass transit system affordable and attractive to the whole community.

Energy cells.
  • This technology is still under development, is not really efficient right now, It might be best to wait a few (20 or more) years and see.
Electric vehicles.
  • This technology is available at present time. Energy recharging and efficiency could be improved. Specifically, a station dependent of a waste to energy plant could be used to serve the whole community; solar cells could be included as a hybrid system on service vehicles to take advantage of the time they spend outdoors
Hybrids.
  • Also a well-known technology, the efficiency on the vehicles must be monitored. Again even if they are environmentally friendly, it does not mean they cannot be better; a fuel which protects the environment, such as biogas or land fill gas, could be used on the vehicles, it will be as if they were not only cutting back emissions, but actually reducing the output by turning methane (22X CO2 equivalents) to carbon dioxide (1X CO2 equivalents).

Since hybrids run on electric power too, most that could be tried out in electric cars, could be tested on them too.

Use the community consumption model to gather produce and goods from producers in your area setting a goal for a maximum emissions associated to any single good in your scope of consumption.

Collaborative Distribution model.
  • It has been developed for some years to work for business organizations12), yet consumers can take advantage of it, by effectively organizing around a business model, with the intention of sharing benefits among the community.
Maximum emissions per ton of produce.
  • Acquiring goods and resources generates emissions, that is inevitable, yet it could be minimized consciously.

A good idea could be to procure our own produce from source, monitoring the emissions generated from the acquisition point to the last point in our distribution chain.

An even better idea is to monitor emissions generated by the production. If we become large buyers we obtain the power to negotiate some conditions on the produce such as sustainability. Going further than that we might promote or talk with farmers organizations and help the becoming sustainable.

Purchase power

Added purchase power is what gives this model an edge. As you add the financial power of a community, you will be able to drive negotiations on your terms. This is not a recipe for automatic success, even winning all negotiations could not be the best strategy sometimes, you might get advice from professional negotiators or maybe hire some. The money you raise from consumers like you in your community could give you the possibility of being on the driver’s seat for all these and other issues.

Fair trade.

There is no reason for us to keep people living in poverty or with life standards below what is acceptable. This will not make our lives better in any way.

On the other side we have more than enough reason to make our partners life quality better; they would be involved with us. We could make clear for them that is on their best interest to have us around, keeping our partnership must be good business for them.

We live at a time where farmers’ lives and their activities are not appreciated enough. I should be easy to show them we care about that, while they in return make better production for us. We need to choose producers carefully since we could be making a long term partnership with them, build confidence and attachment through fair trade, will give us better and easier deals; in the end we would be able to have better goods on our hands.

Organic produce.

There might be several quality standards we would be able to meet once on the driver’s seat. Organic produce, sustainable production, fair trade, low emissions transportation and logistics, etc…; defining which of the characteristics has the highest priority is up to the organization. Deciding the best hierarchy might not be easy, but that is way better than having those decisions made for you by the store owner isn't it.

Impact to local producers.

As was said before, it is better and easier, to thrive among a community or a set of communities with nice quality of live. Our organization will benefit from having strong ties with partners who have better development thanks to that partnership; if the partners are local we would have easier way of communicating and making things work.

Buying from local producers is the easiest path to keep low emissions; deal with people with our same cultural background; share wealth; share sustainability practices and goals; in short improve governance.

Impact to local community.

The local community is us actually; everything said up to now should apply to the local community. Still a little bit of public relations will help along the way, and could make us feel better about this whole thing.

We could think about charities, while we are on that we should think about strengthening human rights, supporting sustainable projects. A tiny piece of advice here, try to support action, not reaction; propose, do not oppose.

Develop a system for distributed energy production, implement it on the community.

Distributed energy does not have a single source. It was nearly impossible to have something like that during the last century, due to the large size of electric generation plants. Plus it was way better to have a single group of engineers to take care of a plant which gives energy to a whole community.

Now engineers have made fool proof systems which require virtually no maintenance, or minimal knowledge to install them. They are personal size and have the potential to generate large quantities of energy; not because of their outstanding efficiency, which is good, but not the best available; but because of the large amounts of fixtures displayed on large areas.

Fulfilling this promise depends on us, doing it will only enhance the quality of life among the community, the energy available for the community would increase constantly, the sustainability will be better and the economy will thrive with new demand for good related to this industry.

If you are concerned of the detrimental effects for the economy of services and specifically the power related services, well you do not need to be, consider this; it is likely energy demand all over the world increases dramatically during the next few years. Therefore, the market would be large enough for everybody. Having said that, it is really important we make a clear statement, we are prepared to make the turn from fossil fuel sources of energy to clean sustainable energy, no statement has more power than one backed with our actions and its power increases significantly if we perform organized collective actions.

Photovoltaic generation.

As this technology becomes popular, its availability is improved, it is growing at high rates all over the world, thanks to this the U.S.A. Government has placed its attention and a bit of financial power to it13). Funding could be available in the U.S.A., and, potentially in other countries as well

Wind generation.
  • Classic wind turbines.

This wind turbines are huge, they require special maintenance done by engineers, and so on. Bottom line, either you set a wind farm as a concerned community or you do not use this alternative.

  • Low speed wind turbines.

These are small wind turbines with little output which can be installed by a person with basic knowledge, maintenance is not that difficult either.

  • Wind turbines have several advantages over photovoltaic cells.
  • Their parts are not that fragile, thus maintenance is easier.
  • No specific component of the turbines wears off at a higher speed than the others, specifically the cell of a photovoltaic fixture wears off and efficiency goes down, that does not happen with wind turbines.
  • Wind turbines need wind, not sun, therefore the could work at night.
  • A photovoltaic cell could be attached to the turbine using it as frame, this way you can take advantage from two sources of energy.
  • The most important advantage is production of the wind turbine components is not particularly polluting, photovoltaic cells are, therefore this is actually a “cleaner” technology.
Heat use.

A lot of electric energy we use is dedicated to heat things, like the iron, our food, our homes. This is must wasteful because heat is used to generate electricity with some loss of energy, then electricity is used to heat things and energy gets lost in the process. We lose energy twice each time we do this. We should be able to use energy more efficiently if we take advantage of the heat directly.

  • Solar heat.

Solar ovens and heaters are commercially available since a few years now, they can be bought directly on a store.

  • Heaters installation usually is part of the package and you can buy regular checkups, but as long as you take of dust and follow the manual that comes with it, you should be OK, this technology does nor wares of easily with use, if yo are careful you can have it for many year, making this a great investment.
  • Ovens can be installed by the person buying them, reading the manual is pretty straight forward and usually you should have great results by the second or third time using it, they are great for outdoors gatherings.

Promote self-subsistence organic horticulture and gardening.

Set one or multiple community gardens.

Is the time to have things done, and you face the issue of organizing willing people to ha a real group, this might be the most challenging part of community gardening. There are groups whick share their knowledge on the web, for instance ACGA14), they provide step by step instructions to have a successful community garden.

Promote composting.

Composting is a great activity to share among the community. Compost might be the best soil you could gather within the city, it promotes recycling organic residues, reduces significantly municipal residues.

Share tools, knowledge, compost, etc...

Hardware powered tools are among the least used goods most of us have at home, putting these to work is only about use, reuse and sustainability, using these objects, people could fix or transform goods to find new uses for them. Putting hardware tools to work reduces, reuses and recycles materials, which otherwise are wasted.

Most of us have acquired practical knowledge, through our lives, by fixing things at home, going out to camp, doing hobbies, etc…, underuse of this knowledge might no pollute the environment but it is also wasteful. Engaging new activities and sharing knowledge helps to improve important brain functions which help ingenuity and creativity, plus we might find new skills.

As said before making compost gives us the best soil we could find in the city for free. Composting15) is itself a community activity, and you can feed organic materials which come from the community garden, and reduce significantly the costs of maintaining it.

Share produce through community events.
  • Community gathering has the effect of enhancing the presence of an organization. There are several social needs well studied16), which are significantly improved by gatherings. Lets not forget it is fun to do it.
Try “new” technologies for horticulture and gardening.
  • Aquaponics.

Is a recirculating system which optimizes the growth of aquatic species and plants in a soil-less environment, fish and plants are grown taking advantage of a symbiotic relationship engineered around them.

This technology takes advantage of the phytoremediation capabilities of plants to “clean” the environment in which fish live from the organic residues fish generate. The plants take the waste materials from the fish and turn them into green biomass which supports plant production.

The main human input in this system is energy since water must be on continuous circulation for the environment to remain healthy.

Aquaponics provides a method to have production of fish and vegetables with the quality required to feed people. It is an engaging community activity, and it is highly profitable with a return ratio about $3.00 per $1.00 invested in the first year where the investment is highest, to see a specific report on aquaponics system conditions which were tested in Hawaii please refer to this presentation.

If you are set to try aquaponics in your community, you could learn from experiences other organizations such as sweet water share.

There are several other activities to try out; in the next installment of this topic I will include these and some others.  

  • Implement a sharing system based on internet, gathering specific applications tailored for the specific needs of your community, either by developing the apps your selves, or, by developing partnerships with another developer.
  • Create goals towards efficient use of goods among the community and rewards for those citizens who achieve them.
  • Make equivalence scales of how much sharing and efficient use of goods helps the environment (i.e. emissions reduction, kg of resource saved etc…).
  • Propose and push an emissions trade project and hold community based stocks.
  • Propose a permanent program to asses, and, control pollution on the watershed where you live.
  • Build a library and database with scientific and technical knowledge useful for your community.

  Something to remember:

You cannot eat money, drink money, nor breathe money, actually most materials modern money is made from thing that are either poisonous or with no nutritional value at best.


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