As a species we create an astonishing amount of waste. Tonnes and tonnes are produced per person every year. Furthermore, what happens to this waste once it is out of our hands remains mystery to most. The principles of ‘out of sight, out of mind’ play their part to hide this problem and business goes on as usual.
At the dump
We had some sofa’s given to us by a family member recently. Our old sofas were given the boot. Two tip runs later and I am face to face with the iceberg that is our waste production.
It took roughly an hour between dropping the first sofa into the very bottom of an enormous skip and arriving back with the second sofa. There was not enough room in that same skip. Piles of old lamps and unwanted books covered the first sofa and we were forced to use the fresh skip adjacent. The cavernous grey bucket eagerly awaiting it’s turn to consume the excess our material lives afford us.
It was hard to believe good quality items I was seeing being cast aside. Brand new boxed Toshiba speakers and a new copy of the Times Atlas of the World caught my eye as I asked one of the attendants how much got thrown away: “This is nothing. You wouldn’t believe your eyes.”
I want to call myself an environmentalist but I know I am part of the problem – I’m a hypocrite. I eat meat with most meals, routinely do long journeys in a fossil fuel powered car, have baths and leave the lights on. Just like most people in the western world. Unfortunately for everyone (not just us living it), it is this lifestyle of consumption and excess that is causing much of the damage.
Why are we in a situation where climate
change is real? How is it possible that as a collective we have allowed destruction on such a global scale to become a reality? Why are we having to come up with solutions to problems which have risen out of a selfish desire to consume and dominate? Is the ‘me me me’ attitude so all consuming that it is worth causing the suffering or millions/billions of beings who also share this planet?
Real Change Starts at Home
I want companies and governments to do more about environment damage but the real change is going to start at ho
me. After all, corporations and governments are there to serve us (even if it doesn’t always feel like that). Everyone has to do their part because unless you do not have to consume (TELL ME YOUR SECRETS), we are all part of the problem.
Here are the main areas I think I need to improve to be less of a hypocrite:
I love meat. However I also re
alise that if I want to call myself an environmentalist then I am going to have to alter where I get the meat that I am consuming. Furthermore, on a moral level the way that the animals whose meat I get from the supermarket are being treated isn’t acceptable
I don’t do too badly with this one. I know there is always room for improvement however, especially when you consider that your water consumption is not just what you drink but also how much water is used to treat your sewage or in the production of your food and possessions. By buying less meat (and consuming less in general) this water consumption will fall. A couple of changes that will help though would be to cut down on the baths and fill a bowl with water rather than washing up with the tap running.
Now this I am guilty of on a big scale. The black bin liners seem to fill and fill and fill, every week more and more bags. Not only has everything I buy got more packaging than product but I am lazy with disposal.
I feel like the best way to deal with this problem is to control it at source. Stop buying things that come in mountains of packaging and instead buy the items with the least amount of packaging.
Solution 1: Buy things with less packaging.
Solution 2: Stop being so damn lazy!
I think we are all guilty of leaving the lights on. How about the TV? Turning stuff off is easy and the less you leave on, the less you are going to spend.
A hidden cost associated with our food which is eventually going to have to be paid. It’s a marvel of the modern age that we can get beans all the way from Kenya to your table. For less than the price of a coffee. Think about how many people in the chain have to handle the produce before it gets to you. Now also think about the exhaust fumes coughed into the air to get those to you. It does make you think though that for £2 a pack, someone along the line is being exploited. These beans are starting to not sound so nice. For a potential solution to our food mile woes, check out this article on vertical farming.
The last thing to say here then is what are we going to do about it?
At our current population level, an area the size of South America is needed to grow food and raise livestock. By 2050 it’s estimated that there will be close to 10 billion people on the planet, which will require additional area of arable land the size of Brazil if current farming methods are used (Despommier, 2010). Couple this with the growing demands of developing countries wishing to live western lives and consume at the rate we have been enjoying and it makes for a dangerous situation. How can we satisfy an exponential demand with a finite planet?
Population increase is not the only thing straining our food production capabilities. Relentless production has demolished the quality of soils around the world so that chemical fertilisers must now prop up the machine if we want it to keep churning out food. As well as fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides which have been drowning our food for years are becoming less and less effective as pests develop immunity. Check out this article if you would like to see the impact some of these chemicals are having on vital pollinators.
I think you are getting the idea…
The current system is the only one that is currently providing the food we need at scale (I’m not knocking it for that) but it is unsustainable if we want to keep this beautiful planet habitable. What we need are some alternatives which use DRASTICALLY less water, little-to-no inputs from nasty chemicals and production which we can locate as close as possible to where the food is going to be eaten. If only there was something like that available…
Whats that you say? Vertical Farming? What the hell is that?
I’ll tell you.
Vertical Farming is the process of stackable food production. Instead of one level of crops along the ground, a series of shelves are stacked one on top of the other, thereby massively increasing the productive capacity of a single square foot. The term vertical farming was first coined by Dickson Despommier (Author of The Vertical Farm). I have taken the quote he uses to introduce vertical farming in his book:
“By applying state-of-the-art controlled-environment agricultural technologies as an integrated system contained within a multi-story building — vertical farming — the world could rapidly become a much better place to welcome the next generation of humans.”
Before we go into the advantages of vertical farming I will show you the general principle and how some of the systems work.
Basics of Vertical Farming
Vertical farming uses a combination of aquaponics, stackable shelves and LED light bars.
Plants grown in an inert material such as lava rocks, with their roots in a liquid solution. The water is first passed through fishtanks before being passed over the roots of the plants.
Here is a great video by Plant Chicago which explains it better than I can!
This can be over the many floors of a building or can be shelves one on top of each other with enough room between shelves for the plant and the led light.
Led Light Bar
High efficiency bulbs are used to mimic the sun’s rays and provide energy for photosynthesis. The bulbs used in vertical farming are tuned to exactly the frequency which the plants need, removing any wasted energy from being used on areas of the light spectrum which are not used by the plants. Here is a 20 second clip to show you what I mean.
Benefits of Vertical Farming
In his book, Dickson Despommier lists 11 major benefits of vertical farming. I have chosen three to elaborate on:
Use of 70-95% less water.
No use of pesticides, herbicides or fertilisers.
Year round crop production.
1: Use of 70-95% Less Water
Traditional farming methods use an astonishing amount of water which we don’t have allot of as it is.
From the National Geographic Website:
“Freshwater makes up a very small fraction of all water on the planet. While nearly 70 percent of the world is covered by water, only 2.5 percent of it is fresh. The rest is saline and ocean-based. Even then, just 1 percent of our freshwater is easily accessible, with much of it trapped in glaciers and snowfields. In essence, only 0.007 percent of the planet’s water is available to fuel and feed its 6.8 billion people.” (National Geographic)
So then, I guess you would agree with me that using massively less water is a great idea?
2: No Use of Pesticides, Herbicides or Fertilisers
As well as increasing the amount of fossil fuel energy needed to produce our food, pesticides and herbicides are designed to KILL. If they are designed to kill something else, they probably aren’t doing anything nice to me once I eat them. I wouldn’t eat rat poison out the bottle yet I don’t go out of my way to buy organic food? Something is backward there.
Another great reason to celebrate not using these harmful chemicals is that there will be less negative impact on pollinators such as bees! THIS article discusses neonicotinoids and THIS post has a great video on honey yields from rural bees vs urban bees (the results might surprise you!)
3: Year Round Crop Production
SAY WHHAAAT. No longer will we be constrained by those pesky seasonal changes!
One massive upside of growing in a controlled environment is that each aspect of the lighting and temperature can be simulated to mimic the exact growing conditions plants need at each stage of their lifecycle. With these systems it no longer matters when you plant your seeds, adding another level of protection against fluctuations in supply. One-nil for food security.
Awesome Vertical Farming Videos:
This Farm of the Future Uses No Soil and 95% Less Water – By Seeker Stories
Earthrise – Japan’s Future Farms
Growing Roots – This Farmer Is Taking Root On Your Rooftops // Discovery on Viddsee
What do you think about vertical farming?
Despommier, D,. (2010) The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. St Martin’s Press, New York. pp77.