Food, Fresh Water and Electricity Without Fossil Fuels.

“We are only limited by our lack of investment and interest.”

What is needed to feed a population of 100,000 – 250,000 people? How much does it cost to produce electricity, clean water and food? Can this all be done in a sustainable fashion without fossil fuels? 21st Century technology is doubling its efforts to supply a rapidly growing human population.

Current techniques for fresh water extraction and food production has exacerbated aquifers, rivers and lakes to the point of no return. For agricultural purposes, humans are extracting more water from wells and aquifers than is being replenished naturally by the water cycle. The unfortunate consequence of over-exploitation is that humans only start thinking of alternative methods of fresh water, food and energy production when natural sources have been depleted.

In order to understand how technology is helping with sustainability, we must look to places where fresh water is scarce, but the sun and wind are plentiful. Places like Israel, Spain, Libya, Saudi Arabia, California, Australia and China have shortages and droughts of fresh water for human consumption and the agriculture industry.

I will briefly describe some of the costs affiliated with creating a system that is relatively eco-neutral in that less atmospheric contamination is produced and water is conserved and recycled more so than current methods.

The CIA world fact book is a database that includes specific information about each country ranging from natural resources, electricity consumption, military capacity, geography, to imports and exports. It is a reliable source to compare data between countries. It currently states that 75.3% of all electricity in the United States of America is produced by fossil fuels, 9.7% from nuclear, 7.6% from hydroelectric, and only 5.3% from renewable sources. The renewable sources of electricity production include wind power, solar power and geothermic power. It is no secret that Americans consume more energy, more food, more water, and contaminate more than any other people on Earth (though the United Arab Emirates is catching up). It is said that if the whole world lived like Americans, we would need 4 Earths!

“I think we have all come to the realization that America consumes way more of the world’s “stuff” than the people we account for.  Americans make up for roughly 5% of the world’s population, but we consume much more than that.  We use 20% of the world’s energy, eat 15% of the world’s meat and create 40% of the garbage on Earth” – Jason Jeffrey Semon

Not all geographical locations are the same, nor have the availability of natural resources, but countries like Nicaragua, Germany, Spain, Iceland, Denmark and Portugal all produce between 20% – 40% of their electricity using renewable resources. Germany, which receives significantly less sun per year than the USA, produces more solar energy and exports more solar panels to countries weening themselves from fossil fuel-based energy sources.

An ideal and sustainable society is very complicated, but we can ameliorate atmospheric contamination and over-exploitation of fresh water by including new techniques to the energy and agricultural industries. For coastal cities in arid or semi-arid territories, a desalinization plant is a great way to preserve underground aquifers. Over-exploiting wells can cause environmental disasters that include sinkholes and salt water intrusions.

In the southeast part of Spain, in a city called Carboneras, is where the largest desalinization plant in Europe is located. The province of Almería, where Carboneras is located, is one of the driest places in Europe. It is also home to the largest concentration of greenhouses in the world. The province is home to a ¨sea of plastic¨, greenhouses that cover over 80,000 acres of land and exports food to a number of European countries. The province is also home to more than 640,000 people, all of which need electricity, food and fresh water in the desert.

The desalinization plant at Carboneras, Almería cost about 121 million euros to construct ($158,768,335 Sept. 2, 2014). It provides water for 7,000 hectares of greenhouses (17,297 acres) and a maximum of 200,000 residents. The desalination plant uses a lot of energy. The figures range from 1kwh/m3 – 2kwh/m3 (per cubic meter) of water. The electricity for converting brackish water into fresh water is currently generated by a coal-fired plant. The plant converts sea water into fresh water using a reverse osmosis method, which uses a membrane to physically “strain” the salt water. Price estimates vary from 0.50 euros – 1.0 euros per m3 for consumption. Coal and petroleum-fired plants are clear sources of atmospheric contamination, and are subject to fluctuating international price markets of import and export of fossil fuel.

A cheaper and cleaner way of generating electricity for a desalination plant would be wind, solar, or even wave power (using ocean waves to do work).  Roscoe Wind Farm in Texas has 634 wind turbines that produce enough energy for 250,000 homes. This wind farm was once the largest in the world and cost about $1 billion to install. It produces about 781.5 MW (megawatts) of electricity.

Andasol Guadix

Above: Andasol solar power plant in Guadix, southern Spain.

A revolutionary solar power station located near Guadix, Spain, called Andasol Solar Power Station is a parabolic trough solar power station. This solar farm uses a parabolic mirror to focus solar energy onto a tube, which in turn, heats water flowing through it. The heat or steam can then be used to power machinery or move a turbine. It also contains a system that is able to generate energy during the night using salt water. Andasol Solar Power Station cost 900 million euros ($1.1 billion) and can produce 165 million kilo-watt hours of electricity each year. To put it in perspective, about 450,000 people currently benefit from the energy produced by this station. It will reduce carbon emissions by 150,000 tonnes per year when compared to coal-fired energy plants. This is a significant victory for clean and renewable energy industries for future endeavors.

In agriculture, intensive greenhouse horticulture is becoming more popular, more sustainable and more profitable than conventional agricultural methods. Popularity comes from the agriculturist’s ability to have more control over aspects of cultivation ranging from wind, humidity, nutrient absorption, water use, temperature and pests. They have been able to reduce or eliminate chemical pesticides for pest control by using simple sticky paper, insects, arachnids and other arthropods that eat fungi or other insects. New substrate and hydroponic systems allow for agriculturists to recycle water and use less fertilizer. In a hydroponic system, the water is continuously recycled in a closed system and the water solution does not seep into the soil. This prevents fertilizers from entering the local water table, which can provoke unwanted environmental reactions like algae blooms. A water recycling system also reduces water use in that it is not “lost” through the soil.

 

Campo de Dalias_1-busco-en-el-poniente-el-ejido-1271116254

Above: Campo de Dalías, El Ejido, Almería, southern Spain. Part of 100,000 hectares (247, 105 acres) of greenhouses overlooking the north Mediterranean coast.

Intensive agriculture projects like those in Campo de Dalías and Campo de Níjar in the southeast corner of Spain is said to also reduce global warming because of its design. The greenhouses are painted white, a technique used in southern Spain, especially with housing, to reflect the solar intensity away from buildings. The glimmer of the greenhouses in the Almería province helps to reduce the overall temperature of the plants it harbors as well as the surrounding territories. Compare the white, energy-reflecting greenhouses to the vast and expansive black-top parking lots in the United States that absorb so much energy. If they would only equip all American parking lots with sun-shade solar panels – not only will it keep your car cool from the hot summer heat, it will produce enough energy for the building you are about to walk into.

As new technologies and cost-effective materials are tested, the increase in food consumption and human population does not necessarily have to degrade our environment. In traditional farming, soil is the primary medium from which crops grow. In monoculture farming, each year more fertilizer must be applied and depending on the water source, salt deposits begin to accumulate, which causes a reduction in crop yield. To avoid the environmental and production risks to crop yield, intensive agriculturalist have turned to substrate materials. Substrate is a growth medium, either organic or synthetic that replaces soil. Hydroponic growth substrate varies from place to place and is still being developed to produce the cheapest, but most effective growth medium. Some greenhouses in Spain and other parts of the world use grow bags, rockwool, perlite, vermiculite,  sand, and coconut fiber. Coconut fiber is great because it is organic and is usually a bi-product, or waste product of the coconut industry. What was once “garbage” is now a viable medium for the agricultural industry.

These techniques must be embraced if we are to ensure our food, water and energy needs in the present and in the future.

“The world is less than 40 years away from a food shortage that will have serious implications for people and governments”

 “For the first time in human history, food production will be limited on a global scale by the availability of land, water and energy,”  Dr. Fred Davies

So in the end, how much money will it cost to produce enough food, electricity, and fresh water for 250,000 people in a semi-sustainable way? I would estimate about $3 billion. At about $1 billion for each industry, $1 billion for solar/wind power, $1 billion for desalinization plants, and $1 billion to produce tens of thousands of acres of greenhouses that can sustain perhaps an even larger population than current methods. Implicating this three-pronged system can do wonders for impoverished areas of the world that struggle to survive from international donors.  It has been studied may times that international aid to places like Africa have actually made things worse.  Places like Algeria, Nigeria, Angola, South Africa, Congo and Ethiopia are well endowed with natural resources like petroleum, natural gas, minerals and metals, but the profits from these industries cannot support their current populations. They must harvest alternative energy in order to change the political, social and economic landscape of the continent. They must, in addition to meeting electricity needs, convert to clean energy for agriculture, so that, the African continent can industrialize, engage in infra-continental agricultural trade, and maintain its status as the least contaminated continent in the world.

International paternalism restricts the local economy from developing in that it gets flooded with international products, which are sold at a cheaper price than local products. $3 billion is a lot to develop wind parks, solar parks, desalinization plants and thousands of acres of greenhouses, but it is far cheaper and more effective than the $50 billion in international assistance the continent receives each year.  The more international aid that goes to the African continent, the more impoverished and more destitute the people become. The wind, sun, and ocean are three resources that are renewable and ecological sources of energy that will eventually triumph over fossil fuels, therefore, it is best to begin now before the wells dry up. We are only limited by our lack of investment and interest.

Only through environmentalism and social ecology can 21st century humans be able to meets our energy and sustenance needs, which in effect, reduce our impact on the climate and environment.

 

By: Opton A. Martin

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The Cultural Shift Away From Transgenic and Genetically Modified Crops in Europe Could Be Bad Business for Spain.

¨The Practice of Local Organic Triumphs Over Foreign and Transgenic.¨

Transgenic and genetically modified crops can be bad for business in the long run due to a cultural shift and social awareness of the dangers of  ¨American style¨ agronomic business practices in European Union member states.

 The first genetically modified food in the world to be sold in supermarkets was the tomato. In 1994, the FlavrSavr tomato hit the shelves in the United States after previously being approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1992. The tomato has a deactivated gene that allows it to ripen from green to red on the vine, and an added gene that prevents rotting – essentially creating a tomato that is as hard as an apple that lasts a lot longer. Scientists and government agencies in the USA have repeatedly said that transgenic and Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in foods are ¨safe for human consumption¨ stating that it is just as safe as conventional (non-transgenic foods). This debate is still being held between scientist on both sides of the aisle presenting evidence for and against its production and consumption, while the environmental impact is stuck in the middle, once again sacrificing the environment for the economy

The reality of transgenic foods like the tomato is that some people, who are old enough to remember, notice that nowadays, tomatoes don´t taste the way they used to, nor have the same amount of nutrients they had say thirty years ago. One example of lost nutrients is how the polysaccharide (sugar) pectin, which is naturally produced and broken down by the tomato for ripening, is reduced in genetically modified versions so that a tougher skin can resist bruising during harvesting. Pectin in humans has been shown to add to our soluble dietary fiber and reduce blood cholesterol levels. In addition, some transgenic crops are grown in sand, which has very little nutrients, henceforth, they need to be added. So what are the real benefits of producing transgenic foods?

In the past, some scientist praised genetically modified organisms in foods claiming that with the capacity  to produce more food, with fewer resources, humanity could solve world hunger and reduce food prices. Economic history shows that there was plenty of food in the world before the advent of  transgenic crops, the problem is that people die from hunger from the climate, spatial and economic reasons (drought, food is far away, or food is too expensive). According to the United Nations Environment Programme, about one-third of all food produced in the world is ¨lost or wasted¨.

¨Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tonnes) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tonnes).¨

One can deduce that producing more food doesn´t necessarily reduce malnutrition or hunger, but the economic implications show that having capital, water and land are most important in combating hunger.

As people in the Western world inform themselves better about the economic and environmental implications of GMO and transgenic crops, they will begin to shun them in favor of non-GMO crops that are not only more nutritious, but practicing ecological agronomics could potentially create more local jobs. Factory farms and transgenic super-plantations require very few people, are far removed from the general population, and require a lot of chemicals and machines. Why is it that the majority of the food people in New York eat come from California? – a distance of about 3,000 miles (4,828,km).

Transgenic food has taken hold of the European Union in a market that culturally has been trying to maintain their alimentary sovereignty free from ¨American style¨ crop production. The member state that produces the most transgenic or GM crops is Spain. Genetically-modified maize (corn) and potatoes are currently the only two GM crops approved in the EU. Soya, tobacco, and even trial versions for GM pest-resistant olive trees are being considered for production in Spain. About 90% of Europe´s transgenic crops – led by U.S. multinational Monsanto´s MON810 corn – is cultivated in Spain. The majority of this corn is used as animal feed for the country´s famous meat markets (hogs, chickens, cow, etc). One problem farmers and consumers face is the lack of transparency and regulation in terms of what the farmers are feeding their animals, and what people are actually eating. It has been reported that farmers feed their animals a mixture of transgenic and conventional corn, which essentially disallows farmers to chose between the two. The lack of transparency also denies its citizens to know exactly where this transgenic crop is being grown. Most Spanish citizens are against transgenic crops and would like for them to be labeled, but the European Union law states that if less than about 1.0% of the ingredients are transgenic, it does not have to be labeled.

As far as the philosophical implications of transgenic foods – namely corn or soya – is not so much as if it is used in society, but how it is used. Subjectively, I oppose the use of transgenic foods for human or animal consumption, but I have no problem if companies use transgenic crops for the production of ethanol, methanol, and other chemical compositions from transgenic crops. In the United States and Brazil, ethanol from corn (US) and sugarcane (Brazil) accounts for a large portion of combustible fuel production, replacing a significant amount of petroleum use, which contaminating slightly less than pure petroleum.

The economic implications transgenic foods might have for Spain and other member states that allow transgenic corn like Portugal, Czech Republic,Poland, and Romania might not come immediately, but permitting cultivation of more crops besides corn and potatoes to be produced might have a backlash effect. Germany is planning on prohibiting all GMO crops within its boarders.

As agro-business farmers in Europe are becoming ¨Americanized¨ in their acceptance of GMO foods, it could produce a schism in the way food is imported and exported in within Europe. Countries that are not part of the European Union, but form part of its economic region like Norway, Switzerland, Iceland, and Serbia have delayed their acceptance of genetically modified organisms. These countries along with Germany, see prohibiting genetically modified and transgenic crops as a scientific, economic and cultural an issue that has many people thinking that it is a bad idea.

Though the evidence is hard to filter and difficult to prove that GMO foods are harmful to human health, one can take a look the North American diet and see how much obesity, heart disease, cancer, and other diseases are attributed to the foods that Americans consume. The United States is the largest producer and consumer of transgenic foods in the world – and to say that transgenic food has nothing to do with the increase in deadly disease in the USA is an understatement.

If Spain continues to increment the amount of  transgenic crops and feed to hogs, chickens and other farm animals, there might be a backlash in member states whose people culturally reject the importation of animals fed with GMO in foods. The idea of local organic triumphs over foreign and transgenic.

As local regions in Europe begin to prohibit the cultivation, sale and distribution of transgenic crops, like The Free State of Bavaria in Germany,  it can be seen as a way to strengthen local business and keep unpopular enterprises like Monsanto out of their food chain.

Spain has the advantage of being the sunniest place in all of Europe, especially in the province of Almería, Spain, which boasts an average of 320 days of sun each year. It has been exploited for decades by local and foreign businesses (including Monsanto) in an area known as ¨The Sea of Plastic¨ (el mar de plástico). This desert area basically feeds europe during the winter as its climate permits crop growth all year round.

If those in the Spanish agricultural business adhere to American models in food production there will be a decrease not only in the quality of food products, but confidence and trust in food products marked ¨Product of Spain¨.  Since it is currently one of the top 10 agricultural exporters in the world there needs to be a cultural and economic shift to protect itself from transgenic foods.

By Opton A. Martin