Ah, technology. Solve some problems create others. My exercise focus these days is turning to running, and shoes. I had pretty much giving up on long distance running as a form of exercise due to concern about long term knee damage. Now, I’m learning more about more about barefoot running, which seems to address this concern. While not necessarily barefoot (minimalist shoes are also used effectively), the basic idea is to change a runner’s stride to avoid the heel strike and the impact that produces on the knees…instead, landing on the ball of the feet and using the foot geometry to absorb the impact. Good or bad? Well, look at it this way, our bodies are the result of millions of years of evolution. We’ve invented new shoes that have allowed us to change our stride, only to find that other areas of the bodies are now unsuitable for the new loads being applied. Wired magazine has a great article about this, and you can expect this ‘trend’ to really take off in 2012.
The solution is really quite simple and elegant. Respect and understand how our bodies evolved, and ENHANCE the design rather than trying to alter it. Wearing minimalist shoes is a form of enhancement…you get the optimal stride and form, but with more protection for your foot (nice to have in areas with hot pavement, or rocky surfaces).
In the coming years and decades, you can expect more headlines like this one from Scientific American: “World Lacks Enough Food, Fuel as Population Soars.” It’s a two-sided problem. On the one hand, demand increases as more people move out of poverty and reach a traditional ‘middle class’ lifestyle. On the other hand, the world population is increasing FAST, which compounds the first problem of increasing demand. Perhaps this quote from the article sums it up best though:
Even by 2030, the world will need at least 50 percent more food, 45 percent more energy and 30 percent more water, according to U.N. estimates, at a time when a changing environment is creating new limits to supply.
So, what do we do? Well, decreasing consumption is obviously a priority, and I hope that new technological advances can help reduce the amount of natural resources required to build products (but even then, there’s a finite limit to how much we can dig up out of the Earth…society will need to incorporate virtual reality into our lives if we are to hope to achieve balance). In the meantime, the UN’s panel on global sustainability recommends managing water and marine ecosystems more efficiently (they’re both key to food supply) and increasing affordable sustainable energy.
So, let’s say you want to start eating healthier and buying organic foods. Where do you start? They’re more expensive, so it can be tough to go 100% organic. This video serves as a starting point, which foods offer the most ‘bang for the buck’, or as the video title’s puts it, ‘The 13 Most Toxic Foods‘ (not because of the food’s toxicity, but because of the chemicals added to them).
The EPA has ruled that biodiesel made from palm oil does not meet US standards for being defined as a renewable fuel, due primarily to the fact that the palm plantations are often created by clearing out the rainforest that once thrived there. It’s a nice reminder that when you see something being touted as eco friendly or using tagwords like this ‘biodiesel’, we need to look at the whole picture and not just accept it as green (this can be a form of greenwashing – tricky marketing to make you think that something is eco-friendly when it isn’t).
So I know I talk a lot on this blog about how we can use technology to solve the problems that our society creates, but we need to remember there are boundaries to that. I feel that using technology to improve our lives is great, but altering the chemical balance of our environment and our selves is generally not a good idea. One great example is the chemical Chlorpropham, also known as ‘bud nip’. It’s sprayed on a variety of vegetables to extend their shelf life and prevent, for example, potatoes from sprouting. Other vegetables sprayed by this are blueberries, carrots, onions, spinach, tomatoes, beets, and cranberries (and many others…). Like many chemicals, this is shown to cause all sorts of health problems in lab experiments (see link), but we’re told that low doses are OK. The problem is, if we inject our bodies with low doses of a wide variety of chemicals form all sorts of different exposures in our daily lives, how can we believe that would be safe?
The solution, in my opinion, is to minimize the amount of unnatural chemicals we put into our bodies. Eating organic food is one great place to start, or better yet, grow your own!
Here’s a great video of an experiment done by a kid about this:
There’s been all sort of discussion lately about fracking (hydraulic fracturing of shale rock) to access natural gas that was previously thought to be inaccessible. The concern has been over the fluids used in the fracking process, what little we know about them indicates they are toxic and not something we want in our groundwater (the actual ingredients are considered trade secrets and not typically disclosed, though Colorado recently enacted a law to change that). Evidence has shown these fluids can turn up in groundwater. On the other side of the debate though, the industry disputes that claim and says that fracking is safe, that the fluids can’t go from the shale layers to the aquifers. Which side to believe? An article in Scientific American indicates that both sides may be right, depending on your point of view. It’s an interesting and short read and I encourage you to read it in full, but the gist of it is that yes, fracking doesn’t contaminate the water, but the wells that carry the fluids to and from the fracking layers CAN. Cracks in the cement casings of those wells can allow the fracking fluid to escape into the aquifers that the wells pass through to get to the fracking layers. More to the point, this concern would apply to virtually any time of natural gas extraction, not just fracking. So, it’s a bit worse than originally feared! Read more about it here.
Hyperion Energy is looking to build a gigantic, kilometer tall tower in Australia. Where it really gets interesting is the ‘why’. The base of the two has holes in it. The land around it, for almost fourteen square miles, would be covered, creating an air gap between the ground and the cover. The sun would heat up the air under the cover, and hot air would rise up through the tower, drawing in cool air from the perimeter of the cover. Turbines installed in the base of the tower would be turned by the rising hot air, thus generating electricity. Perhaps the best part is since this operates on a temperature DIFFERENCE between the ground air and the air at the top of the tower, when night falls this will continue to generate electricity as the ground will retain heat while the air above the tower cools down. Natural power storage. So, not only is this clean, renewable energy, but…the plant pictured here would produce about as much electricity as as small nuclear reactor (200MW)! Awesome! They’re hoping to get this build and operational by 2014.