Food for Thought

According to the UNFAO, thirty percent of the earth’s usable land is directly or indirectly involved in livestock production. What’s more, it’s said that livestock production generates nearly a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gases – more than all fossil-based transportation. University of Chicago Geophysicists Gidon Eshel and Pam Martin calculated that if Americans were to reduce meat consumption by just 20 percent, it would be equivalent to switching from driving a standard sedan (e.g., Camry) to a hybrid Prius. The Japanese National Institute of Livestock Science estimates that 2.2 pounds of beef is responsible for the equivalent amount of carbon dioxide emitted by the average European car every 155 miles, and burns enough energy to light a 100-watt bulb for nearly 20 days. Energy consumption and food production are intimately related, with large animals being disproportionately more energy intensive than other food sources. As fuel costs skyrocket, so does everything else, especially food. Last year, the UNFAO’s worldwide Food Price Index shot up 40%. In one year. The EPA estimates that U.S. agriculture – much of which now serves the demand for meat – contributes to “nearly three-quarters of all water-quality problems in the nation’s rivers and streams.” The use of antibiotics in cattle is said to be contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, along with increased incidence of diet-related disease. It gets even more personal. Stanford professor Rose Naylor shows that roughly 800 million people suffer from malnutrition, while most of the world’s corn and soy is used to feed cattle and pigs. Depending on animal and process, up to five times more grain is required to produce the same amount of calories through livestock as through direct grain consumption. For U.S. grain-fed beef, this imbalance is up to ten times higher. Diets heavily reliant on large animals are not only unhealthy and unnecessary, but one might say, unholy. By eating fewer large animals, we (1) use far less energy, (2) generate far less CO2, (3) potentially improve our health, and perhaps most importantly, (4) contribute to a more equitable and just distribution of calories into the world’s neediest communities. That, I believe, is Christ’s heart. The proteins, aminos, vitamins, and other nutrients we need can be found, in abundance, in foods other than big meat. Caveat: I’m not a vegetarian, but our family’s diet is rarely based on big  

Blueprint or Scramble?

I’m convinced that energy is the #1 structural issue of our era. As a student of energy, I’ve tracked many recent public statements by Big Oil. One of the most revealing comes from a Davos talk this week by Shell Oil’s CEO. Shell is the world’s third largest corporation by revenue (Exxon being first. In fact, 9 of the 10 largest global corporations are either oil companies or automobile manufacturers.) Following in Exxon’s recent admissions, Shell’s CEO Jeroen van der Veer is now admitting what many are calling “Peak Oil.” In his statement at Davos, van der Veer reveals that, very soon, “easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.” He cites 2015 as our Peak date – some analysts believe we passed “Peak” in 2007. Jeroen sees two strategies to keep the energy flowing: 1. Blueprint … a cautious ride, with some false starts, on a road that is still under construction. Whether we arrive safely at our destination depends on the discipline of the drivers and the ingenuity of all those involved in the construction effort. Technological innovation provides the excitement. 2. Scramble Like an off-road rally through a mountainous desert, it promises excitement and fierce competition. However, the unintended consequence of “more haste” will often be “less speed,” and many will crash along the way. Shell’s CEO sees two possible energy futures: (1) an exciting ride on a road that is still under construction with only marginal assurance of safe passage, or (2) a fiercley competitive off-road rally on tretcherous roads where many will crash and burn. Wow. The CEO provides further details into these global energy scenarios – I encourage anyone remotely interested in our collective future to read this paper. I believe energy scarcity will be (and perhaps already is) the primary influencing dynamic behind world economics and the political decisions which follow. Added: Short introduction to the concept of Peak  

Internet Singularity and the Exaflood

The rate of virtual information we generate and share is growing exponentially. But the Internet “backbone” is finite and limited. The USA is ranked 16th in broadband infrastructure, and falling. The advent of video and other high-speed requirements are taxing the Internet like never before. In early 2005, YouTube didn’t exist. Today, over 100 million videos are downloaded every day. The IIA advocacy group claims that “consumer and corporate Internet usage could outstrip worldwide network capacity in little more than two years,” generating what they call an exaflood of data. Maybe so, but something smells funny with the group – like they’re working a bit too closely with the backbone community. Anyway, they’ve produced an interesting video which I’ll attach, below. Regardless of the IIA’s affiliations, the Internet must grow in both bandwidth and, more importantly, egalitarian transparency. Free markets will assure a continued growth in backbone connectivity – no need to sound the alarms. Demand, and the almighty dollar, will drive bandwidth. What’s of greater concern is the increasing rate of governmental (or quasi-govt) intervention, like we see in Burma and China, restricting the free-flow of information and community. All freedoms, especially on-line religious freedoms, can be snuffed out by heavy-handed central rule. We saw this recently with Burmese Buddhists monks and reporters – a near-total Internet blackout. And if the information / backbone carriers (ATT, Global Crossing, etc.) had their way, they, too, would curtail interfere with the free-flow of data, as we’ve learned in recent “Net Neutrality” debates. There will come a time, perhaps in the not-too-distant future, when ideological freedom will closely equate with a free global  

The Earthquake Rule

My friend Ian has asked me to speak at his wedding tomorrow. Here’s part of what I’m going to say: . . In tough times, you will remember how you waited a good third of your life to find each other: this memory will be a constant catalyst for healing and reconciliation – it will remind you that your sensitive and deep-rooted love is far greater than any differences that may arise. Know that sometimes marriage can be like a series of earthquakes. There;s a rule I want you always to remember – let’s call it the earthquake rule: when you find a fault, don’t dwell on it. Marriage is a continual stream of ripples and waves, just like little earthquakes. But the reality of marriage is that you may not always be on each other’s wavelength. Tolstoy said it well:  What counts in making a happy marriage is not so much how compatible you are, but how you deal with incompatibility. See, marriage isn’t about thinking alike, but thinking together. This means that rather than always being on the same wavelength, you’ll simply need to ride along with each others waves. When those magnitude 7.5 earthquakes rock your world, the marriage commitment keeps you together until the dust settles and you fall back in love again. Jonathan Livingston Seagull author Eric Segal said love means never having to say you’re sorry. When I first heard that, I thought.. that’s nonsense! Married people do stupid things all the time – we always need to forgive each other. But as I thought more about it, I realized the truth in this saying. Forgiveness in a healthy marriage becomes more than words – more than an occasional conversation. Forgiveness becomes a state of being. The words forgiveness and marriage become almost interchangeable. Taoist philosopher Lao Tzu said marriage is three parts love and seven parts forgiveness. The late Ruth Graham said a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers. Ian and Kristin, never forget what is worth remembering. And never remember what is best forgotten. Chief Seattle said this: the Earth does not belong to man, man belongs to the earth. All things are connected. Man did not weave the web of life; he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself. Chief Seattle’s words are a lot like marriage. Marriage means you are no longer in control. You now belong to each other – you are connected in a mysterious, spiritual manner where two beings become united into one body and one heart. You, Ian, now belong to Kristin, and Kristin you now belong to Ian. In ancient times, sacrifices were made on the altar. We’re continuing that custom today.  Marriage is the ultimate sacrifice of our autonomy. In what might be the most mystical chapter of the New Testament, Jesus says, Everything mine is yours, and yours mine, Just as you, Father, are in me and I in you, So they might be one heart and mind with us. The same glory you gave me, I gave them, So they’ll be as unified and together as we are – I in them and you in me. That they’ll be matured in this oneness (Jn 17, The Message) In language that can only be called deeply metaphysical, Jesus takes us into a place of unrestrained unity, where all duality is banished in God’s singular light. Marriage is a profound opportunity to overcome our separate lives and to seek something more than physical unity. We have the opportunity to seek a spiritual unity in which two become one in every  

Peak Oil

One of my avocations is energy and sustainability research. Over the last four years, I’ve devoted a significant amount of time to studying the big-picture impact of energy on civilization. I’ve come to recognize this as the world’s most important “hard” issue (vs. what I believe to be the most important “soft” issue of God / spirituality and the Mediation of love). I just added a paper to the microclesia blog archives – something I wrote for Energy Bulletin. The paper is a summary of our 2005 ASPO Conference – the Association for the Study of Peak Oil. It’s nearly two years old, but the data and forecasts remain current. Especially important is the concept of Net Energy, or EROEI – Energy Returned over Energy Invested. Also in the process of re-skinning my Peak Oil resources page here. The CSS is down (ugly!), but the PO links should all work. Please visit some of these linked resources to learn more about the profound relationship between energy, population, and socio-economic stability. SOCIAL COMMENTARY The Oil We Eat (Harpers) HERE The Monkey Trap (R. Freeman) HERE TECHNICAL ANALYSIS Mat Simmons HERE D.O.E. Study HERE I’m always happy to share my time with anyone who wants to discuss this important issue. Give me a  

Global Social Venture

Yesterday, Cynthia and I enjoyed a day in Berkeley at 2007 Global Social Venture Symposium – an exploration of business enterprise that drives meaningful social change. The discussions focused on a diverse collection of entrepreneurs and venture capitalists successfully leveraging capital and commerce to effect social good. MBA schools are realizing a need to augment the traditional “bottom-line” approach to business. Some have dubbed this emerging model the “double bottom line” – with profits benefiting both investors and the common good. The GSV Symposium shows that DBL economics is not only working, but thriving. GSV included a competition in which 157 entrepreneurs from 20 countries presented business plans which promote profitable social ventures. Entrants are judged on their venture’s DBL impact. One winner is a start-up called Dlight – a maker of LED lighting resources for rural families still using candles and kerosene lamps (over 2 billion people). D-light will cut rural lighting costs by nearly 80% while greatly improving family health and safety. Another competition winner, Revolution Foods, has already launched their venture of providing healthy meals and nutritional education to lower income public school children. As I know from my son’s experience, K-12 nutrition is somewhat of an oxymoron. Revolution’s private-sector model delivers far healthier foods at competitive costs – with resultant drops in nutrition-related health care costs. Entrepreneurs were everywhere at this conference, and the creative energy was electric. Keynote speaker Majora Carter (who will also be at the Q Conference in two weeks) got us started by showing how one person with vision can impact an entire city (NYC) for the common good. If you click on any link on this post, make it Majora’s TED talk. You will be deeply