Monday, March 5, 2012

Sustainable Nutrition

by Richard Crews
Imagine an isolated colony of 1,000 people cut off from outside food sources (on an island or a space station, for example). Can they provide themselves with an interesting and healthy diet in a sustainable way? In other words, what are their nutritional requirements, and how can they be met without importing (or exporting) food?

Nutritional components are commonly thought of in two groups: "macro-nutrients" and "micro-nutrients."

"Macro" means "large." Macro-nutrients are needed in relatively large amounts (tens of grams or several ounces each day) because they are consumed, that is, used up or destroyed in keeping our metabolic processes going. There are three kinds of macro-nutrients--
(1) Lipids (the chemical name for fats and oils) that are mostly used for energy storage; there are a couple of dozen different kinds of lipids that the body uses,
(2) Carbohydrates (sugars and starches) that are mostly used for generating energy on a cell-by-cell basis; there are also a couple of dozen different kinds of carbohydrates, and
(3) Proteins, a very different story from lipids and carbohydrates; proteins are used in millions of different forms for building and repairing tissues, for enzymes that make the body's chemical reactions go, for reproduction, for digestion . . . in short, for every function, large and small, that the body does; there are many millions of different kinds of proteins.

"Micro" means "small." Micro-nutrients are needed in relatively small amounts (a few milligrams each day, amounts that would fit on the head of a pin) because they are mainly catalysts or helper molecules that are recycled and reused over and over again. However, very small amounts are lost, used up, or destroyed by mistake, as it were, so the the body must take in tiny quantities in order to keep its processes going. But the quantities of micro-nutrients that are needed are generally about 1/1000 of the amounts of macro-nutrients. There are two general kinds of micro-nutrients--vitamins and minerals.

In addition to macro-nutrients and micro-nutrients, the body needs thee other inputs--
(1) Oxygen breathed in from the air, to burn the body's fuels,
(2) Water to dissolve the nutrient chemicals so that they inter-react well, and to lubricate everything, and
(3) Roughage, which is indigestible bulk to carry the foodstuffs through the digestive track.
Although oxygen, water, and roughage are essential for healthy body functioning, they are rather different from the other nutrients and are commonly not considered in an assessment of dietary needs. Suffice it to say that to remain healthy a person needs to--
(1) keep breathing, taking in oxygen day and night,
(2) drink several liters (quarts) of clean, fresh water every day, and
(3) have enough indigestible fiber in the diet (mostly from fruits and vegetables) to keep materials in the digestive track moving along smoothly.

For reasons that are too complicated and interwoven to go into here, the challenges of providing adequate nutrition for an isolated colony boil down to two: providing adequate calories and protein. The other nutritional requirements are met en passant, that is, they are taken in automatically with a healthy, varied diet that includes adequate calories and protein, so they do not need to be considered separately.

(1) Adequate CALORIES for fuel--a person of average size and activity in a subtropical environment needs about 2,000 Calories per day. (Note that nutritional "Calories" are written with a capital "C" to distinguish them from the chemist's "calories," written with a small "c"; one C = 1,000 c.) Individual caloric requirements actually vary widely; a large person doing heavy labor in a cold environment (the Arctic lumberjack scenario) may need 7,000 or 8,000 Calories per day, whereas a small, inactive person may require less than 1,000. But 2,000 Calories per person per day is a useful average. The colony as a whole therefore requires about 7.3 x 10^8 Calories per year.

(2) Adequate amounts of good quality PROTEIN--an average person with a normal range of daily activities needs about 40 grams of protein per day. A person with tissue damage, healing, or growth may need two or three times that much. The colony as a whole therefore requires about 1.5 x 10^7 grams of protein per year.

The stipulation of "good quality" protein refers to the fact that proteins are made up of amino acids. The digestive system breaks up incoming proteins and then the various parts of the body stack those amino acids back together to make the particular proteins that are needed. Some protein sources, such as egg whites and fish, have pretty much all the amino acids the body needs and also have them in good proportions. These are called "good quality" or "complete" proteins. Other food sources, such as beans and nuts, may have a lot of protein, but lack in sufficient amounts of one or more amino acids, so that they are not as useful for the body's purposes.

Most of the colony's caloric needs can be conveniently provided by three crops which are easy to cultivate: wheat, corn, and potatoes. Wheat can be expected to yield about 6 million Calories per acre; corn, about 12; and potatoes, about 18. To provide for about 70% of the colonists' caloric needs from these three crops, it would be necessary to cultivate 25 acres of wheat, 15 acres of corn, and 10 acres of potatoes. These would be irrigated, but fertilized only with compost or natural, non-chemical, fertilizers.

A garden of 10 acres would provide tomatoes, squash, beans, and other fresh vegetables. These would be irrigated, and fertilized with compost. They would be fresh in season, and sun-dried for energy-zero storage to be reconstituted with water for use throughout the year. The garden would also provide a variety of lettuces, cabbages, and leafy greens throughout the year.

Any of these crops could be grown in a hydroponics tank, which is a simple technology although it does require the tanks and irrigation equipment. Farming hydroponically reduces the area requirements by a factor of 6x to 10x.

In addition the colony would have a small orchard of about 250 fruit and nut trees providing almonds, walnuts, apples, plums, peaches, citrus fruit, etc. An average fruit tree can be expected to produce 200 to 400 pounds of fruit per year. These would be fresh in season, and sun-dried for energy-zero storage for use throughout the year. The nuts could be pressed for cooking oils, and for nutritious, high-protein mash for cooking or to feed the chickens. The garden and orchard together provide for about 5% of the colony's caloric needs.

The best sources of protein are fish, eggs, milk, nuts, and beans. Consider egg production, for example: a modest flock of 250 chickens could produce 500 kg of protein per year as eggs. This is about 5% of the colony's protein needs. The chickens eat table scraps and compost, and require little maintenance. The flock is self-sustaining. About 1/10 of the eggs are allowed to hatch to replenish the flock. Most of the little roosters, when they are about three months old, and the hens that are past their laying prime of 3-4 years provide Sunday dining treats.

Fish such as trout, salmon, and tilapia can be grown in tanks or ponds. Fish are a tasty source of high-quality protein.

The various sources of protein also provide calories. Together they provide for about 20% of the colony's caloric needs.

Oils for cooking can be extracted from fish, corn, seeds (particularly melon and squash seeds), and nuts. The orchard could even have a few olive trees for oil production. Olive varieties have been bred to thrive under a wide variety of climate conditions.

Honey bees are easy to maintain, pollinate the crops, and provide 100 to 150 kg (200 to 300 pounds) of honey per hive per year. This can be used to sweeten food or fermented to an alcoholic wine-like beverage called "mead." The bees also provide beeswax that can be used to make candles or soap.

The oils and honey do not add significantly to the colony's calorie provisions. These are met (as outlined above) by the grains (70%), fruits and vegetables (5%), and protein sources (20%).

It appears, on rough analysis, that the nutritional needs of an isolated colony of 1,000 people could be met on a self-sustaining basis (with no input or output exchange with the broader world) with the careful management of less than 100 acres.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Recycling Efficiency

by Richard Crews
There are three general principles to consider in attaining recycling efficiency.

The first is that recycling expenses should be built into every original product. This should be part of the engineering design, and factored into the cost to the consumer. The human race has long practiced a "rape and run" approach to utilizing the environment from cutting down trees to savaging landscape and extinguishing endangered species. It has been our common practice to use, even to use up, anything nature puts at hand with the confident assumption that somehow more will be provided.

We can no longer live that way. We are fast approaching the point where the garage is full of discarded gadgets and the yard is full of garbage. Recycling materials and components must become part of the engineering design process, and the expense for recycling must become part of the purchase price.

Second, the enthusiastic proliferation of exotic materials has to be limited. For several decades the wonders of materials science have provided exciting variations in color, texture, durability, heat characteristics, etc. in the toys and tools we gather around us. The heyday of a new plastic for every occasion has to come to an end. Almost all packaging, for example, can be done with polyehtyleneterepthalate (PET) which can be readily recycled into polyester fibers. PET is already the most abundantly used packaging plastic. It can be made thick or thin, rigid or flexible. There is little need for the other polyethylenes, polypropylenes, etc. that now accumulate in landfills by the millions of tons every year.

Third, the process of "re-manufacturing" has to become part of our everyday culture. Everything from vehicles and appliances to tools and toys (including electronics) should be carefully deconstructed and repaired as much as possible.

We can no longer live on the Earth as if it were infinite and inexhaustible, and as if everything upon it is simply ours for the taking as we choose. We need to learn to live in such a way that our children and grand children will have a place to live as well.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Memory--Two Important Factors

by Richard Crews
Factor one: ASSOCIATIONS--When you look at something you want to remember, you have to try to hear a sound, and feel some touch sensations, and smell and taste things that might be associated with it. This includes thinking of rhymes, silly pictures, past events, etc. that you can associate--even remotely, even ludicrously--with it.

Factor two: PRACTICE--One needs to practice making up associations over, and over, and over again--all day long--with every impression or sensory input that comes along, however small. Throughout our lives we have learned ways of learning and remembering things; mostly we have learned these ways inadvertently. We have to learn new ways, better ways, ways that better fit and make use of our neuronal tools. But we can only learn new ways so that they are useful and replace the old ways through practice, practice, practice.

Note: You can't overwhelm your memory capacity. Some people remember thousands of names and faces (and bios) effortlessly. Musicians remember hundreds of thousands of note sequences without consciously trying. Kim Peek memorized thousands of books--word for word, page after page, idea after idea. Some college kid memorized 22,000 digits of pi. You simply can't "use up" your available memory.

So the game is, practice this every moment you can talk yourself into--until it becomes second nature--until it replaces, by habit, the methods you have learned and used inadvertently all your life.

Clean Cheap Renewable Energy Sources

by James Davis
There are a lot of clean cheap renewable energy sources out there. One thing that can be used for both home and car is the nuclear battery that uses cheap abundant Thorium. Eight grams of Thorium can power your car over 300,000 miles and a thousand grams can power your home, under normal use, for 100 years. Thorium is also safe to use and be close to when encased in stainless steel and there are no radiation leaks.

Westinghouse has already developed a Thorium mini nuclear plant that can be built on a production line and one can power a city the size of Boston and can be placed in the space of a two story home. They are cheap enough where you can place one or two in every city in America for the price it would take to build one conventional nuclear power plant. That would give you a never ending power supply for your cars, buses, and boats and create millions of high paying jobs. Since these mini nuclear power plants can be built on a production line and transported by train to anywhere in America, it only makes sense to start mass producing the plant and battery and we will be away from dirty fossil fuel forever and the oil producers can start using their crude for cleaner purposes.

The geothermal power plants we already have can be used to produce power and we can also extract the minerals from the brine like gold, silver and lithium to build our economy and high tech products. A geothermal power plant in California is already extracting those minerals, but they are being sent to China to help and boost the lithium battery industry. We will no longer need the lithium batteries if we start producing the thorium batteries.

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is Manufacturing the Answer?

by Richard Crews
Not long ago (well, a few decades, but think of it as a wink of geologic time) the U.S. was the manufacturing titan of the world. ("Titan" may not be quite the right word here, but you get the idea.) During the first half of the 20th century, U.S. manufacturing grew, and grew, and grew until by mid-century, the U.S. out-manufactured the entire rest of the post-industrial world combined. (True, the Second World War, 1940-'45, demolished manufacturing capacities throughout Europe and Asia while the U.S. doubled down on making ships, planes, Jeeps, guns, etc., but it would be unseemly of me to let some historical subtleties and complexities stand in the way of a strong narrative--I've learned that from watching the Republican primaries.)

Then along came 2008 with Wall Street greed and the housing credit bubble, lots of closed factories and lost jobs (even the mighty auto industry almost folded) and--well--the U.S. is now an "also ran" as a manufacturing powerhouse (think Germany, Japan, and the U.K. with the BRIC countries coming on strong ("BRIC" stands for Brazil, Russia, India, and China)).

But a lot has changed in the world over the past couple of decades: robots build cars with something like 1/10 number of humans needed, electronics speed our financial transactions around the globe, green energy and environmental consciousness rise like a raging forest fire, and political aspirations rise and fall with an iPhone video and a "tweet," not a newspaper headline. The question arises, Is manufacturing coming back to save the American dream (in other words, is the decline in manufacturing "cyclical")? Or has the economic landscape changed in fundamental ways (is the decline "structural," never to return)?

On the one hand (according to a Brookings panel), manufacturing significantly provides (1) high-wage jobs, (2) commercial innovation, (3) trade deficit reduction, and (4) a disproportionately large contribution to environmental sustainability. Moreover, the manufacturing industries and firms that make the greatest contribution to these four objectives are also those that have the greatest potential to maintain or expand employment in the United States: computers and electronics, chemicals (including pharmaceuticals), transportation equipment (including aerospace and motor vehicles and parts), and machinery. American manufacturing, it is argued, needs strengthening through government help in four key areas: (1) research and development, (2) lifelong training and retraining of workers, (3) improved access to finance, and (4) an increased role for workers and their communities in sharing in the gains from innovative manufacturing.

On the other hand, Michael Klein (also at Brookings) points out that the 300,000 new manufacturing jobs created since the depths of the Great Recession represent only 8% of total job growth. Manufacturing's current share of employment is only about 9% of the nation's overall total. Over the past three decades, employment in manufacturing has decreased about 40%. So while manufacturing has been a bright spot lately, this is a story of productivity gains, not of employment growth. Thanks to these productivity gains, the employment drop occurred while the value added by manufacturing increased by 40%. Hourly compensation to workers has remained stagnant; so the question arises: Who benefits from policies to support manufacturing, workers or owners?

Furthermore, manufacturing is characterized by "churning"--simultaneous job creation and destruction. On average, about one in five manufacturing jobs are either destroyed or created each year, and that churn is not especially concentrated within some narrowly defined manufacturing sector.

Klein comments, "The case has also been made that manufacturing matters because of exporting. [But] a bit more than half of all U.S. exports are manufactured goods, and two-thirds of these manufacturing exports come from four sectors: chemicals, transportation equipment, computers (and other electronic products), and machinery.

"Policies to promote exporting would, therefore, disproportionately favor a relatively small set of firms in these sectors. How small a set? Only about 4% of manufacturing firms in the U.S. exported in 2000 and 96% of all U.S. exports are sold by just 10% of this already small set of firms.

"It may be possible to expand the set of firms that export, rather than just the export activity of those that already sell abroad, but the extreme concentration of exporting gives one some pause about export-promoting policies. And exporting is not an end in itself. Is there some special feature of exporting that benefits workers as well as owners?

"There is evidence of a wage premium paid to workers in exporting firms, but those workers also tend to have more education and skills than those in non-exporting firms. Part of the premium is due to this.

"Since higher education and skills result in higher wages, it would be well worth considering policies promoting the skills and education of workers, regardless of the industry in which they are employed."

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Folding a Losing Hand

by Richard Crews
The GOP has become associated with a set of bizarre ideologies and a set of cynical political tactics.

Bizarre ideologies such as--

(1) Anti-Scientism--for example, that anthropogenic global warming is a scientific hoax and left-wing conspiracy, and that evolution is a weak scientific hypothesis while creationism is a worthy one.

(2) Trickle-Down and Deregulatory Economics--which have been tested and discredited.

Cynical tactics such as--

(1) Obstructionism--if the GOP can succeed in paralyzing the government, they can discredit the incumbent administration, and they are willing to do this even if it means crippling the economy of the nation.

(2) Pandering to Corporate and Big-Money Power--wealthy special interests and their lobbyists, if they are favored by legislation, are willing to pump hundreds of millions of dollars into political campaigns.

(3) Distorted Propaganda and Histrionic Rhetoric--the willingness to say anything regardless of the facts in order to garner political support.

The GOP has been willing to pursue these ideologies and tactics, not just at the expense of truth and honesty, but despite pain to the underclasses and threat to the strength and viability of the nation itself.

And they have garnered a lot of political success thereby, first with the surprising win of Scott Brown in Massachusetts in December, 2009, and then with the shellacking the Democrats took in the mid-term elections of November, 2010.

But pursuing this path must surely present a cognitive as well as a moral dilemma for many Republicans, and increasingly so, although as yet they have had very few defections.

However, this week the Republican leadership caved in extending the payroll tax reduction and unemployment benefits.

Perhaps there is hope the GOP may become a truly loyal opposition and provide a valuable brake and counter-perspective for Democratic incumbent efforts.

The country would be greatly benefited.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Child-Rearing for a Non-Violent Society

by Richard Crews
As to the nuts and bolts of producing a free and non-violent society, that lies mostly in the society's child-rearing practices. A kid who is brought up by parents who favor or enforce obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom becomes an adult who "knows" that is how to raise kids. Otherwise the kids will "go bad," and will not become disciplined and motivated adults,

In the era of spankings at home and teaching kids at school via bruised knuckles and stinging backsides, the next generation believed that was the ONLY way to raise kids safely, so that they would be secure from vice and sloth. It is possible to turn a kid around later during latency and adolescence--for a kid to learn that freedom and respect beget freedom and respect--but it is hard.

In our society, even in the best of homes where kids are loved and protected, they are taught behavior patterns by a pair of amateurs. Most parents--even in the best of homes--learned most of what they know about child-rearing from the pair of amateurs who raised them.

To what extent can parents be taught to raise their kids with respect for their personal freedom and dignity? How can the cycle (that truly comes out of love, and misinformed fear for the child's welfare) be broken?

That is the key, I believe, to developing a truly Civilized future for humanity.