Sunday, November 6, 2016

If Trump Wins

For some reason, as the election draws close, I find myself engaging in lots of last minute debates with Trump supporters on facebook in a closed group called "Politics".
I am not sure what I am trying to achieve, given that practically nobody is changing their position by a millimeter, but the exercise, trying to remain civil and rational, is at least challenging and it is therapeutic in the sense that we get to air out our arguments.
Tonight a fellow wrote his predictions of what would happen within 24 hours of a Trump presidency, and I wrote my response.
Here it is, for what it is worth:

"Ridiculous bit of speculation based on fantasy by Dennis in bullet points, and my replies:

• The Clinton Corruption is destroyed and rendered powerless.
No, just replaced by the Trump corruption in the White House and whatever corruption the Clinton's are involved with will go on, as it always have, with Trump being the beneficiary. The Clintons didn't create corruption, the plutocrats did and do, and Trump is one of the plutocrats. He is not a champion of the people and CERTAINLY DOESN'T BELIEVE IN TRANSPARENCY. He hates being fact checked. You can't get a better recipe for corruption than that!

• The media has been neutered forever.
The media is the only protection we have in a democracy against corruption. Who will the whistle blowers be? Who will report the excesses when our rights to free speech and a free press are taken from us by Trump?

• Career politicians will have lost all job security.
The career politicians job security is the mostly republican revolving door to corporate positions. Under Trump I'm sure he will cut all sorts of deals like Cheney and his ilk did, knowing they can screw us all with their policies during the time they spend paid less in Congress or the Senate and then forget about even pretending to serve the people and simply head up companies that run roughshod over our rights. Dangerous, dangerous. Rather have somebody stay longer and be accountable to the American people!

• The guns in your home will safely stay there.
It was the fascists who took away guns in Europe, people who spoke and acted like Trump. Hillary can talk about limiting the ability of criminals and domestic terrorists and foreign infiltrators to get truly dangerous weapons and keep us safe. Trump will enable the criminals to commit more crimes until he then sets a mandate to take away all guns because it has gotten to dangerous. That is the play. The Democrats have never and will never take our guns away, and most of them don't want to. We rightly fear demogogues on both right and left. Trump is lying his way into your trust and, with a neutered press and the threat of lawsuits for exposure, will do stuff behind your back you will never hear of until it is too late. Talk to the Germans.

• Preachers will be free to preach truth without the threat of government interference.
Preachers ARE free to preach our faith and the government does nothing because we have SEPARATION OF CHURCH AND STATE. That is what distinguishes us from dictatorships in the Middle East. Trumps world will be an American version of ISIS, so they won't have to even come over here.

• Israel will have no doubt that we are truly their ally
You must not spend much time in Israel. My closest Israeli friends, with whom I have spent time every year in Israel for the past decade, are terrified of Trump. They will doubt that we care about them at all. They will feel we only do what is expedient for our bottom line. Trump speaks hate talk against Jews, and speaks in a way that makes many Holocaust survivors quake in their boots, because they've heard this stuff before. All you mean is that the hawks in Israel will have no doubt that under Trump we will fund them to fight our battles for us and lose their children to feed our addictions to fossil fuels and cheap prices while creating markets for the military industrial corporations. A true ally, as many editorials in Haaretz point out, would help Israel make productive peace with its Palestinian and Arab neighbors, as Perez told us recently in his speech at the Harvard Business School "prosperity for peace". Trump doesn't understand that kind of business or diplomacy.

• Iran will not get one more plane full of cash.
Nonesense. Iran is loving Trumps rhetoric as it inflames anti-American sentiment and makes us seem like haters of Islam instead of haters of crazy terrorists and their profiteering international funders. Under Trump, instead of being isolated by the Arab countries surrounding it, Iran will seek common grievance with other Muslim dominated nations and will get more planes full of cash from the petrodictators than we could ever send them in our bargaining for compliance on the non-proliferation.

• No more apologies to the world for being great!
We have never apologized for being great. We apologize, as all dignified peoples do, when we do things that are not great. Your fuhrer Trump was embarrassed, he said, by the war in Iraq (which he was for until it was politically expedient) . That amounts, in a way, to an apology for our country doing non-great things. That is the only good thing he has done. We should always apologize when we are less than great. When we are great, we have nothing to apologize for and the world celebrates us. If Trump is elected, since the vast majority in every country I know deplores him, we will have A LOT of apologizing to do.

• Our enemies, most of which help fund Hillary's campaign will definitely be a little scared.
Our enemies will be emboldened. The suicide bombers will be celebrating. They aren't scared of anything, they just want more excuses to attack. Trump seems to them to justify all of their grievances, winning them more support from their super rich funders. It is the innocent who will be scared and they will have no power at all. No diplomacy, no safe havens, no no-fly zones. Our enemies are so so happy to have Trump.

• Our healthcare rates stand a real good chance of going down.
No, the quality of our service will go down. Trump is no Bernie, he is no libertarian, he is no socialist, he is no green, he is no Christian. He is about business profits. And with no regulation, no journalistic investigations, there will be no protections. He hates competition so the market won't discipline him and his cronies either. You are electing a monopolist.

• There is at least some hope that new manufacturing jobs will be coming back to your state.
That's got nothing to do with Trump. AI, Automation, Robotics, Apps, Super computers, smart phones, 3D printing, genetic modification, the internet, all of these things make it certain that manufacturing jobs will continue to decline. The only jobs that can't be done by machines or outsourced (as Trump has done time and again) are those that are in the new Green Economy (which deals with space and its infrastructural modification needing hands and boots on roofs and in fields and new factories) which Trump has vowed to end, and service jobs in stagnant places. Would you like fries with that?

• The drug cartel and other criminals currently crossing our borders will realize their days are numbered.
Drugs are big business. Trump may or may not be a coke addict, but his superwealthy friends are the ones with the silver spoons up their noses, driving the drug cartels. The coyotes crossing our borders are bringing people who Trump employs for pennies on the dollar because we made them desparate. The drugs are flown in or boated in to Miami and other private airstrips. The criminals wear suits and have multiple passports and business visas. Business as usual. Closing the border just means that when the wealthy open it up from time to time to let in low wage workers they can argue against minimum wage by scaring the workers with deportation. Old game, new emperor.

• The police will be supported so they can restore law and order.
The police are best supported by training in cultural anthropology and by keeping assault rifles out of the hands of criminals and making sure everyone has a background check and nobody can just go around shooting them. Trump won't support the police, he will use them as corporate security forces, evicting, beating and jailing anyone who disagrees with him or his policies. The police will become his handmaidens and will only serve and protect him and his cronies. Journalist and people engaged in nonviolent protest will be beaten and arrested. "Throw them out of here" he will cry.

The list could go on and on, but it sounds like America may be on the road to becoming AWFUL, again and again, within the first few hours on November 9 if Trump does win.

Copy and paste this as your status if you support sanity and will vote AGAINST Donald Trump for president 2016

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

What makes the Solar CITIES Food-Waste-to-Fuel-and-Fertilizer the perfect STEM activity

The Solar CITIES’ “food waste to fuel and fertilizer” project is perfect STEM activity

And here I am.
Cheesy, huh? But fun!

Hi, I’m Dr. T.H. Culhane, a professor of Environmental Sustainability and Justice at the Patel College of Global Solutions at the University of South Florida, Tampa, and a National Geographic Explorer.

I spent 10 years as a hands-on science teacher in South Los Angeles, working with at-risk youth to try and reform our educational system by creating curricula that  blended  academic and vocational education, teaching at the highest level of Bloom’s taxonomy, and embracing each and all of our students’ multiple intelligences.

At Crenshaw and Jefferson and Hollywood  High Schools over that period from 1989 to 1992 we built solar stills to make alcohol fuel, which we called “Demonol – a fuel of the people, by the people, for the people” and converted a car  in the auto shop to run on it, And the students made a "movie trailer" out of the project (please forgive the bad quality; this was 1992 and the technology in the classroom was really primitive!)

We used bicycle generators and installed photovoltaic panels and small wind generators, built electric cars,  did community gardening and composting and urban tree planting, built composting toilets for urban apartments,  and trained our students through Digital Engineering for Multi-Media Occupations through a program we called “DEMMO Productions” to become like National Geographic film-makers so they could report with a fresh eye on how humanity can solve its biggest problems.

  I went on to teach Global Environmental Science at UCLA, while doing my Masters and Ph.D. field work in the rainforests of Guatemala and the slums of Cairo Egypt, (these pictures show me working at the Zabaleen trash picker's school in Egypt, teaching students how to build solar hot water systems from recycled materials so they could take their first showers with the residues of shampoo they would find in discarded plastic bottles they collected and shredded for sale)

I worked with the Office of Naval Research on  STEM Robotics curricula to improve opportunities for inner city schoolkids,

and spent the past four years teaching Environmental Science to low income students at Mercy College NY, working with returning military veterans and running our service learning trips to Israel, Palestine, the Dominican Republic, Brazil  and Jordan on initiatives to help refugees stay safe from disease and be resilient to disaster.

 In my off time or “vacations”,  I engage in what we call in our Sustainable Tourism program at USF, “Voluntourism”, travelling  on my own or on  National Geographic grants to places like Alaska, and Ireland,  South America,  Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Botswana and Turkey, and Haiti, to name a few, to share with friends around the world how to do what the French call  “bricolage” – Do it yourself systems for improving what we call the “FEW Nexus” – the Food Energy Water nexus – to meet the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals.

The common thread between all these activities, uniting Food, Energy and Water and helping ensure food security, is sharing ideas for  how to safely and productively manage the one thing we ALL have in common:  Kitchen Waste and Toilet Wastes.

Kitchens and Toilets bind us together into a common humanity.  They are the two domestic spaces that everyone needs to survive.  They use the most water and energy and they produce the most waste, the most air pollution, the most water pollution, the most contamination of the land and landfill.  Indoor smoke inhalation for kitchens burning firewood, charcoal, kerosene and propane around the world kills millions of women and children each year, also  causing devastating wildlife extinctions and deforestation and the consequent floods and soil erosion that I saw in Haiti this week after the Hurricane.  Contaminated water because of toilets claims thousands of lives because of cholera, typhoid and dysentery, all of which have hit Hait hard, while the improper discharge of waste water breeds mosquitoes that carry malaria and Zika.

 When you think about it, the problems created by those two areas in our households and schools – kitchens and bathrooms -- constitute some of the greatest threats to humanity that we have ever faced.  But, thankfully, these threats actually unite us, because unlike chemical poisons and radiation and war or terror, they are the only problems not only that each and every one of us has, on a daily basis, everywhere on the planet, whether up at the top of the world, here near Mount Everest in frozen Nepal where I was doing a National Geographic project in 2010 and 2011, or down here in my backyard in sweltering hot Tampa, but apparently the only major world problems that each and every one of us can SOLVE!

You know those books like “50 simple things YOU can do at home to help save the planet”?  Not one of them lists the solutions I spend my career and private life implementing.

But the good news is, they are actually the simplest and most effective of all the things I’ve studied and taught.

So now imagine with me:  Imagine you could engage in a STEM activity with your students and with your own kids at home that had the power to save every one of those 4 million women and children who die every year from dirty cookstoves?  Imagine you could share a STEM lesson plan which could virtually eliminate the loss of wildlife habit and trees that has turned places like Haiti into such a nightmare.  Imagine if you could do something in the classroom in miniature which, if scaled up, could eliminate more than 90% of the problems associated with landfills, particularly the climate altering methane emissions, but also all the smells and rats and vermin and feral animals.
Did you know – you did didn’t you? – that America alone produces more than 36 million tons of food waste every year, and that the EPA estimates that if we converted just half of that into energy rather than letting it rot, we could provide enough electricity for over 2.5 million homes.  But what you may not have known until today  is that every home can, safely and efficiently, convert their own food waste into fuel and fertilizer, enough to meet all your cooking and gardening needs. 
This video from our partners at Home Biogas in Israel  who made the unit in my backyard here in Florida, and my Solar CITIES NGO  Vice President basement in Pennsylvania and my communication directors greenhouse in NY, explains:

This technique is actually so simple that in my Non-profit organization, Solar CITIES, we consider the transformation of things like banana peels and orange and lemon rinds and avocado skins and pits and all that stuff  the literal “ low hanging fruit” in sustainable development.  And you don’t have to be a professional to do it, and yes, you can try this at home or at school.

It makes an amazing STEM activity and what I would argue is the most important STEM activity that we can imagine.   It certainly unifies Science, Technology, Engineering and Math.  In Science it neatly demonstrates ReDox reactions and acid-alkalinity and buffering and logarithmic  pH measurement; in biology it is pure applied microbiology, it is fermentation, it is speciation and biodiversity and trophic cascades, it unites botany and agriculture and biofuels.  In Physics it is fluid viscosity and thermodynamics and biofuels and carnot efficiencies and entropy and enthalpy; in the social sciences it can be used to teach cultural anthropology and political ecology and public policy, exploring why China and India and Nepal and even Kenya have been teaching and doing biogas for half a century, while we in the US are just beginning. A home or community scale biogas project also lends itself to GIS mapping and spatial analysis, exploring on the map where systems are successful and where they fail to get an idea of regional cultural reasons for adoption or rejection of this important technology.  And as a technology and engineering activity it is at once the most accessible and easiest to produce in the classroom or as a home project, since the basic core technology can be built out of anything that can hold water – from paint buckets to water tanks to cement or brick pools, and a few plumbing pipes, challenging budding engineers with the most cost effective and efficient ways to move solids in and get liquids out and store the gases and use them, while from a technological standpoint it can be jazzed up to include the latest and most exciting computer hardware and software.

  In our Solar CITIES education curricula we work with our robotics students to outfit the digesters with Arduino mcirocontrollers and Rasberry Pi microcomputers running C and Linux, coded by the students kitted out with ds18b20 waterproof temperature probes and pH sensors and 3D printed tipping cup gas sensors designed and printed by the students… the systems can be fully automated with servos and solenoids run by apps using remote sensing or by artificial intelligence to gather data and increase efficiency.  And when it comes to math, we graph all that data in Excel spreadsheets or SPSS statistical software and generate graphs.  The quantitative reasoning and analysis portion of this project can bring in every possible math-science skill set.  And it is meaningful, current and important.  It represents real applied science desperately needed for problem solving immediately.  It isn’t just a textbook exercise. As a Google Science Fair judge for the past 6 years, I can say that it makes one heck of a science fair project.  There are new frontiers of science to be explored with the “food-waste-to-fuel-and-fertilizer solution in the food-energy-water nexus.  That is why I , as a National Geographic Explorer and educator, devote so much of my life to it.
But you don’t have to have a Ph.D or be a PH.DO like me to get involved.

4 years ago, when I flew  in to Washington DC to work with the Office of Naval Research I got an email just as I checked into my hotel at midnight, from a student from the Washington Math Science Technology Magnet. The email said “Dear Dr. Culhane – I read about the work you do with National Geographic in Africa  in our Cengage textbook on Natural Science and, as a young African American woman who loves science, felt inspired to write you. I wanted to know if you ever come to Washington if I could meet you and learn more about how I could get involved.  My dream is to learn these technologies and travel to Africa and help save lives”.
I answered her immediately saying that serendipitiously I had just arrived in Washington from Europe and actually had the jet lag day free to rest until a 5 pm meeting and would be happy to meet.  Within 10 minutes a reply came from the vice principal of the school who had received an excited email from the student, and she invited me to come spend the day at the school.  So the next day I took a bus – I always ride public transit when I can, or ride a bicycle – into the inner city and met with the students and science teachers and we hatched a plan to build a demonstration biodigester at the school.  Within a few weeks they had the materials ready and I was able to get my  former Egyptian student Moustafa Hussein, who also serendipitously  happened to be visiting the US pursuing an internship in Washington – to spend a few days at the school sharing techniques for building the

As another example, last year , in Amish country in Lancaster Pennsylvania , 10 year old Clayton Young and his friends decided to explore homebiogas as their local  science fair project entry and came home winners.  Their experiment, which I replicated at my own house  -- because good science must be repeatable – was to engineer a bathroom based toilet waste biodigester system for their house and prove it could be done safely, cheaply and without odor.

Fortunately, as part of a home schooling community who use each other’s homes as their school classrooms, they had very enthusiastic parents and their science supervisors.  They invited me out to Pennsylvania to spend an afternoon with them getting started and then took it from there, showing that you can take an individual’s toilet wastes every day and turn it into a manageable liquid fertilizer and useful biomethane in the home, using home depot buckets as the core technology.  Their research helped corroborate work that I had started in my house in Germany and  other families are doing with us in New York and Pennsylvania and West Virginia, bringing the “food waste eating, fire breathing dragon” in out of the cold and into the home.

Because that is, in fact, what a home biodigester is – a domestic dragon.  You may have seen the film “how to tame your dragon”?  Well this is how!
Here are some of their results.

And this work is having real impact.  We have now created a movement around the world, which citizen scientists from around the world  participate in on-line through our websites, where we put our open-source tutorials and evidence from our builds, and, where what we call the “blue flame community” puts up its builds and blogs and evidence and questions, and we have our open facebook group, Solar CITIES Biogas Innoventors and Practitioners, which is approaching 10,000 members and where we share all of our data freely to help try and create a world where there is no more waste.

 We call ourselves Solar CITIES, by the way, because we believe that the best way to achieve a solar powered civilization is to use the sunlight we all throw away and that is available for free and is causing a nuisance and even killing people – food and toilet waste.  Yes, food and toilet waste are fantastic  forms of stored solar energy created through the process of photosynthesis and available 24 hours a day, day and night, rain or shine, and the fact that we haven’t been teaching kids to look at it that way is responsible for so much misery in the world, and we can correct that.  Our students can help correct that.

Perhaps most excitingly, students who participate in such research can actually get published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, a real great resume builder for college applications.  Here is Clayton, and his Mom, as co-authors in the paper I am presenting at Eciyes University in Turkey at the International Council on Alternative Fuels Conference this December.

And it isn’t of course, just about STEM, but STEAMM education – Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math and of course Music..

Starting back in 1989, when my students and I made our first melodic-mnemonic music video, the Classification Rap, and used to present  how music and video and art could be used to bring the textbook to life at National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) conferences, we championed the idea that, just like with National Geographic, one of the best ways to learn and promote science is to find ways to present science in exciting memorable ways.  So getting the word out about how effective the home and community biogas solution is involves harnessing students writing skills, writing scripts and poetry and song lyrics, and illustrating with art and imagery and animation and production.  As an example, here is a song we put together about biogas that shows some of the science behind it and the social consequences:


Sunday, May 22, 2016

Reflections on Jared Diamond's Guns Germs and Steel.

Professor Miri Lavi-Neeman
Reflections on Jared Diamond
Guns, Germans, and Steel?
By Enas AbdelRahman


As a “brown woman”, as a Palestinian living under occupation in what we think of as a still existing “colonial settler state” in which the white Europeans hold the power, I am particularly sensitive to the issues and questions brought up by Jared Diamond.

Historians see the world in terms of something they call “History” which many feminists and formerly colonized peoples see as “HIS STORY” – the story of the white man and of power and privilege, told to make it seem obvious that the winners were destined to win.  Scientists, particularly evolutionary biologists and archeologists, see a different story, a story of chance and circumstance, a story of luck and contingency.

Jared Diamond, in particular, has become famous for looking at all the factors that allowed the “White Man” to come to dominate history.  His major idea is that a combination of biological and environmental realities having nothing to do with human “superiority” allowed the Europeans to take over the earth. One of the factors is disease – Europeans carried with them diseases to which they had adapted which devastated the populations of the Americas for example.  Another factor was the biological oddities that made it easy for Europeans and Asians to domesticate about 13 different species of mammals common to their landmass but made it almost impossible for Australians, Africans and Americans to domesticate theirs (the llama is the only large mammal that was domesticated in the Americas).  Another factor was the easy availability of iron deposits and the discovery of steel, forged and traded between the Arabs and the Europeans, and the development of guns thanks to a connection between Chinese gunpowder and European steel.   By the time of colonial expansion in the 1500s the long history of struggles between the Arabs and the Europeans had created technological conditions that made it easy for Europeans to conquer other peoples still using wood and bone and stone, using spears and bows and arrows. It was also easier for Europeans and Asians to spread their empires and work on their warfare techniques because of the way their landmasses were connected.  In other parts of the world a separation by oceans made this harder.  And then of course there is the horse – an animal once present in the Americas that had gone extinct but that had been domesticated throughout Europe and the Arab nations.

So the story we are now told, “Ourstory” rather than “history”, is that the Europeans made contact with the native peoples of the Americas and within a few years the  diseases they brought, which the people they met had no immunity to,  had wiped out 75% of the indigenous peoples.  With this disadvantage, it was easy for a few Europeans with steel weapons and guns, riding on horses, to wipe out and subjugate their victims.
What came after was a kind of psychological warfare:  In order to justify the conquest, the European historians and power holders made up stories that suggested or overtly stated that biology was to blame – they claimed that we were “inferior” and deserved to be their slaves or servants.  This pseudo-scientific rationalization was part of the campaign of “Eugenics” – the form of racism that the German Nazi party turned into a rationale for the Holocaust whose effects are still being felt today here in Israel and Palestine.

Jared Diamond began his book “Guns, Germs and Steel” with “Yali’s question” – the question of another brown person wondering why a minority of whites came to rule and still rule  the world instead of the more numerous darker people.  For those of us suffering under what still appears to us to be a “white occupation”, wondering why our “Mizrahi” or “Arab Jewish” neighbors still appear, for the most part, to be second class citizens, and why we are often treated as “animals”, this is a sore spot indeed.  It is hard not to grow up somewhere deep inside still  believing the Eugenics argument and to doubt oneself, because the true historical factors are not often discussed.  Reading Diamond’s analysis is therefore refreshing and helpful, since it uses science to demolish the myths still used against us by racists.

That "thing" in Japan

Society and Environment
Enas AbdelRahman for Dan Tamir AIES Spring 2016
Mid-Term Assignment
That “thing” in Japan...
The environmental injustice issue that keeps growing and growing...



1) Choose a contemporary environmental issue, exemplified in a concrete case
I choose the ongoing Fukushima disaster because... it is ongoing. You can’t get much more contemporary than that.  For many people the Fukushima nuclear accident is “old news” because it began when the earthquake and tsunami hit the city in 2011 and in the five years that have passed most of the media have moved on to what they think are “sexier” subjects.  But until the reactor cores are  completely encased in concrete and the fuel rods are no longer reacting, this remains a very hot concrete case… literally “hot” since the damaged nuclear power plant is still spewing radiation into the ocean.

2) Define the systematic scope and the level of the issue and the case study (is it local? regional? global?). Explain and justify your definition: why did you define it)

The dramatic  Fukushima tragedy is a fascinating case study because it started out local, as the  sea wall surrounding the city was breached and sea water poured into the streets, crippling the electrical grid and shutting down the nuclear reactor’s backup diesel generators.  It became a regional issue as the reactor cores began to melt down, causing a huge evacuation and threatening the surrounding population for hundreds of miles with the possibility of dangerous explosions and immediate radioactive contamination.  It has turned into a global issue as the radioactive isotopes continue to accumulate in the Pacific ocean and make their way on the currents to the mainlands of  Asia and to the West Coast of the US and Canada.  The radiation is accumulating in the tissues of sea food, fisheries and wildlife populations are collapsing and consumers worldwide are experiencing the effects of the contamination (mutations and cancer).  (see for a popular summary).

3) Choose 3 of the following aspects –environmental perception, environmental justice, market failures, energy consumption and show how these are involved in your case study. Do they interact with each other

Another fascinating thing about this “ongoing Fukushima nuclear holocaust” is that it actually shows the interaction of all the aspects here.  It started out as an environmental perception and environmental justice issue:  Those who profited from nuclear energy played with public perception to suggest that it was somehow “safe” and environmentally friendly because it didn’t emit carbon dioxide or any smoke. Radiation is invisible and was mostly contained.  Only the people living near or working in the reactor were being harmed.  This is where the environmental justice issue began.  But once the reactor melted down entire populations began to be affected.  Since the rich could afford to leave and move to new houses in safer areas it has been the poor who have suffered, either having to return to contaminated homes or to live in refugee camps or low income housing elsewhere.  The disaster is mainly caused by a market failure -- to keep the costs of nuclear energy competitive, the company cut corners and used insufficient safety technologies.  The idea that they relied on diesel backup engines in a flood zone, for example,  is absurd and irresponsible.  Finally, bad energy consumption patterns explain the insistence on having a nuclear reactor in an earthquake zone by the ocean in the first place.  Had Japan invested in tidal power, wave power and solar and off and onshore wind power they would have never felt they needed the reactor in the first place -- and the irony is that a tidal wave would have actually given them MORE energy.  Now we must deal with the impending holocaust from that “thing” in Japan...

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Find the Hero in You: Simple Things you can do at home to save the world

 And here I am!

 I've come to share a story about the little things we can each do to make our world a little better.

Each of us wonders, What can I  do… what SHOULD I do… if I want to help save the world?
None of us have the powers of Batman or Superman or Wonderwoman...

But if we work as a team we do have the power to change things in fantastic ways.

That's me on the right side of the picture with the solar panel, caricatured by National Geographic. As you saw from the film National Geographic did on me that we started with, I'm the guy who uses sunlight to power  the house and food scraps to create biogas to cook and heat water with. 

 What you see is the E-team, a team of us explorers, film-makers, scientists, photographers, writers, artists, musicians, concerned citizens, each with a different expertise or interest, who are dedicated to creating Environmental Sustainability and Justice.  We are  folks like yourselves who have a passion for the possible and work together to solve problems: 

 As a Professor of Environmental Science and Urban Ecology at Mercy College and  the Patel College of Global Sustainability at the University of South Florida, and as a  National Geographic Explorer, part of my job is getting others, like you,  to join our E-team. Our E team is trying to empower us all to be  citizen scientists who dedicate  ourselves, each in our small way, to make the  way we live affect the planet in a positive way, knowing that when we combine all our efforts the result is larger than the sum of its parts.

We live in an age now where a small number of people have the ability, through technology and social networking and the media, to do disproportionate harm.  The terror attacks we see around the world are evidence of this.  But by the same reasoning, a small number of us can also do disproportionate good.

Our question then must be, How can I stop being part of the problem, and make myself part of the solution?

My particular research interest, which renewable energy and biodigesters help me with,  is exploring ways to  make cities, and in particular the lives of the poor in cities, better. Cleaner.  Healthier. Safer. And a lot more fun.

My focus:  Kitchens and bathrooms.  
That may not sound very heroic.  But my rationale is the following:
  Kitchens and bathrooms consume the most energy, use up the most water, and produce the most pollution, disease and danger.Kitchen's and Bathrooms are the villain in our story.

Yup. Kitchens and bathrooms.

It isn’t the bedroom.  It isn’t the living room. It isn’t the dining room.  It’s the kitchen. And the bathroom.  They use up and account for over 60% of our electricity and water bills, and are entirely responsible for our garbage collection fees, if our garbage is collected at all. They pollute our water and they pollute our air.

These domestic spaces cause the most misery around the world -- from indoor air pollution that kills 7 million women and children a year in developing countries due to the use of firewood and charcoal and kerosene coookstoves, to the disease burden of cholera, typhoid, and dysentary, rats and other vermin and plague, to say nothing of bad smells and a plastic bag problem that clogs landfills and kills marine life as it accumulates in the oceans...

What flows from these domestic spaces is a flashpoint for violent conflicts that affect the entire world like for instance the settlement contamination issues in Israel and Palestine, where we do a lot of our Palestine the effects of badly designed waste treatment systems from kitchens and bathrooms flow into the despair and anger that lead to armed conflict.
But it doesn't have to be this way.

Kitchens and bathrooms also hold the most promise to solve our problems and put us firmly on the path to sustainability. Kitchens and bathroom could be transformed from the villains in our story to the heroes.

That is what my research is about around the world. And that is also why I am proud to be sponsored once again, for my fourth speaking tour of Turkey, by Bosch, a company that really understands kitchens and bathrooms and how to make them environmentally friendly.  Bosch is a company that cares, and whose people, like me, know that the battle for a sustainable environment is being waged, and will be won… in kitchens and bathrooms.

So to return to our question:  What can you do, right now, as someone who uses kitchens and bathrooms on a daily basis, to make the world a better place? Well I'm going to try and convince you that the most effective technique is the transformation of organic wastes into home biogas and biofertilizer, turning food wastes into fuel to cook food and fertilizer to grow new food, as you can see us doing here with our rooftop aeroponic gardens. But that's the end of our story.

Let's talk first  about the simple things you can do at home right away with what you already have. Then we will look at what may still be missing and talk about what you can MAKE to make the world a better place, like home biogas..

So for starters:
You need to save energy.   And you need to save water. That way your ecological footprint -- the amount of resources you consume and the amount of pollution you personally cause -- is much smaller.

 And in fact we are mortgaging our future, drawing on the "bank account" of the earth's resources faster than they can be replenished. 

Yet there are things  you can do at home right now to save energy and water, simple things like merely moving your refrigerator 10 cm or hand width from the wall to save more than 10% in energy costs because of the increased airflow.  Or you can use a pressure cooker to save over 30% in energy costs.  And simply by using the right amount of detergent in your dishwasher save an extra rinse cycle which means you cut your water consumption by half.

Even something as easy as ironing your clothes while they are still damp can make a big difference.  All of these techniques are simple and they may seem small, but they really add up. So that's the first line of defense in turning your home into a part of the global solution for sustainability.

And if you have old appliances you might consider changing them.  It is worth noting that things have changed a lot in the last 8 years alone.  For example, new refrigerators and other household goods now save three times the energy as the older models and today's dish washing machines save 20 times the amount of water we used to use washing things by hand. 
New appliances have easy settings for getting the most efficiency out of your daily routine, making it easy to be conservation minded. 

And things improve every year now that we as  consumers are becoming more aware and engineers and designers are finding better and better ways to improve the efficiency of their products. 

People around the world are dealing with rising energy prices and energy shortages and the threat of climate change, and reducing our ecological impact without sacrificing comfort and convenience.  We are learning to  “commodify our dissent” we used to say in my Ph.D. program. The idea is to  make a huge impact by purchasing appliances that are engineered green and use much less energy and water to begin with. That way you don't have to lower your standard of living because you are "doing more with less" and in fact making not just you life, but all our lives better!

When we as consumer's choose “Green Technology" we become part of a social responsibility campaign that also helps businesses go green, so that collectively we achieve savings across the board.  As you can see here, our sponsor, Bosch, by focusing on conservation, has now reached 59% water reduction, dramatic reductions in packaging and is  recycling 92% of the companies waste product. So we make a difference when we become conscious consumers and  support companies that are doing good, raising the bar for everyone.

But beyond energy and water saving tips, and buying more efficient appliances and encouraging companies that are environmentally friendly  there are some technologies for heating water and for heating and cooling homes that are true game changers. These are technologies that can drastically reduce our energy bills AND create a cleaner healthier environment.  Many  of us in the sustainability movement have been championing these technologies for decades and trying to get the word out about their advantages.

The first is the idea of "on-demand" water heating.   How many of you in this room already use on demand heaters?
The idea is simple -- heat where you need it  and WHEN you need it, rather than spending time heating a fixed quantity of water and letting it sit there, slowly cooling off, spending energy to keep it at the right temperature.

In most households we still waste enormous amounts of energy heating  a huge tank of water and then try to keep it warm with insulation and then always run into the problem of running out of hot water. With tank heaters we have to wait up to a half an hour each day just to get the shower ready and inevitably run out just when we are all soapy.

I used to go to my grandmother’s house every summer with 16 other cousins and 1 bathroom.  She tried to limit us to 5 minute showers, but somebody, usually me because we showered by age, little kids first, and I was older.. Somebody would end up taking a cold shower.You can't imagine the fights that would break out. With an on demand heater that never happens, so goodbye conflict!

On demand heaters save 27% to 50% of the energy you would normally use to heat water for washing dishes or bathing or cooking and because they instantly heat water and there is no draw off, you save on water too.

So that takes care of water. But what about air conditioning? Air conditioners use so much power that every summer they cause blackouts in major cities. But now there is a much more energy efficient alternative.  One of the most exciting innovations  the world has come up with  has for heating and cooling the house, as well as preheating water, is what is called a  geothermal heat pumps or ground source heat pump system.. 

These systems use the constant temperature of the earth to providing heating in the winter and cooling in the summer, using a device that works sort of like a refrigerator. They save 25% to 50% of your energy bill compared to conventional air conditioning and heating systems and do it all in one, so you only have to buy one unit for both functions.  The payback period is as little as 5 years, and you are helping make a greener planet at the same time.


But beyond saving energy and money, there has been a revolution going on for a few decades now as more and more people realize they can not only save energy energy, but MAKE ENERGY.

Electricity and hot water are the easiest to make at home.  

There are basically  two different kinds of  solar panels:  Photovoltaic to turn Turkey’s abundant sunlight into electricity, and solar thermal hot water panels, that turn the sun’s light into heat.

Let’s turn our attention to Photovoltaics for a moment.  Few people realize just how simple a solar electric set up is.  Any 12 year old can set up a solar electric power system.  It is basically plug and play, simpler than hooking up a computer.  
There are four main components to a stand alone solar electric system.
  1. The PV panels, like these shown here, which can easily be mounted on the roof or in the back yard or porch and can even be set outside when the sun is shining and pulled back inside at night.
  2. The charge controller or regulator that ensures batteries don’t overcharge
  3. The battery storage system
  4. The inverter that turns the DC electrons from the panels and battery into AC power for use with home appliances.

If you are grid intertied, running your electric meter backward when you produce more than you use, things get even simpler because you don’t need batteries.

A home inverter connects you to the grid effortlessly, so all you need are the panels and this and you are ready to go, helping your whole community offset dirty electricity.

But should the grid go down, you can easily integrate a battery back up, like this  lithium ion battery back up just like what you use to backup your mobile phone, only larger.

There are  two types of solar hot water collectors.  One is the traditional flat-plate solar absorber.

The other is a vacuum tube system.  In both cases the hot water storage, can be on the roof or on in the house.  In my case in Germany we have 50 heat pipe vacuum tubes on the roof which go to a 500 liter basement tank in the basement that is also connected to the on-demand gas heater. When you combine all these technologies into one integrated system your daily living and your home becomes a node in  network of responsible living.

For that the best option is to heat your water directly using the sun and then use your  on-demand gas or electric heater as a backup for cloudy days.   This is what we do in my house in Germany.

One way hotels ask you to save energy and water  is to reuse your towels.I do that at home, but having invested in a solar hot water and on demand heating system I decided to go a step further. When I learned about the Ofuro water recycling system on a trip to Japan I came home and created a system that recycled all my shower water, using the same hot water over and over.

This kind of total systems integration is something I have been pursuing for decades.  Here  is how I did it when I ran my apartment in Los Angeles completely off of solar electricity back in 1999 through 2003. 

At that time I was running my apartment completely off grid. Even the shower water was pumped up to the roof to go through this series of water filters  that then went into a hand made solar hot water system and then returned to the shower; the ultimate in water recycling.

In fact my apartment in Los Angeles in the inner city was part of a personal experiment in total offgrid living called "California Unplugged" at the turn of the century that was quite successful. 
My entire apartment -- refrigerator, air conditioner, microwave, lights, computers, stereo system, television, keyboards and electric guitars -- were run on a 1.2 Kilowatt solar electric system that I set up myself, connected to 6 deep cycle marine batteries .It was as easy as hooking up a home stereo system. 

  For rare weeks of clouds and rain I had two bicycle generators to help charge the batteries. I had an on demand electric water heater under the sink, but because it used so much power I relied mainly on my hand made solar hot water heater.  I had two electric bicycles I charged to get to campus an hour away, and once we realized how easy it is to make an electric vehicle, which is basically just an electric motor, a charge controller, a regulator and batteries, my students and I started converting my car to be an electric car.

Back then, living in the urban eco-village, we didn't have easy to obtain energy-star rated appliances with "green technology inside" so guys like me had to do it ourselves, innovating and inventing and experimenting. 

One of my proudest achievements was that over the 3 years I lived in this urban apartment I only took out the garbage once -- I separate the metal, glass and plastic and sold them for money at the local recycling center.

 All the paper and cardboard and all my food waste stayed in the apartment. So did all my toilet waste. Yes that's right, I developed an urban composting toilet that I built myself. I not only cut my connection to the grid but to the sewer system too, and kept 100% of my organic waste in the apartment, turning it all into healthy soil that I used to create an urban garden.  

The key to this success was having a food grinder like they showed in the video. A food grinder is like the jaws and teeth of an artificial animal.   In my opinion, food grinding is actually the key to sustainable development in general. Once you grind up all your organic wastes its surface area to volume ratio allows nature to do its job very quickly.  You can get good compost soil in 3 to 6 days rather than 3 to 6 months without any maintenance at all -- no turning, no lifting...
How many of you compost here?  

Do you notice that there are things they tell you that  you aren't supposed to compost?  In cities they tell us we can't put meat, bones, oils and fats or dairy products in the compost because they are afraid of smells and vermin like rats.  But when you grind your food it doesn't attract animals and treated properly it doesn't smell.  And the benefits don't stop there.  Once food is ground up, not only  you do your composting in the house or apartment, using vermiculture or worm composting for example, and you can feed them anything, including citrus peels and acidic foods, which normally worms won't eat. In my apartment in Los Angeles I kept everything in a container in the closet where worms turned everything from the kitchen and the bathroom into great soil.
  In fact, you can even grind food waste and scatter it in the garden without composting at all. The worms and ants will transform into soil in no time, and if applied correctly it won't smell at all and won't attract flies or larger vermin.


 But it gets even better!  When you grind up organic wastes you don't have to settle for just compost.  And you don't have to rely on worms. Microbes will turn all your wastes into both biogas and liquid compost fertilizer. And it doesn't take months, or even days. It takes merely 24 hours. 

For this reason I've been calling food grinders, otherwise known as "garbage disposals" as "compost companions". But even if you just let it go down the drain, ground up food waste gives a welcome energy boost to septic tanks so they work more efficiently and to  waste water treatment plants so that they can produce enough biomethane to justify capturing and using it to generate municipal electricity. Food waste produces ten to 100 times more energy per kilogram than animal manures or sewage.  Throwing it away is like throwing away money. If you don't want to use it directly at home, then you can do your part as a citizen and give it to the city biodigester, which can either be a dedicated system like in Germany and Sweden, or a retrofitted waste water treatment plant. They can then use it to offset enormous amounts of fossil fuels.

The amounts we have to work with are huge.

  This is why you may see  advertising all over the world in airports now saying, you can "Grind virtually any kind of food waste into an unending electricity source for a city. It's never been done before. Consider it solved".

So with these insights and these technologies we now know that it is possible to make it so that the more people there are, the more solutions there are. As population continues to increase exponentially, and most of that population, now over 60%, lives in congested cities, we need to know that we can turn our wastes into the very energy and soil and plants and animals and  nutrients we thought we were running out of. And now we know we can.

 It wasn't always easy being an urban sustainability pioneer, and sometimes people would act like we were crazy. But we proved that you could start approximating a biosphere in the city, thinking of our apartments as modules on a space station or a moon or Mars colony.

And in fact that is the focus of my research today.  As a professor of environmental sustainability and justice, for the past 4 years at Mercy College New York and now the Patel Center for Global Sustainability at University of South Florida, I am involved with great teams of students and faculty who are researching ways to make kitchens and bathrooms become part of the solution rather than the problem.  At USF we are working with NASA on the "Next-Gen Kitchen" project, redesigning kitchens so that they can help us survive both here on earth and in outer space.

As you can see from this article on the NASA website,
 through our work students are now designing into the next generation of kitchens better ways to capture food wastes and turn them into biogas right in the kitchen.

 My non-profit organization has been at the forefront of this solution at the home and community scales, and just as we have been kindly sponsored by Bosch to spread this good news of sustainability here in Turkey for the past 4 years, Emerson's Insinkerator sponsored us to build biodigesters and integrate food grinders into schools and community restaurants in  the favelas of Brazil.

In many cities now, the energy of the residual organic material that you didn't or couldn't eat makes it's way to a municipal biodigester that turns it all into clean renewable energy and fertilizer.
In most areas 40 to 60% of garbage is organic waste, most of it generated by kitchens and bathrooms. You've heard the saying, "one man's trash is another's treasure"?  Do you really want to give it all away?

Our work at Solar CITIES, which we've been conducting in Turkey as well for the past several years, is not about municipal scale biodigestion.  As I mentioned, we are about things YOU can do at HOME or at SCHOOL.  Our work involves helping people integrate biodigestion right by the house or on campus.

This is because we believe that biodigestion sits at the very center of the environmental sustainability debate.  


 With a biodigester providing constant energy and fertilizer we close the cycle.  The sun doesn't always shine, the wind doesn't always blow, the rain doesn't always fall and the rivers don't always flow.  But garbage sewage and organic wastes we will always have. They are a constant and something we ALL have in common.  So good urban ecology starts with transforming these nuisances into something valuable and grows out from there. This is a first principle of permaculture -- start with what you've got. And we've got plenty of garbage.

Creating biogas and fertilizer through digestion is  so simple and such an effective way to eliminate problems that we often wonder why not everybody is already doing it.  A biodigester is simply any watertight, airtight tank you can put manure and food waste in.  Anybody can build one anywhere out of almost anything that holds water and almost any scale. We use the "I love you" sign from sign language to teach it -- one pipe for the food input, one for the fertilizer output and one for the gas out. That's all it is. Anybody can make one anywhere out of almost anything that holds water.

We started in the Zabaleen or trash recycling area of Cairo Egypt where over 40,000 people recycle more than 2 million tons of waste every year:

We used to build them on the roofs of buildings in the old Islamic City of Cairo and the Garbage Pickers community, where there is plenty of food waste.

 But  lately we've been building biodigesters IN the house.

We developed the Urban IBC tank based biodigester system so we could do that, testing it in a lab closet at Mercy College, and then, after proving its safety and effectiveness for a year, taking it into peoples houses.

 You see at Solar CITIES we believe that the digester is like a baby dragon. A domestic dragon. It is like a house pet:

We feed it.

It breathes fire so we can cook...

And it makes great fertilizer so we can grow food again.

Whether we are building them in the US or in Palestine, as we have been doing for several years, the result is the same.  We no longer need to fight over arable land.  We no longer have to fight over gas bottles.  We can produce everything we need right where we live and grow food in a desert or on a rooftop.

Our latest home scale biodigester is what we call our "purple dragon", the solar CITIES Salchicha or "sausage" digester.  It is the simplest, least expensive and easily transportable system we know of.  I have one here that we are going to deploy in refugee camps.  I carried it on the airplane in the overhead rack.  All we have to do is roll it out on this reflective insulating mat, and we heat it using this self regulating heat tape.

All of these digesters that we create in Solar CITIES are open source, meaning that you can download the plans and instructional material and make them yourself.  We teach people to do this because we believe that your kitchen wastes and toilet wastes belong to you, and can benefit you.

We have a facebook group with over 7000 practitioner members called "Solar CITIES Biogas Innoventors" that you are all welcome to join where we share our experiments.

In this movement there are many of us from around the world, from all walks of life, who are applying these ideas to our daily lives and freely sharing with each other.

But you don't have to be an "innoventor" to be a practitioner.
Fortunately, for those who don't want to make their own solutions to environmental problems,  these days companies are getting on the band wagon, creating products that can complement your eco-friendly kitchen.  To go along with your energy efficient and water saving refrigerators, dishwashers, washing machines, on-demand water heaters, you solar panels and geothermal heat pumps and all the incredible appliances from Bosch that make your kitchen and bathroom and laundry room a solution rather than a problem, you can now purchase a homebiogas system from a company in the Middle East that I have been working with for many years.

  This year, home biogas, which comes in an Ikea like kit and can be assembled and installed in a couple of hours, is available in over 20 countries in the world. I brought my students from Mercy College to Israel and Palestine to assemble and install them in bedouin villages as well as in middle class backyards.

So, to wrap up, between the simple energy saving tips you can apply at home, and the new energy and water saving appliances and energy creation technologies, and the fundamental idea of turning all organic  wastes into clean fuel, nutritious fertilizer and healthy food, we are quite confident that working together we can meet all 17 of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

 We have all the solutions and we should all be experts in integrating them into our lives. So please, Do try this at home!