What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Sustainability Problem of Digital Currencies – No Tech Magazine
The average Bitcoin transaction uses about 4000 times as much energy as a credit card transaction, or enough to drive a Tesla for 300 miles, found the author of this short article. Yikes.

Vietnam’s Low-tech Food System Takes Advantage of Decay – Low Tech Magazine
A very interesting survey of Vietnamese food culture, and the ways that they avoid the costly use of refrigeration by various fermentation methods.

The Dutch love affair with natural gas: A cautionary tale for the United States? – Resource Insights
Kurt Cobb explains the history of natural gas harvesting and use in the Netherlands, and where it’s gone horribly awry. To make a long story short, early projections about the output of the Groningen Gas Field turned out to be far too optimistic. Unfortunately, they”re still obligated to export their rapidly shrinking reserves thanks to long-term deals, and have become a net importer just to keep their own pipes flowing.

Is Facebook a Structural Threat to a Free Society? – Truthhawk
For some time I’ve been urging readers and fellow zero wasters to think critically about their use of social media, and to ditch Facebook in particular. If you haven’t because of it’s convenience and ubiquity, then hopefully this terrifying piece will change your mind. Facebook is bad for the environment, bad for human health, and bad for the future of democracy. Not to spoil anything, but the piece ends with this:

Are we willing to trust one man with:

  • The largest share of wealth on the planet?
  • The biggest trove of private data ever assembled?
  • The greatest control over information flow ever seen?
  • The biggest psychological research facility in history?
  • The most significant influence machine ever?
  • All five?

Zuckerberg is human. As the saying goes, “power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”. Don’t forget this is the man who gave us this gem:

Zuck: Yeah so if you ever need info about anyone at Harvard
Zuck: Just ask
Zuck: I have over 4,000 emails, pictures, addresses, SNS
[Redacted Friend’s Name]: What? How’d you manage that one?
Zuck: People just submitted it.
Zuck: I don’t know why.
Zuck: They “trust me”
Zuck: Dumb fucks

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Going Analog: The Fear of Missing Out

fomo

This drawing right here is mine, and I’ve resolved to make a drawing for every one of my original posts from here on out instead of hunting for a digital photo or image. It’s to keep in the spirit of my analog aspirations, and to make this blog more “mine”. So from here on out, there’ll be no more photos of my stuff if I can avoid it – if I want to show you my takeout gear, or the farmer’s market, I’ll be drawing it instead.


OK, so the Fear of Missing Out (or FoMO for short, because of course it needed an acronym) is something I’ve never experienced much of, either now or my pre- social media days. It’s a form of anxiety that I’ve never had much sympathy for, and neither for its close cousin, Oversharing. It’s sad that we live in a world where I have to explicitly voice my complete and utter disinterest in the minutiae of people’s generally boring lives, even that of some of my closest friends, wherein years past, it was more often than not assumed that this kind of useless conversation filler was just that, and not to be confused with genuine bonding.

I think it helps that I have played the role of outcast my entire life – I occupied the lowest caste in every school grade from K-8, and when I went to a specialized arts high school that didn’t have much of an hierarchy, I was more often than not simply forgotten about. On the rare occasion where somebody asked what I did that weekend, I wouldn’t have too much to say. I was a homebody who drew and wrote and read a lot, and who spent much more time with extended family than friends. I was, for all intents and purposes, the very picture of uninteresting. Which was fine, because I felt that everyone else was just as uninteresting (even though they didn’t seem to think so). But even then, this sharing was in-person, it was a real conversation between people, and less a mere exchange of information via words on a screen. I developed social anxiety at some point along the way, and living in NYC beat that out of me: it only takes a short while walking the streets of Manhattan for you to realize that no one is paying one whit of attention to you, because they’re all focused on themselves and whether or not anyone’s paying one whit of attention to them. And to me, social media is a lot like walking around Manhattan: it’s fast-paced, alienating, appearances are over-emphasized, and there are ads everywhere.

But let me back up a moment to talk about just what “FoMO” is.

The Fear of Missing out is, apparently, now a “mental health syndrome” wherein “sufferers” are worried that they won’t be able to keep up with what their friends are doing at every moment of every day, are worried that their lives aren’t exciting enough to talk about at every moment of every day, and that everyone else is having more exciting, more shareable experiences than they are at any given moment of any given day.

While results are mixed, depending on the organization funding the research, the Journal of Behavioral Addictions and Computers in Human Behavior both found strong correlations between social media use and low life satisfaction, as well as increased incidents of depression and anxiety. (It also contributed toward risky behaviors like smart phone use while driving.)

FoMO goes hand in hand with other things: the fear of failure being a big one, probably some kind of fear of being “uncool”, and another (super screwed up) thing called “surveillance gratification”, a term coined by the authors of the study published in the Journal. Other behaviorists have noted that “internet addiction” shares a lot of similarity with gambling addiction as well.

So when I said, in reference to getting rid of the smart phone, that it was like any other good drug? I wasn’t actually being hyperbolic.

Many pieces have already been written about FoMO and how to conquer it, but they all start from the assumption that technology is categorically good and social media isn’t a horrible addiction-making machine that alienates people and transforms humans into consumable brands.  Or they operate from the assumption that everyone likes everybody. None of which is true for me. I believe that if there is some societal ill that social media has claimed to remedy, then it is a case of the cure being worse than the disease.

The Zero Waste Millennial Guide to Conquering the Fear of Missing Out

  1. Realize that most people are mostly boring, yourself included.
  2. Aspire to be less exciting, while also eliminating the learned social behavior of boredom.
  3. Kill the impulse to overshare – without a world of over-sharers, social media feeds become far less tantalizing to look at.
  4. Leave your gadgets at home more often. Start small, like trips to the grocery store, and work your way up to entire weekends of turning your data off. (I went almost a year without a smartphone while I was in Canada, effectively. I had no calling plan, and no data the entire time I was there, and could only use the internet at home or places that had free wifi. It was pure bliss, and that was the experience that inspired me to ditch the smart phone in the first place.)
  5. Think of all the money you’ll save on things that – be honest with yourself – you mostly only do to keep up with the Joneses: eat at fancy restaurants, drink fancy beers, go to fancy events, and so on. Simplicity is often just as, if not more than, gratifying as luxury.
  6. Learn, really learn, that the most spectacular moments in your life weren’t because you got 100 likes on your documentation of them, and that those moments won’t be diminished if the whole world isn’t there to “experience” them with you. On that note…
  7. Relearn how to have quiet, solitary moments. Relearn how to enjoy those moments. Relearn how to hold onto their specialness without feeling the need to tell anybody.
  8. Remember how to just stop interacting with people you don’t like. And stop getting surveillance gratification from them, too. You’re better than that.
  9. Know that validation is cheap, and that a little doesn’t go a long way anymore.
  10. In the words of Ran Prieur, “cultivate a more robust inner life”. Or at least in this case, private life.

As someone who once briefly experienced FoMO after getting a smart phone, realized that it was all a racket a couple years later, and then promptly quit Facebook among other things, take it from me – your brain and your spare time will thank you.

Why Soap Is Screwing Up Your Microbiome

The link below is to a short video from The Atlantic featuring interviews with a journalist who stopped using soap and body cleaning products for 10 months, with the founder of a company who makes skin product that constitutes nothing but nitrosonomas eutropha, a common bacteria found in soil, and one of the pioneers of microbiome research (who “rarely showers”, but bathes often). Their professional opinions? That aside from hand-washing, we don’t really need to use soap on our bodies.

Click here to watch.

I’ve had a fraught relationship with soaps and body washes and skin cleansers for my whole life. As a kid I often had to take oatmeal baths for my eczema, and when I wasn’t dealing with scaly rashes, I was constantly waging a war against skin that was both bone-dry and acne-prone. I quickly learned that my acne wouldn’t respond to anything but birth control. I tried everything short of prescription cleansers and ointments, and realized that it was all a just waste of money, so after college I stopped washing my face with much of anything but water. Even post-hysterectomy and post-hormone regimen, my acne is still considerably more manageable than it was just a few years ago.

I still liked using body cleansers when I could afford them, though. I liked the way they smelled, and I still had this idea in my head of what being hygienic and clean meant – that is, it meant resembling something smooth and sterile rather than an actual human body that’s half comprised of bacteria!

I made the switch from fancy gel washes to bar soap when I started doing the zero waste thing, but my soap application was pretty much restricted to a few key places – I’m sure you can guess what they are – rather than every inch of skin everywhere. What I began to notice, though, was that that light sheen of natural oil that I once thought of as a mark of being “gross” began to become a new, healthy normal. It didn’t smell, nor did it rub off as grime. So I paid attention to what it felt like having that on my skin, and after a while, decided that I liked it. It certainly felt better than drying myself out, killing everything on my skin, and replacing all that lost moisture with some overpriced body lotion. I can’t stand the feeling of that oil being stripped away now – of being bone-dry or greasy from lotion again.

For those of us using a no-poo regimen based on the knowing the benefits of leaving the hair’s natural oils intact, then maybe it’s time to consider the skin in a similar way!

I’ve only got one cleaning agent in my shower these days – a bar of soap for the pits. I use rye flour and a little cider vinegar on my hair now (thanks to a tip from one of my readers!), but a few tablespoons of that gets mixed up before every shower and doesn’t sit around or it’ll go rancid. Dirt cheap, healthy, and no more time consuming than using a normal shampoo/conditioner regimen with a leave-in product afterward. Win-win-win.

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

PVDSA’s Garish May Production Collapse – Caracas Chronicles
Petróleos de Venezuela, S.A., Venezuela’s state-owned petroleum and gas company, has taken a hit to their daily oil production to the tune of 120,000 barrels. As the article states, this means that they “just declined by an amount similar to an entire (if small) petrostate’s production, in just one month.” The country is in crisis mode, complete with food shortages and rioting. At this rate, Venezuela could run out of oil within a few years.

Cows  on Antibiotics Release More Methane – Conservation Magazine
“Antibiotic use and overuse in livestock has long been controversial, as it has been linked to antibiotic resistance in humans. Livestock are regularly given antibiotics to keep them healthy in overcrowded or unsanitary conditions, or even to boost their growth. Now, a study published recently in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B has documented for the first time that antibiotics given to cows also increase the emissions of the greenhouse gas methane from cow dung.”

Design For The One Percent – Jacobin
Jacobin on the role of “starchitects” like Frank Gehry and Zaha Hadid and their works in a world full of government corruption, sketchy labor practices, and tremendous income inequality.

The dot on my forehead: how we understand the crisis is part of the crisis – Bayo Akomolafe
A Nigerian psychologist and activist on being participants in crises instead of observers: “It was something I heard one dissident professor say when I was an undergraduate studying psychology in a Nigerian university. He didn’t quite say it; he whispered it. When the white men came, they brought us schools and the bible, he intoned. And then we gave them our own stories. That colonial Faustian pact made us orphans in the world, erasing the sky and the lands and the mountains we had learned to speak with, and replacing that intimacy with the more appropriate gesture of staring at them through the microscope. Through the interstices of a ledger. Through the plot device of development and prosperity for all.”

The SNAP of Doom – The Daily Impact
Apparently SNAP/EBT benefits have not been going out to all of its intended recipients lately, and the mainstream news is not reporting this. Millions of Americans are just a few SNAP dollars away from a full-blown famine, and regardless of whether you think this is some grand conspiracy or simply the terrible result of a few cascading computer failures, this really does nicely illustrate just how few clothes the emperor is wearing. (As for a question of how do we feed people when the government can’t or won’t? Three words: Food Not Bombs!)

What I’m Reading: A Friday Link Roundup

The Bernie Fade Begins – Counterpunch
Counterpunch on late-stage Bern symptoms.

How Technology Hijacks People’s Minds — from a Magician and Google’s Design Ethicist – Medium.com
An essay on just how the internet – mostly social media – has learned to manipulate you into being little more than a gambling addict. (Which is why I’m disappointed that the Zero Waste Bloggers Network communicates almost entirely over Facebook, which I am very happy to not be using anymore. A forum would have been better, in my opinion.)

Are Quinoa, Chia Seeds, and Other “Superfoods” a Scam? – Mother Jones
A short piece on why we pay attention when shit gets the “superfood” label… despite cheaper, more local, and more common vegetables having the same health benefits.

Unnecessariat – More Crows Than Eagles
There’s an epidemic going on in the US that nobody’s talking about: suicide and drug overdose rates have skyrocketed in rural America. Anne Amnesia, the blog’s author, has coined them the Unnecessariat, a demographic of the white, working-class poor for whom there are no activist organizations, no talking points, and not even the murmurings of a national dialogue. We’ve let them fall through the cracks, and while Trump pays lip service to these underserved populations, he is just as likely to cast them aside after he has their vote.

Solar Devices Industrial Infrastructure – Sunweb
A lengthy and very informative post on why solar is not green, is not sustainable, and is not likely to be a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The primary reason? Every step of manufacturing and maintenance requires fossil fuels and fossil-fuel-powered industrial infrastructure, and there is no evidence that a solar panel can be made without the use of fossil fuels at any point during the manufacturing process (including in the manufacturing of related tools and equipment), and that if it can, that the energy ROI is above zero.

Leaked figures show spike in palm oil use for biodiesel in Europe – The Guardian
“Steep rise between 2010 and 2014 shows link between EU’s renewable energy mandate and deforestation in south-east Asia, say campaigners”

Must-Watch Documentaries

It’s no small secret that I like documentaries. I keep tabs on sites like Top Documentary Films and Vimeo for new (free) releases, and almost my entire Netflix list consists of docs. So it really shouldn’t come as a surprise that I’ve got a personal list of required watching for anyone interested in Zero Waste or learning about what the hell is going on with environmentalism these days and the geo-political forces it often goes toe-to-toe with. Here’s that list.

Blind Spot

There’s a lot of environmental films out there that while not painting a rosy picture still want us to feel a sense of hey things will still be ok, not so with Blind Spot. Director Adolfo Doring has, along with many of the scientists, economists and other experts, wisely decided that the time for coddling us is past, perhaps even too long past.

This is my number one. It’s incredibly sobering – perhaps especially for those of us drunk on mantras of “saving the world” – packed with facts, good cinematography, a whole rogues gallery of highly educated people with the ability to see the bigger picture. It touches on every other subject in this documentary list at least once, and it has no time to cater to assuaging eco-guilt. As one of the interviewees says at both the beginning and end of the film: “The world’s saying: look, you’ve got a choice. Either you can fix it, or I can fix it. And if I fix it, you’re not going to like it, because I’m going to throw everything away.”

Free to watch online.

No Impact Man

A newly self-proclaimed environmentalist who could no longer avoid pointing the finger at himself, Colin leaves behind his liberal complacency for a vow to make as little environmental impact as possible for one year.

The book is much better, but if you’re going to try and convey to someone what the ZW thing is in a short amount of time, this is it. It’s humanizing, inspiring, and even a little enlightening sometimes. Most importantly, though, the Beavans eventually learn that living like self-flagellating eco-monks doesn’t actually accomplish all that much, and wind up picking and choosing aspects of the lifestyle that are sustainable for them in the long run.

Preview only.

A Farm for the Future

With her father close to retirement, Rebecca returns to her family’s wildlife-friendly farm in Devon, to become the next generation to farm the land. But last year’s high fuel prices were a wake-up call for Rebecca. Realizing that all food production in the UK is completely dependent on abundant cheap fossil fuel, particularly oil, she sets out to discover just how secure this oil supply is.

Alarmed by the answers, she explores ways of farming without using fossil fuel. With the help of pioneering farmers and growers, Rebecca learns that it is actually nature that holds the key to farming in a low-energy future.

Free to watch online.

Flow: For the Love of Water

Salina builds a case against the growing privatization of the world’s dwindling fresh water supply with an unflinching focus on politics, pollution, human rights, and the emergence of a domineering world water cartel.

Interviews with scientists and activists intelligently reveal the rapidly building crisis, at both the global and human scale, and the film introduces many of the governmental and corporate culprits behind the water grab, while begging the question “CAN ANYONE REALLY OWN WATER?”

Free to watch online.

Sea the Truth

This is the planet we still know so little. We call it Earth but less than 1/3 is land, over 2/3 is water and we use that water as a dumping site for our waste and as if it’s an inexhaustible “horn of plenty” for humans. Our most important ecosystem is on the verge of collapse unless we act now. At this very moment the main problem with the oceans is that they’re getting emptier and emptier. If we don’t do anything then we face one of the biggest disasters in history of mankind.

If you look at the predators only about 90% of all predatory fish is gone. Then from all the other commercial fish species almost 80% is gone. The best thing to do to solve the problem is to quit eating fish.

Free to watch online.

DamNation

This powerful film odyssey across America explores the sea change in our national attitude from pride in big dams as engineering wonders to the growing awareness that our own future is bound to the life and health of our rivers. Dam removal has moved beyond the fictional Monkey Wrench Gang to go mainstream. Where obsolete dams come down, rivers bound back to life, giving salmon and other wild fish the right of return to primeval spawning grounds, after decades without access. DamNation’s majestic cinematography and unexpected discoveries move through rivers and landscapes altered by dams, but also through a metamorphosis in values, from conquest of the natural world to knowing ourselves as part of nature.

Preview only.

Maxed Out

Per its title, James D. Scurlock’s virulently angry muckraking documentaryMaxed Out examines the many problems associated with escalating U.S. consumer debt. Scurlock places his weightiest emphasis on the ends of the spectrum rooted in extreme evil (read: abuse) – such as the capital lenders who wheedle poor farm families into assuming unmanageable loans and college students into placing massive amounts on credit cards.

Free to watch online.

The Ascent of Money

Professor Niall Ferguson examines the origins of the pillars of the world’s financial system, and how behind every great historical phenomenon – empires and republics, wars and revolutions – there lies a financial secret.

This is a longdocumentary (though not the longest on here), told in six parts and coming in at around 5 hours long. Its different segments cover the history of credit, the rise of the bond market since the Italian Renaissance, the whys and wherefores of boom and bust cycles, the origins of insurance, an inside and historical look at the US housing crisis, and the current financial relationship between China and the US, respectively.

Free to watch online.

Collapse

Meet Michael Ruppert, a different kind of American. A former Lost Angeles police officer turned independent reporter, he predicted the current financial crisis in his self-published newsletter. From the Wilderness, at a time when most Wall Street and Washington analysts were still in denial. Director Chris Smith has shown an affinity for outsiders in films like American Movie and The Yes Men. In Collapse, he departs stylistically from his past documentaries by interviewing Ruppert in a format that recalls the work of Errol Morris and Spalding Gray.

Full disclosure: I liked Michael Ruppert. He did important work in the peak oil scene, and the world lost a good voice when he took his own life a few years ago. It’s very easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of his thoughts and predictions, and come away from this piece a little depressed and a little disoriented, but pay attention to the things he says at the end, because community and friendship will be the things that get us through whatever is it that will come our way, whenever it comes.

Free to watch online.

Counter-Intelligence: Shedding a Light on Black Operations

If you can argue that this is one long documentary rather than a series, then it’s definitely the longest I’ve ever sat down to watch. All together, it’s just short of 7 hours, and in my opinion, it’s required viewing. The general thrust is that it lays out the history of the CIA since it grew out of the OSS, the Office of Strategic Services, during WW2. Geo-political relationships are an absolutely vital key to understanding why it seems nations the world over pay little more than mere lip service to the collapse of our biosphere, and understanding the CIA is key to understanding those relationships. From covert projects in oil-rich nations like Saudi Arabia and Venezuela, to the deliberate manufacture of state enemies (Does anyone reading this remember or know about the green scare? I sure hope so!) and black flag operations used to discredit enemies and provide reason for invading, the CIA has played no small part in ushering in the age of oil, consumer capitalism, perpetual war, and ecosystem destruction.

Free to watch online.

Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

Way back when, early last year, we thought for sure this company was going to respond seriously to the challenge posed by the fun-yet-serious viral campaign highlighting its environmental atrocities. Many people we know and love use these machines or machines like them. These friends are generally serious devotees of the capsule machines due to their convenience. […]

via Coffee Capsules Are Terrible For The Environment, Still — Raxa Collective

While it’s easy to elevate the K-cup into this symbol of everything people like me like to hate, the Keurig is merely a symptom of a much bigger, deeper problem: the glorification of convenience at the expense of literally everything else.

The consolidation of local specialty stores into huge, “big box” multinationals.

The growing hostility towards use of the general internet browser, to be replaced with tightly controlled and corporate app environments.

The mass apathy and acceptance of corporate surveillance for the sake of being sold “better” products, or government surveillance for the sake of leading “safer” lives.

The advent and wide adoption of the disposable utensil that doesn’t need washing, to coincide with the mass movement away from reusable food packaging. Or hell, food that doesn’t even need you to prepare it.

Fertilizing the hell out of depleted land (with fertilizer made from fossil fuels) instead of nursing what little topsoil we have left, because restorative farming isn’t compatible with monocropping enterprises. Monocropping enterprises that allow meat industry CAFOs to function, by the way, and whose ethanol allows us to continue to squeeze just that much more energy from our every gallon of gasoline…

Keurig is an easy scapegoat, but making the K-cup recyclable or even compostable is still far from a sufficient solution.

“Our Hemisphere’s Temperature Just Reached a Terrifying Milestone”

Our planet’s preliminary February temperature data are in, and it’s now abundantly clear: Global warming is going into overdrive.

There are dozens of global temperature datasets, and usually I (and my climate journalist colleagues) wait until the official ones are released about the middle of the following month to announce a record-warm month at the global level. But this month’s data is so extraordinary that there’s no need to wait: February obliterated the all-time global temperature record set just last month.

Using unofficial data and adjusting for different base-line temperatures, it appears that February 2016 was likely somewhere between 1.15 and 1.4 degrees warmer than the long-term average, and about 0.2 degrees above last month—good enough for the most above-average month ever measured. (Since the globe had already warmed by about +0.45 degrees above pre-industrial levels during the 1981-2010 base-line meteorologists commonly use, that amount has been added to the data released today.)

Keep in mind that it took from the dawn of the industrial age until last October to reach the first 1.0 degree Celsius, and we’ve come as much as an extra 0.4 degrees further in just the last five months. Even accounting for the margin of error associated with these preliminary datasets, that means it’s virtually certain that February handily beat the record set just last month for the most anomalously warm month ever recorded. That’s stunning.

On Fiber, Fermentation, and Shojin Ryori

I’ve got IBS. (Who doesn’t these days?) And I’ve been to my GP, seen the gastroenterologist, and gotten the same half-assed treatment that most other Americans with IBS wind up getting: “Eat lots of fiber, drink lots of water, take lots of probiotics, and don’t be afraid to keep some Imodium around if you need it. Next!”

That was two years ago, and I gotta say, I’m really not doing much better. In fact, I slowly discovered that fiber wasn’t the answer. Not only was it not the answer, but it seemed to make things worse. And then I self-diagnosed (with the input of my mom, who is seeing a functional doctor for the same thing) with Adrenal Fatigue, where I found out about the perils of overhydrating – of drinking too much water. If you have AF, then staying hydrated is tricky because of our body’s weakened ability to retain salt and other minerals, which can make us chronically deficient in magnesium and potassium. And that’s on top of the typical American’s baseline tendency to be minerally deficient.

I had long suspected that probiotics had become a racket, and knew that Imodium, while it technically worked, didn’t actually fix anything. So that left me with no good answers for how to go about dealing with my intestinal woes. Then a few days ago, I came across an interesting website: GutSense.org.

Fiber

Now, the details are definitely not for the squeamish; suffice to say, I’ve experienced a lot of what the author explains. He’s affiliated with a few of his own interests, namely a book about the myths perpetuated about fiber as an essential part of the human diet, and a series of supplements to help reestablish gut flora after a colonoscopy, after surgery, or anything else that can kill off the bacteria living in your gut. To me, though, this guy seems to be more reliable than a lot of other homeopathic snake oil I’ve seen out there for a few reasons, namely that he cites actual sources for his claims. So I’m inclined to try following his advice.

What’s important about this site is what I wound up learning about fiber, and how it pretty solidly matched my own experience toying with fiber levels in my diet over the past few years.

In his IBS FAQ, he writes this:

Q. How come they recommend “Increased fiber intake for constipation,” if fiber is a well-known gas- and diarrhea-producing substance?

To me, that‘s either the biggest “medical mystery”, or the biggest “medical idiocy,” or simply outrageous negligence, or, perhaps, all of the above. In fact, to unravel this mind-boggling incongruity for myself and others, I wrote a book entitled “Fiber Menace: The Truth About the Leading Role of Fiber in Diet Failure, Constipation, Hemorrhoids, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Ulcerative Colitis, Crohn’s Disease, and Colon Cancer”, and you are welcome to read it.

If you are a skeptical medical professional reading this, and, all things considered, I don‘t blame you a bit for being skeptical, consider the following two quotes from the American College of Gastroenterology Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders Task Force [link]:

“Fiber doesn’t relieve chronic constipation and all legitimate clinical trials demonstrated no improvement in stool frequency or consistency when compared with placebo.”

“In the management of IBS, psyllium is similar to placebo. In fact, the bloating associated with psyllium use will likely worsen symptoms in an IBS patient.”

Psyllium is a source of soluble and insoluble fibers found in Metamucil-type laxatives, and their digestive properties are identical to all other types of fiber.

There’s a lot more on there. A lot more. Basically, he outlines the following timeline for how and why IBS develops, and how and why it never seems to get resolved:

  1. It all starts with a loss of bacterial flora in the gut. This can be from antibiotics (whether prescribed or from non-organic meat and dairy products), x-rays, bowel prep for surgeries, excessive use of laxatives, chlorine or arsenic in tap water, mercury in fish, and a whole host of other things. He calls this disbacteriosis, which, while the intestinal flora is considered vital to our health, is not a medically accepted term or condition for reasons unknown.
  2. Loss of gut flora results in harder, smaller stools, which our bowels aren’t really designed to pass.
  3. Constipation. Though because “constipation” means that you haven’t had a bowel movement in no fewer than 3 days, the author prefers to call this “impacted stools”. This stage is only apparent if you’re already on a low-fiber diet, apparently. Those of us who eat lots of fiber already have a harder time recognizing that we have a problem, though the problem is still there.
  4. Treat the constipation with more fiber. He writes: “Medical professionals and Dr. Moms alike recommend dietary fiber and fiber laxatives to “naturally” alleviate hardness, particularly when stools are small and dry. Fiber bulks up (enlarges) and moisturizes stools by either retaining water, blocking water absorption, or both.”

For the purpose of this post, I’ll stop there, since I want to talk about fiber.

What does fiber actually do? If you’ve ever made a flax egg before, then you already know. A gram of fiber can absorb many times its weight in water, and that’s exactly what it does in your body. This can actually dehydrate you, encouraging you to drink more, and inevitably results in loss of minerals through overhydration. And not only that, but it actively discourages the restoration of gut flora. The author explains so here:

The by-products of fiber‘s bacterial fermentation (short chain fatty acids, ethanol, and lactic acid) destroy bacteria for the same reason acids and alcohols are routinely used to sterilize surgical instruments—they burst bacterial membranes on contact. And that‘s how fiber addiction develops: as the fermentation destroys bacteria, you need more and more fiber to form stools. If you suddenly drop all fiber, and no longer have many bacteria left, constipation sets in as soon as the large intestine clears itself of the remaining bulk.

For some reason this point is causing intense consternation and controversy among the “experts” on all things fiber. If you are one too, and believe that I am stretching the facts to fit my point of view, please note the following:

(1) The operative phenomenon here isn’t that “fiber causes disbacteriosis,” — butexcess fiber’ — as in “the fermentation of excess dietary fiber.”

(2) Let me remind you that wine in the vat left for too long turns into vinegar, all the bacteria die off, and the fermentation stops. Bacterial fermentation in the wine vat, dear opponents, and in the pile of feces happens to be exactly the same process.

(3) Finally, consider this corroborating quote: “Colonic bacteria ferment unabsorbed carbohydrates into CO2, methane, H2, and short-chain fatty acids (butyrate, propionate, acetate, and lactate). These fatty acids cause diarrhea. The gases cause abdominal distention and bloating.” (Malabsorption Syndromes; The Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy.) Let the diarrhea run its course a day too long, and disbacteriosis will soon follow. (God, I love those rare moments when Merck and I are singing the same tune.)

I mean, there’s a reason that folks with severe IBS aren’t allowed any fiber in their diets at all. (A relative of mine isn’t allowed fruit and barely any vegetables for this reason.)

So what the hell am I supposed to do? How, exactly, does a vegetarian avoid fiber?? This is actually something I’ve been thinking about for some months now, and I may have to re-think a lot of how I approach food. Honestly, I’m glad to have an educated medical professional confirm what I was already beginning to sense happening with my own body, and not just that, but also provide a plan for getting back to normal. I may not have to deal with IBS forever. And that is definitely worth a diet change to me.

This means doing homework on cuisines that feature few, if any, high-fiber grains, with little emphasis on cheese and dairy products (for other reasons the website outlines; also for my Adrenal Fatigue). I need to be able to get protein from non-meat, fiber-free sources like eggs and tofu. If I do eat high-fiber vegetables, I should see about getting into the habit of pickling and fermenting them to break some of that fiber down, and also to maximize my ingestion of live cultures, which might help me to restore all that gut flora that I don’t have anymore.

Fermentation

Tsukemono market. Flickr

I was already into the whole fermenting thing after realizing that I could make kimchi at home, which was my gateway drug to the wide, wonderful, world of Korean pickles and Japanese pickles (tsukemono). Not fermented, exactly, but preserved. And then that research, of course, led me to finding out how to make your own miso paste and soy sauce.

I’ve also been dabbling in fermented drinks since that one time I made Sima, a fermented Finnish lemonade that uses baker’s yeast. (I know how it sounds, but trust me, it was good.) For a few weeks back during summer I was trying to get a ginger bug started so that I could make sodas, but for some reason they were all just not quite coming together. Then I read about how non-organic ginger is irradiated, killing all the natural yeasts present in the root and its skin, and gave it another go with some organic pieces. But that’ll be for another post – if I can get some sodas successfully brewed, that is!

But yes, saurkraut, kimchi, kombucha… these things are all in my future. ;]

Shojin Ryori

In thinking about what the heck I’m going to eat as a low-fiber, dairy-free, vegetarian, only one thing really stood out to me: Buddhist temple food, also called shojin ryori in Japanese. There’s an emphasis on simple preparation, simple flavor, and simple food all around. Seasonal ingredients, boiled, steamed, or fried, and served with a few equally simple sauces. With, of course, plain rice.

I learned a lot about Asian cuisine when I was going to college in NYC – my roomate and friends were Taiwanese and Korean, and we all had a special love for traditional Japanese food. I learned how to make miso soup, kimchi, and Japanese curry. We ate a lot of dim sum, and I wound up working on a little comic about dim sum, so I know my way around that type of food like the back of my hand too! But in my day-to-day, I really did eat a lot of Asian-style food. I had access to people who knew how to read Pinyin packaging, I had access to a really badass rice cooker, and so the big grocery store in Manhattan’s Chinatown became my go-to for cheap groceries. Gai Lan, a very healthy vegetable in the cabbage family, was usually 99c a pound, and I practically lived off the stuff. Bok Choi was similarly priced, and so soup made with that, some miso, dashi, and either somen or Korean-style noodles also became a staple.

In other words, aside from sandwiches and Mexican food (which is what I grew up with), far-east Asian cuisine is stuff I could eat – and have eaten – every day.

Curious about trying out Shojin Ryori with me? Until I get my hands on a book or three, I’ll be going by a guide from Tofugu.com, “How to Eat Like a Buddhist Monk”:

Part 1: What is Shojin Ryori?
Part 2: Shojin Ryori Ingredients
Part 3: Prepping Your Foundation
Part 4: Get Cooking!

Here are some more recipes from Sotozen-net. And here’s another website dedicated to exploring the food of the Zen monasteries – most blog posts are mindful meditations on and explanations of ingredients, or what’s going on in the culture of the cuisine, but there are some recipes too. And if you’re more curious about traditional Korean food, then there’s always my favorite resource, Maangchi.

This is not going to be very zero waste – as a lot of these ingredients will be packaged, and I may be buying shrink-wrapped produce (bleh), oh well – but it will be seasonal, it will be very easy to buy in bulk, and best of all, this stuff is easy for me to make. If it’s going to be a scale of “raw carrot” to “tempura”, then it’s no big deal. (Tempura is far from the most complex thing I’ve made.) And if all of this helps my IBS? I will definitely be letting the world know.

In the meantime, though, I’ve got some walnuts to contend with!

Peak Everything

Or, Stuff We’re Running Out of and Have No Good Way to Replace

I’m sure you all are well-familiar with the peak oil phenomenon, but did you know that oil isn’t the only thing that modern civilization needs to survive that we’re depleting at an alarming rate or is almost gone altogether? Here are a few lesser-known resources that may no longer naturally exist by the 22nd century.

Phosphorous

Phosphorous mine in Israel. Wikipedia

Phosphorous is a weird thing– you probably recognize the word from the periodic table of elements hanging up on the wall of your chemistry classroom. How in the heck could we be running out of a basic element? Where is it all going?

For you gardeners out there, you probably associate phosphorous with fertilizer, and rightfully so. Commercially-produced chemical fertilizer is where all of the world’s supply of phosphorous is going, and it’s going there at breakneck speed. Phosphorous, nitrogen, and potassium form the basic nutritional needs of just about every plant on earth; this is where you get your fertilizer ratios from: 9-9-9, 6-20-10, and so on. The problem is that the phosphorous in these commercial formulas come from rock phosphate, a sedimentary formation that takes millions of years to form, and is only found in a few geographical areas on earth.

From Resilience.org:

Phosphorus (chemical symbol P) is an element necessary for life. Because phosphorus is highly reactive, it does not naturally occur as a free element, but is instead bound up in phosphates. Phosphates typically occur in inorganic rocks.

As farmers and gardeners know, phosphorus is one of the three major nutrients required for plant growth: nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K). Fertilizers are labelled for the amount of N-P-K they contain (for example 10-10-10).

Most phosphorus is obtained from mining phosphate rock. Crude phosphate is now used in organic farming, whereas chemically treated forms such as superphosphate, triple superphosphate, or ammonium phosphates are used in non-organic farming.

Philip H. Abelson writes in Science:

The current major use of phosphate is in fertilizers. Growing crops remove it and other nutrients from the soil… Most of the world’s farms do not have or do not receive adequate amounts of phosphate. Feeding the world’s increasing population will accelerate the rate of depletion of phosphate reserves.

and

…resources are limited, and phosphate is being dissipated. Future generations ultimately will face problems in obtaining enough to exist.

It is sobering to note that phosphorus is often a limiting nutrient in natural ecosystems. That is, the supply of available phosphorus limits the size of the population possible in those ecosystems.

Peat

A peat harvest in 1905. Wikipedia

I don’t know of any source that make reference to a “peak peat”, but from my understanding of the bell curve that peak predictions rely on, it would make sense to consider peat through this lens.

Peat is basically like a thick, cakey mud that’s dug up from moors and bogs for use in a number of different industries. In rural areas with few trees, it’s cut up into bricks, dried, and used as fuel for stoves and fires. In places like Russia and Finland, peat actually constitutes a sizable percentage of grid energy. Because of its high carbon content, it’s also used to purify water and also, with sphagnum moss, used as a potting soil additive to improve texture and water retention.

Unfortunately, being the product of thousands of years of anaerobic decomposition under special wetland conditions, peat harvesting is completely unsustainable. What’s more, peat bogs are huge carbon sinks, which are both a blessing and a curse for us at this point in time. Good, because under ideal conditions, these areas help mitigate climate change, and bad, because, well, some of the larger ones to be found in tundras all over the world are beginning to thaw for the first time since the last Ice Age, and have the potential to release billions of tons of methane in the process.

From Gardenrant.com:

Peat moss is mined, which involves scraping off the top layer of living sphagnum moss. The sphagnum peat bog above the mined product is a habitat for plants like sundews, butterwort and bog rosemary, as well as rare and endangered animals like dragonflies, frogs and birds, not to mention the living moss itself.  Despite manufacturers’ claims that the bogs are easy to restore, the delicate community that inhabits the bog cannot be quickly re-established.  Yes, peat moss is a renewable resource, but it can take hundreds to thousands of years to form.

Like all precious wetlands, peat bogs purify fresh air and even mitigate flood damage.

And there are archeological reasons to preserve peat bogs.  In the acidic moss below the living layer, wooden artifacts of people who lived long ago survive, even the remains of the people themselves.  CO2 is also preserved – trapped in the moss, but released into the air when mined. In fact, peat bogs store about 10% of all fixed carbon.

In the U.S., peat moss is almost exclusively used by the horticulture industry. 40,000 acres of sphagnum are currently being harvested in Canada, with 90% of the product destined for gardens in the U.S. In the U.K., where peat moss is burned as fuel, as well, nearly 94% of the lowland bogs have been altered or completely destroyed due to harvesting.  And most of our peat is shipped hundreds of miles, often when it’s wet and heavy, which adds further to the fuel required for shipping.

Many conservationists, gardeners, and wetlands scientists in these countries have recommended a boycott of peat. The Royal Horticultural Society hopes for a 90% reduction by 2010.  Areas in Ireland have already banned the harvesting of peat moss altogether.

For those of you looking to replace peat moss in your gardens, coco coir is a relatively renewable resource (and actually does the job better), and conifer needles do a good job of acidifying your soil.

Copper

El Chino, an open-pit copper mine in New Mexico. Wikipedia

Copper is another basic element from the periodic table that we’ve all but used up. It’s used in countless industries for countless applications from the pipes in your house, to your city’s high-tension power lines, to the ammo in your handgun, to the some of the smallest components in your electronic gadgets. Copper is also a component in a number of important alloys, including brass and bronze. The stuff is understood to be the first metal to be extensively used by humans, and its adoption dates back at least 10,000 years.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that 97% of all the copper that has ever been mined was dug out of the ground in the last 100 years and change. Let’s phrase that a different way so I can convey how mind-boggling that is: it took us 10,000 years to mine only 3% of the copper humans have ever used, and only 115 to mine the rest.

If you’ve ever done work on your home or electrical projects, you’ll know that copper is expensive. And if you’ve ever driven around the deserts of the US Southwest, you’ll probably have seen billboards about copper theft. Speaking of copper theft, from Wikipedia:

Copper wire thefts have also become increasingly common in the US. With copper prices at $3.70 a pound as of June 2007, compared to $0.60 a pound in 2002, people have been increasingly stealing copper wire from telephone and power company assets. Gangs have been created, a black market for copper wire has emerged, and men even have been injured in power plants while trying to obtain copper wire. Other sources of stolen copper include railroad signal lines, grounding bars at electric substations, and even a 3000-pound bell stolen from a Buddhist temple in Tacoma, Washington, which was later recovered.

For example, Georgia, like many other states, has seen enough copper crime that a special task force has been created to fight it. The Metro Atlanta Copper Task Force is led by the Atlanta Police Department and involves police and recyclers from surrounding metro areas, Georgia Power, and the Fulton County DA’s office.

A piece from Mines 2 Markets details what claims of peak copper mean:

The trigger now is the demand to wire up the cities in Asia’s booming economies, in India and, particularly, China. China’s vast programme of urbanisation and industrialisation exploded demand for copper from 2000 onwards. Urban population increases (by 2025, one billion people are projected to live in urban areas) will create 221 Chinese cities with over one million people (Europe has 35 such cities). On official data, China accounts for around 40 per cent of current world copper demand. […]

The use of the word “peak” has become emotive. Peak theory, most often associated with oil, was first postulated by American geophysicist M King Hubbert. A Shell employee, he created a model projecting that oil production would peak by 1995, a concept long contended.

But there are major differences between oil and copper, most importantly that copper stays around, and then stays around some more. The International Copper Association (ICA) says 80 per cent of copper ever mined is still in use. The cent or penny in your pocket may contain remains of some ancient Egyptian piping.

Complicating the picture, control of copper supplies is seeing structural change. Industrialised nations have preferred to focus on “new economy” high tech activities and services, believing that minerals could always be acquired on global markets supplied from overseas.

Resource nationalism and labour unrest are key threats to production according to CRU. Increasing government interventions in the copper market are frequent: increased taxes and royalties in Chile, Peru, Zambia, Russia, China, India and, recently, Australia. There has been loss of licences in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and more governments acquiring stakes in mining businesses. […]

Billions and billions are being spent across the copper industry, driven by thoughts of a booming Asia. The market rates investment in copper mines higher than for other non-ferrous metals, while demand, as Rio Tinto forecasts, continues its upward trend.

Yet behind the annual ebb and flow of surpluses and deficits, the conundrum of “peak copper” has yet to be tested. All that seems certain is that, like oil, in today’s money, cheap copper, at least, may have peaked.

Topsoil

dust storm, kansas, the dust bowl, the great depression, erosion, drought

Dust storm picking up over a barren field. History.com

Topsoil. You know the stuff: brown, full of humus, water-retentive, and alive with microorganisms and networks of fungi. All the healthy, natural deliciousness that allows plants to grow strong and healthy. Yeah, we’re running out of this too. And the US ought to be well-familiar with what happens when topsoil disappears. Remember that little thing called the Dust Bowl? From Resilience.org:

The world is losing soil 10 to 20 times faster than it is replenishing it. At the same time, population is growing exponentially – 9.3 billion by 2050, according to UN projections.

Areas of the world – particularly northern China, sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Australia are already losing large tracts of arable land. Soil management is about more than heaping on chemical fertilizers. A 2008 New York Times article, Scientists focus on making better soil to help with food concerns, that examined the complex nature of simple dirt found that:

Soil does not arise quickly. In nature it starts with a layer of glacial grit,or windblown sand, or cooled lava, or alluvial silt, or some other crumbled mineral matter. A few pioneer plants put down shallow roots, and living things begin to make their homes in and on the surface, enriching it with their excrement, and enriching it further when they die and rot.The resulting organic matter feeds a whole underground ecology that aerates the soil, fixes nutrients, and makes it more hospitable for plant life, and over time the process feeds back on itself. If the soil does not wash away or get parched by drought, it very gradually thickens. It takes tens of thousands of years to make 15 centimeters of topsoil, about 6 inches’ worth.

The UN’s Global Environment outlook, published 2007, states: “Deficiency of plant nutrients in the soil is the most significant biophysical factor limiting crop production across very large areas in the tropics.”

Honorable Mentions: Lithium, Neodymium, Uranium

Lithium

From Peak Generation:

Lithium is central to the electric cars, because it’s used to create superior batteries – and it’s starting to run out, too. Although clearly less urgent than the items above, this is here to make the observation that it’s wrong to assume that after hitting the peak in global resources we can carry on as before, except that the commute will be in battery-powered cars.

A typical ithium-ion cell can generate approximately three volts, compared to 2.1 volts for lead/acid and 1.5 volts for zinc-carbon cells. According to an April 2010 column Peak Everything? on “free minds and free markets” website reason.com, it’s running out fast:

For example, the Chevy Volt, scheduled to be at dealers this fall, will be energized by 400 pounds of lithium ion batteries, plus a gasoline engine to produce electricity to extend the car’s range of travel once the batteries are drained. In 2007, William Tahil, an analyst with the France-based consultancy, Meridian International Research, issued a report that alarmingly concluded that there is “insufficient economically recoverable lithium available in the Earth’s crust to sustain electric vehicle manufacture in the volumes required.” Tahil added, “Depletion rates would exceed current oil depletion rates and switch dependency from one diminishing resource to another.”

In fairness, a couple of companies are claiming to be developing far superior batteries, that use more common materials – but then if fuel cells lived up to their claims, we’d not even need these. In addition, seawater contains an estimated 230 billion tons of lithium, though at a low concentration of 0.1 to 0.2 ppm – but whether this be harvested in a world of declining hydrocarbons is open to debate.

Neodymium

Also from Peak Generation:

Neodymium is a rare earth metal that makes the strongest permanent magnets known. These are used in products ranging from magnetic computer discs to wind turbines.

Think that when oil supplies start to dwindle, we can all commute in a fleet of hybrid or electric vehicle? Back to reason.com:

For example, the magnets that drive a Prius hybrid’s electric motor use more than two pounds of neodymium. . . Because China can more cheaply produce neodymium than any other country in the world, that country is now the source of 95 percent of the world’s neodymium. Recently, however, China’s government warned that it would begin restricting exports of neodymium (and other rare earth metals) in order to insure supplies for its own manufacturers.

However, this item does state that inventors of a new AC induction motor claim to have eliminated the permanent neodymium magnets. But it’s still an example that driving a Prius is no solution to a future of peak resources.

Uranium

From the MIT Technology Review:

Perhaps the most worrying problem is the misconception that uranium is plentiful. The world’s nuclear plants today eat through some 65,000 tons of uranium each year. Of this, the mining industry supplies about 40,000 tons. The rest comes from secondary sources such as civilian and military stockpiles, reprocessed fuel and re-enriched uranium. “But without access to the military stocks, the civilian western uranium stocks will be exhausted by 2013, concludes Dittmar.

It’s not clear how the shortfall can be made up since nobody seems to know where the mining industry can look for more. […]

But what of new technologies such as fission breeder reactors which generate fuel and nuclear fusion? Dittmar is pessimistic about fission breeders. “Their huge construction costs, their poor safety records and their inefficient performance give little reason to believe that they will ever become commercially significant,” he says.

And the future looks even worse for nuclear fusion: “No matter how far into the future we may look, nuclear fusion as an energy source is even less probable than large-scale breeder reactors.”

Dittmar paints a bleak future for the countries betting on nuclear power. And his analysis doesn’t even touch on issues such as safety, the proliferation of nuclear technology and the disposal of nuclear waste.

The message if you live in one of these countries is to stock up on firewood and candles.

There is one tantalising ray of sunlight in this nuclear nightmare: the possibility that severe energy shortages will force governments to release military stockpiles of weapons grade uranium and plutonium for civilian use. Could it be possible that the coming nuclear energy crisis could rid the world of most of its nuclear weapons?

What about peak water?

Yes! That should definitely be on here. But, as a born and bred Southern Californian, the subject of water management and drought is near and dear to my heart, so it will be getting its own post.