Kwolz's Adventures in Saving the World

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Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

How Soil Can Solve Climate Change

Posted by kevinwolz on March 11, 2012

Just ran the numbers…I’ve been meaning to do this for quite a while now…

There are 1.89 quadrilion (10^15) pounds of carbon (C) in the atmosphere (as carbon dioxide – CO2). That’s a lot. Here’s a better way to think of it…that’s about 1.2 lbs of C for every sq. ft. of land on Earth’s surface. Taking this a bit further, with ~40% of Earth’s land surface today covered by either cropland or pasture, that’s ~3 lbs of C for every sq. ft. of agricultural land – a much easier number to wrap your head around.

Those numbers are for today’s situation, with atmospheric [CO2] at about 393 ppm. Pre-industrial levels were about 290 ppm, and while it’s important that we eventually get back down to those levels, it is commonly argued by scientists that bringing [CO2] down to just 350 ppm will at least stave off the worst of climate change – a good first goal.

Getting back down to 350 ppm [CO2] in the atmosphere means removing just ~11% of the CO2 currently up there. Again using our easy metric from above, that’s about 0.3 lbs of C for every sq. ft. of agricultural land.

So why am I using this metric that refers to agricultural land? Well, when one thinks of ag land, the first thing that comes to mind is soilSoil comes in many varieties, which mainly differ by their relative composition of sand, silt, and clay, soil’s three primary components. In addition, however, soil contains organic matter. Organic matter is the decomposing matter that was once part of a plant or animal, and it’s about 58% carbon. The amount of organic matter in soil typically ranges from about 1-10%, depending on the type of soil and its health. Prairie soils before the plow came through were on the higher end of this range…conventional ag soils today are on the lower end of this range.

SO, even though the typical agricultural soil today only contains about 1-3% carbon, this number is not fixed – we can change it. In the typical agricultural “loam” soil, raising soil organic matter (SOM) by just 1% in a cubic foot of soil locks up ~0.5 lbs of C. See where I’m going with this??

THEREFORE, all we need to do to bring us back to manageable a CO2 level (350 ppm) and prevent the worst of climate change is to increase the soil organic matter in the top foot of the world’s agricultural land by just 0.62%! Since conventional agricultural practices have managed to bring down SOM by at least 1% on most agricultural land in the last 100 years, bringing it back up by just 0.62% should be EASY! How? An agricultural system that uses perennial polycultures in nature’s image to produce food, fuel, and fiber while simultaneously restoring ecosystem services and sequestering carbon. Simple.

Want to mitigate climate change? We need to get carbon back in the soil!

Posted in Climate Change, Sustainable Ag | Leave a Comment »

I Won The Lottery!

Posted by kevinwolz on November 1, 2011

Okay,not really…But that’s a catchy title isn’t it? I bet you feel pretty gullible now don’t you? That’s okay though because this post requires you to be pretty open/ready-minded. While the chances of winning the lottery ($245M currently in the Illinois PowerBall) are pretty small, especially if, like me, you don’t even buy tickets, it’s still really fun to think about what you would do if you actually hit the jackpot. Gadz, my ever-optimistic roommate, thinks about this all the time, and lately he has been inspiring me to do the same. If this is too much of a fantasy for you, then just think of it as me making a lot of money at some crazy future job. Either way, what follows is my fantastic dream of how I would spend $100,000,000 if I had it my back pocket today (in order of priority).

Note: All numbers are completely made up and only have a tiny amount of rationale associated with them. I’d like to hear your thoughts!

Personal Land – $5,000,000

There is quite possibly nothing that I want more than my own land where I can firmly plant the roots of my adventures in saving the world. Everything needs a home. Revolutions are no exceptions. I don’t want land so I can make money. I want land so I can create an example and use it as a tool to create change. It will start modestly of course, but eventually, it will have all the things that I dream about day and night. At its core, this land will aim to produce as much food, fuel, and fiber as possible, while sequestering tons (literally) of carbon and using practically no inputs. There will be much more on this in coming posts…after all, it’s the top priority.

Ecological Design & Consulting Firm Startup Costs – $10,000,000

What is the most effective way to make change? Government? Industry? Academia? Grassroots? I ask myself this everyday, and I have yet to find an answer. Nevertheless, some of my friends and I have been talking about starting a company together (a la Applied Ecological Services) for quite a long time. This lump sum would easily get it off the ground and to the forefront of today’s problems.

Farmer Training Program – $10,000,000

During my own daydreams about starting a farm, I have realized just how few resources are available to new (especially young) farmers… particularly the ones that want to do agriculture the right way. Aside from directly building supply (as in the allotment two below), we need to building capacity and knowledge. We need farmers!

Illini Wind Farm – $20,000,000

This is my idea of investing…insider investing.

  • The University of Illinois has committed to getting energy from renewable sources. Every time it tries to do that internally, it epically fails. Market? Check.
  • Turbines have been going up throughout central Illinois at an amazing rate lately. The wind here is clearly adequate. Location? Check.
  • Climate change is happening. Peak oil already passed. $h|! will soon hit the fan. Incentive? Check.

Commercial Farm Education Center  – $10,000,000

This would be an initial investment in a large commercial farm. Central Illinois is a food desert. There is practically no food grown in the entire state, despite the massive amounts of arable land. Unfortunately, most of it is wasted for these horrid crops we know as corn and soy beans. Demand for local, fresh, healthy, tasty food is currently much higher than the supply. This investment would be a big step towards fulfilling that and beginning to change the Ag culture of this state.

Food Hub Development and Implementation – $10,000,000

This one directly relates to the previous allocation. A Food Hub is a place where locally produced foods can be stored, sorted, processed, preserved, distributed, packed, shipped, purchased, etc. It is the core of the decentralized, sustainable agriculture model. Very few successful hubs are currently in existence. This funding would aim to get a few big ones of the ground in order to gain attention and begin a revolution.

Podcast Donations – $1,000,000

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: I have learned much more from listening to podcasts than I have from practically all of my schooling combined. They are amazing, and they are the future. I may have to spend a bit of this money to go and actually meet the hosts as well. The main podcasts in line are Deconstructing Dinner, This Week in Science, and The Naked Scientists. Each of these shows runs not-for-profit and relies on donations to keep running. Deconstructing Dinner had such a profound impact on me over the last few years, and now it’s off the air due to lack of funding. I want to make sure that never happens again.

RunningAhead Donation – $500,000

RunningAhead is the online running log that I use to record and analyze all of my training. See my last post for a great adventure into its abilities. As I mentioned in the last post, I greatly admire the site owner for his leap of faith by essentially putting his life on the line in order to pursue his passion. With this money, he could really take the site to the next level and start the next great running revolution.

IXC House – $1,000,000

For those of you who don’t know, I currently live in an apartment building that has been completely taken over by runners. Every apartment in the building (and now overflowing into the one next door as well) is runners from either the club or varsity cross country/track teams. It’s great! Except for the fact that we have the worst landlord in Champaign County and the apartments are pretty darn crappy. Regardless, as the Illinois Cross Country and Track Clubs have grown, we have day dreamed on runs about how neat it would be to have a building we could call our own. Oh, and seeing as this would more or less be a fraternity/sorority, we’d have to give this place a Greek name. ΓΨΝ. Gamma Psi Nu. The letters don’t mean anything, but look at them: “I RUN”!

FPDCC Palos Forest Preserves Restoration – $5,000,000

Volunteering withe Palos Restoration Project during high school was probably the core reason that I ultimately decided to choose biology as one of my college majors. I also ran through these preserves nearly everyday while in high school. They are very near and dear to my heart. But they need help. Invasives are spreading faster than volunteers can restore the land. This money could finally put us ahead in the war against invasives.

Open Source Ecology Donation – $1,000,000

I will soon have an entire post dedicated to Open Source Ecology, but for now just watch this video. These guys ARE the synthesis of engineering, agriculture, sustainability, technology, peak everything, innovation, creativity, and everything that I am interested in. They are doing some amazing things and need the support to expand.

Tesla Roadster & Model S – $500,000

Tesla not only produces the fastest, badest electric cars in the world, but it also has more swag than any other car company. I don’t like cars, but these things are just too sweet to pass up. And yes, I would get both, with all the extras. Gotta save a little room for splurging in this budget…

Endowed Professorships – $5,000,000

Through my experiences on campus, I know that professors can have a major influence with what gets done at a school. And frankly, I’d like to get some professors here at U of I that think like I do! Supposedly it currently costs about $1M to endow a professor at U of I, so $5M should get me five, one in each of the following areas:

  • Local & regional food systems
  • Engineering/Science education
  • Endurance Training (1/2 time appointment, with the other half being the head coach of the Illinois Cross and Track Clubs)
  • Atmosphere-Biosphere Interactions
  • Savanna Agriculture/Permaculture

Stock Market – $1,000,000

I’m listing only a measly $1m for the stock market, because I really don’t like the stock market. As you can probably tell from everything else listed here, I am much more of a micro-finance/venture capital kind of guy. I guess I would just put this in there anyway to keep up with how it’s going and play around.

Personal Savings – $10,000,000

The engineering economics class that I’m currently in has taught me well the “time value of money”, so I guess that some of this money should be saved for future use. I’m not sure if I would put this wad of cash under a floorboard or actually somewhere productive, but if I did it right, this should cover anything personal in my family for quite a while, no?

Chicago Urban Agriculture Project – $5,000,000

While I don’t think that Urban Agriculture is the solution, it definitely an important part of it. Currently, Will Allen at Growing Power is blowing everyone away in this arena. I’d like to become a partner in his revolution and start a similar large-scale project in Chicago.

Direct Action Against Fossil Fuels – $5,000,000

I’m not sure exactly what this would consist of, but I know it would be epic and I know that it would help prevent any new coal power plants from being built and towards making the lives of oil executives extremely miserable (a la The Yes Men?). I know that this is not the most effective way to make things happen, but there’s still a place for it, and it can definitely be fun!

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Education, Energy, Food, Habitat Restoration, Politics, Social, Sustainable Ag | 2 Comments »

Power Shift Response

Posted by kevinwolz on April 19, 2011

DISCLAIMER: You may be reading a communist blog!

In the aftermath of Power Shift, Glenn Beck has dutifully reported his view of the weekend. While we all fully expected Glenn Beck to call us “communists wrapped in an American flag,” as he did, I don’t think any of us could have seen this coming:

Careful parents! We’re out to get you! Grrrrrr!

Oh, and here is a video that I forgot to include in the last post so you can get an idea of what the march was like. Listen to our communist chants…

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Energy, Politics, Social | Leave a Comment »

Power Shift 2011

Posted by kevinwolz on April 19, 2011

Last July, I attended an intense, weeklong activist training camp in Alabama called SPROG. It was there that I first heard of this thing called Power Shift. Supposedly, there had been two before in 2007 and 2009, and we were told there would be another in 2011 that we should all attend. While the idea sounded great, I was originally skeptical that I would actually be able to fit it in with everything else I do. Nevertheless, this past weekend, I participated in Power Shift 2011, one of the largest gatherings of Youth in Washington, D.C. EVER. Power Shift 2011 was a convergence of 10,000 youth leaders (mainly college students) from every walk of life all over the country to stand up for the clean, sustainable future they believe in. Two days of training built the grassroots leaders that will organize this movement across this country and the rest of the globe. Strong messages and direct actions on our nation’s Capital made a powerful statement that my generation will not stand for dirty energy, dirty money, or a dirty planet. It has been four CRAZY days…

My story started last Thursday night when seven other students and I left the Illini Union in two cars at 8:30pm. We drove east…and drove…and drove. Rather than driving straight to D.C., however, we decided that we were close enough to rationalize taking a slight detour into southern West Virginia for a life-changing experience: seeing Mountain Top Removal in person.

For those of you who haven’t yet heard, Mountain Top Removal is the coal industry’s latest, greatest method of extracting coal from the ground. Basically, it involves blowing up entire mountain tops and dumping them into the valley below, exposing the small layer of precious coal beneath. Consequences include, irreversibly destroying the surrounding ecosystem, completely blocking streams, cutting available jobs, and…oh yeah…poisoning the water and land of the Appalachian people. Don’t even think for a second that is just some small, isolated incident…take a minute to open a new tab in your browser and head to southern West Virginia on Google Maps. You don’t even need to zoom in that much! See all those grey splotches everywhere?? Those are mountains that have been leveled to get coal for your energy! Search around a bit more…it’s all over Appalachia. If you can see it from a satellite way above the Earth’s surface, what do you think it was like in person? Exactly.

We arrived in tiny Sharon, West Virginia at 6am after about nine hours of driving, took a quick nap to rejuvenate, and then meet with Julian Martin — one of the longest-serving activists in this arena.  Julian guided us on a rough ride up to the top of Kayford Mountain, which has been featured in several documentaries and is considered ground zero for the fight against Mountain Top Removal. What we saw at the top, or rather what we didn’t see, rendered me speechless. Fuel for the fire.

This is a once-valley filled in with rubble from the once-mountain to the above right.

There used to be a mountain there. Oh yeah...and trees.

Mining at its lowest moral level. See that small strip of black? Yup, thats what theyre looking for.

After heading back down and another bout of driving, we finally made it to D.C…just in time to see Al Gore’s opening keynote. And what a speech it was! He may have fallen out of the spot light in the last few years, but he’s still a great communicator, and he did a great job getting us fired up. There were a bunch of other great speeches that night as well, with another great keynote by Van Jones.

After getting all riled up, our exhaustion caught up to us. Barely one hour of sleep in over forty hours can hit you hard. Luckily, one of my friends from the D.C. area was willing to let us crash at her place for the weekend. Sleeping that night was just beautiful.

Saturday at Power Shift brought some great organizer trainings and a bunch of really interesting and educational workshops on a variety of environmental topics. There was SO much going on, but the best part of the whole day was randomly finding and catching up with all my SPROGer friends from last summer! It was so great to see everyone again and find out what awesome things they had been doing at their respective schools over the last year.

At night, we experienced three more great keynote speeches. The first was Lisa Jackson, Director of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Ms. Jackson outlined what the current administration’s EPA has done in the last few years and where they are headed next…however, she very slyly skirted around Mountain Top Removal, coal ash, the BP Disaster, and natural gas fracking…probably our biggest current environmental issues. Hmph. Don’t get me wrong, the Obama EPA has done wonders compared to the Bush EPA…but that’s not saying much. Next was Bill McKibben, founder of and probably the climate movement’s most influential current leader (I saw McKibben for the first time last summer at MREA). McKibben’s speech was great but slightly pessimistic, as always. This isn’t a bad thing, though, as he’s really just being realistic…something I think is necessary.

Before heading back to the conference center on Sunday, I managed to get my weekly long run in on the National Mall. Talk about a runner’s high! In just 70 exhilarating minutes, I saw the White House, Vietnam Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Korean Memorial, Washington Memorial, World War II Memorial, Smithsonian Museums, U.S. Capitol, and countless other large, historic buildings along the way. The history and power of everything that I saw is just so daunting. Jefferson was definitely my favorite…he’s just so cool.

After the run, there were more training and then a big emphasis on state coordination of campaigns and information. Participants from each state broke out into groups to discuss with other attendees what their own campus was doing, how they could work together, and how they could share information. It was great to see that the few of us from UIUC weren’t the only ones from Illinois!

After state breakouts and a quick dinner, we headed to a training for Non-Violent Direct Action (NVDA)…probably the best tool in the activism toolbox. Trainers took us through the history, rationale, tactics, and methods of NVDA in order to prepare us for the following day when our masses would head to the National Mall to take action for our cause. We then headed to bed to dream about the memories we would make the next day.

NVDA Training

The rally started at Lafayette Square just north of the White House. We gathered there, donned our green hard hats, crafted our signs, and got pumped. The energy was amazing. Standing side by side with Illinois friends, fellow SPROGers, and countless others sharing the same cause, we made our voices – the voice of Democracy – heard loud and clear.

After the rally, our group split in two for the march. The first group headed towards the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the largest single source of lobby money in the country…dirty money that does not represent every American business, as they claim) and BP’s D.C. office (enough said). The second group (the one I was part of) marched the two miles to the U.S. Capitol. This short hour was one of the most exhilarating experiences of my life. I marched side by side with my peers, friends, and allies for a common cause that we know is so necessary to the future of our country, our Earth, and humanity itself. I got shivers as people would peer out their office windows, scramble out of buildings to see what was going on, and even join us in the streets. We were making a difference. We were being heard. As the Capitol drew near, we grew louder and stronger. The chants were powerful and resonant. The participants were passionate and unified.

After a final push on the Capitol grounds, the group dispersed yet again. Some headed into the Senate to lobby their state’s senators, some headed to the other end of the building to lobby their Representatives, and others, like us unfortunately, had to begin the long drive home.

It’s still hard for me to grasp everything that happened this weekend. Everything was so surreal. Contrasting the amazing that happened, however, my biggest disappointment of the weekend was that I missed joining my friends and teammates at our National Track Meet. The prospect of not being there for my team made the decision to go to Power Shift extremely difficult. However, while I’m still sad that I missed fully supporting my track teammates, this weekend’s experiences reassured me in my decision. The keynote speakers repeatedly told us that our movement would not grow and make a difference without many sacrifices. This is something that has been hard for a lot of us to realize but became immediately apparent while planning for this trip. There’s no debate: Attending Power Shift was honestly the most important thing I could have been doing this weekend.

Hell, Power Shift is probably the most important thing I’ve ever done in my entire life.

Posted in Climate Change, Community, Energy, Politics, Social | 4 Comments »

Campus Eco-Update

Posted by kevinwolz on February 8, 2011

These big birthday reflections are going to have to hold up for a bit…here are two big updates on our campus’s environmental front:

Latest on UIUC’s Wind Turbine Controversy – We’re meeting with the University President today to discuss possible outcomes. We want a turbine on campus!!
UPDATE: University of Illinois President Hogan has committed that he will bring the wind turbine project to the next Board of Trustees meeting for approval in March, NO MATTER WHAT IT TAKES! This is a very strong and reassuring commitment. There are still a few budget issues to work out, but we hope that these can be resolved within the next few weeks.
Latest on UIUC’s Coal Ash Controversy – This one’s out of our hands now. It’s now up to the Attorney General’s office if UofI students have the right to see how their money is being spent and where our toxic waste is going.

UPDATE: Just interviewed for a story on the Coal Ash Controversy that will air at 4:30pm this afternoon on Channel 7 WAND in Champaign County (NBC). Check it out!

UPDATE (again): The archived video of the TV news story can be seen HERE on WAND’s website. (hahaha…definitely an effective story, but it’s really funny how about 10 minutes of me answering questions got boiled down to just TWO SENTENCES. TV reporters…)


Check back here in a few days for updates on either issue.

Posted in Climate Change, College, Environment | 2 Comments »