I’m a little late in posting this, but here are some of the best articles/posts I came across last week:

  • The NASA Delusion (Gristmill) – Although I love the idea of space exploration and for most of my life have whole-heartedly supported it, I’ve changed my tune a lot in the past year. With all the impending crises we’re currently facing (Peak Oil and other energy issues, global climate change, habitat destruction and mass extinction, desertification and salinization of arable land, etc., etc., etc.), the idea of spending trillions of dollars to build a moon base now seems completely ludicrous to me. We need to get over the Sci-Fi pipe dreams we have of living in a Star Trek-like technological society and start putting our resources and ingenuity toward building a simpler and more sustainable civilization.

    “So what’s the problem? After all, I’d rather see NASA waste the money than see it wasted somewhere else in the government. The problem is that NASA’s budget is, to a good approximation, a zero-sum game. The money for the Moon-Mars project is being taken out of useful and productive science programs — including robotic missions to other planets as well as research on our own planet.”

  • Feet of Clay (Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog) – Discussion of interesting research in China which is resulting in more sustainable rice farming though the use of varietal intercropping.

    “Zhu’s name is associated with a method of growing rice that delivers higher, more stable yields with lower inputs of fungicides and a more stable harvest from year to year. Not bad for an amazingly simple idea… The solution is to grow the varieties as a mixture. In the paddy, four or eight rows of modern hybrid alternate with a row of traditional landrace.”

  • Biofuel: Is it a Greenhouse Gas, Gas, Gas? (Gristmill) – Further discussion of an article I linked to last week, regarding the greenhouse gas emissions resulting from biofuel production.

    “In 2006, U.S. ethanol producers burned through 18 percent of the corn harvest to offset 3 percent of gasoline use. What the Minnesota study is telling us is that we could increase corn ethanol production by two-thirds (to achieve a 5 percent offset) — burning through 40 percent of the corn crop — and still only reduce greenhouse gas emissions by just a bit more than a half percent… And — finally coming to the point of this post — a new study [PDF] has emerged declaring that even that comically paltry GHG benefit may be spectral. Biofuel use may actually increase GHG emissions.”

  • Civilization and Succession (The Archdruid Report) – This is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time and it has greatly impacted my thinking about sustainability. The basic gist is that we can view civilizations through the lens of ecological succession and gain a much better understanding of why societies have followed the courses they have. This article is a must read.

    “The industrial economy is well into overshoot at this point, and at this point a crash of some kind is pretty much inevitable. At the same time, the more efficient K-selected human ecologies of the future have been sending up visible shoots since the 1970s, in the form of a rapidly spreading network of small organic farms, local farmer’s markets, appropriate technology, and alternative ways of thinking about the world, among many other things… A truly advanced civilization, here or elsewhere, might well have more in common with a climax community: it might use very modest amounts of energy and resources with high efficiency, maximize sustainability, and build for the long term.”

  • How Fast is Global Warming Happening? (Casaubon’s Book) – A good synopsis of recent research on global climate change. The bottom line is that Earth’s climate is warming up much, much faster than even the most pessimistic projections.

    “…this summer’s ice retreat was so dramatic, that in, fact, the University of Colorado’s National Snow and Ice Data Center is now suggesting that the arctic could be ice free as early as 2015, 8 years from now. In less than six months, we’ve jumped our predictions for a major tipping point factor up by a minimum of 30 years. That’s astonishing – and terrifying… One of the most disturbing things about listening to scientists studying climate change, then, is the fear in the voices and words of people not accustomed to be fearful, and the sense that generally speaking, scientists are far more worried than most of us are. We can either believe they are worried because they are foolish, easily frightened and scaremongering, or we can believe they are afraid because they are seeing things they have never seen before with implications that are terrifying, and do not understand why the rest of us are so unafraid.”

  • Eating Locally (Discover Magazine) – This is an old article, but I just came across it this week. It’s about Gary Nabhan’s experiences eating locally in Arizona for a year. We haven’t read his book about this yet, but it’s definitely on our short list of books to read in the near future!

    “From then on, 80 percent of Nabhan’s food would come from within a 250-mile radius of his home— about as far as he could drive (and drive back) in one day or walk in 10. ‘It seemed like an area within which, historically, you might have some cognizance of your neighbors,’ he says. He wanted at least 90 percent of what he ate to be native to the Southwest, but he kept his goals realistic…”