Big picture stuff

This article appeared in this morning’s Melbourne Age newspaper.

Read it. Sounds good? Melbourne could live on 100% renewable energy made from waste. Hallelujah, we’re saved!!

Aaaaarrrrgh!! I could scream!! (I did).

This is the sort of ignorance that should be a criminal offence. The writer is environment editor for the Age and yet he hasn’t a clue about big picture stuff.

Look at these paragraphs exerpted from the piece:

“Biogas is the great, and largely untapped, energy resource that offers the simplest transition away from coal. It is synthesised from biomass, or anything organic that decomposes – typically crop husks, wood offcuts, animal dung, and sewage. Put simply, our cities could run on a resource that they will never run short of – our waste.

The City of Sydney surveyed every potential source of renewable gases within a 250-kilometre radius. After scouring hundreds of piggeries, waste dumps and forestry sites, it was able to show that there was more than enough decomposing matter within easy reach of the existing natural gas pipe network to disconnect the central city from the coal-fired power grid. Melbourne, with even more farmland close to its centre, is thought to have greater resources.

”The research shows that you can go to 100 per cent renewable energy this way,” says Allan Jones, the City of Sydney’s renewable energy adviser.”

Look, it goes like this. Every time we take a crop off the soil, nutrients go with it. Otherwise why would we eat? Our bodies need those nutrients to survive. If we kept doing this without adding back those nutrients, eventually nothing would grow. In a diverse natural ecosystem like a forest, nutrients taken up by the plants are returned to the soil in fallen leaves and branches; in spent flowers and uneaten fruits and in large trunks when whole trees fall. Bacteria and fungi in the soil aid the breakdown process that recycles nutrients. Animals that live in the forest, eat the forest products and return nutrients to the soil in their dung and in their bodies when they die. This is often called the “balance of nature”.

As (non-organic) farmers we return those nutrients to the soil by adding (artificial) chemical fertilisers produced in a factory (this isn’t sustainable, but that’s a subject for another time). Organic growers add composted plant material (including the parts of crops not actually used as food) and animal dung. We cannot, repeat, cannot afford to turn that ‘waste’ material into biogas, to run cars and industry. Everything must go back into the soil, or else all growth stops; all ecosystems die.

Organic farmers and permaculturalists already know this. Why is it that so-called environmental editors don’t. It’s not rocket science if you’ve studied ecology. Maybe anyone who writes this sort of rubbish should be locked away for a year with a swag of ecology texts until the bigger picture becomes part of their psyche.

Of course, human bodies should also be returned to the soil when life ceases, but we don’t do that. Our nutrients end up in cemeteries where no food crops are ever grown. Another example where nutrients aren’t returned to the soil from where they’ve come.

Another thing that occurs to me is that in a diverse, balanced ecosystem only certain numbers of each organism can be supported by the available nutrients. Human numbers are out of balance with the Earth’s ecosystems. Because human birth rates vastly exceed human death rates, there are far too many nutrients tied up in living human bodies that should be in the soil, supporting other life.

Mother Nature will eventually fix that.

2 Responses to “Big picture stuff”

  1. Kate Says:

    yes you’re right. as organic farmers we don’t let any organic matter leave this farm except of course that which is itself edible produce through our CSA.


  2. narf77 Says:

    Just because you put the word “environmental” in front of something doesn’t make it so. Just look at Mr Tony Burke…supposedly an “Environmental Minister” who is charged with doing the best thing for the environment and he wholeheartedly approved the Pulp Mill in the Tamar Valley. If profits are to be made, the environment takes more than a back seat, it ends up running behind the car!


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