The Green Gap

In the Cold War, we feared a Missile Gap was a strategic weakness. Nowadays, we must awaken to the fact that the Green Gap is true strategic weakness: the nations whose economies will thrive in the coming years will not be those with the biggest factories, but those with the most sustainable, efficient, and ecological markets. What we require is a Strategic "Green Reserve" of ecological design to weather the coming changes that both climate and resource scarcity will force on the international economy.

Wednesday, 2 March 2011

Phase three: the Lawn

The lawn is something I have never truly understood. For some reason, fully grown men (typically men, I don't often see women infatuated with their lawns) spend untold hours fertilising, mowing, aerating, and preening their lawns to a brilliant, lush green. I don't get it. It's just work. I would rather plant bamboo, or hay or something.

Still, if people want to have a lawn on their own land on their own time, more power to them. There's just one problem. People use too much fertiliser. Not all of it goes into the ground, and a lot washes out storm drains into bodies of water. There, it creates algae blooms. Sadly, these are not particularly good for their environment: they grow, metabolise all the CO2 in the water, then choke on their own oxygen. When the algae die, aerobic bacteria come in to eat up the stuff that remains - absorbing all the oxygen in the area in the process. This can create huge, lifeless sections of water known as dead zones. It's wasteful, harmful, and it's all for the purpose of an ornamental crop that does nothing much other than suck up municipal water supplies in Calgary's semi-arid climate. There has to be a better way than fertiliser to make a lawn lush and green. What's more, there has to be some other kind(s) of ground cover that would be equally pleasant and less labour and water intensive.

Now, as I've said, I'm not against people having their own lawns. Even though I find them an utter waste of time and effort, people should have the freedom to cultivate their lawns to their hearts' content. Just one catch: no chemical fertilizer

Luckily, phase two of the "ground up" project provided us a couple things we can carry into this phase: compost tea and vermicompost. Phase three is a landscaping company that purchases and applies these products to the nutrient-hungry lawns of the subdivision. Thanks to this source of ready natural fertiliser, the lawns of the subdivision do not have to go wanting, and will find themselves as lush if not lusher than the heady days of phosphorous and chemical runoff.

But there's more to this service than meets the eye. First of all, it wants to take your lawn clippings. Second of all, if you're keen for a little experimentation, they might grow some varied cover crops on your lawn other than grass for all sorts of economic uses - anything from barley to sunflowers - and they'll take care of it for you. Any number of things can be grown with the amount of lawn area that a full subdivision has, and whether the landscapers want to harvest barley for a brewery or sell sunflower seeds, they will be able to populate your lawn with something nice. They'll even take care of it, harvest the crops, make a little cash on the side, and do it all without you having to pay them.

Let's examine the ideas I had above: a brewery or a sunflower seed operation. Breweries are wonderlands where humans and nature have the potential of living and working together in harmony. Beer is produced from malted barley by yeast. The by-products are: CO2, dead yeast, spent grain, and beer... delicious beer. Through the miracle of phase 1, we already know where the off-gassed CO2 will go: into the algae bioreactor. The dead yeast and spent grain can go any number of places, including the Black Soldier Fly composter from phase 2, or a biochar pyrolizer. More on that later. Of course, the beer can be consumed locally or exported. With sunflowers, the natural product is sunflower seeds, but at harvest, there is an awful lot of biomass left over. This is especially true if the seeds are de-shelled and sold as baking goods or snacks. This is also a great candidate for reduction to biochar.

Biochar has some benefits that are not only agricultural. Besides being able to combine it with vermicompost for an organic one-two punch that will invigorate your lawn, a pyrolizer makes its own fuel, and a continuously-run pyrolizer does not need any input except biological matter. The combustible gases released in the pyrolization process - after having been started by some form of outside combustion such as propane - continue to power the unit until it is turned off again. This means the pyrolizer is a free heater. In wintertime, this byproduct would be a boon to any number of pocket industries - including the brewery itself for roasting malted grain. Finally, the process of biochar pyrolization produces sequestered carbon, which can be eligible for carbon credits. This will make even your lawn clippings a reasonably lucrative product, and make leftover biomass from beer making and sunflower cultivation positive energy inputs that can stay in the economy for just that much longer.

In this phase, we take care of garden waste, eliminate polluting chemical fertilizers, some people help a brewery make beer, some people help a company produce sunflower seeds, and both companies send their biomass to a pyrolizer to produce biochar that can be fed back into phase 2 or exported as well as being redeemed for carbon sequestration credits. What's more, there's beer, sunflower seeds, and heat left over as by-products, and all three can go back into the economy after consumption in the coming phases.

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