http://www.i-sis.org.uk/transparentlabelorganic.php Search date: 24th May 2011
ISIS Report 29/11/07 Transparent Label An Alternative to Organic Certification Organic food flown in from poor African countries to the UK has triggered debate over organic certification; the solution may be a transparent voluntary label that directly informs consumers. Dr. Mae-Wan Ho A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here An electronic version of this report, or any other ISIS report, with full references, can be sent to you via e-mail for a donation of £3.50. Please e-mail the title of the report to: firstname.lastname@example.org Is airfreight organic food really organic? The organic market grew by 25 percent in the UK to £1.97 bn in the year 2006-2007, but more than 30 percent of organic products is imported, some even flown in from sub-Saharan Africa . Does that make sense in the cost in CO2 emissions? Especially when so many hungry people there are too poor to buy the food grown in their own countries? After months of consultation on the issue, the Soil Association, which certifies 70 percent of organic food in the UK, published its recommendations based on more than 200 written submissions. The details of the proposal will be up for further consultation in 2008, and new certification rules are expected to come into effect January 2009. The impact on the organic market may be relatively small, as less than one percent of organic imports enter the UK by air. But 80 percent of airfreight organics comes from low or lower-middle income countries. The Soil Association is proposing  that any airfreight products should meet its own ethical trading standards or the Fairtrade Foundation’s standards by 2011. It wants businesses dependent on airfreight organic products to develop initiatives to reduce airfreight, and is encouraging people and businesses to be less reliant on fossil fuels for their livelihood. The proposal to have ethical trade standards mandatory in its organic certification is new, as they are now voluntary. The standards entail “fair and ethical tradition relationships”, “socially responsible practices” and “fair and ethical employment” throughout the entire organic food chain, from producer to retailer and in both developing and developed countries. The association is also looking into reliably and fairly assessing the full carbon footprint of organic products, and wants “all organic products to have a minimal or even mitigating contribution to climate change.” It is reviewing standards for heated glasshouse production and actively encouraging people to eat less meat. The Soil Association’s discussion document set out other options for reducing carbon emissions including the possibility of labelling organic food products with the number of air miles they have travelled, or a programme whereby the carbon produced by airfreight is offset. Mixed reactions Oxfam welcomed the emphasis of the new proposals on fair trade standard, but warned that change in policy should be phased in over a suitable period to minimize negative impacts on the most vulnerable producers and to provide support for them . Oxfam spokesperson Duncan Green pointed out that if everyone in the UK replaced one 100 W light bulb with a low energy equivalent, it would reduce UK’s CO2 emissions by five times the amount that would result from not buying airfreight fresh fruit and vegetables from sub-Saharan Africa. “It is
essential that our responses to climate change should not harm the people who are least responsible for the environmental damage in the first place.” The International Trade Centre (ITC) is altogether unconvinced. It says that organic exporters now face new costs to enter the UK, and poor African farmers will therefore find it harder to enter the markets. Moreover, the ITC claimed that most of the food grown in the UK and continental Europe produce more greenhouse gases than organic exports air-freighted by poor African farmers . ITC trade and development expert Alexander Kasterine said, “Food transport has nothing to do with working conditions of farm workers, and only a small proportion of these exporters are currently using fair trade or ethical trade standards.” Cost of organic certification prohibitive UK ’s Minister for Trade and Development Gareth Thomas said he was “disappointed” with the Soil Association proposal to withdraw certification from airfreight products that are not additionally certified to ethical trade standards . He was worried about the costs of additional certification, pointing out that, “certifying new products can take from six months to several years and costs between tens and hundreds of thousands of Euros.” He also said that airfreight ban “does little to solve climate change”, as less than one tenth of one percent of UK greenhouse gas emission come from airfreight fruit and vegetables from Africa; and driving six and a half miles to buy from a shop emits more carbon than flying a pack of Kenyan green beans to the UK. “There can be no denying that food transport has an environmental and social cost, but most of this (about 85%) comes from UK roads,” he said. The UK government is encouraging more efficient distribution within the food and drink sector, and proposed that the food industry trade bodies look into achieving a 20 percent reduction in the social costs of transporting food in the UK by 2012. The food and drink manufacturing, food retail and catering sectors are currently responsible for approximately 4 percent of UK’s annual greenhouse gas emissions of about 26Mt CO2e (CO2 equivalent) per year . The food chain as a whole from farm to plate, which includes transport and distribution, domestic energy use from storage and cooking, is around 111 Mt, or approx 17 percent of UK’s emissions. The Food Industry Sustainability Strategy (FISS) published in April 2006 , is considering a 3.5 percent reduction a year over 5 years from a 2006 baseline, by improving the efficiency of product manufacturing, and by reduce waste. Global trade and poverty But it is trade that’s uppermost in the mind of the Minister of Trade and Development. British shoppers spend over £1 million a day on imported fruit and vegetables from Africa; and in addition to the very small minority of organic farmers, almost a million conventional farmers and their families depend on airfreight fruit and vegetables from Africa to the UK. “Trade is fundamental to development.” He said , “To beat world poverty, it is essential that economic growth is encouraged in the world’s poorest countries. They must be able to trade on the global market, exporting their goods freely and getting a fair price for them.” Unfortunately, it is precisely a fair price that the poor farmers everywhere cannot get without mandatory ethical trade standards. It is precisely this misplaced emphasis on export trade in the aftermath of the Green Revolution that has resulted in poverty and hunger  (see Beware the New “Doubly Green” Revolution, SiS 37). India, the home of the Green Revolution in Asia, is a major food exporter, and its 26 m ton grain surplus in 2006 could feed the 320 million of it population that go to bed hungry. But the starving villagers are too poor to buy the food produced at their doorstep. India is also caught in a worsening epidemic of farmers’ suicide largely as the result of subsidized dumping in the global ‘free-trade’ market. Debt-ridden farmers are caught in a downward spiral of rising costs of fertilizers and pesticides and diminishing income due to plummeting commodity prices, falling
yields from unsustainable cultivation practices and recently, massive crop failures for those who have been deceived into planting GM crops. An estimated 100 000 farmers have taken their own lives between 1993 and 2003 and the introduction GM crops has escalated the suicides to 16 000 a year. Only organic agriculture of the right kind can feed the world Organic agriculture can feed the world  (see Scientists Find Organic Agriculture Can Feed the World and More, SiS 35). But it is becoming especially clear that only the right kind of organic agriculture can feed the world, an organic agriculture that supports local production and local consumption, and protects the livelihood of farmers . There is indeed growing concern over ethical trade standards and carbon footprint in organic certification. Consumers are buying into fair trade products from Third World countries, but they generally also prefer locally produced fresh fruits and vegetables, not only because that cuts down on carbon emissions and helps mitigate climate change, but also because it supports local farmers whose farms they can visit at any time. Conscientious consumers are demanding more information about the food they eat, especially as different certification schemes are not all the same. The Pianesi food label Mario Pianesi, founder of the highly influential macrobiotic association in Italy, Un Punto Macrobiotico (UPM) (see Box), has initiated just the kind of transparent, comprehensive label that gives all the information the most discerning organic consumer might want. Pianesiâ€™s label has information on the entire food chain from farm to shop shelf. It tells you the location of the farm that grows the food, the area and amount harvested, the year of the harvest, the number of people employed, and the specifics of the farming method, such as the origin of the seed, how the sowing is done, what kind of organic fertilizer used (if any), energy used, whether irrigated and amount of water used, weed control, and details of processing (if any) (see photo). The transparent food label containing everything that the organic consumer would want to know as an alternative to organic certification The label is already in use, and on natural non-food products as well, though not all information is available or mandatory. The advantage is that it is not a certification scheme, and hence has no certification cost attached. But the producer of the item can be taken to court if something printed on the label turns out not to be true. Consumers buy it because they have confidence in the brand and approve of the labelling scheme. This scheme is therefore most likely to work in the local community or region, and thatâ€™s good enough for consumers and farmers who support the ideal organic food system. Mario is trying to get this label accepted by the Italian Senate, where the majority of the representatives are in favour. But he has yet to convince most of the Italian producers. Mario Pianesi and Un Punto Macrobiotico Mario Pianesi founded the association Un Punto Macrobiotico (UPM) in 1980. With his mother from Montenegro and his father from the Marche region, Pianesi appreciated the positive sides of the Mediterranean cuisine. At the age of 26, he took evening courses in nutrition. When he read the book, Zen Macrobiotics by Georges Ohsawa, he learned about the ancient Chinese theories of Yin and Yang and the five Transformations. He spent the next 10 years studying these ideas, trying to confirm the application of the theories to various branches of science, and then promoted them within the UPM centres. After that, he began to organize public conferences that have continued uninterrupted to the present day. He has given different courses for doctors, teaching diagnosis
and nutrition according to the two ancient Chinese theories, and he was among the first to become acquainted with iridology, the diagnosis of illnesses from the appearance of the iris. In seeking to unite traditional Chinese and modern science, as president of UPM, he organized a series of conferences on different themes, starting with “Macrobiotics and Science” in 1995, “Culture” in 2000, “From Ancient Chinese Theory to the Sustainable Pianesian Development” in 2002, “Rice: Fundamental Food for Human Health” in 2004, and “Environment, Agriculture, Nutrition, Health, Economy” in 2006 to coincide with the World Food Day. All these conferences still take place annually. In 2001, UPM organized its first initiative at the Senate of the Italian Republic, presenting the transparent label designed by Pianesi, and approved so far by 88 senators. In the same year the Association launched the “Ma-Pi Diabetes Project” in Asia, South America and North Africa, through which the effectiveness of Ma-Pi macrobiotic diets has been proven on patients affected with diabetes. The first documented scientific results of this project were obtained in Cuba . Today, the “Ma-Pi Diebetes Project” has expanded to other countries. For his work in the service of the environment, agriculture and health, Pianesi has received recognition from various local, provincial and regional groups, and from the Society of Natural Science in Tunisia . In 2006 he received the award as “Best work in diet therapy” from the Medical Diet congress in Dijan, China ; and in 2007, he was given the degree “Honoris Causa” from the Academy of Science in Mongolia . In 2005 he was asked to serve on the UNESCO Scientific Committee for the Decade of Education for Sustainable Development. Through the development and growth of UPM, the Marche region in Italy came to have the highest concentration of macrobiotic centres in the world, with stores, restaurants, food laboratories, factories producing natural clothing, natural footwear, natural furnishings, natural paint and construction products. In UPM stores and restaurants, foods products are sold that adhere to strict standards and bear the label designed by Pianesi, which is also now being used on non-food products. Pianesi directly stimulated the founding of the first organic farming cooperative in Italy in 1975, and in 1980, began to recover seeds of plants that have been abandoned in favour of hybrid seeds or GMOs. Since then, he has continued his research towards natural agriculture, proposing an original agricultural model of “policoltura pianesiana” (Pianesian polyculture). Starting with seeds reproduced in the fields, obtained directly from farmers, the plants are allowed to revert as much as possible to their wild state, cereals, beans and vegetables are grown in the middle of fruit or other trees spaced at about 5 to 6 metres, in combination with hedges to produce a natural, balanced environment. With this polyculture system, farmers have reported an increase in production and a significant reduction in costs, in addition to substantial positive effects on land previously turned alkaline from monoculture and intensive treatment with chemicals, achieving a pH reduction from 6.5 to 5.5 in just a few years. From the UPM Secretariat. ================================================================================ ============================================= Url: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/cooperativeAgainstTheCreditCrunch.php Search date: 24th May 2011
SIS Report 25/03/09 Cooperative for Health, Food Security and Environment Against the Credit Crunch An institution thriving in the midst of the credit crunch could show us how to exit the food, fuel, and financial crisis Dr. Mae-Wan Ho A fully referenced and lavishly illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. Details here
An electronic version of the full report can be downloaded from the ISIS online store. Download Now MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION. FOR PERMISSION, AND REPRODUCTION REQUIREMENTS, PLEASE CONTACT ISIS. WHERE PERMISSION IS GRANTED ALL LINKS MUST REMAIN UNCHANGED
Un Punto Macrobiotico and Mario Pianesi One institution that’s thriving in the midst of the credit crunch is Un Punto Macrobiotico (UPM), a cooperative in Italy that promotes health, food security and the environment through the macrobiotic diet. Could it show us the way out of the food, fuel and financial crisis? UPM was founded in 1980 by autodidact Mario Pianesi, who taught himself everything there is to know about health and nutrition, guided and re-interpreted according to the ancient Chinese theories of yin and yang and the five transformations (see  Transparent Label An Alternative to Organic Certification, SiS 37), having taken his inspiration from Georges Ohsawa’s Zen Macrobiotics . Ohsawa (1893-1966) was reputed to have cured himself of tuberculosis using what he knew of the ancient yin-yang theory. The UPM movement has swept through Italy from its headquarters in Tolentino of the Marche region in the centre of the Italian peninsular, simply through word of mouth and some brilliant organisational skills, no doubt. UPM does not have a website, and never advertises. Pianesi’s macrobiotic teachings are based on the traditional Chinese theories, which he has extended, elaborated, and some would say, transformed; applying them not just to food and nutrition but also to agriculture and ecology, and beyond, to the origin of the universe. UPM has formally split with the US macrobiotic movement, as among other things, Pianesi does not support food supplements like his US counterpart, which makes lots of money selling them. Pianesi believes there is no substitute for good food, and I am inclined to agree. The “Ma-Pi” diets , which Pianesi has formulated for healing and health-promotion, are firmly based on “the positive sides of traditional Mediterranean cuisine.” UPM now has 120 centres dotted all over Italy (including Sicily). The centres are typically a restaurant and shop, or a factory. A few of them are also distribution centres which receive and package goods from the regions, and deliver to the shops and restaurants once a week. There are 200 000 members who pay €5.00 a year for the privilege of eating in the very affordable restaurants, attend lectures and conferences free, and buy from UPM shops that sell natural foods, detergents, cosmetics, clothing, furniture and even house paints and artists’ paints. Healing diseases with macrobiotic diets The Ma-Pi diets have helped hundreds of thousands in Italy recover from serious, often terminal illnesses, and that has contributed primarily to UPM’s success. The organisation is essentially run by people who have experienced remarkable cures, and are therefore firmly committed to the movement. Pianesi and his wife Loredana now spend much of their time leading conferences and workshops to which scientists from national academies around the world are invited. Funding for these come entirely from the UPM membership; they believe in spending as much as possible to promote the movement, losing nothing to taxation. One big project involves the treatment of diabetes through macrobiotic diet in different countries, and there have been notable successes so far in Thailand and especially in Cuba, where thousands have been cured of diabetes and other diseases. Trials are planned in Tunesia, Mongolia, China, and Pakistan. The full clinical evaluation of 25 adults with type 2 diabetes placed on the macrobiotic diet for 6 months in the Finlay Institute of Havana, Cuba, was described in a scientific paper published in 2007 . The improvements were remarkable. Blood glucose fell from an average of 11.7 mM to 5.5 mM, along with a significant reduction in body weight (Body Mass Index shrank from 28.0 to 24.1), decrease in blood cholesterol and triglycerides, drop in blood pressure, and so on. Eighty-eight percent of the patients were able to stop taking insulin and other drug treatments for reducing blood glucose.
The Chinese principles of yin and yang translates most concretely to the pH of food, yin is acid and yang is basic, and they determine the pH of the blood, which could account for much of what goes wrong. Though a lot more dedicated research is needed in this important area of how biological water interacts with inorganic ions  (see Water’s Effortless Action at a Distance, and other articles in the series, SiS 32), the electronegative and electropositive series having obvious resonances with the concepts of yin and yang. Seeing Italy in a week in a methane-driven Audi My main interest is in the UPM organisation and the farming system that Pianesi has devised for growing macrobiotic food, the ‘Pianesian polyculture’ (introduced to countries carrying out the diabetes trials), which have obvious applications in the integrated food and energy carbon sequestering Dream Farms that ISIS is currently promoting around the world (see final chapters in  (Food Futures Now: *Organic *Sustainable *Fossil Fuel Free , ISIS publication). So, I was very grateful when UPM agreed to organise a visit for me in July 2008, even though it meant traversing the whole length of the Italian peninsular (Milan at the top of the boot to Calabria the toe) in a week, followed by a week workshop in Calabria with Mario and Loredana, and whichever scientists from national academies happen to be dropping in (in the course of that week, I met scientists from Tunesia, Algeria and Pakistan, all very keen on Dream Farm 2). I was transported in a 17 year old 2000 cc Audi by the head of the UPM secretariat, Giovanni Bargnesi, a wonderful companion who drives like a typical Italian man: fast and furious, and with sudden change of lanes, a bit hair-raising at times. But amazingly, there was not a single accident on the road during the entire trip, despite frequent road works and congestion. Bargnesi did not seem to need water either (this, like everything else that is good, he attributes to the miraculous macrobiotic diet), and would happily drive for hours at a stretch without stopping. The car is not air-conditioned, and it was sunshine and clear skies everyday, with temperatures in the high 30s pushing 40 during the day. I made a major discovery while on the road. The car could run on either natural gas (methane) or petrol, and has a gas cylinder in the boot for methane and the petrol tank in the usual place. By simply pushing a button next to the steering wheel, Bargnesi demonstrated how he could switch from one to the other smoothly and imperceptibly while on the road. It is a small modification that cost him €700. What’s more, filling stations for methane are every 25 km, except on the motorways where they don’t seem to be available. Even the old monster of a car did about 30 km per cubic metre of methane. A cubic metre of methane contains 40 MJ of energy, about 20 percent more than a litre of petrol, but methane runs the engine more efficiently. Methane was selling at about €0.95 per cubic metre, and petrol at €1.50 or more a litre. The cylinder capacity was 11 cubic metres, so the range just over 300 km; and it cost only 35 percent as much on methane as on petrol. No wonder people were all filling up on methane rather than diesel or petrol. Italy is predisposed to take advantage of biogas methane, much more so than the UK, though anaerobic digestion is still uncommon in Italy. Natural gourmet foods, furniture, clothes, paints etc. In the course of the week, I was treated to macrobiotic gourmet food, mainly Ma-Pi diets 4 and 5 which are not vegetarian, as opposed to Ma-Pi 1 and 2, which are, while Ma-Pi 3 includes fish. And every meal was in a different restaurant if not a different town or city. Not surprisingly, the macrobiotic cuisine grew on me, as it continued into the second week. UPM take their culinary art very seriously. Every initiate starts as an apprentice in the kitchen. I was generously feted everywhere as ‘friend of Mario’ on fish of all kinds (including those freshly caught in the sea in Calabria), scallops, fresh water shrimps and lobsters, squid, cuttlefish. I had goose, pigeon, and even rabbit, though I declined the rabbit leg offered. Beer or wine was served with almost every meal, though dilute green tea is the healthy option. The beer was excellent. Surprisingly, I did not miss coffee, tomato, aubergine, mushrooms, milk, cheese, or eggs, all hallmark Italian foods on the macrobiotic forbidden list. Miso (fermented soybean and barley or rice) substitutes well for cheese; toasted sesame with sea salt, or soy sauce, is a sure winner; the cold pressed macrobiotic virgin olive oil is the best I have ever tasted; and the rice ice-creams made with various fresh fruits are mouth-wateringly delicious. I even acquired a taste for toasted barley water (coffee substitute), and just cannot get enough of almond milk on the rare occasions it was served in the morning.
A lunch plate☺
A feast to end all feasts
The main emphasis is on whole cereals, so polished rice and potatoes are out. Brown rice is considered the most healing food, though white milled (not polished) rice is frequently served. Millet and barley are favourites too. The only cereal excluded is maize. The cereals are traditional varieties rather than the commercial ones. Sugars, if used, are complex sugars such as malt (from rice and barley) and unrefined cane. I was quite sceptical of macrobiotic food before I went on the trip, but came back much more receptive and appreciative, if not entirely convinced. I made a mental note that if I became ill, I would definitely go macrobiotic rather than take drugs or go into hospital. Working for oneself and for the movement simultaneously The way it works is that all the businesses, restaurants, shops, factories, etc. are under franchise to UPM, but not owned by UPM. Everyone seems so contented and enthusiastic it seemed unreal, especially at first. I only saw one single person who was overweight in all of the UPM places I visited. They are typically absurdly slim (as well as mostly young), even though they eat huge portions of whole cereals and vegetables. Apparently, they have no fat, it is all muscle. As proof of their prowess, they won their yearly vegetarians versus carnivore football match in Calabria with a decisive score of 14 to 11. Apart from the farms (described below), I was taken to visit bakeries where they make their own bread and cookies (flour from traditional wheat varieties) with wood-burning ovens, and ‘food factories’ where simple food processing and packing are done (with small machinery also suited to on-farm use, and some indeed used on-farm. The machine making puffed brown rice cakes was particularly interesting as it is very small and easy to operate, and takes about a second to make one rice-cake starting from a tiny handful of uncooked brown rice dropped automatically into the cake mould. The rice cake machine In a furniture showroom and workshop, I saw natural wood stains and preservatives, for example, linseed with orange peel is excellent as wood preservative, and natural rubber used for foam mattresses and soles of shoes (impregnated into woven natural straw), organic cotton and other natural fibres such as hemp for clothing, bags, as well as filling for mattresses. Natural non-chemical treated leather is made into shoes and bags. Particularly interesting was the factory of natural paints, all made without chemicals from vegetable dyes, minerals, expired milk, eggs, etc. Roberto Mosco, the young man who runs and owns the factory, has taken over after his father died of cancer making chemical paints, and at Pianesi’s suggestion, began making natural paints. They are innovating all the time, making new composites out of eggs and gypsum that can replace bathroom tiles, for example. He gave me some natural pastels for artists, a range that they are just creating, and some water colours, which were sadly confiscated at the Rome airport checkpoint on my way back to London, and tossed into a bin. Natural paints factory and workshop UPM farms and Pianesian polyculture The UPM farms are typically ordinary farms on contract to grow food the way Pianesi prescribes. It is a no-till or minimum-till ‘polyculture’ of diverse crops either in rotation or mixed together, based on recovering traditional varieties, and letting beneficial weeds grow with the crops as far as possible. Many of the weeds are edible, and can form a harvest along with, or after the main crop. Pianesi suggests first looking at the weeds in the field for clues as to which crops will grow best there, and planting trees in the fields 5 m apart (presumably to allow small tractors and harvesters that many of the farmers use) to help provide shade and conserve water. After harvesting, the residues are left in the field, which are not ploughed, and the seeds for the next crop, saved from the previous, are sowed
by hand or with machines, but with minimum disturbance to the soil This makes for minimum effort; so much so that farmers now have plenty of free time for other pleasurable things. The crops are either rain fed, or with minimum irrigation, and of course, no chemicals are used. All the farmers I met were keenly interested and engaged in their trade, and some are enthusiastic experimenters, encouraged by Pianesi. And of course, like Pianesi, they are all dead set against GM crops. The farms I visited were as follows. Farm of Conte Radice Fossati 10-11 July After I arrived at Milan airport, Bargnesi drove me by car to a farmhouse near Mezzana Bigli, about one and a half hours away, owned by Conte Radice Fossati, who also owns 1 200 ha around Milan, the major rice growing region in Italy. My room was beautifully furnished with period pieces and remained remarkably cool even though it was stifling hot outside, apparently due to its double-wall construction within which water is trapped to cool the building by evaporation. It seems we have much to learn from the ancient builders. Fossati is the biggest industrial rice-grower in Europe. His accountant, Guiseppe Mirabelli had been ill with hepatitis B since 1971, and 25 years of conventional drugs had failed to cure him, only made him worse. Fortunately, he met Pianesi in 1996, and became better within months of starting his macrobiotic diet. At around the same time, Fossatiâ€™s farmers were having less and less success with chemical farming and some of them switched to Pianesiâ€™s method, which brought the yields back up within a couple of years. So Fossati finally decided to devote 20 ha to macrobiotic farming in 2007 of a traditional rice variety; the result was so good that in 2008, he switched another 30 ha of wheat to macrobiotic cultivation, again, of a traditional variety. Fossati was not yet ready to give up chemical farming wholesale, but if he does, then it would really seal the fate of industrial agriculture, and with it, GMOs in Italy, and possibly the rest of Europe. Other factors are coming into play, chief among which, Italy is turning into desert under the severe drought of recent years. The mighty Po River, which has fed this rice-growing region for centuries, has now dried to a trickle, while unsustainable practices continue. Rivers running dry in Italy On our way to visit the second farm the next day, I saw a tractor-like vehicle parked near a maize field with no one in it but a noisy engine running. It turned out to be operating a pump and delivering copious ground water into the maize field. More than two hours later, when we returned from the farm, the pump was still going with no one in the tractor, and the maize field was about a foot deep in water. Tractor pumping water to flood a maize field Throughout the region, automatic sprinklers can be seen spraying pumped water in fields early in the morning and late in the evening. Pianesi later showed me many photographs of dust clouds over the fields taken in March 2008. The rivers and tributaries are drying up also in the Marche region where the same unsustainable wastage of water is perpetrated by industrial monoculture farms. Climate experts are forecasting droughts for the whole of Southern Europe as global warming continues, turning the entire area into semi-desert . Farm of Guiseppe Oglio 11 July
Guiseppe Oglio, a handsome 39 year-old bachelor, has taken over his parents’ 26 ha farm to run organically since 1990, and began working with the UPM in 2001. One major change since working with the UPM is that he is “very difficult” to find. Despite carrying out many experiments in his fields - which he was happy to show us at length Oglio now has plenty of free time to visit his girlfriend in the city. Biodiverse fields where weeds and crops co-exist for mutual benefit Among the many experiments Oglio showed us were the following · Rice fields planted with traditional varieties without weeding, where the worst weeds were kept under control, while other beneficial/harmless weeds also grew up, which is very good for wild life. · Millet field sown by hand and not irrigated was doing much better than one that was irrigated and sown at the same time · Barley can be grown with a wild green that is eaten as vegetable, without losing yield. Oglio seemed genuinely delighted that such marginal, sandy soils could yield 2 tonnes per ha, and attributes that to the Pianesian method · Field covered by crop residues, which has not been cultivated or watered for several years, nevertheless sprouted self-seeding leaf lettuce. The seeds from these plants, according to Pianesi, are best suited for growing on the same plot of land. Oglio has his own rice-threshing and milling machine, and apart from selling his produce to UPM, also sells direct to other customers. Oglio does almost all the work on the farm, with some help from his aged uncle. There were some farm animals kept in less than hygienic conditions, not for UPM, but mainly to indulge his uncle, probably not up to UK animal welfare standards. It is clear that the farm could benefit with a small biogas digester to improve animal hygiene at the very least. Farm of Ivano Mazziere 14 July This is a small 12 ha farm in Appignano on a hill in the Marche region, which has only started to work with UPM a year ago. Ivano uses drip feeding for his crops. His pride and joy appears to be mixed vegetables fields on four of the five ha (one ha left for green manure), yielding 50 tonnes of harvest each year. He delivers fresh vegetables to nearby UPM restaurants and shops four times a week. Ivano and his wife run the farm and he uses light machinery, some he has built himself, such as a lightweight seed planter and a weeder, which altogether consumes about 1 000 litres of diesel a year. He also saves and catalogues seeds. Polyculture drip-fed vegetable plot Farm of Michele Carpineti 14 July This is a 15 ha plus 6 ha farm in Sambucheto of the Marche region. The farmer started to work with UPM 8 years ago when his parents failed to keep the farm going due to illnesses from pesticides. Now the farm is obviously thriving, producing a diversity of grains and vegetables. There are also many animals on the farm, mostly kept as pets, especially a free range pig that seems to like the company of the horses. But two bulls were being “fattened” and kept mostly shut up in crammed housing in less than desirable conditions. Animal manure piled up in the corner of a field. This farm too, could benefit from a biogas digester.
Unlike Mazziere’s farm, this farm is on completely flat land. And Carpineti has started planting trees as recommended by Pianesi, first in hedgerows around the fields and then within the fields. He also drip-feeds his crops and pumps water sparingly from underground. The underground housing for the pump doubles up as a convenient storage place for his vegetables. Other signs of Pianesian polyculture are evident, such as a diversity of weeds growing among the crops. I have never seen such an interesting collection of weeds anywhere else apart from those I saw on UPM farms. Carpineti is helped by his father and two young daughters, and uses 3 000 litres of diesel a year for machinery and the water pump. There is a bakery on the farm to take advantage of freshly ground flour. Carpineti too, delivers fresh vegetables to nearby UPM centres, as well as a hospital that has started serving macrobiotic food to patients. Family harvest Farm of Ivan Bruno 15 July This is an unusual farm in the Campana region in the south of Italy, which consists mainly of natural forests (some 60 ha) in the hills that the family has acquired. After initial unsustainable harvesting of forest trees, the youngest son in the family was inspired by Pianesi to do sustainable agriculture, leaving most of the natural forests untouched. . The 23 year old is exceptionally articulate, not only about what he learned from Pianesi, but has views on globalisation and EU’s policy against small farmers. He is very happy to be working with UPM, as he receives 6 to 7 times the amount he would get from usual buyers, and when he had a bad harvest, they bailed him out by paying him more. Especially impressive is the fact that he has never been a farmer; but by following Pianesi’s advice he was able to do very well. The first field he showed us was one that belongs to a friend, which has been previously farmed chemically and left uncultivated for a year or two. His friend agreed to let him farm it in return for part of the harvest, and he has sowed a variety of wheat that was traditional in the region. The wheat grew extremely well, and crowded out most of the weeds that were growing in the field. Bumper harvest of traditional wheat On his wonderfully scenic hill farm, which could only be reached by a rather treacherous unpaved steep and winding path, he showed us how by following Pianesi’s advice he was able to plant carrots or onions in particular fields, simply by observing the wild plants that grew there. The key is to plant crops that are similar to the weeds. He also showed us photographs taken of frost destroying commercial varieties of cabbage on his farm while the traditional varieties remained unscathed. And during a previous drought, it was the part of the crops next to trees that survived. We were treated us to a sumptuous lunch in the family home where he lived with his parents, a sister and one of two brothers; a delicious stewed leg of goat was included in the menu. As we were leaving for our long drive to Calabria, he and his father showered us with gifts of seeds, essential oils, herbs, and their very own mountain spring water. UPM and Bernard Shaw socialism Perhaps the most remarkable thing about UPM is that it is run on George Bernard Shaw’s socialist principles, as expounded in The Intelligent Woman’s Guide to Socialism and Capitalism . UPM buy directly from farmers and producers and sell to customers through their shops, bypassing all ‘middlemen’, as Shaw had prescribed. As a result, farmers could be paid 6 to 7 times what they could get from the conventional buyers and are happy and
independent. None of them takes any government or EU subsidies. The same goes for producers of other goods and the artisans. One thing missing from the cooperative, perhaps, is its own bank and/or LETS (a trading network supported by its own internal currency ). What particularly impressed me was the attitude of all the people working in UPM. I did not ask how much they were paid because it was probably less than what they earned outside, but as workers get their food and lodging free, or at reasonable prices, everyone is happy, and they even seem to run on “to each according to need” principle. They are all united in loving/adoring Mario Pianesi. Everyone has a story to tell of how Mario gave them back their life by curing them of some terrible disease: terminal cancers, hepatitis, diabetes, autism, heart disease, asthma, allergies, etc. That was why I got a special treat everywhere. All are united in promoting the macrobiotic way of life to the world, of course, which is why they give generously, not only in money, but in hard work, to Pianesi to run his workshops and conferences, which typically require a retinue of cooks to prepare the food. There are now UPM food served in the Italian air force canteen in Marche, and UPM dinners have been taken to the EU Parliament in Strasbourg in October 2008. Question is: would something like UPM work without someone like Pianesi, the universal saviour of them all? Would it work in US or UK where family ties are not so strong, and local communities don’t really exist anymore? Perhaps the food, fuel, and financial crisis will make people think again of what real wealth is, as opposed to paper money  (see Financing Poverty, SiS 40) and why happiness and contentment depends on ridding the world of Darwinian competition, to be replaced by cooperation and reciprocity. ================================================================================ ============================================ Url: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/ThermodynamicsOfOrganisms.php?printing=yes Search date: 24th May 2011
ISIS Report 21/09/07 Thermodynamics of Organisms and Sustainable Systems Invited lecture for conference on Environment, Agriculture, Food, Health and Economy, World Food Day, 17 October 2007, La Sapienza University, Rome, Italy Dr. Mae-Wan Ho, Institute of Science in Society, email@example.com A fully referenced and illustrated version of this article is posted on ISIS members’ website. It is also available as an electronic download here Abstract I have developed a “thermodynamics of organized complexity” based on a nested dynamical structure that enables the organism to maintain its organisation and simultaneously achieve non-equilibrium and equilibrium energy transfer at maximum efficiency (Ho 1993, 1998a, 2007a). The healthy organism excels in maintaining its organisation and keeping away from thermodynamic equilibrium – death by another name – and in reproducing and providing for future generations. In those respects, it is the ideal sustainable system (Ho, 1998b,c; Ho and Ulanowicz, 2005). Looking at sustainable systems as organisms provides fresh insights on sustainability, and offers diagnostic criteria that reflect the system’s health. This paper formalises and updates the ‘zero-entropy’ model of organisms and sustainable systems, and shows how sustainable development is possible by explicit reference to a ‘zero-emission’, ‘zero-waste’ integrated food and energy ‘Dream Farm 2’. Key Words: Cycles, coherent energy storage, space-time structure, fractal dynamics, sustainability, sustainable development, minimum entropy production, internal entropy compensation, circular economy
What is Schrödinger’s negentropy? Schrödinger (1944) wrote: “It is by avoiding the rapid decay into the inert state of ‘equilibrium’ that an organism appears so enigmatic…What an organism feeds upon is negative entropy. Or, to put it less paradoxically, the essential thing in metabolism is that the organism succeeds in freeing itself from all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive.” Schrödinger was struggling to make explicit the intimate relationship between energy and organisation. To make progress, we need to see life with fresh eyes. By half accident, we discovered in my laboratory in 1992 that all living organisms display dynamic liquid crystalline rainbow colours under the polarising light microscope that geologists use to look at rock crystals and other birefringent materials (Ho and Lawrence 1993; Ho et al, 1996; Ross et al, 1997). The fact that living moving organisms, with all their molecules churning around transforming energy could appear like a dynamic liquid crystal display is evidence that living organisms are coherent (organized) to a high degree, right down to the alignment and motions of the protein molecules in their tissues and cells, and it is coherent energy that is being mobilized and transformed in the organisms (Ho 1993, 1998a, Ho et al, 2006b). This spurred me on to reformulate thermodynamics for living systems over the past 15 years, the details of which are presented in successive editions of The Rainbow and the Worm, the Physics of Organisms (Ho, 1993, 1998a, 2007a). I shall recapitulate the main results and bring this work up to date, as it has large implications for the environment, food, health and the economy, the themes of our conference. How organisms make a living The first thing to take note is that organisms do not make their living by heat transfer. Instead, they are isothermal systems (c.f. Morowitz, 1968) dependent on the direct transfer of molecular energy, by proteins and other macromolecules acting as “molecular energy machines”. For isothermal processes, the change in Gibbs free energy is, DG = DH - TDS
Thermodynamic efficiency requires that DS, the change in entropy, approaches 0 (least dissipation), or DG, the change in free energy, approaches 0 (free energy conservation or entropy-enthalpy compensation) (Ho, 1995). The organism as a whole keeps far away from thermodynamic equilibrium, but how does it free itself from “all the entropy it cannot help producing while alive”? That’s the point of departure for the “thermodynamics of organised complexity”. The pre-requisite for keeping away from thermodynamic equilibrium – the state of maximum entropy or death by another name – is to be able to capture energy and material from the environment to develop, grow and recreate oneself from moment to moment during one’s life time and also to reproduce and provide for future generations, all part and parcel of sustainability. The organism has solved its problems of sustainability over billions of years of evolution. It has an obviously nested physical structure. Our body is enclosed and protected by a rather tough skin, but we can exchange energy and material with the outside, as we need to, we eat, breathe and excrete. Within the body, there are organs, tissues and cells, each with a certain degree of autonomy and closure. Within the cells there are numerous intracellular compartments that operate more or less autonomously from the rest of the cell. And within each compartment, there are molecular complexes doing different things: transcribing genes, making proteins and extracting energy from our food, etc. More importantly, the activities in all those compartments, from the microscopic to the macroscopic are perfectly orchestrated, which is why the organism looks like a dynamic liquid crystal display, as explained earlier.
An organism has physical barriers separating the inside from the outside, but never completely. It can be questioned whether such physical closure is necessary, at least as far as the sustainable system is concerned. More important than physical closure is dynamic closure, which enables the organism to store as much energy and material as possible, and to use the energy and material most efficiently, i.e., with the least waste and dissipation (see above). The key to understanding the thermodynamics of the living system is not so much energy flow (Prigogine, 1967, Morowitz, 1968, and Ulanowicz, 1983) as energy capture and storage under energy flow (Fig. 1). Energy flow is of no consequence unless the energy can be trapped and stored within the system, where it is mobilised to give a self-maintaining, self-reproducing life cycle coupled to the energy flow. (By energy, I include material flow, which enables the energy to be stored and mobilised.) Figure 1. Energy flow, energy storage and the reproducing life-cycle My approach diverges significantly from the framework established by earlier applications of thermodynamics to ecology as described in detail in Ho and Ulanowicz (2005). Stored energy is distinct from exergy as widely used by ecologists, and also from free energy as defined by chemists and physicists (see Eq. 1). It is stored energy being mobilised in a non-classical steady state that characterise living organisms and sustainable systems, as will be made clear below. Cycles make sense The perfect coordination (organisation) of the organism depends on how the captured energy is mobilised within the organism. It turns out that energy is mobilised in cycles, or more precisely, quasi-limit cycles, which can be thought of as dynamic boxes; and they come in all sizes, from the very fast to the very slow, from the global to the most local. Cycles provide the dynamic closure thatâ€™s absolutely necessary for life, perhaps much more so than physical closure. Biologists have long puzzled over why biological activities are predominantly rhythmic or cyclic, and much effort has gone into identifying the centre of control, and more recently to identifying master genes that control biological rhythms, to no avail. The organism is full of cycles, possibly because cycles make thermodynamic sense. (Nevertheless, Morowitz (1968) has proven an important theorem that a flow of energy from a source to a sink in a system at steady state will lead to at least one cycle.) Cycles mean returning again and again to the same states, and no entropy is generated in a perfect cycle. In other words, the system as a whole remains organized. Cycles give dynamic stability as well as autonomy to the organism; and this is apparently also the case in ecosystems (Ulanowicz, 1983). Moreover, cycles enable the activities to be coupled, or linked together, so that those yielding energy can transfer the energy directly to those requiring energy, and the direction can be reversed when the need arises. This is implicit in Onsagerâ€™s reciprocity relationship which shows how symmetrical coupling of processes can arise naturally in a system under energy flow (see Ho, 1993, 1998a, 2007a). These symmetrical, reciprocal relationships are most important for sustaining the system. Our metabolism is actually organised precisely in that way: closing cycles and linking up, with pathways that readily reverses the direction of energy and material flows. Figure 2 is a diagram representing the nested cycles that span all space-time scales, the totality of which make up the life cycle of the organism (Ho, 1998a). The life cycle has a self-similar fractal structure, so if you magnify each cycle, you will see that it has smaller cycles within, looking much the same as the whole. Fractal dynamics are the hallmarks of natural processes and are especially fit for the organisation of living systems (Ho, 2007a), as we shall see. Figure 2. The life cycle of the organism consists of a self-similar fractal structure of cycles turning within cycles
This complex nested dynamical space-time structure of the organism is the secret of sustainability. As explained below, it maximises the efficiency and rapidity of energy mobilisation, and the degree of space-time differentiation is directly correlated with the amount of energy stored. Redefining the Second Law for living systems Physiologist Colin McClare (1971) made an important contribution towards reformulating thermodynamics so that it can apply to living systems. He proposed that in a system defined by some macroscopic parameter, such as temperature, q, its energies can be separated into two categories: stored (coherent) energies that remain in a nonequilibrium state within a characteristic time, t, and thermal (random) energies that exchange with each other and reach equilibrium (or equilibrate) in a time less than t (see Fig 3). Figure 3. Stored vs thermal energy McClare introduced time structure into systems, with the very important consequence that there are now two ways to mobilise energy efficiently with entropy change approaching zero: very slowly with respect to t, so it is reversible at every point; or very rapidly with respect to t, so that the energy remains stored as it is mobilised. For a process with characteristic timescale of 10-10s, a millisecond is an eternity, so a ‘slow’ process need not be very slow at all to be energy efficient. Most enzyme reactions therefore could be occurring at thermodynamic equilibrium. On the other hand, resonant energy transfer is an example of a very fast process occurring in <10-14s, so the energy remains stored as it is transferred. The latter process too, is very important for living systems. Resonance interactions coordinate reactions in different parts of the cell and the organism. Resonating molecules attract one another, and there is indeed recent evidence that proteins, nucleic acids and other molecules find one another through resonating to the same electromagnetic frequencies (see Ho, 2007b). McClare (1971) proposed that, “Useful work is only done by a molecular system when one form of stored energy is converted into another”. In other words, thermalised energies cannot be used to do work, and thermalised energy cannot be converted into stored energy. This raised obvious objections, as critics pointed out, automobiles do run on thermalised energy from burning petrol, so the proposal could not be right. McClare’s proposal was incomplete, and I completed his proposal as follows (Ho 1993, 1995): “Useful work is only done by a molecular system when one form of stored energy is converted into another in the same system.” The additional phrase “in the same system” effectively defines a ‘system’ by the extent to which thermal energies equilibrate within a characteristic space-time. In the case of the automobile and other similar contraptions, the hot gases expand against a constraint, the piston, which, in taking up the thermalized energy, does work against the system external to the combustion chamber. This definition of a system is crucial for the nested space-time structure of the organism. The organism is actually partitioned into a hierarchy of systems within systems within systems defined by equilibration space-times. Energies thermalised or equilibrated within a smaller space-time (system) will still be out of equilibrium in the larger system encompassing the first (see Fig. 4). So, even though the organism as a whole is far from thermodynamic equilibrium, its space-time differentiation nevertheless allows for a hierarchy of local near-equilibrium regimes to be maintained within. Figure 4. A nested hierarchy of space-times in which equilibrium and non-equilibrium co-exist Stored energy, like exergy and free energy, refers to energy available for doing useful work. But stored energy is explicitly defined with respect to a characteristic space-time, and is hence a real property of systems rather than a pseudo-property (see Ho and Ulanowicz, 2005). The nested space-time structure in organisms optimises thermodynamic efficiency by allowing the organism to simultaneously exploit equilibrium (very slow) and non-equilibrium (very fast) energy transfers with minimum
dissipation, always with reference to the characteristic timescales of the processes involved as described above. It also optimises the rapidity of energy mobilisation. Biochemical reactions depend strictly on local concentrations of reactants, which could be enormously high, depending on their extent of equilibration, which is generally quite restricted. Cell biologists are beginning to take seriously the view that the cell approaches the solid-state, or more accurately, a liquid crystalline state, where nothing is freely diffusible, and even the cell water is organized into polarized multi-layers (Ho, 1998a, 2007a, Ho et al, 2006b; see also Ling, 2001). Another point to note is that the greater the space-time differentiation, the more coherent energy is stored within the system. Because the activities are all coupled together, the energy residence time depends on how many activities there are within the system. Finally, there is a dynamic structure to the space-time differentiation, so the activities can remain mostly distinct and independent, and yet are poised to exchange energies with one another. In other words, the energies in different space-time domains need to be separately mobilised and yet able to spread from any point to the entire system, and conversely, converge from all over the system to any point whenever and wherever required. I have proposed that a self-similar fractal organisation provides such a space-time structure (Ho, 1998a, b, c). But it was only a few days ago that I suddenly realised why. As we were about to watch Simon McBurney’s A Disappearing Number at the Barbican, a play created around the Indian mathematical sensation Srinivasa Ramanujan, I asked Peter Saunders if all irrational numbers were arbitrarily close to rational numbers, and he said yes. My guess was that because all fractals are close to harmonics (or in mathematical terms, every irrational number is arbitrarily close to a rational number), phase coupling and energy transfer through resonance is readily achieved by shifting from fractals to harmonics. There is now abundant evidence that fractal dynamics characterizes the healthy heart rhythm, which reflects the constant intercommunication between the heart and all other parts of the body (see Ho, 2007c). Real time monitoring also shows how the heart rhythm can change abruptly, and how positive emotions such as love and appreciation can make the heart beat in synchrony with the pulse and respiratory rhythms, possibly through resonance on a macroscopic scale (see Ho 2007d). The ‘zero-entropy’ model In the ideal – represented by the healthy mature organism as well as the healthy mature ecosystem (Odum, 1969) the system is always tending towards a dynamic balance, a non-classical steady state (Fig. 5), as will be explained shortly. The simple equation, S DS = 0, inside the cycle, says there is an overall internal conservation of energy and compensation of entropy so that the system organisation is maintained and dissipation minimized (Schrödinger’s negentropy); while the necessary dissipation exported to the outside, is also minimised, S DS > 0. Figure 5. Zero-entropy model of the ideal organism and sustainable system Internal entropy compensation and energy conservation implies that positive entropy generated somewhere is compensated by negative entropy elsewhere within the organism over a finite time. This is possible only if the internal microscopic detailed balance at every point of classical steady state theory is violated. Denbigh (1951) defined the steady state as one in which “the macroscopic parameters such as temperature, pressure and composition, have time-independent values at every point of the system, despite the occurrence of a dissipative process.” That is far too restrictive to apply to the organism and the sustainable system. Instead, Ho (1993, 1998a) proposed to define the living system in homeostasis as a “dynamic equilibrium in which the macroscopic parameters, such as temperature, pressure and composition have time-independent values despite the occurrence of dissipative processes.” The omission of the phrase “at every point of the system” is significant. Microscopic homogeneity is not necessary for the formulation of any thermodynamic state, as the thermodynamic parameters are macroscopic entities quite independent of the microscopic interpretations. Like the principle of microscopic reversibility, it is extraneous to the phenomenological laws of thermodynamics, as Denbigh himself had convincingly argued.
It is the organised space-time heterogeneity within the living system that allows for the necessary ‘free’ variation of the microscopic states within the macroscopic thermodynamic constraints. Thus, stability criteria that apply to the system as a whole need not be satisfied, or stronger yet, cannot be satisfied in every individual space-time element for all times. The tendency to conserve coherent energy and compensate for entropy production within the system will result in the minimum entropy being exported to the outside. Intuitively, one can see that if the system were maximally efficient, then it would also produce the least dissipation. From the outside, it might appear that the system is “maximally dissipative” in terms of having “degraded” the energy gradient most effectively (Schneider and Kay, 1994; Hannon and Ulanowicz, 1987). But this misses the coherent energy stored non-degraded within the system, and stored energy is also embodied in biomass. Sustainable systems as organisms and diagnostic signs of sustainability I have suggested diagnostic criteria of sustainability or health that depend on the tendency of a sustainable system to maximize non-dissipative cyclic flows of energy and minimizing dissipative flows (Ho, 1998c). Maximising non-dissipative cyclic flows will increase the following: energy storage capacity, which translates into carrying capacity or biomass; the number of cycles in the system; the efficiency of energy use; space-time differentiation, which translates into biodiversity; balanced flows of resources and energy; reciprocal coupling of processes. The minimization of dissipation will result in reducing entropy production (towards zero). These diagnostic criteria are interlinked, so once one is identified, the others are likely to follow. Some support for these criteria is that they are similar to those Schneider and Kay (1994) have identified for mature, established ecosystems (Ho, 1998c). Data collected for carbon-energy flows in two aquatic marsh ecosystems next to a large power-generating facility in the Crystal River in Florida showed that the ‘stressed’ system, exposed to hot water coming out of the nuclear power station, which increased the temperature by 6 C, captured 20% less energy, made 20% less efficient use of the energy captured, had 50% fewer cycles and 34% less biomass than the control. Schneider and Kay (1994) also drew attention to some interesting measurements made by Luvall and Holbo (1991) with a NASA thermal infrared multispectral scanner from the air, which assess energy budgets of terrestrial landscapes. They found that the more developed the ecosystem, the colder its surface temperature. This is consistent with the maximisation of energy storage capacity and the minimisation of dissipation. Another indication of the energy efficiency and potential increase in carrying capacity of sustainable systems is provided by a comparison of 25 rice cultivation system (see Ho 1998c), of which 8 were pre-industrial in terms of low fossil fuel input (2-4%) and high labour input (35-78%), 10 were semi-industrial with moderate to high fossil fuel input (23-93%) and low to moderate labour input (4-46%) and seven were full industrial with 95% fossil fuel input and extremely low labour input of 0.04 –0.2%). The total output per hectare (in GigaJoule) in the preindustrial fell into a low (2.4 to 9.9) and a high-output (149.3 to 166.9) subgroup, with the former one-twentieth to one-fifth of the full industrial average. However, the output of the high subgroup was two to three times the fullindustrial systems. The yields of semi-industrial systems were more homogeneous, with an average of 51.75GJ, while the yields of full-industrial systems, even more uniform, averaged 65.66 GJ. When the ratio of total energetic output to total input was calculated, the pre-industrial low yielding systems ranged between 6.9 and 11.5, whiles figures for the high output system registered from 15.3 to 29.2. Semiindustrial systems gave ratios of 2.1 to 9.7, whereas the ratios of full-industrial systems were not much better than unity. These figures illustrate the law of diminishing returns: there seems to be a plateau of output per hectare around 70-80 GJ regardless of the total input, which is only exceeded in the three high-yielding pre-industrial systems of Yunnan, China. Intensifying energy input led to a drop in efficiency, particularly sharp as input approaches the output ceiling, which appeared to conform to the notion of a uniform carrying capacity. But this is highly misleading, as the carrying capacity depends on how the land is organised for production (see below). Dream Farm 2
There is no longer any doubt that we are living through climate change as fossil fuels are fast depleting, and hurricanes, droughts and floods are destroying lives, homes and crops all over the world. I remain optimistic, however, because we actually have a wealth of knowledge that is capable of provide food security and health for all, and significantly mitigate climate change (Ho et al 2006a). A major obstacle to implementing this knowledge is the overwhelming commitment of our elected representatives to the dominant neo-liberal economic model, otherwise known as the environmental bubble-economy (Brown, 2003). It is based on the exploitation of environmental resources beyond their capacity for renewal or regeneration in order to fuel perpetual economic growth. I have proposed a ‘zero-emission’, ‘zero-waste’ ‘Dream Farm 2’ based on the zero-entropy model. In practice, Dream Farm 2 maximises the use of renewable energies and turns ‘wastes’ into food and energy resources, thereby freeing us completely from fossil fuels (for the latest update see Ho, 2007e) (Figure 6). Figure 6. Dream Farm 2 based on the zero-entropy model of the organism The diagram is colour-coded: red is for energy, green for food, black is waste in the conventional sense of the word, but is soon transformed into resources, and blue is for water conservation and flood control, a key requirement in stable food and energy production under the vagaries of rainfall patterns now experienced across the world. The anaerobic digester is the core technology for treating wastes, preventing pollution and generating energy. Livestock manure, food, paper and other biological remains are fermented by naturally occurring waste-gobbling bacteria and turned into biogas, which provides much of the energy needs. The partially cleansed wastewater goes into the algal basins where algae photosynthesis produces all the oxygen needed to detoxify the water, making it safe for the fish. The algae are harvested to feed chickens, ducks, geese and other livestock. The fishponds support a compatible mixture of 5-6 fish species. Water from the fishponds ‘fertigates’ crops growing in the fields or on the raised dykes. Fruits and vegetables can be grown in floats on the surface of the fishponds. Water from the fishponds can also be pumped into greenhouses for aquaculture of fruits and vegetables. The water, purified of nutrients, is returned to the aquifers. The anaerobic digester yields a residue rich in nutrients that is an excellent fertiliser for crops. It can also be mixed with algae and crop residues for culturing mushrooms after steam sterilisation. The residue from mushroom culture can be fed to livestock or composted. Crop residues are fed back to livestock. Crop and food residues can be used to raise earthworms to feed fish and fowl. Compost and worm castings go to condition the soil. Livestock manure goes back into the anaerobic digester, thus closing the grand cycle. The result is a highly productive farm that’s more than self-sufficient in food and energy, and saves substantially on carbon emissions. Anaerobic digestion of livestock and other wastes saves carbon emissions twice over, by preventing the serious greenhouse gases methane and nitrous oxide from reaching the atmosphere, and by methane substituting for fossil fuel use to run vehicles and farm machinery. For a country like the UK, anaerobic digestion of all biological wastes could provide more than 11 percent of the country’s energy use and more than 50 percent of its transport fuels. In addition, all the building materials will be sourced, and buildings designed to minimise carbon emissions and energy use. The farm will incorporate other forms of renewable energies suitable for local energy generation at the medium, small to micro-scale: solar panels/walls, small wind turbines, and microhydroelectric generators where appropriate. The approach is to get the farm up and running while new technologies and designs are researched and incorporated, such as generating hydrogen from wastes or from methane, using algae to capture carbon dioxide from combined heat and power generation and making biodiesel, and fuel cells that take methane to reform into hydrogen. All of that will be part of an education/research component of the farm. The farm will also provide an excellent showcase for new, appropriate technologies.
Zero-Entropy Model vs the Dominant Model of Infinite Growth Dream Farm 2 illustrates how the zero entropy model contrasts with the dominant model, and more importantly, how it is possible to have sustainable growth and development. Too many critics of the dominant paradigm think that the only alternative to unsustainable growth is to have no growth at all. The minimum entropy exported to the environment is important, as the system depends on environmental input, hence, entropy exported to the environment will simply mean diminished environmental input. This can be made more explicit by enclosing the system within the immediate environment of the system as in Figure 7. Figure 7. The coupled flows of system and ecological cycles in a sustainable system The ecological environment surrounding the system is now explicitly represented also as a zero-entropy cycle. You have to imagine, once again, that this is a fractal diagram, and that the environment surrounding the system is itself exporting to a larger ecological domain, and this kind of embedding can go on, ultimately to the entire earth. And of course, each cycle is made up of many smaller cycles within (see Fig. 2) all working by reciprocity and cooperation. In contrast, the dominant model of infinite competitive growth is a case of the bigger fish swallowing the smaller ad infinitum, and it describes equally how a person should behave and how a company should develop in order to be successful. But it is the entropy and waste generation that concerns us here, so I have represented it diagrammatically in Figure 8. This system grows relentlessly, swallowing up the earth’s resources, laying waste to everything in its path, like a hurricane. There is no closed cycle to hold resources within, to build up stable organised social or ecological structures. It captures the essence of our ‘boom and bust’ economy. The money market is especially entropic, as I have pointed out elsewhere (Ho 1998b, c), mainly because it is not based on any real-valued goods or services; furthermore, it artificially inflates the purchasing power of the rich, leading to greater exploitation of environmental resources. Figure 8. The dominant economic model of infinite unsustainable growth that swallows up the earth’s resources and exports massive amounts of wastes and entropy (left) contrasted with the zero-entropy model The dynamically closed cycle of the zero-entropy mode, on the other hand, enables stable organised social or ecological structures to build up, and to grow and develop in a balanced way, as distinct from the dominant model of infinite, unsustainable growth. As in the zero-entropy model of the organism, the sustainable system’s cycle contains more cycles within that are interlinked symmetrically to help one another thrive and prosper (see Fig. 2). This principle is well illustrated in sustainable integrated farming. The minimum integrated farm has the farmer, livestock and crops (Fig. 9). The farmer prepares the ground to sow the seeds for the crops to grow that feed the livestock and the farmer; the livestock returns manure to feed the crops. Very little is wasted or exported to the environment. In fact, a high proportion of the resources are recycled and kept inside the system. The system stores energy as well as material resources such as carbon. The extra carbon is sequestered in the soil as the soil improves, and in the standing biomass of crops and livestock. Figure 9. The minimum integrated sustainable farm More importantly, the farm can perpetuate itself like that quite successfully and sustainably, or it can grow by engaging more cycles, units of devolved autonomy that help one another do better. (In analogy with the organism, it will develop a more complex space-time differentiation, and grow bigger.) In the old paradigm, organisms are predominantly seen to compete for resources and for space. But we’ve got three space dimensions and the time dimension too. We’ve got space-time that we can fill up more thickly with life cycles of different sizes that occupy different space-times. That is exactly what organisms in a naturally biodiverse
ecosystem do to maximise the reciprocal, symbiotic relationships that benefit all the species. So you can add fish, algae, poultry, worms, mushrooms, etc., turning the ‘waste’ from one cycle to resource for another (Fig.10). Figure 10. Sustainable system develops and grows by incorporating more life cycles within the system, the wastes from one cycle is resource for another. The more lifecycles incorporated, the more energy and standing biomass are stored within the system, and the greater the productivity of the farm. It will also support an increasing number of farmers and farm workers. Productivity and biodiversity always go together in a sustainable system, as generations of farmers have known, and recent academic researchers have rediscovered. I had predicted the same earlier on the basis of a space-time differentiation that maximises distributed energy storage (Ho, 1998b,c). The different life cycles are essentially holding the energy for the whole system, and by way of reciprocity, recycling the energy within the system. Once it is recognized that coherent energy is stored within the system, it follows that energy can be recycled, contrary to the conventional wisdom that regards only materials as capable of being recycled. Industrial monoculture, in contrast, is the least energy efficient in terms of output per unit of input, and often less productive in absolute terms despite high external inputs (see above), because it does not close the cycle, it does not have the biodiversity (space-time differentiation) and reciprocity to hold the energy within and ends up generating a lot of waste and entropy and depleting the soil. In a recent visit to China, I was delighted to discover that something very similar to the model of sustainable systems as organisms is in the official Chinese mainstream discourse; they call it the “circular economy”. Chinese farmers have perfected it over the past two thousand years especially in the Pearl River Delta of southeast China (Ho 2006). It disposes of another myth: that there is a constant carrying capacity for a given piece of land, in terms of the number of people it can support. There is a world of difference between industrial monoculture and circular integrated farming, it is the difference between the dominant linear input-output maximum entropy model and the zero-entropy sustainable model. The carrying capacity depends on how the land is organised for production. The Pearl River Delta sustained an average of 17 people per hectare in the 1980s, a carrying capacity at least ten times the average of industrial farming, and two to three times the world average. The thermodynamics of organisms and sustainable systems tells us not only why we must move away from the dominant environmental bubble economy, but especially how we can create a healthier, richer, more equitable and satisfying life without fossil fuels, and we should start right now. Acknowledgment I am very grateful to Mario and Loredana Pianesi of Un Punto Macrobiotico for inviting me to this conference and instigating this paper. Peter Saunders is used to having questions on mathematics fired at him at random. This time it was a direct hit, and the excitement has yet to subside. Ulanowicz, R.E. Identifying the structure of cycling in ecosystems. Mathematical Biosciences 65, 219-237, 1983. Denbigh K.G. The Thermodynamics of the Steady State, Mathuen & Co., Ltd., New York, 1951. The Institute of Science in Society For email enquiries please see our contact details MATERIAL ON THIS SITE MAY NOT BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT EXPLICIT PERMISSION. FOR PERMISSION, PLEASE CONTACT firstname.lastname@example.org ================================================================================ ===========================================