Archive for January, 2010


Nurture Capitalism: Putting the Brakes on Fast Money

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

Woody Tasch has a radical idea: what if we started taking our money and investing our values rather than chasing Wall Street’s bubbles? What if you decided to invest your money in a mutual fund of small, local, organic farmers, rather than sit back while it goes up a smokestack in China?

For many, it’s a radical idea. But it’s exactly what Tasch’s Slow Money Alliance and others are proposing as an antidote to Wall Street’s house-of-cards-style investment shenanigans that nearly sank the US economy.

From GOOD.is / The Slow Issue:

Money—not the paper stuff in your wallet, but the bits of data that whip around the world in billions of instantaneous transactions each day—moves too fast. So argues Edward “Woody” Tasch, a venture capitalist with a seemingly anticapitalistic ambition: to put the brakes on our money, bring it closer to home, and elevate sustainability over profits and growth.

For Tasch, it’s a goal more than 20 years in the making. In 1989, he founded one of the nation’s first venture capital funds with a conscience, but it failed to attract the $25 million in investment for which he had aimed. Later came Investors’ Circle, a network of about 150 venture capitalists, angel investors, and foundations that launched in 1992; as chairman, Tasch orchestrated the distribution of more than $130 million to hundreds of sustainable business start-ups.

All this was a mere prelude for Tasch, who resigned from Investors’ Circle a year ago to head the Slow Money Alliance, a nonprofit that hopes to do for capitalism what the Slow Food movement has done for food and agriculture. Over the next several years, he aims to raise between $50 million and $100 million in seed capital from individuals and foundations for a series of venture funds around the country, which will in turn finance thousands of sustainable local farming businesses.

“What we have to do is very simple,” says Tasch. “We have to take some of our money and invest it close to home in local food systems.”

A few years ago, with the stock market soaring, and hedge funds minting new fortunes overnight, such a proposition might have drawn snickers from the investing class—just another loopy idea from the hippie fringe.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Shedding Light on the Secretive Peer Review Process at the NAS

Saturday, January 16th, 2010

When scientists play politics with important scientific papers, suppressing, delaying, or killing them not because of bad science, but because of a perceived breach in established protocol, that doesn’t exactly advance the cause of science, nor is it in the best interests of the general public. Fortunately, Professor Lynn Margulis helped expose some of these secretive submission practices by the National Academy of Sciences.

From counterpunch:

Does a science peer review system based on secret submission policies benefit the American public who fund science? A review by this author of correspondence between the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America – the print weekly and online daily research journal (paid subscription) of the National Academy of Sciences – and the authors of several recent scientific papers, most eventually published by PNAS, reveals a nasty back story about submission procedures that in some cases work against the best interests of the public as well as sound science.

The uproar had to do with three papers submitted to PNAS several months ago by NAS member Lynn Margulis, a recipient of the US Presidential Medal for Science. One of them, “Destruction of spirochete Borrelia burgdorferi round-body propagules (RBs) by the antibiotic Tigecycline“, the authors say involves an excellent candidate antibiotic for possible cure of the tick-borne chronic spirochete infection Lyme Disease in the US, recognized as “erythema migrans” in Europe and elsewhere. However, the paper was held up because PNAS said it had issues about the way Margulis chose her reviewers on the first (unrelated) paper she presented, that is, Donald Williamson’s “Caterpillars evolved from onychophorans by hybridogenesis”. As a result, all three papers were stuck. The last of the three, also on spirochetes, which Margulis says was properly and favorably reviewed, has not yet been approved for publication as this story goes to press.

Margulis is one of 2,100 US members of the NAS. She does not receive government funding and has further distinguished herself by refusing to take DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Project Agency) money. Margulis admits she is viewed by some within the NAS as “contentious” but says she “only wants to see that real science, open to those who want to participate, is well done, discussed critically without secrecy and properly communicated”.</p

Read the whole article here.

 

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Save the Planet—Eat More Beef

Friday, January 15th, 2010

Methane emissions from cattle account for more greenhouse gases in the atmosphere than transportation. The obvious conclusion to draw here is that, if you’re really concerned with emissions and climate change, you should cut all beef out of your diet. Just cut it right out.

Well… yes and no.

From Time magazine:

So how can Coleman and Damrosch believe that adding livestock to their farm will help the planet? Cattleman Ridge Shinn has the answer. On a wintry Saturday at his farm in Hardwick, Mass., he is out in his pastures encouraging a herd of plump Devon cows to move to a grassy new paddock. Over the course of a year, his 100 cattle will rotate across 175 acres four or five times. “Conventional cattle raising is like mining,” he says. “It’s unsustainable, because you’re just taking without putting anything back. But when you rotate cattle on grass, you change the equation. You put back more than you take.”

It works like this: grass is a perennial. Rotate cattle and other ruminants across pastures full of it, and the animals’ grazing will cut the blades — which spurs new growth — while their trampling helps work manure and other decaying organic matter into the soil, turning it into rich humus. The plant’s roots also help maintain soil health by retaining water and microbes. And healthy soil keeps carbon dioxide underground and out of the atmosphere.

Compare that with the estimated 99% of U.S. beef cattle that live out their last months on feedlots, where they are stuffed with corn and soybeans. In the past few decades, the growth of these concentrated animal-feeding operations has resulted in millions of acres of grassland being abandoned or converted — along with vast swaths of forest — into profitable cropland for livestock feed. “Much of the carbon footprint of beef comes from growing grain to feed the animals, which requires fossil-fuel-based fertilizers, pesticides, transportation,” says Michael Pollan, author of The Omnivore’s Dilemma. “Grass-fed beef has a much lighter carbon footprint.” Indeed, although grass-fed cattle may produce more methane than conventional ones (high-fiber plants are harder to digest than cereals, as anyone who has felt the gastric effects of eating broccoli or cabbage can attest), their net emissions are lower because they help the soil sequester carbon.

Read the whole article here.

 

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The Easy Way to Beat Plant Diseases in Your Veggie Garden

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

By R. J. Ruppenthal

From the Community Blogs

It’s time to order your garden seeds for the upcoming season, if you have not already done so. When ordering seed, one of my major considerations is the disease resistance of particular varieties. At a recent book talk, one audience member was surprised when I admitted that I do not buy my seeds from the local nursery’s seed rack: why would I bother to mail-order them, he wondered, when the local nursery has seeds? Selection, selection, selection… I would prefer to choose from 20 varieties of cucumbers rather than one, 500 varieties of tomatoes rather than five, and so on. And it’s not just my taste buds, but disease resistance, that drives my purchasing decisions.

Here’s an illustration. Powdery mildew or downy mildew can be a problem for some gardeners. It can greatly reduce the productivity, if not essentially kill, certain veggie plants. Good soil management, aeration, and water control can help alleviate mildew in your garden, but may not eliminate it. The climate in my area offers plenty of moist, summertime fog (we call it liquid sunshine). Squash get hit the worst here, followed by other members of their curcurbit family, and sometime peas and even leafy vegetables will get the powdery white patches on their leaves.

You can try any and every legal means of alleviating this, but the easiest way to eliminate powdery mildew and similar plagues is to plant resistant varieties. The good news is that more and more resistant varieties are available every year. Take winter squash, for example. Cornell University and the University of New Hampshire have been leaders in developing mildew-resistant varieties, and more and more of these are appearing in seed catalogs and on seed companies’ websites. Johnny’s Selected Seeds in Maine has worked particularly hard to develop and promote mildew-resistant squash.

Whether it’s squash, or peas, or lettuce, or something else in your garden that is succumbing, try visiting some seed companies’ websites. I recommend Johnny’s, Territorial Seed Company, and Park Seed as three which have worked hard to add some mildew-resistant varieties. Johnny’s has lots of resistant squash, Territorial has a great selection of mildew-resistant peas (many via nearby Oregon State University), and Park Seed always offers seeds for plants that can handle the warmth and humidity of southern gardens. Each of these websites has a search box (as do most other seed companies’ sites), and you can just type in “mildew” or “fusarium” or whatever ails you, and then see what comes up.

These diseases can be a real plague and we are fortunate to have a way out. No, the resistant varieties are not likely to be heirlooms, but they are not GMO and often they are available as certified organic seed. Planting hybrid seed is not a crime against nature; it simply means you should not save your own seed for the next generation, because it may not grow plants with the same characteristics next year. Growing hybrids means you need to keep buying seed every year, but when you compare this few dollars with the cost of buying all the food that you should be growing, you’ll see that it makes sense. You don’t need to be an heirloom hero, though for veggies that you have no disease troubles with, saving your own seeds is wonderful and I recommend it.

I hope that some of you who have suffered from plant diseases finally can grow a decent vegetable garden and get yields that you have only dreamed of before. Happy growing!

Softball at the Financial Crisis Inquiry Hearings

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

One thing we learned on day one of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Hearings: the heads of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America may not be good at managing risk or avoiding crashes, but they are good at dodging questions and sidestepping responsibility. Les Leopold has been following and blogging about the hearings. Here’s his first report.

From the Huffington Post:

The heads of Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, Morgan Stanley, and Bank of America came to testify and said… just about nothing.

Yes, they made mistakes. But gee, they had learned a great deal and they certainly didn’t cause the crash. They promised they are managing risk better, even though they claimed always to have done so. Also, they insist they are not too big too fail and they are reforming compensation so we shouldn’t worry about their sky-high compensation packages.

After these predictable pronouncements, Phil Angelides — the former Democratic California State Treasurer and Chairman of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission (FCIC) — came out swinging at Lloyd Blankfein, CEO of Goldman Sachs. But he ended up shadow-boxing.

Angelides threw his best punches at Goldman Sachs concerning reports that it provided toxic assets to customers while it was betting against them. “It sounds to me a little bit like selling a car with faulty brakes and then buying an insurance policy on the buyer of those cars,” said Angelides.

Blankfein easily parried the punches by explaining that that’s what market makers are supposed to do. He then diverted the conversation into technical language that few of the public can understand. Meanwhile, the big questions weren’t asked.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Does Culinary School Matter?

Thursday, January 14th, 2010

As a sporadically-working cartoonist, I often wonder whether those tens of thousands of dollars for art college were really worth it. Was there another way? Could I have made my own curriculum, carved out my own path?

So it’s nice to know I’m not the only one asking these questions. The economy is rocky, and more people are beginning to question the way we’ve always done things. Is it better to follow the well-traveled road, racking up debt you’ll be paying off for the better part of your life, or are there alternatives?

From the Atlantic (h/t Ezra Klein):

So it’s worth considering, especially in these lean times, whether it’s worth spending tens of thousands of dollars on culinary school. Unlike lawyers or doctors, chefs require no accreditation. And while an ace law, business, or medical school grad can quickly earn six-figure salaries, a culinary school graduate is lucky to make 15 bucks an hour working the line.

“Every time I write that $400 check to pay back my loans, I kick myself,” says Marco Saurez, executive chef at Bon Savor in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston. As a teenager he worked at a deli, and later at a catering company. One day, his boss took him for a visit to the CIA’s idyllic campus in Hyde Park, which overlooks the Hudson River. “I fell in love,” Suarez says. He enrolled in the 38-month Bachelor of Professional Studies Program, which includes long externships in outside restaurants. “It was really at the externships that I learned the most, and now I wonder why I didn’t just take a $25,000 loan and use that to survive while working my way up in a kitchen.” Today, tuition, room, and board for the full bachelor’s program cost more than $100,000.

Degree in hand — Suarez graduated in 2001 — he left for Colorado to cook and ski, and the CIA credentials got him his first job. “But when I went back to Boston, the degree didn’t mean anything,” he says. At one interview, the owner asked him why he wanted the job, and Suarez mentioned his CIA training. “He stopped me right there. ‘Why should I care about that?’ he asked me.” Recently, Suarez has been thinking about removing his CIA degree from his resume. And when he hires cooks for his own kitchen, he pays scant attention to their formal culinary schooling.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Lessons from Avatar and the Myth of Independent Organisms

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

By Keith Farnish

Once you have explored the range of scales from sub-microscopic (Viruses) to the largest living things on Earth (Trees) the temptation is to look in a bit more detail and wonder if you have missed anything really critical. Quite frankly, I could have written books and books about this stuff, and included such wonders as yeasts, ants, mosses and springtails which not only are vital to the makeup of the global ecosystem but which I would love to learn more about. Nevertheless, I had to stop somewhere, and so recommend Richard Dawkins’ peerless book “The Ancestor’s Tale” if you have a craving for discovering more about the interconnectedness of life.

Something was clearly missing at the end of Part One, though, which was to do with some of the biggest questions scientists face: what else is there? Followers of Gaia Theory, and other (often indigenous) approaches to life will be quick to point out that there is no such thing as an independent organism. As I pointed out in Chapter 2, we are mostly made up of organisms that are not, strictly speaking, part of us; but take such organisms away, like the bacteria in our guts, and we don’t function anything like as effectively as we do with them in place. Then you have to consider the question of whether a forest is just a lot of trees (or an ant colony is just a lot of ants), or if it is a self-sustaining organism in itself. Anyone who has recently watched the movie “Avatar” and not been emotionally involved in the symbiotic relationship demonstrated by the forest people and the environmental they are part of will probably take the “just a lot of trees” option. That is, essentially, the option the faceless bodies that run Industrial Civilization would also prefer we take; after all, as demonstrated in the movie, if you can divide people from their landbase they are far weaker than they would be if they were to consider themselves part of a larger whole.

Despite the complex and often fragile nature of our relationships with other organisms, some humans want to rewrite life and break the evolutionary monotony they see as being a barrier to ‘progress’. Individual genes occupy a space beneath even that of the diminutive virus. What is so special about genes is not that they are life itself, but they allow life to happen. They are the magical molecular ingredients that define what an organism will become: its physical appearance; its thoughts; its potential as a survivor. Modifying them – moving genes from one organism to another – is like a complete, and possibly malevolent, stranger swapping an ingredient in your favourite cake recipe for something you would never expect to find in cake. The cake may taste better, but it may also poison you.

That, taken from Chapter 7, sums up my thoughts on Genetic Modification in a few short words. Books and articles abound going into the biology, the politics, the ethics and the commerce of genetic modification, but really it comes down to one thing: do you feel comfortable with the idea of humans putting the genes from one organism into another organism, regardless of the motivation?

Occupying a similar spatial scale, Synthetic Life may not grab as many headlines as GMOs, but its potential as a contentious technology — and, like John Zerzan, I do believe that there is no such thing as neutral technology — is massive. Create life from scratch, or reassemble genes to your exacting specifications in order to achieve some, almost certainly, commercial goal. What’s not to be worried about? So very small, and yet so very fundamental — playing with DNA is not something anyone should be doing lightly.

At the distant other end of the scale lies the aforementioned swarms, hives, colonies, forests and global ecosystems and then we whizz, in the style of Microcosmos, towards the stars…and we can’t even leave them alone:

On July 4, 2005 the space probe Deep Impact completed its mission successfully. Launched in January 2005 the spacecraft containing the sacrificial probe made a beeline for the comet Tempel 1, describing a curved trajectory, which placed it in the path of the comet orbiting the sun between Mars and Earth. On approach the larger ‘fly-by’ craft released Deep Impact, which plunged into the surface of Tempel 1, causing “a brilliant and rapid release of dust that momentarily saturated the cameras onboard the [larger] spacecraft.”9 The impact crater was the size of a house, and the strength of the collision was sufficient to allow the deeper layers of the comet to be released into space for analysis by the fly-by craft. The mission was hailed a tremendous success by NASA, and widely recognized as a great achievement in the annals of space exploration.

What right do we have to affect a stellar object in this way? Which celestial judge issued humanity with the warrant by which we would be allowed to take chunks out of unearthly bodies? And how can we know that there was no life form on this comet – a life form we could not have detected prior to impact, and certainly not one that we have the moral right to kill. Humans have barely unlocked the first set of gates on the path to discovering all that the Earth has to offer; yet ‘civilized’ humans are now taking the devil-may-care attitude that has damaged so much, to the stars, into a place where the ideas of sustainability and balance lose their comfortable meaning.

Indigenous humans look to the stars and gaze in awe, wondering what might be out there, creating myths about what they can never know fully, and because they manage to retain a sense of humility, live in such away that can last into the distant future.

Civilized humans look to the stars and gaze hungrily, wondering what might be out there for them, decrying myth in favour of demanding to know absolutely and without limits. Because civilization does not have any humility, the future is now terribly uncertain.



Keith Farnish is the author of “Time’s Up! An Uncivilized Solution to a Global Crisis”, which is published by Chelsea Green in North America, and Green Books in the UK. He is also the founder of The Earth Blog and The Unsuitablog. He lives in Essex, UK, with his wife, two children and a much-loved garden.

WATCH AND READ: Les Leopold Live Blogs the Financial Crisis Hearings

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

The titans of Wall Street, those masters of the universe who nearly wrecked the US economy, are testifying before the House this week. I expect they’ll get a stern talking-to.

Les Leopold is live blogging the hearings at OurFuture.org

In its second panel, the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, heard from Kyle Bass, of Hayman Financail Advisors, who read a statement that had some real dynamite it. I don’t know this guy, but it’s pretty clear no PR flack scripted him.

He took direct aim at the fiction that top traders at troubled institutions like AIG must receive top compensation or we will lose the vital “talent” needed to unwind the complicated bets that were made. Those traders at AIG placed more than $450 billion in bets on toxic securities. The traders, of course, made these bets because of the enormous fees and bonuses they received.

But why should we continue to pay these traders, given their disastrous track records and the fact that the taxpayer is bailing out AIG to the tune of more than $150 billion? Unfortunately, the Obama administration is going along with the idea that these traders need to receive large compensation packages because if they leave AIG, it will hurt the taxpayers’ investment.

But Bass demolished that argument by saying flat out that he knew of hundreds of unemployed derivative brokers who would gladly to do the job for $100,000 a year instead of for millions. The trading emperors have no clothes.

Read the whole article here.

 

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Let’s Toss Geithner and Take Our Money Back

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

By Les Leopold

“An arm of the Federal Reserve, then led by now-Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, told bailed-out insurance giant AIG to withhold key details from the public about overpayments that put billions of extra tax dollars in the coffers of major Wall Street firms, most notably Goldman Sachs.” Huffington Post

Cover-up revelations keep coming about Timothy Geithner’s secret assistance to AIG. The latest show that he urged AIG not to disclose how it would be shoveling money to Goldman Sachs and other large financial institutions by paying off its credit default swaps at par value instead of much less.

More than $60 billion changed hands that shouldn’t have if Geithner had played hard ball. Therefore, the charge is that Geithner should be bounced because he was protecting the banks’ interests ahead of the public interest. He may also have been protecting himself during his confirmation hearings.

Ok, string him up. But what about recapturing the loot?

Before we pull the rope, let’s take a closer look at this outrageous scam. During the bubble years, AIG conducted an extremely lucrative business guaranteeing all kinds of derivatives based on risky debt. They couldn’t call it insurance because insurance products are regulated — meaning you need to have reserves to back them up, which they didn’t. So these toxic assets insurance polices instead got the fancy name “credit default swaps,” which were not and still are not regulated. (Take a bow Phil Gramm, Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton and Alan Greenspan.)

This was the mother of all profit making businesses for AIG because in many of these deals AIG didn’t have to put up any collateral as long as AIG was AAA-rated. The counter-parties (i.e. Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase…) figured AIG was good for it. So AIG raked in fees for insuring toxic assets and didn’t have to put up anything in return. Free money!

AIG figured the best hedge and the most money could be made by insuring more and more of this risky stuff. This was thought to disperse the risk broadly since all of the junk debt couldn’t possibly fail at the same time, could it? They “insured” over $450 billion worth. (For the sordid details and comic relief, please see The Looting of America )

Then, the unthinkable happened. The assets tanked and AIG had to pay up on its policies, but couldn’t. It was about to fold. Had AIG gone under it may have pulled with it hundreds of other financial institutions around the world that were relying on its insurance. The government stepped in to bail them all out. (AIG now spreads the fiction that this was just one rogue operation over in England in an otherwise safe and sound empire. But the big boys at the top of AIG all knew the credit default swap operation was a delectable source of enormous profits and shared in the booty… and they’re not giving back any of the ill-gotten gains.)

We can argue some other time about whether or not some kind of bailout was necessary or what we should have gotten in return. The point here is that big fat financial houses like Goldman Sachs would have received pennies on the dollar for their AIG-backed credit default swaps had AIG gone into bankruptcy court. Instead, Goldman and others received par value and that money is now funding their mammoth profits and bonuses. (Spewing more corporate fiction, Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan Chase say they had been carefully hedged and would not have suffered from an AIG bankruptcy. Baloney. If AIG had gone under without a Federal rescue, those big banks would have gone down too or teetered on the edge.)

Here is precisely where free-market capitalism metastasizes into the billionaire bailout society. Goldman Sachs believed they had adequately covered $12.9 billion of its toxic assets by purchasing insurance from AIG. In fact, they believed those toxic assets plus the insurance made them as good as gold and part of their capital base.

In effect Goldman had placed two kinds of bets. First they bet on the toxic assets which were extremely lucrative, but risky. Then they bet that AIG could successfully insure them against losses on that first bet. They lost both bets. Too bad. That’s capitalism….or used to be.

For losing their bet with AIG, Goldman Sachs should have only received about 20 cents on a dollar in a bankruptcy court. Instead, we bailed out AIG to prevent bankruptcy and Geithner et al pressured AIG to give Goldman Sachs 100 cents on the dollar. As a result, Goldman Sachs suffered no negative consequences at all from betting and losing. That’s not capitalism. That’s our new billionaire bailout society, where we, the taxpayers, pay off the bad bets. And the super-wealthy get more wealthy even when they lose their bets.

Think about it. Goldman Sachs alone got $12.9 billion – found money. Ka-Ching–right into its bonus pool. (OK, let’s be fair. In bankruptcy they may have received $2.58 billion so the net windfall was $10.32 billion, which is about what it would cost to hire 172,000 teachers for one year.)

By all means, let’s fire Geithner, and Summers too while we’re at it. But if we really want to see some semblance of justice, we should slap a 90 percent windfall profits tax on all Wall Street firms. No matter how you cut it, they’re all on welfare and their profits stem directly from our largesse. (Even those banks that have paid back TARP are, right this very minute, at the federal trough sucking up trillions of dollars of federal liquidity programs and asset guarantees.)

If the surging Tea Party really believed in its anti-bailout rhetoric, they’d be screaming for a windfall profits tax. But instead they so hate government and taxes that they’d rather let the biggest bankers in the world take our money and laugh all the way to the bank….in the Cayman Islands.

Les Leopold is the author of The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance destroyed our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity, and What We Can Do About It, Chelsea Green Publishing, June 2009.

This article was originally published on the Huffington Post.

Not the Last Straw: Straw Bale Homes Come Back in a Big Way

Wednesday, January 13th, 2010

They’re incredibly energy-efficient, fire-resistant, quiet, and have a cozy, organic feel to them. They’re straw bale homes, and though building them fell out of fashion in the 1920s, they’re making a comeback.

One of the most appealing aspects of a straw bale home is that the bales themselves are made of a naturally occurring recycled material. Straw is the waste by-product of crops like rice, wheat, and barley. Rather than burning them and releasing CO2 into the atmosphere, straw bale builders are capturing and using the material.

From Mother Nature Network:

After carpenter ants literally ate Philip Higgs’ studio in Boulder, Colo., he decided to rebuild anew — only this time, with straw.

“I wanted to build something that was going to be efficient and use passive solar techniques so that it wouldn’t use a lot of energy,” says Higgs.

Higgs is hardly alone.

Straw has been used as an insulating material for many centuries, and many bale homes built in the 1800s still exist in the U.S. and Europe today. Though building with straw fell out of favor with consumers around the 1920s, straw bale buildings’ popularity has surged in the past 20 years.

The buildings are especially popular in drier areas such as California, Arizona and Mexico. They also can be built in more humid regions, with the proper precautions.

According to straw bale experts, the material is as pest-resistant and waterproof as wood framing. And, contrary to popular belief, straw bales are actually quite fire-resistant due to the tightness of the bales, which keeps out oxygen, a necessary component for fire.

One reason that straw bale buildings are incredibly energy efficient is because of their thick walls and tightly packed bales. One industry Web site claims that a typical straw bale wall is roughly three times as energy efficient as a conventional wall.

Building with straw bales also finds a use for what would otherwise be a waste material. Straw is the inedible stalk from crops like rice, wheat, barley and rye. Because the material doesn’t decompose quickly, farmers can’t simply plow the straw back into the ground, so instead they typically burn it, creating blackened skies and releasing large amounts of carbon dioxide.

Read the whole article here.

 


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