Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Can a Newly Discovered Fungus really solve our Plastic Waste Problem?

 Image Collage by Genesis: Go Ahead... Make My Lunch.

A team of students from Yale University have discovered a fungus which apparently enjoys snacking on polyurethane, one of the most commonly used plastics. Led by Scott Strobel, a molecular biochemist at Yale, the students found the fungus in the Amazon in Ecuador on their annual Rainforest Expedition and Laboratory

Experiments by a team of researchers found that the fungus, Pestalotiopsis microspore, can thrive on eating plastic in an anaerobic environment—like that which you find at the bottom of landfills.

Image Collage by Genesis: P. microspora under microscope.

This is a significant development, because the implications for a number of reasons, beginning with the global problem which plastic has become.

‘Houston, we have some plastic.’

We all know that plastic is a bit of an Achilles heel of modern civilization…and that may be a bit of an understatement. Sure, plastic is light, flexible, inexpensive, convenient, easy to work with and oh-so-disposable. Aye, there’s the rub.

We all like to believe that most plastic is recycled. Apart from the horrendous amounts of energy which is spent collecting, processing and then re-purposing that plastic, it’s a pretty good idea, too.  Except it’s nowhere near reality.

According to a study published in Science, plastic pollution is growing, particularly in underdeveloped coastal countries. 

Chart: Plastic Pollution is Growing, Credit: Jambeck et al, Science, 2015

This, of course, contributes to the notorious plastic flotilla in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (also known as the Great Pacific garbage patch), not to mention the plastic debris littering the shorelines of all major bodies of water around the world. 

Image: Great Pacific garbage patch 

Here’s some more interesting tid-bits about plastic which you may not be aware of…

Inforgaphic: The Truth about Plastic 

Biology to the Rescue?

So clearly something has to be done about plastic, right? The Yale scientists certainly seem to think so. In fact, they’re not the first to suggest a biological approach to solving the plastic waste problem, particularly in the Pacific.

Be it mushrooms from the Amazon rainforest or genetically engineered E. coli bacteria, scientists are scouring the natural world (and their very unnatural laboratories) searching for ‘silver-bullet’ organisms to clean up our mess.

Does anyone else see any inherent danger in this approach? Have these scientists forgotten the lessons learned from cane toads in Australia, killer bees in North America, and every other attempt to introduce a foreign species into a new environment?

Of course not, because materialist scientists don’t seem to learn from experience.  Their arrogance and hubris makes them believe more in their theories than in proven reality, believing in the technocratic dogma of the incessant march of progress which promises them (and the world): ‘this time will be different.’

Materialist Science: Playing with forces it cannot comprehend…nor control.

In July of last year, PeapodLife took on the question of GMO Foods in its blog by pointing out the dangers of introducing new species into the environment. Read the article and watch a related video on the introduction of foreign species here.

Despite what the scientists will tell you, they are in no way, shape or form ‘in control’ of the ‘technology’ they are purporting to wield, here. Anyone who’s seen Jurassic Park can tell you that!

Image Collage by PeapodLife: Jurassic Park Genetic Power, Nature & Science montage

So, are we saying giant mushrooms are going to devour New York City or Tokyo?

Image collage by Genesis Eco Fund: Rampaging Gumba, NYC.

No, of course not. We just couldn’t resist the image.

What we are saying is that nature is governed by chaos, and there is positive chaos, the chaos observable in evolutionary fractals—defined to a large part by the Fibonacci sequence—for example, the pattern of petals in a blooming flower or branches of a growing tree. But then there’s also the negative chaos of a devolving fractal: water as it’s being flushed down the toilet.

Rainforest Keeps on Giving; Humans Keep on Taking

Having said all that, that’s not even the greatest problem with this story about the plastic-eating mushroom. As always, it’s a story of exploitation. Here’s thing in nature, let’s see how we, the human race, can exploit it to the maximum of our abilities.

You would think that when we find such organisms that there would be a sudden and universal outcry: “Hey! Maybe there are other as-yet-undiscovered organisms that can solve other major problems we face!” But sadly no, rainforest devastation and resource extraction continues globally at an unprecedented pace.

Image collage by Genesis Eco Fund: Rainforest devastation: cutting; burning.

And the discovery of new species with ‘practical applications’ like our friend Pestalotiopsis microspora, doesn’t help precisely because it, too, is just another example of humanity’s culture of exploitation. Not harmony, not mutual symbiosis, but the same old ‘we’re at the top of the food chain so the world is ours to command, control, use and abuse as we see fit’ mentality which is responsible for how we’ve completely mismanaged and ruined the biosphere.

Be a REAL human being. Get an ecosystem and develop a harmonious and mutually symbiotic relationship with it. Allow the knowledge which comes from that experience to inform all your actions, inquiries, decisions, and goals.

Take Responsibility. Reduce your plastic consumption.

10 Tips to Reducing your Plastic Use

1.    Use reusable bags, not plastic or paper.
2.    Drop the bottled water.
3.    Don’t use single-use plastic packaging (buy in bulk when you can).
4.    Leave the sandwich bags on the shelf and use reusable sandwich boxes instead.
5.    Go the classy route and use silverware, not plastic-ware.
6.    Let the ’90s go — go digital… no more CDs, plastic CD cases, and so on.
7.    Use a refillable dispenser for your soap and cleaning supplies.
8.    Use a nice “to-go” mug instead of cups made of plastic or styrofoam (don’t even want to go into that issue).
9.    Try to buy products that don’t contain hard-to-recycle plastics (when you need to buy something, that is).
10.    Better yet, find products not made of plastic at all (again, when you absolutely have to buy something).
Source: http://greenlivingideas.com/2011/08/01/plastic-world-infographic/

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Ecosystems & Mining:
Natural Answer to Oxygen & Air Quality?

Collage by GenesisEcoFund: Could  Ecosystems Be the Answer to Oxygen & Air Quality in Mining?

Mining companies pump countless billions of cubic metres of air every year deep underground, and spend billions of dollars every year on liquid oxygen, oxygen masks, and oxygen extraction and condensing machinery.

When we began looking at the topic of oxygen, air quality and mining, we approached it primarily from the perspective of human health and safety—workers need clean air to breathe. It turns out that oxygen is an essential element in the ore extraction process—especially gold—aiding in the separation of the desired ore from the surrounding material.

So the short answer to the question, could ecosystems have some role to play in producing fresh oxygen and cleaning the air in deep mines is: we’re not sure; it really depends. On what? Many factors.

For starters, we cannot even begin to look at a pilot study with the mining industry without some kind of quantifiable figures: how much O2 is produced per X sq ft. of ecosystem? This is just a reality of trying to apply an ecosystem to an industry which is all about efficiency and exploitation (let’s face it: there is no other way to describe extraction of precious minerals from the earth).

Mining as an activity is fundamentally concerned with outputs. It has no concept of inputs—few resource extraction industries do, with the exception of some leaders in forestry which have learned the economic benefits of sustainable forestry practices (planting trees to replace the ones which were cut down). 

A mining operation will want to know how big an ecosystem they need (or how many individual ecosystem “modules”) for how many cubic feet of mine shaft per person? But here again: the mining industry is going to be about “what’s the maximum oxygen I can get for the minimum amount of ecosystem?” They will look at an ecosystem not as a superorganism, a living thing, something of intrinsic value, but as a cog in their machine—the big mining machine in this case—just as they do not consider the rock and ore they are mining as anything other than a resource to be extracted and profited from.

It’s not an attack. It’s not even a criticism. It’s just an honest and objective look at an industry which may be fundamentally incompatible with the essence of what ecosystems are all about.  Any industry/use which only cares about what the ecosystem outputs are, and not what they themselves need to input, has no grasp of harmony and mutual symbiosis.

So what about air quality? Could all the dust and soot in a mining operation offer an ecosystem a veritable treasure-trove of minerals and nutrients? Surely they could be considered an input.

Sadly, an overabundance of nutrients in a high order rainforest ecosystem results in an abundance of algae growth. In other words, considering how much dust and soot we’re talking about in the typical mining operation, it would take an impossibly large ecosystem to process all the contaminants in the air.  As a matter of fact, it would be very difficult to keep such particulates out of any ecosystem placed in that environment.

It definitely would make for a very interesting pilot study—to see if ecosystem technology could be utilized by the mining industry in a cost-effective way. Such a pilot project would require a significant amount of funding, a mining company to partner with, and participation by an academic institution.

Genesis is certainly not opposed to looking into the matter further. Despite what the initial indications are, we are not mining experts; we may be missing some key piece of the puzzle. We will definitely take some time digging deeper into this matter in the future.

Stay tuned, but don’t hold your breath.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

More than just Cooperative:
Ecosystems are key to a Better World

Infographics by GenesisEcoFund: More than Cooperative Co-ops:
If Cooperation is the cornerstone to a better society, ecosystems are the foundation to a better humanity

The idea of co-operatives is not new, just as the concept of co-operation is as old as humanity itself. But is co-operation all we need to overcome the challenges facing humanity in the 21st Century?

Co-operation is a very human concept. It suggests not only an agreement, but a conscious choice: a decision to co-operate versus some other alternative (i.e. compete). This then not only makes it an aspect of higher-order thinking, it ends up in the mental frameworks of cost-benefit analysis, etc.

It turns out there is something even more fundamental, more primal and far more instinctive than cooperation. And as always, it is found at the heart of nature, ecological relationships and at the heart of every ecosystem.

Harmony and mutual symbiosis is the foundation and framework of all nature. Competition exists at multiple levels within this broader, superior framework, but since competition serves the whole in the big picture, it too then is an aspect of harmony and mutual symbiosis.

What is good for one organism is ALWAYS beneficial to the ecosystem as a whole. Unless that organism happens to be a human.

Human beings are the only species who do not comprehend this fundamental law of nature: that any action taken in the microcosm will be reflected in the macrocosm. Thus, any behaviour by any particular organism must be aligned with the goal of the macro ecological goal, or it must be discarded.

Now clearly, since harmony and mutually symbiotic relationships are everywhere in nature, right down to single-celled organisms, such harmony is spontaneous, instinctive, inherent…individual organisms do not exactly have a say in the matter.

The fact that human beings do have a say in the matter is precisely what is to blame for civilizations’ dismal track record of abhorrent environmental stewardship…or better put, our complete inability to respect and maintain a harmonious and mutually symbiotic relationship with the planet.

This, despite the fact that most humans comprehend the importance of cooperation. So what’s going on?

How is it that human beings have such a dismal relationship with the macro environment, despite having such a firm grasp of co-operation, particularly in our personal and professional relationships? 

The answer comes back to the fact that co-operation is a limited human concept with a limited reach. Nature doesn’t function on cooperation, it functions on that more primal, instinctive, foundational thing…harmony and mutual symbiosis. 

Humanity’s compulsion to cooperate with fellow humans when need be and exploit everything and everyone else has led to the total lack of comprehension of what harmony and mutual symbiosis actually is.

So here we have organizations called “Co-operatives” or “CO-Ops” who like to think of themselves as superior to typical for-profit enterprise. What gives them that sense of superiority—a kind of moral superiority, as it were—is precisely the fact that their actions in the world are more likely to be beneficial to individuals, community and society by virtue that their cornerstone is co-operation. 

But sadly, when it comes to SUSTAINABILITY, co-ops are just as hamstrung as all other corporations and organizations…running around trying to apply this human-engineered system or that human-derived solution to problems which are INFINITELY MORE COMPLEX and FAR BEYOND THE REACH of human conceptions.

Even a Co-op, though theoretically positioned to do what is best for society, has no special advantage when it comes to sustainability, because nature cannot rely on its cornerstone of co-operation. Nature must function on something deeper, more foundational and infinitely more powerful than mere cooperation. Nature must have harmony and mutual symbiosis.

And now co-ops can have it too.

If co-operation is the foundation for a better society, then imagine what can be achieved with ecosystems? Imagine what happens when organizational culture is based on harmony and mutual symbiosis?

Just as the concept of co-operation leads to the co-op culture, stronger communities, and a better society; so too, ecosystems will lead to a culture of harmony and mutual symbiosis, true sustainability, and a better humanity—able to maintain harmonic and mutually symbiotic relationships with ecology and the planet.  

As in the microcosm, so will it be in the macrocosm. Developing a harmonious and mutually symbiotic relationship with nature within the walls and halls of your organization, is what will inspire harmonious, symbiotic and bio-mimetic behaviours, innovations and solutions that truly work.

Take your co-op to the next level. That's what we mean by more cooperative co-ops. 

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Infant Allergies linked to Air Pollution
What can You Do to Protect Your Children?

Image by Genesis EcoFund: Shielding Infants from Air Pollution Could Help Prevent Allergies
"Allergic diseases constitute one of the most prevalent childhood illnesses. Several population studies have reported increased risks of developing allergy in relation to ambient air pollution exposure. However, there are only few studies on specific sensitization following children over longer time periods, with detailed assessment of exposure to air pollution.”
~ AAAAI American Academy of Allergy Asthma & Immunology; January 2012
Landmark Canadian study surveyed 2,700 Children; Shows risk of Infant Exposure

We can add another study to the growing body of evidence that air pollution increases the chance of allergies and asthma in children. This new Canadian study is the first to link pollution and allergies to food, mould, pets and pests in infants.
"This study started by recruiting pregnant mothers in 2008. That continued until about 2012," Brauer told CBC News.

"The idea is to follow moms during pregnancy and the kids as they age, to look at the development of allergy and asthma in quite a detailed way."

"Those kids that had higher exposure to air pollution during their first year of life were at an increased risk of developing sensitivities and allergies," Brauer said.
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/infant-allergies-linked-to-air-pollution-by-new-canadian-study-1.3060312
The study did not find a link between neo-natal exposure to pollution and allergies in children.

You can read the complete study by clicking the image/link below:

Image: Environmental Health Perspectives Infant Allergens Study

Of interest, was the finding that sensitivity rates appeared highest in Vancouver.

Image by Genesis EcoFund: Percentage of Children who develop sensitivity to Allergens, by City

Brauer told the CBC that the higher rates in Vancouver were not linked to air pollution but other factors, including the general affluence of the population in Vancouver.
"We know that populations that tend to be wealthier tend to have higher rates of allergies. Allergy is something that we seem to link to more affluent lifestyles, globally. So there may be something going on there," said Brauer.

"Of course there's other things: the vegetation, food, lifestyles — other factors that may differ between Vancouver and the other cities."
Source: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/infant-allergies-linked-to-air-pollution-by-new-canadian-study-1.3060312
General Effects of Air Pollution

Air pollution causes a range of respiratory symptoms, including
  • coughing,
  • throat irritation,
  • chest tightness,
  • wheezing,
  • shortness of breath
Higher air pollution levels have also been associated with a higher incidence of heart problems, including heart attacks, and toxic air pollutants can increase the risk of developing cancer. The following poster/pdf provides more information:

So What Can be Done?

Interestingly, the study found that several factors seemed to lower the risk of developing sensitivity to allergies, including:
  • A cat or dog in their house.
  • No attached garage on the house.
  • Eating dairy products, eggs, nuts or grains during the first year of life.
  • Attending daycare.
  • Having older siblings in the house.
The researchers also evaluated the use/type of the home’s ventilation system; with exposure to traffic-related air pollution assessed by measuring nitrogen dioxide levels at each child’s home address.

There seems to be an interesting connection between exposure to natural elements versus industrial ones. That is, exposure to pet hair, dander, etc. as well as other children or another sibling seemed to reduce sensitivity to allergens.

If we consider the ability of an indoor ecosystem to break down synthetic compounds and VOC’s, it seems like a natural extension to any preventative program to reduce allergies. Ecosystems  not only clean the air of pollution which many home ventilation  systems cannot filter, they also produce freshly oxygenated air, as well as ionized water vapour which acts like a magnet attracting airborne particles.

Genesis Eco Fund looks forward to the day when there is a critical mass of ecosystems in homes across Canada so similar studies can compare the effects of ecosystems on the development of sensitivities to allergies in children.