Monday, October 4, 2010

Re: Incinerators - my statement to the MA DEP (Dept. of Environmental Protection)

The DEP recently held a series of hearings to obtain public comment on their "zero-waste" plan. Members of the local group Massachusetts Coalition for Clean Air mobilized community members to attend and deliver statements, with particular attention being given to the part of the plan that provides for trash, including construction and demolition debris, to be incinerated at plants across the state. (Also, see this post from Toxics Action Center on the hearing) This is what I had to say...

My name is marty driggs. I'm a Community Mobilization Leader with the New Bedford POWER project - People Organizing for Wealth and Ecological Restoration. We are local New Bedford residents who are dedicated to helping our fellow community members restore the equity, economy, and ecology of our area and our Nation.

Let me start by saying, combustion of any kind is a foolish band-aid of a non-solution. We have no way to capture the carbon dioxide that will inevitably be dumped into our common atmosphere. What about greenhouse gases?! We are in a state of climate emergency! Carbon dioxide levels are higher than they've been in the past 900,000 years! Leading NASA scientist, James Hansen told us in a peer-reviewed journal in January 2008 that [in order to preserve a planet similar to that on which civilization developed and to which life on Earth is adapted we must maintain atmospheric carbon dioxide below 350 ppm.] We are currently at 392 ppm. So clearly, any proposed solution that includes combustion is not only a false solution, but a big problem.

Further, the introduction of plasma gasification into the mix of proposed solutions for our waste problems provides a cracked door for Dirty old King Coal to insert his dirty foot. Plasma gasification of trash is just one step away from coal plasma gasification, bringing with it the dirty Death Cycle of coal; mountaintop removal coal mining and other forms of strip mining which are sacrificing communities and ecosystems across Southern Appalachia and many areas of the global South.

Now, if I may expand our level of perception just a bit: As a world, as a species, we've found ourselves in quite a sticky situation. Our habits, and most significantly, our economic model, has systematically destabilized and dismantled the very life support systems of our planet which allow us to live here in the first place.

I would like to offer my vision, or rather my prediction for the future: If, in 10 years, there is even a global economy to speak of, we will have eliminated the very idea of waste. Like Julia Butterfly Hill says, "There is no away." Further, the concept of "waste" is purely a human construct. In Nature, there is no such thing as waste. "Waste" is simply a resource out of place (and I'm not talking about a resource for combustion).

If we are going to rely on market forces, that is, if capitalism has any hope of evolving from a life-destroying construct to one which honors and enriches our lives, then we have to talk about extending producer responsibilities. The DEP master plan makes mention of "extended producer responsibilities" but lacks any teeth and is clearly not a priority. If we are going to have the kind of systemic change we need in order to avoid GLOBAL SUICIDE, we must make this a legislative priority. We must internalize the true cost of products (including recycling). We have to create market incentives to eliminate the production of toxins and make products more easily recycleable.

Massachusetts has the opportunity to lead the way in this effort, and we should cooperate with other states to codify the law to create cradle-to-cradle production and UPcycling streams. We have the opportunity to transform this economy from one dependent upon ever increasing amounts of energy, dependent upon high consumption and throughput, and implicitly, high waste, to one which is life-honoring and sustainable. Finally, we have the timely opportunity to create good, green jobs for the people of the commonwealth.

In conclusion, we need a more holistic perspective if we're going to solve this problem. We must address the root causes of our global conundrum. As Einstein put it, "the solution will not be created by the same frame of mind which created the problem in the first place."

To bring it back to tangible demands. We need stronger legislative provisions, with sharper teeth, and less loopholes, which serve the people and NOT the corporate interests and their predatory agendas. We must create an economy that is not only waste-free, but free of the very idea of "waste."

Mycoremediation - The Power of Mushrooms

A little paper I wrote for my Permaculture Design Course back in 2007.

"Mycoremediation" is a new term for a process that has been occuring
for millions of years, and is now being proposed, by some, as a
powerful tool for the remediation of soil and water contaminated by
man-made toxic pollutants. The most visible public presentation of
the idea comes from mushroom guru Paul Stamets, in his 2005 book,
Mycelium Running. I decided to see if this "new" idea was yet being
applied, and if not, why. I was also interested in finding out where
research was happening, as I might be looking for a graduate school
program in the near future. What follows is a brief summary of some
highlights from my research findings, which included a broad overview
of mycoremediation. A large list of leads on research groups and
firms were amassed and are at some degree of organization at this
Fungi, as decomposers, have the ability to digest plant-based
molecules. A wide range of man-made compounds are synthesized from
oil, a substance produced by ancient plant material. Some of the most
dangerous toxins; PCB's, Dioxins neurotoxins and even TNT, to name a
few, apparently resemble natural plant molecules enough to be digested
by fungi present in the soil. The wood-digesting house-wreckers known
as brown and white rot, together with the oyster mushroom and A. niger
are seemingly the most popular candidates for use in mycoremediation.
Stamets stresses the idea that the best place to look for powerful
remediating fungi is at site of contamination. Mycologists and other
field researchers have, in fact, isolated a large number of species
capable of breaking down contaminants.
After reading Mycelium Running, one gets the impression that this
field of remediation is a rising science, about to break through to
popular application. However, it appears that Paul Stamets remains to
be the most vocal proponent of mycoremediation, at least in the public
realm. In his book, he even proposes one major hurdle to widespread
application: many of the techniques of mycoremediation are subject to
patent protection. Stamets, himself, holds several patents. Since
most contaminated sites are polluted by many several contaminants, its
easy to inadvertently step on toes.
Although there appears to be no formal graduate programs in
mycoremediation, there are a great many research groups within the
academic realm, studying the degradative powers of fungi. They
publish in journals like "International Biodeterioration and
Biodegradation", "Bioremediation Journal," and "Applied
Microbiological Biotechnology." Much of this work is in the
laboratory, using single contaminants in control conditions. However,
a search for recent articles with keywords "soil bioremediation"
returned almost 200 articles in the last year. Many reviews of the
literature close with remarks to the effect of "this promising field
lacks outdoor trials" or "the fate of pollutants in the ecosystem is
According to a book "Biotechnology for the environment: Soil
remediation," bioreactors are already being used at an industrial
scale in Germany to clean soil contaminated with PAHs (persistent
aromatic hydrocarbons). The book outlines several bioprocess
techniques, most relying on the indigenous fungal community of the
soil, and gives the impression of demonstrated viability of industrial
application of some types of mycoremediation.
As a matter of coincidence: during my trip to the Bay area in
California, a recent oil spill in San Francisco was being cleaned up
using oyster mushrooms. Not surprisingly, Paul Stamets was the one
supplying the innoculant and consultation on this project, for the
non-profit organization, matter of trust. Activists trespassed on the
restricted site of the oil spill in order to absorb the slicks with
mats of human hair, which are now being digested by oyster mushrooms.
There seems to be a general consensus that mycromediation is
promising tool for future regeneration of ecological systems. It is a
noteworthy consideration for students of the regenerative science of
permaculture. It will be interesting to see how the field develops.
Fortunately, the patents are only good for 17 years.
The research for this project was conducted mostly using the internet
and the library resources at my alma mater, Worcester Polytechnic
Institute. Using interlibrary loan, I ordered Mycelium Running and
several other books found through internet searches for books on
"mycoremediation" or "bioremediation." One particularly helpful
research tool is Google scholar, which searches academic books and
papers. Science Direct was another useful tool to find recent papers.


S. Agathos and W. Reineke, eds. (2002) Biotechnology for the
Environment: Soil Remediation
-offers a look at industrial application of bioreactors and bioremediation
Harbhajan Singh (2006) Mycoremediation: Fungal Bioremediation
-an encyclopedia of research on the degradative powers of fungi, heavy
on science
Paul Stamets (2005) Mycelium Running: How Mushrooms Can Help Save the World
-well-known and inspiring book on the power of mushrooms