Washington’s Blog 
Sept 18, 2011
We’ll Have More Nuclear and Oil Catastrophes … Unless We Find Better Ways to Produce Energy
Unless we find ways to produce energy in a less catastrophe-prone manner.
Alternative forms of energy are getting close to becoming economical. (And if alternative energy got the same level of subsidies as fossil fuels, it would be competitive ).
Cut Energy Usage By Learning How The World Works
But what about cutting energy usage? Many people think that reducing energy means huddling in caves shivering.
But there may be many ways to dramatically reduce our energy usage while increasing our quality of life.
By carrying out our basic activities – growing food, treating disease, etc. – in ways which use less energy (and are healthier).
Giving Plants the Light They Like Increases Yield
For example, as I noted  last month:
Dutch company PlantLab has figured out  how to triple the yield of plants using only 10% of the water typically needed, using a method which doesn’t require any pesticides:
When grown outdoors plant photosynthesis is only about 9% efficient. With the correct balance of colored LED light, PlantLab has increased that efficiency to 12 or 15%, aiming for 18%. Double the efficiency means increased yield (or more likely equal yield with less energy). By keeping the plants in a contained system, PlantLab can also recycle evaporated water, which helps them grow crops using just one tenth the water as with traditional greenhouses. Because PlantLab’s harvest is indoors, they don’t have pests (and could quickly isolate rooms that somehow got contaminated) and they don’t need pesticides. Finally, PlantLab’s production facilities can be built almost anywhere: from the Sahara to the Artic, it’s all going to look the same indoors. So everyone’s food can be grown as local as possible. That means fresher food with less costs of transportation.
PlantLab’s Gertjan Meeuws recently discussed some of the other benefits and results of their work on Southern California public radio (KPCC). He claims they’re able to increase crop yield by a factor of three so far.
Ancient Technique Rediscovered
When archeologists stumbled upon an ancient pit  of “biochar” in the Amazon forest, they re-discovered another way to increase soil productivity and plant yield. Specifically, the Amazon soil is notoriously hard to grow crops in, because it dries into a hard mass of clay after trees are cut down.
But pre-Columbian natives burned food leftovers and plant materials, and then added that back into the soil. This greatly increases crop yield .
Because forest fires have replenished soil for millions of years, the use of biochar is just working with the way the things work in nature.
Working With the Universe … Instead of Fighting It
Recent research shows that virtually every food crop in the world has a symbiotic relation with fungi which makes it grow faster, builds resistance to disease, drought and toxics , and otherwise helps them be more efficient producers. The symbiotic fungi also help plants take up nutrients from the soil that plants can’t readily absorb.
Likewise, it is impossible to have healthy soil unless earthworms are present .
However, pesticides kill the fungi and earthworms, making the plants wimpy shadows of their former selves, susceptible to disease, drought and pollution, and rendering the soil sterile.
And – since pesticides kill the beneficial fungi and earthworms – it takes enormous quantities of artificial fertilizer, nutrients and other additives just to keep the plants alive.
So pesticides actually waste enormous amounts of energy.
Indeed, we don’t even need pesticides to kill most insects. We can kill them with fungi products which are safe for humans and cost less than a dollar .
By learning how the world works – and working with it, instead of fighting it – we can reduce our energy usage and live better lives.