Will, Baby, Will: Why Energy Problems Need New Thinking, Not New Oil Wells

Providing adequate and sustainable sources of energy isn't a geophysical problem of finding supplies or a technological challenge of using sun, wind or gas more efficiently. It's a psychological problem: How to get people to think differently and behave differently. That, I think, is the lesson of this paper, published last month in the journal Environmental Science and Technology: Some 2 percent of American energy use in a year goes to make food that no one eats, it reports. Eliminating that waste would yield more energy than the country gets from all its offshore oil and gas wells, current and projected.


Given that about a quarter of food produced in the United States goes to waste, write Amanda D. Cuéllar and Michael E. Webber of the University of Texas at Austin, they were able to estimate how much energy annually is "embedded in wasted food." It's a lot: More than 2000 trillion BTUs every year.

Addressing food waste would have other benefits, as Rachel Cernansky points out: The average American family loses $600 a year on food it doesn't consume. Then, too, the Natural Resources Defense Council has reported that cutting food waste would also help lower greenhouse gas emissions without in any way reducing anyone's quality of life.

Recapturing that lost power, Cuéllar and Webber note, won't be a matter of getting everyone to order fewer fries and clean their plates. It will require a "retooling of the food supply chain to ensure that the energy consumed during food production does in fact decrease with a decrease in food waste." That will take a lot of work. But the first step, obviously, is to stop focussing on supply and think seriously about all we have to gain by reducing demand.

Cuéllar, A., & Webber, M. (2010). Wasted Food, Wasted Energy: The Embedded Energy in Food Waste in the United States Environmental Science & Technology DOI: 10.1021/es100310d

'Upstreamism': Your zip code affects your health as much as genetics

Upstreamism advocate Rishi Manchanda calls us to understand health not as a "personal responsibility" but a "common good."

Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Upstreamism tasks health care professionals to combat unhealthy social and cultural influences that exist outside — or upstream — of medical facilities.
  • Patients from low-income neighborhoods are most at risk of negative health impacts.
  • Thankfully, health care professionals are not alone. Upstreamism is increasingly part of our cultural consciousness.
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Banned books: 10 of the most-challenged books in America

America isn't immune to attempts to remove books from libraries and schools, here are ten frequent targets and why you ought to go check them out.

Nazis burn books on a huge bonfire of 'anti-German' literature in the Opernplatz, Berlin. (Photo by Keystone/Getty Images)
Culture & Religion
  • Even in America, books are frequently challenged and removed from schools and public libraries.
  • Every year, the American Library Association puts on Banned Books Week to draw attention to this fact.
  • Some of the books they include on their list of most frequently challenged are some of the greatest, most beloved, and entertaining books there are.
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