Dickson Despommier On Food Security

Question: What risks are involved with growing food indoors?

Dickson Despommier: The only risk of raising food period, is that somehow you’ll lose it.  So if you design an urban landscape that included a single giant indoor farm, and something horrible happened to it like someone decided to
just blow it up well that’s tragic. You can’t have your whole food supply disappear all in one shot, however, it happens all the time. We call those hurricanes, tornadoes, droughts, floods, insect pests, bacterial diseases, viral diseases, food insecurity is the rule. Not food security. Remember it’s an ecosystem out there that we’ve disturbed and it’s getting even with us. It’s trying to get back to where it was. We did that to them. If we did that to them, then it’s like the little Dutch boy trying to hold back the flood by sticking his finger inside the dike, eventually the water will win. I can tell you right now. This little Dutch boy grew up and watched the whole damn
thing change back to the way it was because the Dutch realized the water table is rising. They’ve going to give the Zuiderzee back to the ocean. They don’t need these dikes any longer, right? There’s another country that wants to farm vertically. And in fact Holland and China have an agreement now to invent urban agriculture. I had the privilege of being at that meeting last year so I know that on the books now there are many, many, many groups working on this process, so what we need to do is combine forces into research institutes, based on these
prototype buildings for various crops to make sure that we know how to monitor for diseases. We treat our crops like we treat ourselves. We
care about what the temperature is inside. We care about our comfort zone. We know what their comfort zones are. We can’t control them
outdoors but we can certainly control them indoors, so why haven’t we done this? What’s missing? And I know what’s missing. The Courier and Ives prints and the adbills [ph?] and the traditional farmers. We think that’s natural but basically it’s only been around for about 15,000
years. That’s not very natural in terms of evolutionary process, so since we are evolving, let’s evolve to the next step. The next step is
take control over the things that you really need, and then diversify them. Once you’ve learned how to do it in a small scale, connect them
to restaurants, schools, hospitals, senior citizens. Diversify the whole thing so that no matter what would happen your food supply is
still safe. Now, there’s an Israeli designer for an apartment complex in which the gray water is separated from urine and feces. We can’t do
that here, but they’ve designed buildings now that you can do that for.  They take all the gray water and use it in hyrdoponic farming. Every
apartment has a hydroponic farm.

Question: Why can't we do that here?

Dickson Despommier: Oh, where shall I start? The reason why we can’t do it here is probably
archaic building codes, unions, business as usual, it will never work, and besides if it did, it will put me out of business. I mean there are
a whole lot of reasons why we haven’t done it. In fact I was at a meeting last year in Los Angeles talking to some very interested and I think committed-socially people at the Annenberg Foundation, and they brought their lawyers to listen to this idea too, and one of their lawyers said “We can’t use piss for fertilizer!” He actually said that.  I didn’t think of the answer at the time of course, but I did later and that is one of the ingredients in fertilizer is urea. Do you know what urea is? It’s crystallized piss. It’s as concentrated a piss as you could possibly imagine. I would have loved to have said that to this guy, but of course I couldn’t. One of the big issues in Los Angeles is the reuse of gray water. It’s against the law to use it. I said “Change
the law.” Guess what? They’re changing the law. Not because I said that, but because although I would have loved to have thought that was
true, they’re changing it because they have to. Okay, so when you start to have to conserve water at that level, that’s when our genomes kick
in and solve these problems. Well, how much more of a crisis do you need before vertical farming gets invented? And I’ll tell you in five
years from now if you invite me back, if we’re both still here, then the biggest idea will be hey, this actually happened.

Recorded on: 6/10/08

Dickson Despommier reassures us that vertical farming is ultimately safer than traditional farming.

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First off, let's be clear what we mean by "hear" here. (Here, here!)

Sound, as we know it, requires air. What our ears capture is actually oscillating waves of fluctuating air pressure. Cilia, fibers in our ears, respond to these fluctuations by firing off corresponding clusters of tones at different pitches to our brains. This is what we perceive as sound.

All of which is to say, sound requires air, and space is notoriously void of that. So, in terms of human-perceivable sound, it's silent out there. Nonetheless, there can be cyclical events in space — such as oscillating values in streams of captured data — that can be mapped to pitches, and thus made audible.


Image source: European Space Agency

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Into and out of Earth's shadow

In April, BepiColombo began its closest approach to Earth, ranging from 256,393 kilometers (159,315 miles) to 129,488 kilometers (80,460 miles) away. The audio above starts as BepiColombo begins to sneak into the Earth's shadow facing away from the sun.

The data was captured by BepiColombo's Italian Spring Accelerometer (ISA) instrument. Says Carmelo Magnafico of the ISA team, "When the spacecraft enters the shadow and the force of the Sun disappears, we can hear a slight vibration. The solar panels, previously flexed by the Sun, then find a new balance. Upon exiting the shadow, we can hear the effect again."

In addition to making for some cool sounds, the phenomenon allowed the ISA team to confirm just how sensitive their instrument is. "This is an extraordinary situation," says Carmelo. "Since we started the cruise, we have only been in direct sunshine, so we did not have the possibility to check effectively whether our instrument is measuring the variations of the force of the sunlight."

When the craft arrives at Mercury, the ISA will be tasked with studying the planets gravity.

Magentosphere melody

The second clip is derived from data captured by BepiColombo's MPO-MAG magnetometer, AKA MERMAG, as the craft traveled through Earth's magnetosphere, the area surrounding the planet that's determined by the its magnetic field.

BepiColombo eventually entered the hellish mangentosheath, the region battered by cosmic plasma from the sun before the craft passed into the relatively peaceful magentopause that marks the transition between the magnetosphere and Earth's own magnetic field.

MERMAG will map Mercury's magnetosphere, as well as the magnetic state of the planet's interior. As a secondary objective, it will assess the interaction of the solar wind, Mercury's magnetic field, and the planet, analyzing the dynamics of the magnetosphere and its interaction with Mercury.

Recording session over, BepiColombo is now slipping through space silently with its arrival at Mercury planned for 2025.

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