Pretty much what I’ve been saying in the last few blog posts. The only other thing I proposed, is to actually use the money to store the carbon somewhere other than the atmosphere.

Hopefully they’ll come up with a map of different types of land (arable, forest, desert, etc.) as they further along their research.

Solving Global Warming… with Startups?

So, here’s one suggestion on how to solve global warming using existing tech. First, the facts: each ton of CO2 causes $21 of economic damage. This means that:

  • A tax of $0.21 per gallon on fossil-fuels will be enough to pay for the amount of CO2 produced. This would raise the price of e.g. gasoline by 6% (at $3.50/gallon).
  • A tax of $0.022 per kWh of coal-produced electricity will be enough to pay for the amount of CO2 produced. This would raise the price of coal-powered electricity by 22% (at $0.10/kWh).
  • By taxing the two items above, well over 90% of CO2 emissions are covered. The revenue from this tax could be applied to solve global warming.

From further research, I found the cost of one ton of CO2 emitted can be as high as $124, depending on estimates. Also, the social cost of coal is approximately $0.21/kWh. So with an average true cost of $0.31/kWh of coal-produced electricity (about half in US), how fast does solar pay for itself, I wonder? Probably less than two years in most places, but that’s another blog post…

From an entrepreneur’s point of view, however, the higher tax just sweetens the deal, assuming governments are willing to pay at least a part of that money to startups that sequester CO2.

So here are several proposed business models for just such a startup:

  • Buy non-arable land for really cheap, and hire people to convert that land to forests using permaculture techniques; something similar is done by a non-profit mentioned in the previous post. Part of the plant mass can be harvested for things like food and medicine; material for houses, furniture, clothes, and even plastic; and the forests can become tourism destinations, as well as other uses. By measuring the growth cycles of plants, one could maintain an optimum rate of sequestration by cutting down trees once their growth rate slows down and plant new trees in their stead.
  • Buy land as mentioned above, and use sustainable techniques to turn the barren land into savannas using cows.
  • Use decommissioned C-130 military planes to plant 0.9 million trees per day by dropping them as tree bombs. To plant all the trees needed, it would take 12,000 plane-years: 2500 planes tree-bombing for 5 years (the number of planes given in the article), or 12,000 planes bombing for the duration of one year.

In fact, one could combine all the above techniques: Use the planes as a first pass to plant trees in a certain patterns, then hire people to maintain the forest and herd cattle, thus turning non-arable land into a marble-cake of forests and savannas.

But, you might say, does it scale? What if we decided to sequester all our carbon that we as humans produce? There are a total of 33 billion non-arable acres in the world (excluding Antarctica) [1]. The current forest covers at least 8 billion acres. If we can grow forests on another 9 billion acres (or less than 1/3 of non-arable land), we can remove all the CO2 that is being produced.

So, we have the space, we have the means to get this done quickly, and we have the funds (as a tax on things that cause almost all of the CO2 emissions). What am I missing?

[1] I had a really hard time finding this number, so I eyeballed this map and took a conservative estimate of 35% arable land, or 65% non-arable land. The above number does not count Antarctica.

An armchair engineer’s plan to solve global warming

Recently, I needed something to distract me from work that needed to be done. So I calculated how many trees each person would need to plant to offset our carbon emissions. For the whole world, the average is ~200 trees. For the American, it comes out to ~1200 trees per person (per lifetime of the tree, which can be roughly compared to a human lifetime). Currently, one can have trees planted for a cost of ~$5/tree if ordering more than 100 trees. So for a lifetime cost of $6000, an American can have all of his or her carbon offset.

Now, I realize it’s more complicated than that. For one, where would you plant these trees? Then I realized it’s not a problem. You can selectively cut down existing trees and plant new ones in their stead. The cut down trees can be used for anything you want, as long as you don’t convert their carbon into CO2 by e.g. burning them: use them to make houses, furniture, etc; or even bury them to sequester carbon and gradually become soil within a decade or so (a practice known as hugelkultur).

So after writing this, I visited wikipedia’s entry on tree planting, and it turns out it’s even cheaper: “As little as US$90 will plant 900 trees, enough to annually remove as much carbon dioxide as is annually generated by the fossil-fuel usage of an average United States resident.” However, the trees should be planted in the tropics to mitigate climate change.

Now, which organisation will shut up and take my $360 to offset my family’s carbon emissions?

EDIT: This one will, for the same rate as mentioned above. Also, see more discussion at Hacker News.

Saw this video in a couple of articles…

Another startup solving the food problem… artificial lights is the wrong way to go, in my opinion. Anyways, kudos to them!

What is AutoMicroFarm?

AutoMicroFarm is like solar panels, but for your food.

What if you could grow 90% of the food essentials that your family needs—vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, and beans—in an area the size of a two-car garage? What if that food kept you healthy and skinny? What if the time to maintain it took no more than going to the farmer’s market each week? What if the ongoing cost for this was 90% less than groceries cost you now? What if it paid for itself within two years? That is the project I am working on, called AutoMicroFarm.

Please see my other blog posts tagged AutoMicroFarm for more details.

TED talk on aquaponics

Wow… this guy presents a vision very closely aligned with what I had imagined. The other two resources that I had in mind are:

  • Beekeeping: have an embedded wall unit that houses a beehive (think window AC), enabling them to fly both outside and inside the greenhouse to pollinate the plants, and provide honey.
  • Freshwater clams/mollusks to further also filter the water and provide food very rich in vitamin B12.

Starting the AutoMicroFarm MVP

Thanks to my wife’s support, I’ve decided to start the AutoMicroFarm MVP in the late summer/early fall.

To do so, I’ll buy the  following for less than $500, hopefully:

  • greenhouse on craigslist
  • materials for an aquaponics setup
  • garduino, arduarium

The biggest hurdle to making this work is the yield per square foot, in my opinion. If I can achieve at least 10 lbs yield per square foot annually, then a 400 ft^2 greenhouse could provide 90% of the food for a family of four (coincidentally, my family’s size).

I am thinking of doing a kickstarter fundraiser for this, but I don’t know if this is too early… perhaps for phase II, when the >10 lb/ft^2 annual yield is proven?

New recipe: Fried Celery and Other Vegetables

I threw a few random chopped-up vegetables into the skillet and it came out pretty delicious, so I’m recording it here to try and repeat it again at a future date:


  • 2 tablespoons rice (or other) vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 2 stalks of celery
  • 1/4 bell pepper
  • 5 Portobello mushrooms
  • dash of ground pepper or other seasonings


Heat a skillet on medium-high using the vinegar and oil. Chop the onion, garlic, and celery and caramelize (heat until translucent), then  turn to medium. Chop the rest of the vegetables and continue heating for 10 minutes.


Further experimentation: try adding beans to the mix.

AutoMicroFarm Minimum Viable Product

I am thinking the MVP for the AutoMicroFarm would be between 4 and 24 square feet of growing space; this would require between 30 and 180 gallons for the fish tank.

I have two options in mind for the MVP:

  1. Take it indoors; this adds light requirements [1]. In essence, it become an aquaponics kit such as this one, but with lights.
    1. Advantages: don’t need to worry about heating/cooling; becomes a showcase/conversation starter; can be situated very near or in the kitchen.
    2. Disadvantages: ideally want LED lights, which are at this point very expensive.
  2. Set it up in a greenhouse.
    1. Advantages: don’t need to worry about lighting, so initial costs are appreciably lower.
    2. Disadvantages: need to heat in the winter, perhaps cool in the summer.

Right now, I am leaning towards the greenhouse, since it will involve a smaller up-front cost and LED grow lights will (or at least should, in theory) come down in price, hopefully soon. Please share any experience or advice you may have about this.

[1] Research on LED growing lights: if there is no additional light source, the energy required is 5.84 kWh/lb, assuming lights on 12 hours a day and 15 lb/ft^2 annual yield.

3½ months into the ETL Diet

Yesterday marked 3½ months since I’ve started the ETL diet. I’ve lost exactly 40 pounds during this period.

Unfortunately, I’ve fallen a bit off the wagon in the last few weeks with the season’s holidays and accompanying food. I’ve only lost 1.5 pounds during that time, instead of the 3-4 I was hoping/planning to lose. Overall, I am very pleased with my progress, losing 8 during December vs. the planned 10 pounds.

I plan on posting our favorite ETL recipes over the next few weeks/months.

Tags: ETL diet

Phase I of the ETL diet completed: 24 pounds lost in six weeks

Today marks the completion of the six-week Phase I of the ETL diet. I lost a total of 24 pounds and about 4” in waist size in these six weeks.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised, and on some level, underwhelmed by how quickly my life became normal with the new diet. Aside from a period of initial adjustment I blogged about here, I can’t really point out any one thing that changed for me. Probably the biggest challenge was figuring out what to eat when visiting people. The best thing I came up with is making sure to eat a big snack or a mini-meal before visiting, and picking out only the legal food once at guests.

Now I am embarking on Phase II of the diet, which will hopefully last the rest of my life. It’s just like phase I, except I will add 12oz of animal and dairy products weekly into my diet.

Special thanks goes out to my lovely wife Anna. It wouldn’t have been possible without your support!

Tags: ETL diet

My Top Idea Refined: A Greenhouse in a (Half)-Shipping Container

I’ve been continuing to think about how to implement the automated microfarm idea I first blogged about here. What has spurred me to think this idea is feasible is the Eat to Live diet that I have been following for five weeks now (to great results, with more to report soon.) According to the diet, an adult optimally needs 2lbs of vegetables daily, 1 lb of fruit, 0.3  lbs beans/legumes, and 0.1-0.2 lbs of nuts for a total of about 3.5 lbs of plant-based food daily. (Twelve ounces of animal or dairy products are also allowed weekly, but not required as long as certain conditions are met.)

I recently came up with the idea to take a standard shipping container, slice it in half, and use the two halves as greenhouses:

Here are some features I had in mind:

  • The open side of the container would be covered in several layers of plastic, and made to face south.
  • The whole container would be insulated to PassivHous standards to minimize/eliminate heating during the colder months.
  • Plant waste could be burned to provide additional CO2 to the growing plants, and heat to the greenhouse.
  • The greenhouse would be an aquaponics system to provide both plant-based food and fish.

Since beans and nuts can be stored for relatively long periods of time in room temperature, those can be grown conventionally (not in the greenhouse). That leaves 3 lbs/person/day to be grown in the greenhouse to supply 100% of the fruit and vegetable requirements. With a 20ft shipping container, this requirement is met if the greenhouse can annually produce 7 lbs/square foot to feed one person, or 14lbs/square foot to feed a couple. A permaculture greenhouse has reported yields of 12-16 lbs/square foot annually.

There are somewhat similar ideas out there (1, 2, 3), but none of them aim to provide 100% of a person’s or family’s food.

Please post any thoughts or ideas that you may have in the comments below.

Week One of the ETL diet: I lost 7 pounds in 7 days.

So I read the book “Eat to Live” a few weeks ago and knew I had to go on this diet (or rather, lifestyle change). I finally started the diet last Monday. After a week, I lost seven pounds. Here are my observations:

The Good

  • I lost seven pounds!
  • I did not feel hungry, except some days about an hour before lunch or dinner.
  • I feel light even when I am full.

The Bad

  • I have this low-level mental fog that started the second day, got worse, than improved two days ago. However, it has not disappeared entirely. I was planning to self-medicate by going to one cup of coffee, but I will give it one more week.
  • I did not feel well in general the first few days. However, I think this had to do with a head cold that I came down with in the second half of the week.

The Ugly

  • No ugly! Sweet!


It’s too early to make any conclusions. More blog posts to come on this topic…

Tags: ETL diet