Sunday, August 26, 2007


Should we wait until all the US is this crowded?
Over Populated - Are We There Yet?

In the July, 2007, issue of Popular Science is an article entitled Skyscraper Farm about a plan to build skyscrapers to house highly automated hydroponic farms. A farm might be 30 stories tall and feed 50,000 people. Microbiologist Dickson Despommier of Columbia University suggests skyscraper farms as a solution to several problems.

Al Gore has suggested that we grow more trees in response to global warming. Since 40.5 percent of the earth is being used for agriculture, we could move agriculture to skyscrapers and use the land formerly planted in crops for trees.

With the world's population projected to grow from 6 billion to 9 billion, we will need to find additional land to grow food, land we need planted in trees to counter global warming. Skyscraper farms allow a lot of food to be grown on a small foot print of land.

In addition, these hydroponic farms could use and recycle waste water and sewage (after pretreatment) to not only grow the plants, but also to produce clean water by capturing the moisture that evaporates from the leaves. Clean water is another resource that is becoming more scarce. Presumably, skyscraper factories would use less water because water loss due to evaporation would be minimized.

This all sounds fine, except this solution (and problems it tries to solve) are in response to another problem. Over-population. Shouldn't we be talking about ways to minimize population growth and, maybe, over the long term, decreasing the worlds population to a level that is enviornmentlly and economically sustainable without such drastic solutions?

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Presidential Primary Reform

Once again states are jockeying to move their presidential primaries to the front of the line. You can't blame them. An early primary means money and political clout, but at the rate we are going we may end up with the first presidential primary occurring more than a year before the actual election.

It is time for common sense to intervene. I recommend the American Plan from FairVote. It seems to be the best of several I've heard about. They make the point that determining the nominee early hurts both parties

  • A short campaign does not fully vet nominees or issues.
  • Writing a check has become more important than casting a vote. Since 1980, 13 of the 14 presidential nominees--in both parties--were those who raised the most money by December 31 of the previous year.
  • There are 4 months of dead air until the national convention.
Their solution is to spread the process out over about 20 weeks and front load the process with smaller states to make it easier and cheaper for candidates to participate.

The American Plan:The Graduated Random Presidential Primary System, or The American Plan (sometimes known as the California Plan), is designed to begin with contests in small-population states, where candidates do not need tens of millions of dollars in order to compete. A wide field of presidential hopefuls will be competitive in the early going. A "minor candidate's" surprise successes in the early rounds, based more on the merit of the message than on massive amounts of money, will tend to attract money from larger numbers of small contributors for the campaign to spend in later rounds of primaries.

Thus there should be more longevity of candidacy, and more credible challengers to the "front-runners." However, as the campaign proceeds, the aggregate value of contested states becomes successively larger, requiring the expenditure of larger amounts of money in order to campaign effectively. A gradual weeding-out process occurs, as less-successful candidates drop out of the race.

The goal is for the process to produce a clear winner in the end, but only after all voices have had a chance to be heard.

While there are several proposals for reform, this one has a lot to recommend. Let us hope that the political parties and states come to their senses and decide on a national plan.