Monday, April 30, 2012


No, I'm not talking about breaking up with your significant other.

I'm talking about the 2011 Report from the International Resource Panel's Work Group on Decoupling.

This report details the linkage between the extraction of finite resources - fuel oils, ore and minerals, and other construction materials - and both the economics of certain nations, and the earth's environmental well-being.

There are basically two concepts here, "resource decoupling," and "impact decoupling."  Resource decouping means getting more efficiency from the resources we use, so that we can spread the use of our finite resources out over a longer time frame.  Impact decoupling means using processes that leave a smaller footprint on the ecosystem, so that our building and manufacturing do not harm the ecosystem.  We need a healthy ecosystem for our own survival.

Check this first chart for an illustration of this idea, which is really to help you get what they're saying, but isn't tied to the data.

This concept might have been defined first by the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, who advocated for “competitively priced goods and services that satisfy human needs and bring quality of life while progressively reducing environmental impacts of goods and resource intensity throughout the entire life cycle.”

The problem is... both our own desire to have more stuff, and the profitability for corporations in the extraction business create disincentives for decoupling.  Check this second chart.  It shows the exponential increase in extraction, and of the GDP.  Coincidence?  IRP doesn't think so.

I'll just give you one more interesting factoid before leaving you to read the report, which you can find by clicking this sentence.

As we've gone global, exporting a bunch of jobs from higher wage countries like the United States to lower wage countries like India, China, Turkey, and others, third world economies are starting to grow.  In some ways, this is good.  It means more resources in poor countries, and less hungry people.

In some ways, however, it's bad.  It means that more people in those third world countries are able to afford more of the consumer goods we've long enjoyed.  And that means more resources.   For example, China's use of copper, a metal used in everything from construction to technology to communications to medical equipment and supplies, has increased at a rate of 15 percent a year over the past several years - absorbing far more of both newly refined and recycled copper than either the European Union or the United States.

The report says that, for us to get to a balanced use of raw materials - an efficient use that preserves raw materials for future generations - we would need to bring the per capita metal use down to between 4 and 6 tons per person over the course of his or her life.  To put this in proportion, some developing countries, like India, are using about 5 tons per person right now, while Canada uses 25 tons per.

I know that some will argue with this amount, and frankly, I'm not endorsing their number - just reporting it.  Many moving parts impact how these numbers are built.  Extracting raw materials depends on many variables.  Three of the biggies:  Amount of resource both discovered and retrievable, business climate and technical feasibility.

Resource availability:  Despite all the money tossed at the problem of predicting and then locating resource, nobody is sure exactly how much extractible materials really exist.  And, finding it doesn't guarantee accessibility.  Ore depth can impede extraction, both because in some cases the technology doesn't (yet) exist, and in other cases, the ore quality (grade) is low, and extracting it is either difficult or not financially feasible.

Business climate:  Productivity is driven by demand, which in turn is impacted by the economy.  In a good economy, there will be more demand for product.  In a bad economy, people will demand less - and be willing to pay less.

Technical feasibility:  In some cases, improvements in technology can reduce the price of extraction, and make it feasible to extract and refine more raw material.  But in other situations, the high cost of advanced technology can make the technology relatively useless, particularly in an economy like the one we're currently in.

So, given that disclaimer, the important point is not the exact amount.  What if it's somewhere between Canada's 25 tons and India's 5 tons - let's say 15 tons instead of the dire 4 to 6 tons called for in the report?  If all the third world countries with rising economies increase their usage to 15 tons per capita, we'll be out of extractible resources before we know it.  And I haven't even touched on the increasing damage to the ecosystem of exponentially increasing use.

There's another interesting danger that comes with the hyper-fast increase of resource exploitation, one that principally impacts the countries who are at first benefiting from the mining and sale of these resources.  This danger is called Dutch Disease.  Dutch Disease is a concept coined by the  Economist Magazine in 1977 to explain the relationship between a country's increased revenues from natural resource exploitation and the decline in that country's manufacturing sector.  A natural resources revenue increase will make a nation's currency comparatively stronger than other nations' currencies,  As a result, the nation's other exports become more expensive, and its manufacturing sector less competitive.  Pop goes their economy!

Frankly, I was not aware of these linkages.  We need to support our governments' efforts to decouple, but we also need to realize that the extraction industries see this idea as a negative.  They would feel they have a lot to lose by decoupling - they have put a lot of money and resources into planning for the future of extraction (sunk costs), and they will have pressure (and fiduciary obligations) to create as much profitability as fast as they can.  And there are entire communities relying on the extraction industry for their livelihoods and well-being.  It would be great if we could hold extraction at current levels, and take a longer range perspective.  There are advantages to spinning extraction out across many generations... but this will not be an easy problem to solve.

I know that most people who read this blog are already concerned with the environment, and the few of my friends who believe that environmentalists are over-blowing the problem will poo poo this anyway, if they bother to read it all the way through.  But maybe you don't know that much about the way minerals impact the ecosystem, or the well-being of humanity.  This report is a really good way introduction, in lay language.

It's worth the read.

Friends Without Carbs!

The other night, I invited a small crew of old friends to dinner.  By old, I mean some of us have known each other for going on 30 years.  The first guest I will mention we will call Mr. Linchpin, because I planned the dinner for and around him.  I met Mr. Linchpin in Young Democrats back when I was 24 years old.

The second and third guests are husband and wife.  The husband just happens to be pals with Mr. Linchpin.  I met him at 25, when his mom was scheming to undo his relationship with a shiksa.  She invited me to Passover seder hoping (unbeknownst to me) I'd interest him enough to throw over his then-girlfriend.  The ruse was a quick flop, because it turned out that I already knew his girlfriend.  That girlfriend became his wife, and she is guest number three.

The fourth old friend I've known probably since I was about 30, because she and I were both assisting the same nonprofit organization.  I was their lobbyist.  She provided pro bono legal advice.  And funny enough, by that time, the Mr. Linchpin happened to be the president of the organization's board and guest number three was an employee there.  It all makes you want to break out into Disney's "It's a small, small world."  

Fortunately, we didn't spend too much time fa-de-la'ing down memory lane.  The come-lately's at the dinner, Mr. Linchpin's lovely wife, my own boyfriend and a dear friend I met about two years ago who also just happens to know the Linchpins, were quite tolerant of the short little forays occasionally made.

Oh, gee.  I almost forgot to mention why I planned a party for the Linchpins.  They bought themselves a new 3G iPad for the holidays, and bequeathed their still-perfectly-working 2G iPad to me.  They decided I needed to enter the iGeneration.  I decided I needed to feed them.  How else to properly thank them?

Wow, sometimes I get way off track.  The original purpose of this blog was to share a recipe for low carb cupcakes - no processed sugar or flour at all - that were delicious.  The Linchpins are vegetarian and Mr. Linchpin is on a low carb diet.

Of course, so am I.  These days, if you pick your diet by reading everything out there, you'll be on one low carb diet or another.

Normally, I'd have simply made a carb-free sorbet in my awesome Cuisinart ice cream maker, but my freezer tub stopped freezing, and the replacement I purchased on, despite looking identical, is apparently for a larger model.

As it happens, it's a lucky thing the ice cream maker is down, because I settled on these cupcakes, and they were delicious.  What a far cry from the dry, Passover matzah meal dessert I was afraid they'd be!  To be safe, I drizzled them with low carb (but, I'm afraid, decidedly not low fat) lemon ricotta drizzle and garnished them with strawberry slices.  Yum.

It was all very comforting, to be hanging out, enjoying a meal and laughing hard with really good friends.

Vanilla Almond Flour Cake
3 eggs, separated
¼ c oil
½ c honey*
1 tbsp vanilla extract
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 ½ c almond flour
½ tsp salt
½ tsp baking soda

*Sub out the honey for estevia and add 1/2 cup of other liquid.  I used unsweetened almond milk.

Preheat oven to 350.  Line 10 muffin tins.  Whisk egg yolks in large bowl till pale.  Whisk in oil, honey, vanilla & lemon juice.  Combine the dry ingredients into the yolk mixture.  In separate bowl, beat egg whites until siff peaks.  Fold whites into yolk mixture.  Scoop batter into muffin tins.  Bake 20-30 minutes until golden brown, toothpick comes out clean.  Let cool for half an hour.

Lemon Ricotta Drizzle
1 1/2 cups fresh, whole milk ricotta
2 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
1/2 cup heavy cream

I worried that the lemon juice might curdle ricotta or cream, but in the interest of time and because I've never had an adequately developed aversion to risk, I put all the liquids together into a blender, including the eggs.  Then I creamed the cheeses together, and added them and the rest of the stuff very slowly.   It all worked beautifully and then I put it in the fridge and it firmed up enough to spoon over the muffins.  If you prefer the mixture firm up into custard, follow the directions below and reduce the lemon juice to just one teaspoon.  Frankly, I like the more lemony flavor better, but it won't firm to custard with that much liquid.  Maybe you could use the lemon juice in lieu of the heavy cream.  With the two cheeses, how rich does it have to be, really?  

Alternative recipe for custard:  Beat the ricotta and cream cheese together on low speed with the paddle attachment of a stand mixer until smooth and creamy. Beat in the sugar, vanilla, lemon zest and salt and when it is incorporated add the eggs. Mix on low speed until smooth and mix in the cream.  Refrigerate until it firms up.

As usual, I got both of these recipes from cooking blogs and monkeyed with them so they're no longer the same recipes.  You can find the original almond meal cake recipe by clicking here, and you can find the lemon custard recipe by clicking here.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Which Salmon is the Healthiest for You?

When considering Salmon at a restaurant, I always ask the server whether the salmon is wild or farmed.  Farmed salmon have much higher levels of carcinogenic pesticides, specifically polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and two other compounds, dieldrin and toxaphene) than wild caught.  This article by George Mateljan does a great job of laying out the case for avoiding farmed salmon.  I urge you to take a moment to read it.

Funny enough, the salmon in this picture, which I snagged from George Mateljan's wonderful website, World's Healthiest Foods, looks farmed.  One way to tell is the nearly perfect square shape of the fish, which means it has been cut into shape in processing.  I've never seen this preparation for wild caught salmon.