The word sustainability is derived from the word Sustain which can mean to “maintain", "support", or "endure”. For quite some time now sustainability has been used more in the sense of human sustainability on planet Earth with a very commonly quoted definition being “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” When we talk about sustainability we are not talking about reinventing the wheel, we are talking about improving and advancing our technology and developments so that our collective effects on earth are less, allowing humanity to continue to survive along with the other living things on earth. Being sustainable is about limiting your impact by using less energy, using every resource you need smarter and more efficiently, and preferably using and recycling resources that are in close proximity. Bioenergy has the potential to be a very helpful sustainable technology.
Given how short human lives are, it’s hard to comprehend what life might be like in 200 years, but that is what sustainability demands. The city of Las Vegas has one of the most advanced water systems in the world. ~94 percent of the water that hits a drain anywhere in the Las Vegas metro area is recycled, cleaned to just-below drinking water standards, and returned to Lake Mead, the reservoir from which Las Vegas draws virtually all its drinking water. 94% was world class when this statistic came out and apparently it is even higher these days. At the country scale, Israel is the leading example and as of 2010, Israel leads the world in the proportion of water it recycles. As a country Israel recycles 80% of its wastewater, and 100% of the wastewater from the Tel Aviv metropolitan area is treated and reused as irrigation water for agriculture and public works. The cost of reclaimed water exceeds that of potable water in many regions of the world, where a fresh water supply is plentiful. As fresh water supplies become limited from distribution costs, increased population demands, or climate change reducing sources, it is expected that demand for this kind of water will continue to rise. Another interesting development is solar energy in Germany, a country without much gas, uranium deposits, and ironically sunny days. Germany is well known for cloudy days and long winters and yet in 2014 a record 50% of its power generation was solar and 90% of this solar power is from rooftop panels. They do not have a perfect system, but that level of solar power makes them far less reliant on power coming from other countries that is subject to geopolitical and weather related issues. The overall point here is that sustainable technologies are a lot more than just a way to reduce greenhouse gases, in many cases they are just a smarter way of doing business as more and more people continue to fight over fewer and fewer resources that due to climate change are getting harder and harder to access and predict. Sustainability and sustainable technologies are about doing more with less and using what is available in close proximity, they will absolutely play and increasing role in our lives in the coming decades, so it’s a topic worth thinking about.
We know the earth isn’t flat anymore, but as early as 600 years ago that was a conventional belief. As a closing thought think about how we can use bioenergy to be more sustainable. It would be impossible for any of us as individuals to single-handedly stop climate change, but developments like bioenergy still have the potential to be far more sustainable than fossil fuels and that will have value regardless of the current climate conditions. Take a moment to think about how we could use biomass smarter and more efficiently to meet our needs while improving conditions on earth so that future generations will have a functioning planet.
If you are interested in receiving the written slide notes for each lecture, please contact the USDA supported Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest project at; [email protected]
An associated online E-campus course is also offered at Oregon State University; ecampus.oregonstate.edu/soc/ecatalog/ecoursedetail.htm?subject=BRR&coursenumber=350&termcode=all
Advanced Hardwood Biofuels Northwest is supported by Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) Competitive Grant no. 2011-68005-30407 from the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA)
This series contains 25 short lectures, each between 10 and 15 minutes long. The content in these lectures is flexible and can be used in a variety of ways to communicate bioenergy concepts to audiences from diverse backgrounds. An important objective of this series is to present facts about bioenergy and biofuels, and use them to explore misconceptions.