Some Chemical and More-Than-Human Transformations of Sugar/Energy

June 21, 2017

Katie Ulrich

Oblivious, or maybe not, to a warming planet and intense global discourse around renewable bioeconomy futures, a tiny sugar molecule one day is synthesized and then makes its way into a cell wall of a sugarcane plant in the southern region of Brazil. This is not the type of sugar that would be found on the kitchen table. The molecule remains there for the life of the plant, offering fibrous structural support for the towering stalks as they grow up to five meters tall. This sugar compound is called cellulose and is found in all plants and several types of microbes. It is the earth’s most abundant biopolymer made on land and its largest carbon reservoir (Li et al. 2014). While not on the kitchen table per se, cellulose is likely in it (if the table is wooden).

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“Something Wicked This Way Comes”

Energy, Modernities, and the AnthropoScene

March 2, 2016

Sarah Strauss

The verdict of the Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is clear: we are the dominant species on this planet, and our documented role in the global system gives many (but not all) confidence that the Anthropocene is well named. We need to understand the interactions, impacts, and development of systems to attempt either adaptation or mitigation with respect to our changing climate, recalling that unintended consequences must always be counted. As they say, there is no planet B, no other place where externalities can be stored for later disposal. Of course, wicked problems like climate change are nothing new. They resist resolution because they are difficult to define/multicausal (unlike the ozone hole); have incomplete or changing parameters, such that “solving” one part of problem generates new ones; and have no clear solution, just better or worse options (Rittel and Webber 1973). Wicked problems are socially complex and generally require behavioral or cultural changes of significant proportions. Examples of these, such as climate change, energy transitions, water management, and biodiversity loss, are also the hallmark of the Anthropocene: they are “socionatural” transformations that we have set in motion ourselves, and the ones I have mentioned all have strong connections with each other. Here, I focus on energy.
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