Introduction to Chapter 18

Hot, Flat, and Crowded has seventeen chapters. What's Chapter 18? Chapter 18 will be a completely new chapter that I’ll add to the next edition of the book: Version 2.0. In it I hope to include the best ideas and proposals sent in from readers: ideas about clean energy, energy efficiency, and conservation; about petropolitics and nation-building in America; about how we can help take the lead in the renewal of our country and the Earth alike by going Code Green. I am eager for your suggestions — please post them here.


Your recent editorials on innovation and exhortation to "Invent Baby, Invent!" go straight to the issue of education as well. It's never too early to start our school children on the path to continuing America's heritage of innovation and yankee ingenuity. Building "inventing" skills early on is more critical than ever, not only to find solutions to energy problems, but to equip upcoming generations with problem-solving skills to tackle all the possible technological challenges the 21st Century will present. Innovation must be bred in the bone for us to remain visionary, competitive and self-reliant as a nation.

With your permission, we will adopt "Invent Baby, Invent!" as the rallying cry for our 26th year of Connecticut Invention Convention ( a not for profit which supports "inventing" programs serving over 10,000 children annually in Connecticut schools. We would welcome your participation at our local and state levels, personally inspiring our young people to take up your challenge to invent. Please come and witness how students, brought up in an educational culture of "invention" throughout their elementary school years, now apply these techniques to ALL problem solving, a profound shift affecting every aspect of their thinking. Often these young inventors apply themselves not only to creating a better mousetrap for a lucrative patent, i.e., the American dream, but to solving problems they identify as needed for a better planet (handicapped, green, broadly useful), a testament to the wise guidance of teachers who advocate "inventiveness" for the common good.

As a foreign correspondent, you will appreciate this story regarding the Republic of Mauritius, an island nation off the coast of Africa, recognized as one of two top emerging economies in the world for its determination to become a knowledge-based economic power. In early 2007, Mauritius' Ministry of Education, acknowledging that their economic future depended upon the education of their children in innovation, invited our CIC curriculum directors to present a comprehensive training program to "teach teachers" the invention skills-building process for children. The national program spawned by this training, called InnoVed, now only in its second year, enrolls over 10,000 thousand children annually, more than stateside. The Minister of Education and Human Resources, Mr. Dharam Gokhool, was quoted as saying, "Our future lies in our capacity to innovate. In the education sector, it is the very lifeblood for qualitative improvements. Teachers, students and schools have a key role to play in promoting creativity,” he said. Perhaps we should take a lesson from Mauritius, in this case.

Our countless experiences with young inventors suggests that the truly renewable resource in America
is the brain trust of its tinkerers, head-scratchers, developers, inventors, and innovators. We should strive to encourage everyone to become one from an early age, in whatever their endeavors. It's a lot easier to remain optimistic about the future if we factor in the possibilities of next generations schooled in taking on the challenge of solving our problems, rather than waiting for solutions to appear from elsewhere. Can you imagine harnessing that kind of power?

We applaud your focus on the importance of innovation, and hope to welcome you in person to cheer on "Invent Baby, Invent!" with us here in Connecticut.

Helen Charov
Connecticut Invention Convention

Helen Charov (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 2:07 pm

Our idea is very thoughtful. Our idea was derived from a landfill, many many years ago in a land far far away. We decided that we would compact large amount of trash into cubes that we covered in highly flammable chemicals. We decided that you could build a compartment in the engine of your car to place the cube. The engine would then burn the cube giving power to the car. It would be fuel-efficient and cheap.

Mitch Simmons (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 1:50 pm

There is a company in Australia that is manufacturing a brand new type of automobile. It is powered soley by air. It uses a regular engine, but instead of using gasoline to move its pistons, all it has is a solenoid on top of the engine that routes pressurized air into the cylinders to move the pistons. You only have to fill up once, because the engine also drives a compressor that automatically refills the tanks. I think this is revolutionary because you do not have to manufacture new engines, all you have to is modify current engines. With electric motors, your tourque for hauling heavy loads in semi trucks is very limited, but with the air engine, you preserve tourque so that the technology is applicable to all areas of society, thereby not causing a massive shift in society.

The Inventors Corps (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 1:47 pm

No one is suggesting that drilling is the answer to our problems. However, no idea will take effect immediately. Mr. Friedman suggests that drilling will only help ten years from now, but alternative energy solutions such as wind or solar power still require years and years of research before they are anywhere near US energy standards.

Anonymous (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 12:23 pm

I really think the answer is a centrally planned economy. There is no reason I see why this couldn't completely take care of all the goals Thomas puts forth. In fact, maybe we should make him our leader, he seems to know exactly what it is that we need.

Furthermore, I really think that we ought to avoid the idea that should climate change be inevitable, we'll have slowed our economy down the point that adapting to a precipitous change will be equally and oppositely as hard as the extent of which we attempt to "fight" it.

But hell, who am I to speak on economics and climate change? All I studied in college was middle eastern studies, NOT climatology, nor economics.

Chris (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 10:22 am

As a member of the EU, based in the Netherlands, I think the USA and European Union are in the same position: more and more dependent on foreign oil and natural gas, and economicaly slowing down.

Therefore it would be good that the EU anounced the same kind of goal: independent of foreign energy in 2020, by strongly support innovations in clean energy systems. Although I think the USA is more United than the EU, so probably it's best that the US takes the lead, but idealy US and EU would co-operate in this necessary goal!

So: the west should work together!

Ronald (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 8:06 am

We should have a prestigious prize for the best idea and/or implementation which will help humanity improve its energy and environmental situation.

Leif Schumacher (not verified)
September 15th 2008, 3:43 am


bill husar (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 10:19 pm

I feel the fight for renewable energy needs to be reframed some. Lets get past the debate if global warming is man made or not. Lets just pretend it isn't.

The arguments need to be shoved down the throat of American's that it is not patriotic to want to use fossil fuels. For America to be a world leader it must be the world leader in energy and relying on other countries, some of which who hate us, to power the infrastructure of this country is un-American.

Before the crying indian and "Give a Hoot Don't Pollute" it was socially acceptable to liter. That slowly started to change after this campaign.

The same thing needs to happen for energy. Where does all that money end up? The average American is hurt financially by fossil fuels usage.

And not only in the pocket book but in the reduction of potential new jobs

Offer an X-Prize to corporations, first to do x, y, z gets a massive tax break or a billion dollars. If we can print money for a war (for oil?) we can print some for this. The Chinese I'm sure won't mind lending us some more.

Brian (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 9:12 pm

Chapter 18 needs to be the title of the next book not chapter.

Avery (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 5:20 pm

Saw your interview on CNN GPS this afternoon and was sharing part of your views.

I believe America is in danger of becoming only a military superpower (like Russia but without enough natural resources to stay ahead).

The price of having soldiers to warranty oil deliveries to the US is a symptom. My opinion on the civil infrastructure in the US (telecoms, roads, trains, nuclear plants) is that it is aging for more than a decade and yet the Bush administration spent 8 years investing almost only in defense programs instead of civil infrastructure.

I believe drilling for oil is also to be considered for short term. Green energy is more advanced in Europe because there is no oil to be found, but it is costly and I don't see California firms so far behind for research. Nuclear energy is more advanced in Europe because France sticked to it since the 70s especially because it exports a good part of it to some hypocritical european countries where people do not want new nuclear plants but buy their needed "megawatts" on the european energy market. The debate on nuclear plants will reopen in US too (people debate the costs/benefits since the 70s).

Speaking of other energy consumers, the western car makers now turn to dual motoring (gas/battery) - losing 8 years to Toyota - which means more nuclear and less oil for powering motors but it may be too late for some big car companies (GM has tough 12 months ahead).

So combining green energy with other types of energy is the way to go because the US economy is so weak and its civil infrastructure so old.

My personal taste would be to see a bunch of smart democrats and republicans together in the White House, but in reality I guess that choosing Obama/Bidden/Rubin/Gore is maybe less evil than the McCain/Palin/Rove/Gramm team especially because of the senate/congress composition in order to not spoil the next two years in making ideology and theology.

In four years, there would still be time to reconsider and balance the powers in Washington if needed but I feel there is some kind of emergency for my dear american friends.

Alan Sky (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 4:16 pm


WILLIAM HUSAR (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 2:33 pm

I think that if and when Barack Obama is elected president, Thomas Friedman should be given a high-up position as an energy adivisor along with Al Gore, and possibly even a cabinet spot.

If the election goes the other way, america will have proven our fear (and that of our founding fathers) that a democracy enables those without the intellectual willingness to think things through (i.e. americans who think drilling is the one and only solution and don't care about what it does to our environment or our addiction to oil) actually are able to run this country into the ground.

Jes Howard (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 2:05 pm

tom I feel your pain with dilling new oil wells ,But I all so feel it is a necssary evil too .More then puting our troops in harms way .So I say dill dill dill so our troops don.t have to die die die just untill green energy is cheaper and more acessable . Energy of the futrue will be geo thermal! drill a hole in the earth close to the magmu .pour weter down the hole . make steam to turn a trbines .So dill for oil! or dill for steam ! but just dill to save our troops . Jason Roncallo

Jason Roncallo (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 2:00 pm

I saw your appearance on GPS with Fareed Zakaria this afternoon and was very impressed. I was impressed with two points in particular. The first, your analogy of falling our of an 80 story building and for the first 79 floors feeling like you can fly until the ubrupt end. I agree. America is heading for the abrupt end. Which leads me to the second point that I liked. That now, "we are not who we think we are" in referrence to the $1 billion gift to Georgia.

So, when we do have that abrupt end, it will be all the more striking because we are not who we think we are and as a result will not be prepared do deal with those challenges. Please keep up the good work!

Michael Joshua (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 1:57 pm

Energy and Environment, War and Peace, Health and Poverty are all huge problems that require universal solutions - applicable and accepted all across the globe.

We have to remember that many of our current problems were created by enterprising people, while in the honest pursuit of prosperity and convenience, and who just did not look far ahead enough to understand the consequences of their actions and who did not have the wisdom to change when change was needed, because that would mean breaking their commitments to their stakeholders, consumers and shareholders.

My own belief is that these issues cannot be fixed by technology alone, or by leadership alone,or by any one country alone. The solutions will require a radical shift in our corporate and consumer behaviours, changing our collective lifestyles and more importantly the marketplace itself. We have seen the failures of many different social and economic systems including Communism, Socialism, Fascism. And many of our current problems could be attributed to Capitalism also, because free market economy also does not work in vaccum - not without sufficient cycle times to self-correct and not without proper oversight.

A common drawback in all these systems is that only a small percentage of the population participating in these systems, can thrive, leaving the rest of the majority in dire straits and at the mercy of that small percentage. I can explain this statement by asking one question to all. Consider capitalism. What will happen if by some great divine interference, every able person in the US has achieved the highest IQ, the most desirable character, skills and talents and the capacity to work hard? Can they all benefit equally from the same market place? I shall leave it to the readers to guess what the outcome would be.

And that is why the changes we have to make are fundamental in nature. A new system, new way of thinking, larger collaboration, new rules for doing business and a new way to solve problems. It is not going to be easy and it is not going to be quick. We must start immediately though. But more importantly, we must prepare the next generation to pick up where we leave off and to carry on. We have to prepare them to start with a strong belief in their ability to face tough challenges. We must pass on our collective wisdom and legacies of hardwork, discipline, integrity and commitment, as a guidance in their quest to face life's problems. I am not talking about knowledge that is taught in schools. I am talking about our collective experiences - the mistakes that we made, why we made them and about life's lessons that we have learned and tales of successes and so on.

Every society makes a telling statement by the people, they honor and call role models. When we make role models out of every day person, just doing what is needed to be done, as a professional, as a family member, as a community member - always pushing beyond the limits, striving for perfection - it clearly evokes a new found respect for everyday life and living. It offers hope and it makes success accessible. It makes every struggle a heroic battle, as it should rightly be and it makes every success a victory, as it always is.

In this context, I have already started on a mission of empowering the next generation. I have built a platform for passionate role models to create and share their career and life's stories and for our youth to discover them early. It is called We want every child to believe in who they are along with their natural talents and skills and then to discover great fulfilling careers through the words of others "who have been there and done that". When that happens, there is less despair and more hope during their their formative ages.

Our mission is to inspire the next generation of passionate professionals.

If you are one of those people willing to invest in the next generation, I want you to visit our website at and invite others you know to be role models to come and create their stories as well.

Tom, I would like great thinkers and writers like you to check out our product and concept and determine if is one of the solutions for the future that you are looking for. I sincerely believe it is.

It took us a lifetime to understand everything about life, but with CareerTales, our youth can begin their life with that understanding as their premise.

Vish Goda (not verified)
September 14th 2008, 12:18 am

Mr. Friedman,
Thank you for your important work in the area of green politics. I do want to send you these two links that I feel have great potential as clean energy alternatives to fossil fuels. Implementing these technologies is well within our reach and they would accomplish energy security for our nation. We could export our know how to other nations as well. Please see:
Paul D. Habib
Austin, TX

Anonymous (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 11:50 pm

Hello! I am a high school physics teacher that admires your work and respects your opinion very much. I wish you would become a close advisor or cabinet member in the next administration (hopefully Obama's)!
I have an idea to help us use more solar may turn out to be unworkable...but I wanted to share it anyway. I think we should require the power companies to fill the empty areas that are free of trees along the high voltage transmission lines with solar panels and make whatever transformations necessary to feed the energy into the grid. It won't use valuable land that could produce food and will be close to the grid for entrance and distribution. Just my $0.02 worth. Thanks for all your efforts! KJ Lowry

KJ Lowry (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 9:22 pm

Anonymous (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 6:54 pm

The book is terrific and your appearances on Letterman and NPR were great. As a writer for the environmental website,, I've mentioned your book to our readers. Our website serves not only as a green wire service for news stations across the country, but also as an education tool for consumers on everything from wind turbines and solar panel installations to tap vs. bottled water and green-thinking leaders. Education is key and your next chapter should continue informing readers about the many options they have as long as good leaders are in place. That's why whichever candidate takes office, it will be so important that that administration understand the urgency of climate change. More tomes such as "Hot, Flat and Crowded" can only help. If your schedule permits, we would love to talk to you about the book for

Harriet Blake (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 6:29 pm

Our national highway system is a wonderful foundation to provide a modern high speed rail network connecting cities throughout the country. Whether it is development of the medians or closing down one entire side to traffic (less new bridge construction), this system could be as significant as the construction of the interstates themselves.

Anonymous (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 4:53 pm

High-Speed Interstate Rail...

- You asked for potential solutions and in my post the other day, all I offered was a complaint...please accept my apology.

- My proposed potential solution is large, expensive and certainly not yet fully researched (although the technology is readily available and in successful use world-wide.) In the long run, however, I would argue that this is much more of an investment than a cost.

- Connect all major continental US cities via a system of interstate high-speed rail routes. The Federal Rail Administration (yes, there is such a thing, surprisingly) designated eleven high-speed rail corridors in the United States several years ago but the system obviously has not been built, nor were the corridors planned for complete connectivity.

- "High-speed" rail is tentatively defined as a system of both passenger and freight electrified service with the capability (at least on the passenger side) of achieving average point-to-point speeds of 150 mph or more. (Hey, the French are breaking 200 mph; seems like the home of "Freedom Fries" could at least equal that!)

- States and municipalities should be expected to acquire and provide rights-of-way, route clearing, and preliminary grading at local (not federal) expense. These entities should also be responsible for constructing access terminals and any connectivity with local mass transportation systems or other intermodal systems.

- The federal government should be responsible for researching and applying current technologies and criteria to design and construct the trackage and supporting controls infrastructure. Actual design and construction should be accomplished by the private sector under contract to a federal agency. All contracts to be awarded on a competitive basis and the majority to be awarded locally or regionally.

- Folowing construction, rail operations should be conducted by private sector transportation companies (with AmTrak allowed to compete as well) who compete to offer passenger and freight transportation services and pay a licensing or operating fee to the federal government. This fee should be structured, if possible, to amortize the original design and construction cost over a 30-50 year period. The Federal Rail Administration (or some version of it) would provide coordination and traffic management. The federal government would be responsible for infrastructure maintenance and development and for performance and safety standards.

- This system should be in place and operational by 1 January 2020.

- The economic intent of this is not simply to create construction and service jobs to build and operate the system but also to make a substantial leap forward in the ease ansd speed of commerce in the country. The intended energy impact is to quickly attract some portion of passenger and freight commerce away from highways and airports where it can only be served by internal combustion engines and get as much of it as possible onto an electric power grid (where alternative energy sources can be used.)

- The interstate highway system had a huge impact on travel, commerce, and the national integration of our economy in the 1950's. This proposal could potentially have the same effect in the coming decade. The interstate highway system did not erase local streets and roads and this proposal would never replace airlines, busses, trucks, boats or the personal automobile. It might, however, very substantially reduce the overcrowding, congestion, inefficiency, expense and negative environmental impacts we are experiencing today in the transportation sector.

- Thanks for the opportunity.

Tom Verdel (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 1:02 pm

I live in France, in a small town where the butcher sells you cheese, chicken, beef, sausage, etc, always and only wrapped in brown paper. And we also have a grocery store here, where you can buy two slices of ham, wrapped in an equivalent volume of plastic. I find the grocery store packaging to be morally untenable, but it's the butcher who is struggling to maintain his market share! So, here is a move that I want to see, in my lifetime: the end of commercialized plastic packaging. Grocery stores can voluntarily ban it, or we can do it by law. Plastics manufacturers, grocery chains and recyclers should band together instead, to invent and market a solar-powered appliance, the size of a refrigerator at most, for the garden or backyard, that shreds and re-casts recyclable plastic, into one of two or three standard sizes, for four distinct uses (bottles, dairy, meat, fish). I'd like every family on earth to be issued 10 lbs of recyclable plastic food packaging, that they must re-use for it's durable lifetime. Then we can consciously will our family plastic to our kids, rather than unconsciously willing it on them, on our landfills, on our animals, fish, birds, amphibians, and on our oceans, like we do now.

tws (not verified)
September 13th 2008, 6:58 am

I am deeply moved by Mr. Friedman's book and his lectures. I am 100% behind his proposal. I believe the consequences of not following Mr. Friedman’s proposal will be dire.

My question is now what?

Mr. Friedman has said publicly that the McCain ticket is completely mad with its “drill baby drill” mantra and that the Obama ticket seems unenthusiastic and uncommitted to true policy innovation.

It seems as though we have lost control of our government and we need our government to make the changes in tax laws and energy policies to make Mr. Friedman’s proposal work. There is a 50/50 chance that our next vice president will be someone who believes climate change is god’s will and that the earth was created 10,000 years ago. There is a 50/50 chance that our next president will invest America’s remaining financial resources to fight more wars.

I truly want to believe that America could lead the energy revolution, but I just as strongly believe that we won’t because American voters will vote for someone who will simply want to drill for solutions.

Again, my questions is now what?

Max Lent (not verified)
September 12th 2008, 3:13 pm

Another Inconvenient Situation...

Seems like 70% of all the peroleum products in the US are consumed in the transportation sector. Cars, busses, trucks, ships and airplanes don't run on electricity and only a very few trains do the USA. Try a European or Japanese high-speed train some day (if you can) and see what a REALLY GOOD transportation system can do.

If you convert all generating plants to non-hydrocarbon fuel you will save very little petroleum (although you do make the air and the climate better.)

A few years back we starting buying diesel powered autos to save money on fuel. Next time you're at a filling station check out what the price of diesel's MORE than gas, not less. CNG prices will not stand still if and when it becomes a more popular fuel. There's little or no competition in the energy industry...and CNG pricing will not be regulated the way it is as a home heating fuel. Everyone in the energy business eventually boosts their price to the maximum the traffic will bear.

The Departments of Energy and Transportation and the US Congress are well aware of these sorts of numbers and relationships but have elected to consider "mass transportation" as a state and local issue.

If you can't address something that constitutes 70% of the problem then partial successes on the remaining 30% will not count for much.

Tom Verdel (not verified)
September 12th 2008, 1:42 pm

You should print your book in Chinese and also travel around the world explaining it. Your Charlie Rose interview was excellant. It should be translated in Chinese.

gs (not verified)
September 12th 2008, 12:35 pm

Dear Tom,

I was excited the other night when I came across your interview with Charlie Rose on KCT.

Energy Technology Innovation is THE key for Humanity and Sustainability of a world that is Hot, Flat & Crowded.

Our research has identified that there are 7 levels of innovation including global societal & economic systems innovation at level 7. America and the world needs to be firing on all 7 levels.

As an expert advisor to Boards and Management in Management Structure Design, Performance Measurement and Executive Pay, we see alignment gaps & disconnects with innovation and sustainability everyday in companies.

The SEC, Wall Street, our pensions funds and money managers as investors are driving a short-termism that fails to encourage the level of innovation required in companies for sustainability of the planet.

GE and Eco-imagination is an exception.

Unfortunately in the Energy Sector we see the innovation gaps even more as advisors to some companies in both the Oil and Gas and Utility sectors.

Pull the proxy statements of the 30 largest Oil & Gas Companies and 30 Largest Utilities in America.

Take a look at the Compensation Discussion & Analysis section which is a new SEC requirement 2 years ago. This is a legal filed document and must be certified by the board and management as accurate and true.

What we all will discover is:

1) the longest performance period disclosed for which executive management is measured on and paid for in most of these 60 energy companies is 3 years .

The type of Energy Technology innovation required is going to take 5 , 10 and 15 year+ committment.

2) the nature of the performance metrics disclosed are mostly all financial. 1 to 3 year financials.

I have yet to see a single proxy statement in the energy sector which is holding the executive team accountable, measuring performance and aligning executive pay to include some element of:

• % reduction in carbon footprint

• % energy reduction from increase & innovation in energy efficiency programs

• Increase in R&D and commercialization of renewable energy

• growth in % revenue and profits from Innovation in renewable energy

• other disclosed Triple Bottom Line measures that include the environment, society and improved enterprise governance.

3) So in reality too many of these executives, not all , are primarily held accountable and paid on short-term operational performance.

They are not held accountable and paid for truly long-term strategic work, future investment and level of innovation that justifies the 350 to 400 times CEO to average American pay differential.

A $ 6 to $ 20 million annual total CEO compensation across each of the 60 energy companies.

And we all as shareholders directly or indirectly including the government sponsored pension funds have voted for and approved these existing Executive performance measurement and executive compensation plans.

To spark the Energy Technology Innovation you advocate in the book, Congress and the SEC MUST enhance the rules for disclosure of performance measurement and executive pay in America. This includes specific performance measurement and pay alignment disclosures on the:

• longest performance period

• innovation metrics used (which is why America is loosing it's innovation edge)

• other Triple Bottom Line measures beyond just short term financials

• # management layers in the company

A company with 5 to 12 layers of management mostly focused on short-term 1 to 3 years operational performance is a an over-layered, over titled and over-compensated enterprise. So much for innovation.

We need to move away from CEO pay for short-term operational performance ( the mortgage melt down) to CEO pay for long-term sustainable performance and related innovation.

Innovation for customers, stakeholders and global society.

If you would like to see a model for CEO performance measurement and pay for sustainability in the Energy Sector, please email me. More than pleased to share for Chapter 18.

I have emailed a number of the board members and executive management we advise and suggested we all need to get, read and most importantly action Hot, Flat and Crowded. Code Green !

Best Regards and Bravo

Mark Van Clieaf
Managing Director
MVC Associates International

PS maybe you can get our colleagues at the NYTimes like Gretchen Morgenson and Eric Dash to further
highlight the above strategic performance measurement, pay and innovation disconnect in Corporate America.

Mark Van Clieaf (not verified)
September 12th 2008, 7:01 am

There's a guy here in Maine who's selling electric car kits, the SUNN Ev. The car's been on local news and CNN. The website is . Seems like a good idea to me, especially as a bridge technology until the big companies get involved, if they ever do...

New Farmer (not verified)
September 12th 2008, 12:46 am

As a high school ecology/biology teacher, I have encountered myriad students who are frightened by the idea of even going outside. When I informed my 5 classes this year that each and every Friday they'd be joining me outside, I met a wave of dissatisfaction that was rather alarming. My assumption was that most students would relish the thought of going outside and getting out of the mundane routine of sitting in class every day.

Four weeks have elapsed since school began and I have certainly been excited about the prospect of teaching kids how to appreciate the environment week in and week out. Even now, students who have spent less than 1/50 of their life outdoors are beginning to appreciate the thrill of discovering something they've never seen or don't understand. These observations have firmly entrenched in my mind the idea that our educational system needs to include more outdoor activities, ones that force children to adore the very environment that many are fighting to save.

As a first year teacher, I've found that my ambitions outweigh my abilities, but that long term ideas shouldn't be put to sleep forever. Here's an idea that I would love to see happen at every school, but it requires a zealous teacher and a corps of interested children. My students this year are probably a bit too finicky for it but I encourage any teachers or individuals to try it for themselves.

Worm Farm Fundraiser


Old bathtub or basin-something with walls that don't transmit light and a drain. (landfills, plumbers, or contractors are often excited to get rid of these)

Starter population of red wriggler worms- these can easily be found on many websites. A starter population usually goes for about 20 dollars.

Vegetable scraps (may include some meat or dairy)

Lime- provides much needed calcium for worms

Cover for the tub/basin

Starter soil- a five gallon bucket of soil/leaves/small sticks to put the worms in initially

Small tray to catch the liquid fertilizer from the drain at the bottom


1) Place the soil starter, worms, and a small bucket of vegetable scraps in the tub/basin
2) Sprinkle a tablespoon of lime on the mixture-do this about once every two weeks.
3) Make sure the soil is moist but has no standing water
4) Wait and let the worms eat the scraps

The worms will turn the food scraps into a valuable fertilizer in the form of their frass (droppings). Since worms do this every day in the soil, aerating and fertilizing it, it makes sense that if you put them all in one place, you'll have a concentrated amount of high nutrient fertilizer. The black gold that results can fertilize trees, crops, whatever you wish as long as you don't apply it in large quantities. Indeed, people often put on too much and it burns their plants.

The other product is a liquid fertilizer that will naturally drain through the hole in the bottom of the basin. This must be diluted (10 parts water/1 part fertilizer) as it too has a tendency to be too nutritious. A starter population of worms (1000) will double in a 4-6 weeks with adequate food and water. Ensure that the top is on at all times and the basin stays in a warm sunny spot. Earthworms like hot, humid conditions but detest direct sunlight. Painting the basin a dark color helps keep it hot!

To transfer worms from one bin to another, slowly fill the basin with water after plugging the drain hole and the worms will naturally rise to the top. If you get several bins going you can go through a fair amount of food/vegetable scraps. They'll even eat cardboard and newspaper!! Feed them as often as they'll eat, this may be different depending upon your setup.

So, in a public school setting with proper approval from the administration and interest from students, a teacher could get this program started and sell the solid and liquid fertilizer to local residents, making money for the school and potentially offsetting the cost of trips to the dumpster. We all know kids waste lots of food during lunch, and if even some of this could be put towards a worm farm, we could help reduce our carbon footprint. Less trips to the landfill, turning waste into food, engaging children in outdoor activities and helping to rebuild this troubled nation through the minds of our kids sounds pretty amazing to me.

Give it a try!

Chris Chamberlin
Amherst County High School

Chris Chamberlin (not verified)
September 11th 2008, 10:47 pm

Part of the problem with our culture of elaborate wastefulness is that people generally are truly unaware of the damage they do to the environment just by being an average American. They see what they do directly, but they don't understand all of the hidden costs. We really need better education and information to show people what our lifestyles cost.

I have been contemplating an idea for a web site for quite some time (don't have the time to build it myself, unfortunately) that would take our every-day, mundane activities, and look into ALL of the costs as deeply as possible. For instance take watching an hour of TV. An average person might consider the cost of the television in the store, their cable bill and their electric bill. If you start digging into each of these, you start discovering a lot of interesting information: How much carbon is produced by the power station to generate the electricity to power my television? How much land is mined to produce the fuel to burn to generate that power? How much fuel is used in the transportation of those natural resources? What kind of other byproducts are there to this production of energy? How many people are involved in getting that electricity to me? What about the power infrastructure? What about the resources and byproducts of building the television? How long will it last? How long will it take to decompose if it is put in a landfill? What about the production of the TV shows? The questions are almost endless.

The trick is to do this accurately, and communicate it clearly to the web site visitors. Ideally, I would want to let them change some of the variables to personalize it for themselves to help drive it even closer to home. If you could really get this kind of information to people and give them tools to reduce their impact, it could make a big difference.

Knowledge is power. Knowledge in the hands of the masses is power for revolution.

Tyler Hains (not verified)
September 11th 2008, 8:12 pm