There were more great articles last week than I could keep up with! Here are some of the best:
- Your Food Doesn’t Come From the Store: A journey into the heart of industrial agriculture (Grist) – Grist had a great week-long series of articles on food and farming. In addition to the article linked above, I’d recommend the following:
- Lazy-Ass Nation (Vanity Fair) – This is a funny and saddening look at our overriding quest for convenience. I found the following section to be particularly disturbing:
“Hunting and the Internet nearly made the best combination since peanut butter and chocolate: Texas entrepreneur John Lockwood came up with a way for people sitting in front of home computers to shoot animals on his canned-hunting ranch. Lockwood had it rigged so that a customer, with a mere click of the mouse, could activate a .22-caliber rifle on his property. He managed to realize at least one instance of online hunting, when a friend of his logged on and shot a wild hog in the neck from his desktop, before state and federal lawmakers outlawed the practice. For now it looks as if Lockwood will have to be content to go down as some sort of lazy-ass pioneer.”
- Climbing Down The Ladder (The Archdruid Report) – Yet another great article by John Michael Greer on succession and civilization.
“In the middle term, societies that combine sustainable subsistence strategies and economies with an effective use of the industrial age’s legacy technologies will likely do much better than the lingering fossil fuel-dependent societies they replace, or the ecotechnic societies that will replace them in turn. Only when fossil fuel production has dropped to the point that coal and oil are rare geological curiosities, and the remaining legacies of the industrial age no longer play a significant economic role, will ecotechnic societies come into their own… Instead of trying to make the leap to an ecologically balanced, fully sustainable society all at once, it may turn out to be necessary to climb down the ladder a step at a time, adapting to changes as they happen, and trying to anticipate each step in succession in time to prepare for it, while working out the subsistence strategies and social networks of the future on a variety of smaller scales.”
- Diet for Small Planet May Be Most Efficient if It Includes Dairy and a Little Meat, Cornell Researchers Report (Cornell University) – This was a very interesting study which found that a purely vegetarian food production system in New York state would feed fewer people than if it also integrated small-scale animal production. This makes intuitive sense, but it’s nice to see the numbers worked out. Sharon Astyk (author of Casaubon’s Book) has published a nice take on this study as well.
“‘Surprisingly, however, a vegetarian diet is not necessarily the most efficient in terms of land use,’ said Peters. The reason is that fruits, vegetables and grains must be grown on high-quality cropland, he explained. Meat and dairy products from ruminant animals are supported by lower quality, but more widely available, land that can support pasture and hay. A large pool of such land is available in New York state because for sustainable use, most farmland requires a crop rotation with such perennial crops as pasture and hay. Thus, although vegetarian diets in New York state may require less land per person, they use more high-valued land.”
- Shipping Pollution ‘Far More Damaging Than Flying’ (The Independent) – A new study finds that emissions from shipping exceed that from aviation. While I think it’s important to draw attention to the immense pollution arising from the shipping industry, and to do something to reduce it, I think this article is a bit unfair in that it doesn’t compare the numbers of most importance: the pollution generated from transporting X tons of goods by ship versus transporting X tons of goods by jet. I suspect that the latter would be orders of magnitude higher.
“Recent studies in the US and the Netherlands showed pollutants from ships contribute half of the smog-related sulphur dioxide in Los Angeles. In Rotterdam, North Sea shipping lanes run within 25 miles of the shore, spewing pollution that can travel up to 1,000 miles. ‘If you want to improve air quality on land, you will have a larger effect from spending one euro at sea than you will have spending one euro on land,’ said Pieter Hammingh, from the Dutch environment agency.”
- As the World Burns: Powerdown Revisited (Richard Heinberg) – An interesting discussion of the possible societal and governmental responses to post-peak economic decline, plus a depressing summary of recent events from a Peak Oil perspective. This article is a nice complement to the one I linked to above by John Michael Greer, as they both hit on some similar themes.
“Where shall we focus our efforts? As I suggested in Powerdown, there is important work to be done at all levels of social organization. Individuals and families should take to heart the advice given prior to every commercial airline flight: ‘Secure your oxygen mask before helping others.’ In other words, see to your own survival prospects first. This is not necessarily selfish behavior: communities and nations in which individual members are prepared and relatively self-sufficient will fare much better than those in which everyone is dependent and unequipped. If no one is prepared, who can teach others what to do? Learn the life-skills of the pre-fossil-fuel era; know how to use and repair hand tools; know where your water comes from and how to compost wastes; grow food. Communities must begin now to redevelop their local support infrastructure – especially local food systems… In any case, two things are absolutely clear: business as usual is not one of the options; and the more we do now to prepare at every level, the better off we all will be.”
- A Carbon-Negative Fuel (WorldChanging) – A great article about gasification and biochar (aka terra preta), which have a ton of potential to provide both a fuel source and an agricultural fertilizer, while sequestering carbon out of the atmosphere. In my opinion this is one of the few energy technologies we should really be putting our resources into developing.
“We’ve mentioned terra preta before: it’s a human-made soil or fertilizer. ‘Three times richer in nitrogen and phosphorous, and twenty times the carbon of normal soils, terra preta is the legacy of ancient Amazonians who predate Western civilization’… These simpler molecules are more easily broken down by microbes and plants as food, and bond more easily with key nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. This is what makes terra preta such good fertilizer. Because terra preta locks so much carbon in the soil, it’s also a form of carbon sequestration that doesn’t involve bizarre heroics like pumping CO2 down old mine shafts. What’s more, it may reduce other greenhouse gases as well as water pollution… As it happens, the process of burning/pyrolisizing agricultural char is also a way to produce energy.”
- Prairie Chicken: Why environmental groups have been slow to fight the border wall (Grist) – This is an interesting article about the insane wall being built along the U.S.-Mexico border, and the political reasons that environmental groups have shied away from fighting it more vigorously.
“However, a 2006 NBC poll found that a significant majority of people said they would be more likely to vote for a candidate who favored building a fence along the border. And that may explain some of the momentum. Precisely because of the wall’s ineffectiveness in stanching the flow of people across the border, it’s the perfect solution for the many members of Congress who want to show their constituents they’re doing something about illegal immigration — without actually cutting off the supply of cheap labor demanded by Big Ag and the service industry.”