Category Archives: environment

Photo of the Day

Orchard, Iowa — June 12, 2008


From the Inbox

Holy shit.

Good Morning…or at least I am trying to believe it is. J and I lost our house and both of our cars yesterday to flood waters in Columbus. We are safe, as well as our animals. We are currently staying at J’s mom’s in Indianapolis (We were lucky to have gotten out…Columbus is now an island). I’m not sure for how long we’ll be at N’s or what our next step is, but J has made the necessary calls. We’ll know the true damage when we get to go back…when we left the area the water was at least 4 feet high and hadn’t crested yet. If you are the praying sort, send one up for us. If you need us you can reach us on our cell phones.

Krugman on the World Food Crisis

I’ve been reading snippets about the international grain crisis here and there, but it hasn’t yet sunken in to the consciousness of American news consumers (probably because we’re too busy watching the Hillary and Barack show). It really should be a real concern to all of us as we think about our candidates, the policies they propose, our nation’s place in the world and our own lives.

Krugman has a great piece on the situation in today’s Times:

Over the past few years the prices of wheat, corn, rice and other basic foodstuffs have doubled or tripled, with much of the increase taking place just in the last few months. High food prices dismay even relatively well-off Americans — but they’re truly devastating in poor countries, where food often accounts for more than half a family’s spending.

There have already been food riots around the world. Food-supplying countries, from Ukraine to Argentina, have been limiting exports in an attempt to protect domestic consumers, leading to angry protests from farmers — and making things even worse in countries that need to import food.

I’m glad he brought up the situation in Argentina, as that’s a country that’s near and dear to me. Last week, I got an e-mail from my friend Marina in La Plata who wrote:

We Argentines are again living through some horrible things. Now, as a consequence of the agricultural strike, it’s difficult to get meat, milk, vegetables, and fruit. And what is available is very expensive. In discussions and marches, people are shouting that they’d rather go back to the dictatorship and that the president needs to get out of office. Last night, the farmers allowed trucks with food and buses with passengers to use their normal routes to travel, but the loss of goods in the supermarkets is something we still see. So, that’s how we’re living through it in La Plata, a small city in the interior of the country.

If a relatively developed country with plentiful food is feeling the crisis, it has to be really bad elsewhere. Marina, who grew up in political exile during the Argentine dictators is especially pained to hear people calling for a return to military government as she, her family, and many friends know first-hand the suffering that kind of authoritarian rule can cause.

Back to Krugman:

Where the effects of bad policy are clearest, however, is in the rise of demon ethanol and other biofuels.

The subsidized conversion of crops into fuel was supposed to promote energy independence and help limit global warming. But this promise was, as Time magazine bluntly put it, a “scam.”

This is especially true of corn ethanol: even on optimistic estimates, producing a gallon of ethanol from corn uses most of the energy the gallon contains. But it turns out that even seemingly “good” biofuel policies, like Brazil’s use of ethanol from sugar cane, accelerate the pace of climate change by promoting deforestation.

And meanwhile, land used to grow biofuel feedstock is land not available to grow food, so subsidies to biofuels are a major factor in the food crisis. You might put it this way: people are starving in Africa so that American politicians can court votes in farm states.

Biofuels really seemed like the way to go. I fell for it; who could be against producing cheap energy like ethanol made from corn? It seemed like a win/win as US farmers would benefit as would the rest of us as fuel costs were going to come down and the new fuel was supposed to be cleaner.

There are a lot of other reasons for the crisis that Krugman lays out: economic development in China is producing more meat-eaters in the world’s largest nation (thus producing a strain on the grain supply), high energy costs, and unfortunate weather conditions across the globe.

But it doesn’t appear that things will get much better any time soon, so expect the prices at your local Safeway or Kroger to continue to increase well into the future.

And one last line from Krugman:

Oh, and in case you’re wondering: all the remaining presidential contenders are terrible on this issue.

Photo of the Day

The photo is from Yahoo! in celebration of World Water Day.

Pakistan’s Daily Times explains:

LAHORE: Water shortage is one of the greatest threats to human beings, the environment and global food supply. Within the next 25 years, more water conflicts can emerge not only within the countries but between them as well.

It is the importance of water in the lives of individuals and nations that the United Nations Conference on Environment Development, held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, declared March 22 as World Water Day (WWD). Since then, the day has been celebrated across the world.

I spent last weekend in Las Vegas (yes, that’s a little embarrassing, but it’s a long story) and what struck me most about that place is its location in the desert with all of its buildings, tourists, and wasteful fountains and the water use those things entail. It’s hard to imagine how that city can continue to use water at current levels for long into the future while maintaining its status as a major city for in which people live and play.

From Channel 8 in Las Vegas:

The news coming from the Southern Nevada Water Authority Thursday about the valley’s future water supply is worrisome. Unless we act quickly, there will be no water for hundreds of thousands of Las Vegas Valley residents in just three years.

In the US, when we think about problems with water, we tend to think of Third World nations where access to clean drinking water is severely limited. That’s a serious problem to which we should devote attention and resources.

But Americans are living in a fantasy world if they believe that water issues will never be a problem in the US.

Is Walking Worse for the Planet than Driving?


But he (Chris Goodall, the author of “How to Live A Low-Carbon Life”) also questions how much good is being done by eliminating short trips by car. In fact, he says that in some circumstances it’s better to drive than to walk.

How can that be? Because Mr. Goodall takes into account something that a lot of environmentalists don’t: the human energy expended in averting fossil-fuel use. “Walking is not zero emission because we need food energy to move ourselves from place to place,” he writes. “Food production creates carbon emissions.”


If you walk 1.5 miles, Mr. Goodall calculates, and replace those calories by drinking about a cup of milk, the greenhouse emissions connected with that milk (like methane from the dairy farm and carbon dioxide from the delivery truck) are just about equal to the emissions from a typical car making the same trip. And if there were two of you making the trip, then the car would definitely be the more planet-friendly way to go.

I’m not sure if Goodall’s reasoning is sound or not, but I’ll remember his thinking in the future to justify my laziness.