Archive for February, 2010


WATCH: So What Is Artisan Cheese, Anyway?

Friday, February 19th, 2010

First, let’s get one thing straight: there’s nothing inherently snobby about a good piece of cheese. If you care about quality, about craft, about tradition, about small farmers, respect for animals, and the soil, your food choices should reflect that. And that’s before we even talk about how much better it tastes.

So if you’re wondering what exactly goes into a wedge of artisan cheese, this must-watch-for-foodies short film from Cheese Chick, filmed at Portland’s Wedge Festival in 2009, explains. (Hint: it’s not rGBH)

Filmed on location at Portland’s Wedge Festival in 2009 and at Artisan Creameries throughout Oregon, Northwest Artisan Cheesemakers talk about what “Artisan” means to them.

(Hat tip to author Gordon Edgar via gordonzola.net.)

 

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Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century, Part 2

Friday, February 19th, 2010

By Ronnie Cummins and Will Allen

Part 2 of 2
This article was originally published on the Organic Consumers Association website.

Our planet has five pools or repositories where greenhouse gases are absorbed and stored: the oceans, the atmosphere, the soils, the forests, and hydrocarbon deposits. 6 Because U.S farm and forest soils are so degraded from chemical-intensive, mono-crop farming practices and over-logging they are only able to absorb and store half (or less) of the carbon gases than they would be capable of if they were organically managed. As a result of this reckless mismanagement, the atmosphere and the oceans are absorbing the bulk of the greenhouse gases that normally would be absorbed by farmland and forests. This has led to a catastrophic excess of GHGs in both the oceans and the atmosphere. This excess has caused changes in climate and extreme fluctuations in weather; including droughts and torrential flooding. It also causes oceanic acidification, oceanic dead zones, and dramatic declines in fish and crustacean populations.

Unfortunately, when they evaluate agricultural pollutants, pro-agribusiness government bureaucrats in the EPA and USDA do not include many of the greenhouse gas emissions. They do not take into account the transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating of farm products as agricultural GHG emissions, even though our food travels an average of 1500 miles to our tables and is routinely frozen and cooled to ensure its deliverability. They don’t count the CO2 and “black carbon” particle emissions from trucks, tractors, combines and other equipment used on farms. They don’t count the emissions from fertilizer manufacture or use, wasteful packing, sewage sludge spread on farm and range land, or the methane emitted from factory farms and the billions of tons of rotting, non-composted food in our landfills and garbage dumps. Instead, they lump and thereby conceal all these farm and food related GHG emissions under the categories of industrial manufacture, transportation, or electrical use. As a result, the public spotlight never shines on mounting agricultural, food, garbage, and sludge pollution.

Because government officials deliberately fail to evaluate the real farm and food-derived greenhouse gas emissions, they are free to act as if the emissions coming from agriculture are not significant compared to the U.S. total, even though they represent more than one-third of the total pollutants. Consequently, most lawmakers and the public don’t realize how urgent it is to regulate and drastically curtail factory farm and Food Inc.’s emissions.

Chemical Fertilizer and Sewage Sludge: Silent Killers

The most damaging greenhouse gas poisons used by farmers and ranchers are synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and municipal/industrial sewage sludge. Obviously pesticide manufacture and use are also serious problems and generate their own large share of greenhouse gases during manufacture and use (more than 25 billion pounds per year). But, about six times more chemical fertilizer is used than toxic pesticides on U.S. farms, and an additional huge volume of sewage sludge is spread on farm and range land as well. 7

German chemical corporations developed the industrial processes for the two most widely used forms of synthetic nitrogen in the early 1900s. But, until World War II, U.S. use of synthetic nitrogen as a fertilizer was limited to about 5% of the total nitrogen applied. Up until that time most nitrogen inputs came from animal manures, composts and fertilizer (cover) crops, just as it does on organic farms today. 8

During the Second World War, all of the European powers and the U.S. greatly expanded their facilities for producing nitrogen for bombs, ammunition, and fertilizer for the war effort. Since then, the use of nitrogen fertilizer and bomb making capacity has soared. By the 1990s, more than 90% of nitrogen fertilizer used in the U.S. was synthetic. 9

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the average U.S. nitrogen fertilizer use per year from 1998 to 2007 was 24 billion 661 million pounds. To produce that nitrogen the manufacturers released at least 6.7 pounds of greenhouse gas for every pound produced. That’s 165 billion, 228 million pounds of GHGs spewed into the atmosphere every year, just for the manufacture of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. 10 And, most of those emissions are nitrous oxide, the most damaging emissions of U.S. agriculture.

Besides its greenhouse gas impacts, nitrogen fertilizer has other negative environmental consequences. Two-thirds of the U.S. drinking water supply is contaminated at high levels with carcinogenic nitrates or nitrites, almost all from excessive use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Some public wells have nitrogen at such a high level that it is dangerous and even deadly for children to drink the tap water. Nitrogen fertilizer is also the greatest contributor to the infamous “dead zones” in the Gulf of Mexico, the Chesapeake Bay, the coasts of California and Oregon, and 400 other spots around the world. Since very little synthetic nitrogen fertilizer was used before 1950, all of the damage we see today occurred in the last 60 years.

If we did an environmental impact statement on synthetic nitrogen fertilizer today, we would never give it a permit for agricultural use. Until it is banned for the production of food and fiber, we must impose a high carbon tax on its manufacture and use. Unfortunately, at this point, agriculture is excluded from even the weak cap and trade plan passed by the House. So, although factory farming is responsible for more greenhouse gases than any other U.S. industry, it will not be regulated under the proposed legislation designed to limit greenhouse gases, unless we demand it. We must demand that synthetic nitrogen fertilizer be highly taxed and regulated in the short term, and phased out, as soon as possible. 11

We must also demand an end to the giveaway or sales of hazardous sewage sludge in agriculture, gardening or forestry . Instead of sewage sludge-contaminated and chemical-intensive farms, organic agriculture produces safer, nutritionally superior, comparable crop yields during normal weather, as well as much greater yields under drought and heavy rain conditions, without the use of synthetic pesticides, sewage sludge, or chemical fertilizer.

The Good News on Organics and Climate Change

The heretofore unpublicized “good news” on climate change, according to the Rodale Institute 12 and other soil scientists, is that transitioning from chemical, water, and energy-intensive industrial agriculture practices to organic farming and ranching on the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of pasture or rangeland can sequester up to 7,000 pounds per acre of climate-destabilizing CO2 every year, while nurturing healthy soils, plants, grasses, and trees that are resistant to drought, heavy rain, pests, and disease. And as we have noted, organic farms and ranches provide us with food that is much more nutritious than industrial farms and ranches-food filled with vitamins, anti-oxidants, and essential trace minerals, free from Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), pesticides, antibiotics, and sewage sludge.

In 2006, U.S. carbon dioxide pollution from fossil fuels (approximately 25% of the world’s total) was estimated at nearly 6.5 billion tons. If a 7,000 lb/CO2/ac/year sequestration rate were achieved on all 434 million acres of cropland in the United States, nearly 1.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide would be sequestered per year, mitigating close to one quarter of the country’s total fossil fuel emissions. If pastures and rangelands were similarly converted to organic practices, we would be well on our way to reversing global warming.

Toxic Sludge from Municipal Sewage Treatment Plants

Besides synthetic nitrogen fertilizers, unhealthy foods, pesticides, GMOs, and climate and environmentally destructive factory farm meat, a serious problem in the U.S. is the increasing use of hazardous sludge from sewage treatment plants to fertilize farm and pasture land. Sixty percent of all the sludge produced in the U.S. is currently applied to farmland that grows food for cattle and people. Estimates range from eight billion to more than 100 billion pounds. 13

A critical mass of scientific studies indicate that municipal sewage sludge routinely contains hundreds of dangerous pathogens, toxic heavy metals, flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, carcinogens, pharmaceutical drugs and other hazardous chemicals coming from residential drains, storm water runoff, hospitals, and industrial plants. Poisonous sludge is currently being spread on at least 70 million acres on 140,000 (non-organic) farms and ranches across the U.S. So-called EPA “regulation” of sludge is among the worst in the world. Unless we stop this dangerous practice, the sludge industry will destroy millions of acres of farmland as well as urban land we will need for future urban gardens. Sludge is also an increasingly worrisome greenhouse gas emitter.

The Organic Movement Must “Get Political” and Become a Major Player

We must advocate and agitate, as well as “walk our talk” in our daily lives. We must organize a U.S. and global mass movement for the conversion of the world’s 3.5 billion acres of farmland and 8.2 billion acres of rangeland and pasture to organic production as soon as possible. Organic regulations prohibit the use of synthetic nitrogen, pesticides, sludge, antibiotics, artificial hormones, GMOs, and other environmentally destructive, health-threatening, greenhouse gas emitting practices. Organic must become the norm, not just the alternative. To facilitate a mass transition to organic we must force the U.S. Congress, as well as local and state governments, to fund a great “organic transition,” including the creation of thousands of cadres of organically trained extension agents, and a million new urban, community, and school gardens. Thousands of U.S. farmers have already made the transition to organic. Now a million more need to do the same.

More and more farmers around the world are learning that they can significantly reduce greenhouse gas pollution and produce substantial, high quality yields by switching to organic farming practices. While we develop our alternative marketplace and pressure legislators and the regulators to act, we must urge conscientious conventional farmers to use existing federal Conservation Reserve, Conservation Security, EQUIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), and special practice programs to help them begin the switch to organic as soon as possible.

Restoring Climate Stability: Soil and More

U.S. farmers, as well as farmers all over the world, have known for at least 200 years that they should replace lost soil fertility. Over the last two centuries, numerous strategies were devised in the U.S. to replace soil nitrogen and soil organic matter, without the use of chemicals. Many of these strategies are widely used today by organic and biodynamic farmers.

As early as 1813, John Taylor lamented the loss of vegetable (organic) matter in the soil and felt that we were destroying our precious soil fertility by over cropping and sloppy farming practices. 14 Since the 1840s, fertilizer manufacturers and alchemists tried to convince farmers to replace fertility with store bought chemicals. But, farmers were wary of these products and the claims made by their salesmen.

Other scientists argued over the years that soil with high-organic matter content was far more productive and fertile even in times of drought and excess moisture. 15 As a result, U.S. farmers traditionally replaced their organic matter with fertilizer crops, manure, and compost, and most did not buy store bought fertilizer until the 1950s.

In 2007 and 2009, results similar to these conclusions were reported from studies of the Morrow agricultural experiment plots at the University of Illinois, in Champaign-Urbana (the oldest continuously planted U.S. experimental farm plot). There, researchers found that continuous corn on a synthetic nitrogen fertilized plot since 1955 suffered significant carbon losses and soil nitrogen losses compared to pre-1955 when the plots were fertilized organically with manure, fertilizer crops, and compost. 16

A significant factor in the decline of these soils was the loss of organic matter, since soil organic matter both feeds soil microorganisms and the miccorhizal fungi-both vital components of a healthy soil. Since 1950, the soils of the major farming areas of the U.S. have been bombarded yearly with vast quantities of soil-killing pesticides and synthetic fertilizers, just as the Morrow plots were. The Morrow plot conclusions should be a wake-up call to farmers and synthetic fertilizer consultants. Those conclusions are that currently recommended fertilizer applications are from 40 to 190% excessive and that long-term fertility suffers when farmers depend on synthetic fertilizers and don’t replace lost organic matter utilizing organic soil management.

On several chemically abused pieces of ground where we farmed, and with cotton, vegetable, and corn farmers we have advised, we were able to dramatically increase the soil organic matter in three or four years from 1.5% to 3 or 4%, effectively doubling the amount of GHG sequestration while eliminating nitrate fertilizer runoff and emissions. Using a small amount of compost and growing fertilizer crops in the fall and winter months and cash-fertility crops in the spring and summer accomplished these increases. Each percentage point increase in organic matter represents a major increase in soil nitrogen, i.e., nitrogen produced by microorganisms decomposing organic matter. Each percentage increase in organic matter also enables the soil to absorb and store more carbon.

Beyond Factory Farm Beef, Pork, and Poultry

Along with changing the way we farm, we must also alter what we farm, and what we eat. Our excessive dependence on meat is not sustainable over the long term since, as we have noted, 80% of our agriculture is devoted to producing animals, which is the least energy efficient food. To raise meat on factory farms takes too many input calories (primarily fossil fuel), too much acreage, too much nitrogen fertilizer, as well as hazardous pesticides, antibiotics, and hormones, not to mention millions of acres of genetically modified (GM) crops.

A few examples illustrate this point clearly. It takes 10 to 12 pounds of grain (corn, wheat, soy, cottonseed) to produce one pound of marketable feedlot beef (that is 5000 to 6000 pounds of grain to produce 500 pounds of meat). It takes one gallon of oil to grow and ship the feed for one pound of beef. It requires 78 calories of fossil fuel (mostly to grow the grain) to produce one calorie of protein from feedlot-produced beef. 2500 gallons of water are needed to produce a single pound of confinement beef.

We all need to eat less (or better yet none) of the non-organic fatty meats that are grown in abusive feedlots, hog hotels, and poultry prisons. Just reducing U.S. meat intake by a third would reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions by one-third. And, if you replace the factory farm meat in your diet with range fed organic meat you will reduce your personal carbon footprint, strike a blow for humane treatment of farm animals, and improve your health. Meat eaters don’t necessarily have to stop eating meat, they just need to understand which meat is safe and humanely raised (organic and grass-fed), and sustainable.

Ultimately, if we change our eating habits, and curtail our Madison Avenue and mass media-induced need to buy and consume so many clothes and consumer products, we can significantly reduce our carbon footprint. Whether or not government bureaucrats and corporations change their behavior in the short term will be determined by the strength of U.S. and global grassroots movements . But we will never be able to build, motivate, and lead these movements unless we first start walking our talk and create viable models of organic conversion and green economics in our individual lives and in our local communities.

On the other hand, changing our habits is not enough-we must demand that the Obama administration act and impose a carbon tax, including a tax on chemical agriculture.   We need to demand much higher emission reduction commitments, along with an end to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, nationalization of the big banks and financial institutions, and a restoration of democracy, starting with publicly funded elections. The remaining TARP bank rescue money should go to kick-start green energy, transportation, and sustainable agriculture projects, and to train and hire the jobless to retrofit and build the new green economy. These are strategic Main Street issues; communities want new green infrastructure, healthy food, new industries, and new quality jobs.

A New Works Project Administration

A modern day Works Project Administration could train and employ a massive green corps to create the green infrastructure and post-carbon economy. When FDR created the Works Project Administration in the 1930s there were about 60,000,000 workers in the labor market. Twenty-five percent, or 15,000,000 people were unemployed. Today, there are 154,400,000 workers in the labor market. The Labor Department estimates that 10.3% of the population is unemployed. Most analysts argue that the percentage is closer to 16.5%. Whoever is right, and whether it is 15.9 million or 24.7 million, more people are out of work now than during the Great Depression. And they desperately need jobs and training, just like people did during the Depression.

Environmentalist Bill McKibben is right, we need to mobilize a grassroots army to demand reductions in emissions and armies of workers to convert our infrastructure to a green economy. That means you must text, twitter, e-mail, and use FaceBook, Google, YouTube and other resources to get educated about climate change. Once you understand the gravity of the situation you will be able to change your habits, inform your friends, and participate in climate change demonstrations. Get organized at the local level and then coordinate your local efforts with nationwide networks such as the Organic Consumers Association and www.350.org.

Your children and grandchildren are depending on you to make their world livable. The hour is late.

Note: Contact these organizations or individuals for information and to meet others in your community who are participating in efforts to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions:

Organic Consumers Association: www.organicconsumers.org

Center for Food Safety/Navdanya: www.coolfoodscountdown.org

www.350.org


References:

6.   Agriculture and Climate Change: Impacts and Opportunities at the Farm Level . A Policy Position Paper of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. 2008

7. Three times more phosphorous and potash fertilizer are used than pesticides, so farmers use about 8 times as many pounds of commercial fertilizer as toxic pesticides.

8. Allen, Will, 2008. The War on Bugs, Chelsea Green, pp. 93-96, 144

9. Ibid., pp. 146-147

10.United States Department of Agriculture Fertilizer Use Statistics, 1998-2007

11. Until we stop being a military country, we will continue to make synthetic nitrogen for bombs.

12. “The Organic Revolution, How We Can Stop Global Warming” by Ronnie Cummins, and Alexis Baden-Mayer from the Organic Consumers Association. October 19, 2009

http://www.organicconsumers.org/articles/article_19404.cfm

13. The U.S. EPA estimates that 16 billion pounds of dry sludge are produced each year and that one-half of that is applied to farmland. Synagro (a division of the Carlyle Group), which is the largest distributor of sludge, contends that about 135 billion pounds of sludge are applied to farmland.

14. Taylor, John  Arator, 1813, Reprint 1977, The Liberty Fund, Indianapolis

15. Wells, David, 1852. Comparison of the Organic Matter Content of Soils from Massachusetts and Ohio. Lawrence Scientific School, Harvard University.

16. R.L. Mulvaney, S.A Kahn and T.R. Ellsworth, Synthetic Nitrogen Fertilizers Deplete Soil Nitrogen: A Global Dilemma for Sustainable Cereal Production. Published in 2009 by The Journal of Environmental Quality. S.A Khan, R.L. Mulvaney, T.R. Ellsworth, and C. Boast. The Myth of Nitrogen Fertilization for Soil Carbon Sequestration . Published in the November/December 2007 issue of The Journal of Environmental Quality. Cawood, Matt, 2009 Why Synthetic Nitrogen is Bad for Soil Carbon Published in Stock and Land, Oct. 4.

Will Allen is an organic farmer, community organizer, activist, and writer who farms in Vermont. He is a Policy Advisor for the Organic Consumers Association. His book The War on Bugs was published by Chelsea Green in 2008. His website is www.thewaronbugsbook.com The farm website is www.cedarcirclefarm.org

Ronnie Cummins is an organizer, writer, and activist. He is the International Director of the Organic Consumers Association and co-author of the book, Genetically Engineered Food: A Self-Defense Guide for Consumers . His organization’s website is www.OrganicConsumers.org

Kate Duesterberg edited this article. She is an organic farmer who co-manages Cedar Circle Farm, with Will Allen, in Vermont. She previously worked as an organizer for Rural Vermont, coordinated the Center for Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Vermont, and was the managing director of the Sustainable Cotton Project.

In Central Florida, the Scramble Is On to Link High-Speed Rail Systems

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

Take it from someone who used to live in central Florida: they really need an effective high-speed inter-city passenger rail. It’s probably the most effective plan to combat the rampant urban sprawl, traffic congestion, road rage, and pollution endemic to the current system. As the population continues to grow, conditions will only worsen unless something is done about it.

With “light rail” seeming just out of reach for many years, President Obama’s stimulus promises to jumpstart the project. But for it to work it has to be done right. James McCommons, author of Waiting on a Train: The Embattled Future of Passenger Rail Service, says “if people are going to use them, they have to be able to use them conveniently.” Right now Floridians face a couple of obstacles that stand in the way of an efficient and successful system: money and logistics.

From the Orlando Sentinel:

Two train systems meant to usher in a new era of transportation in Metro Orlando are slated to run along separate tracks that will intersect west of Orlando International Airport.

But, as it stands, there is no planned connection where passengers from the $1.2 billion SunRail commuter train could transfer to the $2.6 billion high-speed train or vice versa. How is that possible?

Train supporters say they are now working on a link, which potentially would increase ridership for both systems. But it appears little thought initially was given to bringing the trains together because few ever thought the projects would happen, much less at about the same time.

SunRail, after all, was defeated twice in the state Legislature, and high-speed-rail proposals had failed repeatedly during several decades.

As longtime transportation planner Dave Grovdahl of MetroPlan in downtown Orlando said, “How many people were expecting high-speed rail to be a funded project?”

But the election of President Barack Obama — a high-speed-rail fan — coupled with the $787 billion stimulus package passed by Congress last year resulted in money to create the fast train planned to run from OIA to Tampa.

The promise of high-speed dollars also helped prompt Florida lawmakers to approve SunRail on the third try in December. The Obama administration awarded $1.25 billion to Florida’s high-speed bid little more than a month later.

Construction could begin late this year on SunRail, expected to link DeLand in Volusia County with downtown Orlando and Poinciana in Osceola County by 2015. The high-speed train could be running by 2015, too.

That has led area officials to push the state Department of Transportation, overseeing both ventures, to link the two. That will take a change of attitude, said Ed Turanchik, a former Hillsborough County commissioner and director of ConnectUs, a pro-high-speed lobbying group.

“Florida has never had a serious rail plan,” Turanchik said. “It’s always been a cobbling of projects.”

Read the whole article here.

 

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Climate Catastrophe: Surviving the 21st Century

Thursday, February 18th, 2010

By Ronnie Cummins and Will Allen

Part 1 of 2
This article was originally published on the Organic Consumers Association website.

“The catastrophic impacts of climate change are not only going to take place in the distant future. They are taking place now.”

 - Vandana Shiva, Soil not Oil: Environmental Justice in an Age of Climate Crisis


Climate Stabilization Requires a Cultural and Political Revolution

The climate, energy, and political catastrophe we are facing is mind-boggling and frightening.   Yet there is still time to save ourselves, to move beyond psychological denial, despair, or false optimism. There is still hope if we are willing to confront the hydra-headed monsters that block our path, and move ahead with a decisive plan of action. The inspirational message we need to deliver is that we’re not just talking about drastically reducing fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) pollution, but rebuilding society, creating in effect a New Woman and a New Man for the 21st Century. What we are witnessing are the early stages of a mass grassroots consciousness-raising and taking back of power from out-of-control corporations, banks, corporate-controlled media, and politicians. This cultural and political revolution will empower us to to carry out a deep and profound retrofitting of industry, government, education, health care, housing, neighborhoods, transportation, food and farming systems, as well as our diets and lifestyles.

The scale of human and physical resources needed to turn our current suicide economy into a green economy is daunting, but absolutely necessary and achievable. The only viable roadmap for survival-an 80-90% reduction in fossil fuel use and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 2050-means we must force a drastic reduction in military spending (current wars and military spending are costing us almost one trillion dollars a year). We must tax the rich and the greenhouse gas polluters, and bring our out-of-control politicians, banks, Federal Reserve System, and corporations to heel.

The good news, as Van Jones and others have pointed out, is that this 21st Century green economy will not only stabilize the climate, but enable us to retrain and reemploy the U.S. workforce, including low-income youth and 16-25 million unemployed workers, as building retrofitters, solar and wind installers, recyclers, organic gardeners, farmers, nutritionists, holistic health care providers, and other green economy workers.

Beyond Copenhagen: Civilization at the Crossroads

The negotiators and heads of state at the December 2009 Copenhagen Climate negotiations abandoned the summit with literally no agreement on meaningful greenhouse gas (carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane) reduction, and little or no acknowledgement of the major role that industrial (non-organic) food and farming practices play in global warming. Unfortunately the statements and behavior of Copenhagen delegates, and the enormous divisions between the Global South and the industrialized nations, make it clear that galvanizing a legally binding international agreement to drastically reduce greenhouse gas pollution will be a protracted and difficult struggle.

China and the United States are equally and jointly responsible for more than 40% of the current global climate destabilizing GHGs. China’s emissions arise from 20% of the world’s population. U.S. emissions come from 5%. Although China, India, Mexico, Brazil and other developing nations are responsible for a growing discharge of GHGs, most of the greenhouse gasses in the atmosphere and oceans today are directly attributable to the United States and Europe’s industrial and transportation emissions since the early 1900s.

From an ethical, legal, and survival perspective, North America, E.U. and Japan must lead the way. To avoid a disastrous rise in global temperature (a literal climate holocaust), the wealthy, highly industrialized nations must acknowledge the seriousness of the crisis, cut their emissions, and stop playing blame and denial games with China, India, Brazil, Mexico, South Africa and other developing nations. Major cuts by the developed nations need to start now, and they need to be deep, not 7% as President Obama proposed in Copenhagen, nor the 20% that the E.U. offered.

The hour is late. Leading climate scientists such as James Hansen are literally shouting at the top of their lungs that the world needs to reduce emissions by 20-40% as soon as possible, and 80-90% by the year 2050, if we are to avoid climate chaos, crop failures, endless wars, melting of the polar icecaps, and a disastrous rise in ocean levels. Either we radically reduce CO2 and carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e, which includes all GHGs, not just CO2) pollutants (currently at 390 parts per million and rising 2 ppm per year) to 350 ppm, including agriculture-derived methane and nitrous oxide pollution, or else survival for the present and future generations is in jeopardy. As scientists warned at Copenhagen, business as usual and a corresponding 7-8.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in global temperatures means that the carrying capacity of the Earth in 2100 will be reduced to one billion people. Under this hellish scenario, billions will die of thirst, cold, heat, disease, war, and starvation.

If the U.S. significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions, other countries will follow. One hopeful sign is the recent EPA announcement that it intends to regulate greenhouse gases as pollutants under the Clean Air Act. Unfortunately we are going to have to put tremendous pressure on elected public officials to force the EPA to crack down on GHG polluters (including industrial farms and food processors). Public pressure is especially critical since “just say no” Congressmen-both Democrats and Republicans-along with agribusiness, real estate developers, the construction industry, and the fossil fuel lobby appear determined to maintain “business as usual.”

During the Bush years, scientific warnings and public demonstrations against global warming were ignored or trivialized, even though many of our protests were large and well organized. Now, in theory, we finally have a Congressional majority and a President who claim to be willing to listen and take action to stop global warming. But in order to get their attention, and move from small change to major change, we are going to have to turn up the volume. We have to stop thinking that things are going to get better because Obama is right-minded. Things are going to get better if and when we force Obama and our out-of-control politicians and corporations to bend to the people’s will.

Beyond Copenhagen: Making Polluters Pay

Instead of the weak “cap and trade” bill supported by Wall Street speculators, and passed by the House, we need a real tax on GHG pollution. Yes, we can and must directly rebate working class and poor people for increased energy costs, but hundreds of billions of dollars in GHG and corporate taxes annually must be earmarked over the next decade for green infrastructure development, including a new electric grid, a mass transition to organic agriculture, mass transit upgrades, deep retrofitting of the nation’s five million commercial and 83 million residential buildings, and a crash program of alternative energy research and development.

We must continue to expose the worst greenhouse gas polluters, such as utilities companies, petrochemical corporations, car manufacturers, coal and mining companies, the construction industry, and corporate agribusiness, and demand that they begin to retool their industries immediately. We must move beyond polite protest and scattered dissent and dramatically take our message to the streets and the corporate suites, Congress, state legislatures, and our local governments.

The Deadly Greenhouse Footprint of American Consumers

We all know in general that cars, trucks, coal and power plants, household heating and cooling, and manufacturing industries spew a majority of the greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere and the oceans. But did you know that U.S. household use of fossil fuels (housing, transportation, and food) accounts for 67% of total energy consumption and 67% of GHG’s emitted? 1

Heating, lighting, and cooling our poorly insulated and designed 113 million homes and apartments and running our electrical and gas appliances consumes 26.6% of total U.S. fossil fuels.

Cruising in our gas guzzling (averaging 22 miles per gallon) and underutilized cars (average 1.4 passengers per journey) burns up another 23.4% of energy.

Eating highly processed and packaged foods and animal products, produced on chemical and energy-intensive factory-style farms, transported over long distances, and throwing our waste foods into the garbage (rather than composting them) eats up another 17.3% of the nation’s energy.

The average U.S. citizen generates 19.6 tons of climate destabilizing greenhouse gases every year, more than twice as much as the European Union and Japan (9.3 tons per capita), and 7.3 times as much as the developing world (2.7 tons per capita).

The Tab for Saving the U.S. from Climate Chaos: $700 Billion a Year

The estimated costs over the next 40-50 years to replace coal and natural gas with solar and wind in electricity generation, at current levels of use, is $15 trillion (which is about the equivalent of U.S. GNP for one year) . 2

We must reduce fossil fuel use by 80-90% in the nation’s five million commercial and 83 million residential buildings (which currently use up 40% or 40 quadrillion BTUs of our total energy), including reducing building size, changing lighting and windows, making wall, ceilings and floors as thick and as airtight as possible (R-50 or R-60), and placing furnaces and ductwork inside the retrofitted space. The estimated costs for this in future decades will amount to another $10-15 trillion This figure is based upon deep retrofitting costs of $50,000 per residential unit, and $600,000-$2,000,000 per commercial building, with two million new more compact units per year replacing old housing and business stock and meeting new 90% fossil fuel reduction standards.

Converting from our current energy and chemical/GMO-intensive food and farming system (which currently accounts for 35% of our greenhouse gases and $800 billion in diet-related health care costs annually) to one which is organic, relocalized, energy-efficient, and carbon sequestering, will cost at least another $100 billion per year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

Rebuilding our mass transit systems and reorganizing personal transportation (5-15 people in high-mileage “smart jitneys” and electric cars and vans instead of 1.4 passengers in gas guzzlers, along with a massive increase in bicycle use) will cost us at least another $100 billion a year, or $5 trillion over 50 years.

In other words we need to start redirecting $700 billion a year in federal expenditures away from war and corporate welfare, offer training and jobs in a giant green jobs program (similar to the Works Project Administration program of the New Deal era in the 1930s), and build a new green, full-employment economy. Where are we going to get this money? Not by raising taxes on working people and the poor, but by taxing the rich and the greenhouse gas polluting corporations, and guaranteeing loans from a new citizen-controlled Federal Reserve and banking system.

A major part of this transition to an organic and low-carbon economy will require innovative public and private financing for home, transportation, food and farming retrofitting along the lines of the recent PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) program in California. 3 Under this “Slow Money” regime, homeowners, renters, businesses, and farmers can immediately start to reduce their energy bills and carbon footprints and get their homes, businesses, and farms retrofitted for no money down, with low-interest costs being added to their mortgages and tax bills over an extended 30-40 year period.

Can we afford $700 billion per year? Obviously we can, although shortsighted, unsustainable corporate profits will no doubt suffer. Keep in mind that the Pentagon budget, not including the wars for oil and strategic resources in Afghanistan and Iraq, will cost us over $700 billion dollars this year. And don’t forget that Obama and his advisors recently handed over approximately $12 trillion in subsidies and grants to the Wall Street criminals and pathological kleptomaniacs who rule our out-of-control financial system. Clearly, what we are proposing is chump-change compared to our recent corporate giveaways.

Honest businesses, homeowners, consumers, farmers and industries that reduce their carbon footprint and help develop the green economy can and should receive substantial tax credits. Speculators, mercenaries, toxic polluters, and Masters of War can go to financial hell, where they belong.

The Hidden Greenhouse Gas Damage of Food Inc.

Although transportation, industry, and energy producers are significant polluters, few people understand that the worst U.S. greenhouse gas emitter is “Food Incorporated,” industrial food and farming. Industrial farming accounts for at least 35% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions (EPA’s ridiculously low estimates range from 7% to 12%, while some climate scientists feel the figure could be as high as 50% or more). Industrial agriculture, biofuels, and cattle grazing-including whacking down the last remaining tropical rainforests in Latin America and Asia for animal feed and biofuels-are also the main driving forces in global deforestation and wetlands destruction, which generate an additional 20% of all climate destabilizing GHGs. In other words the direct and indirect impacts of industrial agriculture and the food industry are the major cause of global warming.

Currently conventional (energy and chemical-intensive non-organic) farms emit at least 25% of the carbon dioxide (mostly from tractors, trucks, combines, transportation, cooling, freezing, and heating), 40% of the methane (mostly from animal gas, and manure ponds), and 96% of nitrous oxide (mostly from synthetic fertilizer manufacture and use, the millions of tons of animal manure from cattle herds, pig and poultry flocks, and millions of tons of sewage sludge spread on farms). Per ton, methane is 21 times more damaging, and nitrous oxide 310 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide , when measured over a one hundred year period. Damage is even worse if you look at the impact on global warming over the next crucial 20-year period. Many climate scientists now admit that they have previously drastically underestimated the dangers of the non-CO2 GHGs, including methane and nitrous oxide, which are responsible for at least 20% of global warming. 4

A major portion of the CO2e (all GHGs not just CO2) emitted by industrial farming comes from long distance transportation, heating, freezing, and processing. So, the more you cook from scratch, buy locally, and eat raw vegetables and fruits, the less CO2e you produce. The bottom line is that we as a society are what we eat. In the oncoming era of climate chaos and peak oil, we must make the transition to energy efficient, climate adaptable, local and regional based organic farms, urban gardens, and primarily vegetarian diets, or we will likely not survive.

Almost all U.S. food and farm-derived methane comes from factory farms, huge herds of confined cows, hogs, poultry operations, as well as rotting food waste thrown into land-fills instead of being separated out of the solid waste stream and properly composted. To drastically reduce methane releases we need an immediate ban on factory farms, dairies, and feedlots. We also need mandatory separation and recycling of food wastes and green garbage at the municipal level, so that that we can produce large quantities of high quality organic compost to replace the billions of pounds of chemical fertilizer and sewage sludge which are releasing GHGs, destroying soil fertility, polluting our waters, and undermining public health.

Nearly all nitrous oxide pollution comes from dumping billions of pounds of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer and sewage sludge on farmland (chemical fertilizers and sludge are banned on organic farms and ranches), mainly to grow animal feed. Since about 80% of U.S. agriculture is devoted to producing meat, dairy, and animal feed, reducing agriculture GHGs means eliminating the overproduction and over-consumption of meat and animal products.

Organic Farming and Ranching Can Drastically Reduce GHG Emissions

The currently catastrophic, but largely unrecognized, GHG damage from chemical farms and industrial food production and distribution must be reversed. This will involve wholesale changes in farming practices, government subsidies, food processing and handling. It will require the conversion of a million chemical farms and ranches to organic production. It will require the establishment of millions of urban backyard and community gardens.

If consumer pressure and grassroots mobilization geared toward changing public policies cannot force U.S. factory farmers to change the way they farm, process, and ship their products it will be almost impossible to deal with catastrophic U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. 5 On a very hopeful note, however, i f farmers do change, and make the transition to organic farming, farm and ranch land can become a significant sink or sequester pool for greenhouse gasses, literally sucking excess greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere and the ozone layer and sequestering them safely in the soil, where they belong.  


References:

1. Plan C: Community Survival Strategies for Peak Oil and Climate Change . Pat Murphy. New Society Publishers, pp. 120-127.

2.Ibid,, p. 85

3. “How innovative financing is changing energy in America” by Cisco Devries. Grist, January 27, 2010.

http://www.grist.org/article/2010-01-26-how-innovative-fi…

4. “Los otros contaminantes que cambian el clima” by Jessica Seddon Wallack and Veerabhadran Ramanathan. Foreign Affairs Latinoamerica. Vol. 9 Number 4, 2009. pp. 29-40

5. Nutrient Overload: Unbalancing the Global Nitrogen Cycle . Staff of World Resources Program. 1998-1999

ANNOUNCING: Terra Madre Now Available

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Terra Madre: Forging a New Global Network of Sustainable Food Communities by Carlo Petrini. It has been adapted for the Web.

Food: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde?

If I want to eat well, I’m an elitist. If I respect tradition, I’m glued to the past. If I obey the rules of sound ecology, I’m a bore. If I acknowledge the importance of the rural world, I yearn for bucolic pleasures.

It’s hard to talk about food and agriculture, sustainable food production and consumption without having to bear the brunt of this kind of cliché-ridden criticism. At Slow Food, we have noted that, now that things are starting to move, this kind of talk is rising in volume and frequency. For a whole variety of reasons, eating is increasingly in our thoughts and in our conversation. But instead of bringing pleasure and joy as it ought to, it generates uncertainty, unrest, anxiety, and fear. Eating, without which we can’t survive, is turning into a problem.

In the world of today, the act of eating is pregnant with paradox. World hunger and malnutrition and the pandemics of obesity and diabetes are all sides of the same coin. We demand quality, yet we complain because it costs money. Then we go and spend the same amount on junk food or trashy consumer products. We watch TV programs that churn out recipes all day long, yet we’ve forgotten how to cook. We have all the food we could ever wish for at our disposal, yet we sweat buckets to slim down. At the same time, those of us who fight to protect fauna and flora on the verge of extinction, to promote the goodness that our countryside still has to offer, and to educate others about the pleasures of food are written off as elitist. It’s as if, for cultural and economic reasons, it were no longer possible to combine pleasure and commitment.

How have we allowed this to come about? Food is our link with the outside world and nature: eating it makes us part of the complex system that the ancients described as “the breath of the earth.” Metabolism is what distinguishes living beings from inanimate objects. We have a metabolism, what we eat has a metabolism, the earth has a metabolism, and all vital processes are closely interconnected. Arguably, at the root of the problem is the development model that has had the upper hand in all human activities, the eating of food being no exception. Industrialization and the primacy of a reductionist-mechanistic vision have heralded the triumph of consumerism. We have evolved into Homo consumens.

Human beings have convinced themselves they live outside the natural cycle. They think they can use nature to suit their whims. By virtue of their confidence in their own ability to produce anything, they think that even forms of production most closely bound to the natural world can follow the same laws. Once a badge of identity—a miracle of nature turned element of culture—food has now become a product like any other and, as such, complies with the laws of consumerism: meaning the laws of the market and of waste.

Our common store of practical knowledge—traditional and ancestral wisdom and the capacity to live in tune with nature—has suddenly been erased and forgotten, as if the baby had been thrown out with the bathwater. Not that the cultural heritage typical of rural societies is the only thing to have been swept away by modernity. It is precisely our relationship with food—summed up in the verb “to eat”—that has been cut off from its traditional role in the history of humanity. The link between us and the world that surrounds us, the one that holds together the complex system of our existence, has snapped. This is why, irrespective of their relative degrees of modernity and wealth, traditional societies that, albeit unconsciously, have always lived profitably in a holistic way still have a lot to teach us.

Today eating generates uncertainty, anxiety, and fear. By barring nature from the human sphere, we have ultimately excluded food as well. We have forgotten the importance of an action that we perform at least three times a day, every day. The production and processing of food has left our kitchens to be taken over by third parties. Now that we have mislaid the secrets of food, we have to buy them back with money, just as we buy everything else we need—or think we need.

Food today is more a product to be sold than to be eaten. Reducing our relationship with what we eat almost exclusively to a series of market operations is both the cause and effect of a system that has removed value from food and meaning from our lives. It’s a system that has turned the meaning of the verb “to eat” from active to passive for many inhabitants of the earth. Food has become as ambiguous as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; given its complexity, it possesses “split personalities” in the way it appears and the way it is perceived. And split personalities are a sign of its unsustainability.

Biochar Could Make a Significant Dent in Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

So what is biochar and how is it going to save the world?

Let’s start with a definition. Biochar is fine-grained charcoal used as a soil supplement. Not too terribly exciting. But what is exciting, especially to climate scientists, is the potential applications. The process of creating and burying biochar actually removes carbon from the atmosphere. And it doesn’t stop working there. By helping plants grow, biochar helps suck CO2 out of the atmosphere by virtue of photosynthesis. It’s a process that was used centuries ago by Amazon Indians, and maybe its time has come around again.

From ThePoultrySite.com (UPDATE: h/t USA Today):

USA Today reports that at Josh Frye’s poultry farm in West Virginia, the chicken waste is fed into a large, experimental incinerating machine. Out comes a charcoal-like substance known as ‘biochar’ – which is not only an excellent fertiliser, but also helps keep carbon in the soil instead of letting it escape into the atmosphere, where it acts as a greenhouse gas.

Former vice president and environmental advocate Al Gore calls biochar “one of the most exciting new strategies” available to stop climate change. For Mr Frye, it means that, before long, “the chicken poop could be worth more than the chickens themselves.”

He said: “I thought it was crazy at first, and my wife still thinks it’s nuts.” However, he has sold nearly $1,000 worth of biochar to farmers as far away as New Jersey, and plans to sell much more as he refines production. Venture capitalists, soil scientists and even members of Congress have all come to Frye’s farm to see whether his example can be repeated.

Biochar is typical of the promise – and potential pratfalls – of some of the new technologies. Scientists are still trying to determine how much of an impact biochar can really make in reducing pollution.

As with many new green initiatives, Mr Frye’s began with one main objective: money.

He explained: “I always thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to burn all this manure and use the heat to warm the chicken houses?’” His farm produces up to 800,000 chickens a year, and hatchlings need to be kept at a steady temperature of about 90 degrees, resulting in about $30,000 a year in propane costs.

Read the whole article here.

 

Related:

Méchant Loup

Monday, February 15th, 2010

By Deirdre Heekin

There is something delicious about opening a bottle of really, really good Champagne in a foreign hotel room. And there is something delicious about dabbing a really, really great perfume on your wrist, behind your ear while in the selfsame foreign hotel room before opening that bottle of really, really good Champagne.

So this is what we did on a recent quick getaway to one our favorite cities: Montreal. We left early on a Tuesday morning so that we could arrive in time for a classic bistrot lunch at a favorite watering-hole: Chez Levesque on rue Laurier. We traveled with four friends, and we all tucked into lunch with the abandon of starting a long vacation even though we all knew we only had twenty-four hours. We drank Saumur Chenin Blanc from the Loire, and white Cote de Rhone with fresh oysters, and winter green salads. Sole Meuniere, sweet breads, slightly spicy steak and salmon tartars, pan-roasted Canadian colin. In the afternoon, we haunted favorite boutiques admiring daring fashions. I trekked to one of my favorite department stores in the city, Ogilvy, and bellied up to the comptoir at L’Artisan Parfumeurs. I was there to purchase my favorite scent, La Chasse aux Papillions, a white flower concoction with notes of white pepper that seems to satisfy my connection to the floral and the gourmand, and somehow sits well with my own chemistry.

As I always do at a perfume bar, I smell other things. It’s like a grand tasting at a bar à vin. There was the new harvest perfume Iris Pallida made from a rare iris found in Italy originating from the Dalmatian coast; there was the vintage and organic harvest scent Jatamansi made from the rare nard, or jatamansi root grown in the foothills of the Himalayas; there was La Haie Fleurie du Hameau extracted from jasmine, orange blossom, narcissus, and ylang-ylang; and there was Méchant Loup. I remembered having smelled Méchant Loup before but not being nearly as intrigued as at that moment on a bitter and damply cold mid-winter afternoon dressed in two sweaters and two coats and still feeling only barely warm enough even though I was inside a well-heated building. It was difficult to get out of the chill, but the Méchant Loup distracted me, beckoning with a compelling narrative on its notes of cedar, white pepper, sandalwood, hazelnut, and honey. Deep into the woods go I following these illusive yet magic scents that reveal themselves only as they choose, the sign of a good perfume—a perfume of place, just like the sign of a good wine.

I translate Méchant Loup as Naughty Wolf, but it might also mean Angry Wolf, or in the spirit of the parfumeur Bertrand Duchaufour’s thinking, The Big Bad Wolf. A scent often suggested to men, I take the sample thinking that even though this is more woodsy than most scents I wear, the thread of the white pepper and the hint of magnolia somewhere in the kernel of the perfume might suit me just right in this winter season. This is a gourmand scent made from spices that I might use to flavor roasting lamb. A spicy perfume, a sheep in wolf’s clothing.

We are staying in a new hotel down in the old city, Le Petit Hotel. We’ve been admiring it since it’s opening in late July. It is modern and small with great flair. Red, white, stone, wood. In our compact room, modern lamps light our way, and the bed is made in the European fashion: white sheets and eiderdown. We’ve brought a Gaston Chiquet Champagne from Dizy in France. It is mostly Chardonnay with a little Pinot Noir, and a little Pinot Meunier. We’ve brought six very thin glass flutes from Austria. The Chiquet brothers were on the front line of Champagne farmers who decided to stop selling to the big Champagne houses, and keep the grapes for their own wines. Our non vintage Champagne is full of toasty hazelnut and minerality precision at the finish. The mousse, or the bubbles are very fine and small like tiny exquisite pearls. It is both expansive and restrained. It is in balance, and accompanies the Méchant Loup perfectly.

We toast, we talk, and the room is illuminated with flashes of the yeasty Champagne, and the dark woods that I wear on my wrist. We create a new tale between the six of us: Little Red Riding Hood drinks Champagne.

Food Police Send Message to Raw Milk Cheese Makers: You Can Run But You Can’t Hide; Behind FTCLDF Criticism

Sunday, February 14th, 2010

By David E. Gumpert

From The Complete Patient*

Many dairies that would love to sell raw milk have opted instead for the attractive income, and seeming security, of producing raw milk cheeses instead. They figure they can still get the equivalent of $10 to or more a gallon of milk by producing artisinal cheese, and avoid the hassles with regulators so long as they age it 60 days as required by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. I’m an irregular buyer of a number of these cheeses made from raw cow’s, goat’s, and sheep’s milk, and they’re wonderful.

But enforcement of laws and regulations affecting raw milk are made to be changed, especially if it seems that farmers are carving out an attractive market niche and, horror of horrors, actually making farming profitable.  Presumably the raw dairy cops at the U.S. Food and Drug Administration have been waiting for an illness outbreak among consumers of 60-day-plus aged raw milk cheeses, but with none occurring, they’re moving ahead to protect us regardless.

According to a report in an industry publication, Cheese Reporter, a top dairy official at the FDA, Stephen Sundlof, director of its Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition (CFSAN) believes that the 60-day aging period “is not effective in reducing pathogens in raw milk cheeses.” There needs to be “some other risk management steps” that could be applied. Sundlof said at a dairy conference last month. What makes him think that the 60-day period isn’t effective in reducing pathogens? A little birdie must have told him so.

A change in the aging period regulation could put a crimp on production of a number of raw milk soft cheeses like brie and camembert, among others. Some producers already struggle with the 60-day aging requirement, since certain cheeses are best sold sooner than that, and letting them age for 60 days simply reduces their viable shelf lives.

Moreover, the FDA isn’t proposing to extend the aging period, but rather to require processing of the milk, including pasteurization of milk for certain cheeses. Interestingly, another processing option mentioned is “probiotics or competitive exclusion products.” That’s curious, since I understood the FDA didn’t recognize “competitive exclusion” as a means of ensuring raw milk safety. But pasteurization would no doubt compromise the taste and texture, and perhaps the nutritional value, of a number of soft cheeses…and zap another raw nutrient-dense food.

The phenomenon of regulators arbitrarily making trouble for raw milk producers in the absence of illnesses is becoming ever more common. In the Cheese Reporter article, Sundlof is quoted as expressing concerns about the “continued and escalating interest in raw milk consumption.” I love his use of the word “escalating” rather than “growing” or “expanding.” Escalating is a fear-oriented word, as in escalating danger. I don’t ordinarily think of these guys are literary, but clearly Sundlof picks his vocabulary carefully (including when he talks about farmers becoming “pretty clever” in using cow share arrangements). 

FDA continues to set the tone, indeed, lead the way, in continuing to “investigate” raw dairies, and encourage state agriculture and public health officials to do the same. The National Independent Consumers and Farmers Association (NICFA) reports on a Pennsylvania Amish farmer who last week greeted two FDA agents investigating his dairy production. As I reported in my Grist.org article, other states have taken up the FDA’s initiative.


Okay, the discussion about the Farm-to-Consumer Legal Defense Fund was a little rough-and-tumble, but maybe that’s because it’s a discussion that’s been long overdue. 

I’ve alluded to farmer criticisms of FTCLDF in a few previous posts. In Wisconsin, the criticisms have bubbled more broadly, and become louder than in any other state.

I appreciate lola granola’s sense of frustration with trying to run a dairy in the midst of the upheaval created by Wisconsin’s regulators. My sense is that the criticisms of FTCLDF grow partly out of unrealistic expectations. When FTCLDF was established in 2007, it conveyed a sense that it would defend all members under fire from government regulators. I just reviewed its member benefits, and it says it provides “potential legal representation to defend distribution of raw milk and other farm products directly to the consumer.” In other words, it will provide legal advice to all members, but will in the final analysis decide which cases it wants to defend, and how it will defend them.

The criticisms also grow out of the fact that FTCLDF is a young and maturing organization. The very concept of an organization dedicated to defending raw dairies and other small farms distributing direct to consumers is a new one. It obviously needs time to gain the necessary experience to feel out the legal system, and determine what kind of load it can handle…and can afford to handle.

I also want to second what several readers have suggested about Pete Kennedy and other lawyers involved with FTCLDF. I’ve come to know Pete very well in the course of reporting on raw milk, and he is about as committed as anyone can be. He’s available to farmers evenings and weekends, and travels to many less-than-glamorous conferences and events—often with his young family in tow—to rally support and inform farmers and consumers alike about what’s happening on the legal front lines. I don’t sense any pocket lining going on—quite the opposite.

I’d also like to second what Bob Hayles, Steve Bemis, Alexis Bogue, and others say about the importance of contacting legislators concerning new legislation and enforcement of existing regulations affecting raw milk and other foods. If there’s nothing going on in your state, contact your Congressional representatives in Washington about opposing the pending federal food safety legislation (which could come up for a vote in the Senate any time in the next few weeks), which will give the FDA vast new powers to limit our food choices beyond the considerable power the agency already has, and applies ruthlessly.

No action is too small. In Framingham, MA, which has been the center of a debate about whether to license a dairy near Boston to sell raw milk, citizens have taken to circulating a petition urging local public health officials to stop stalling and let Doug Stephan sell milk. Politicians and regulators alike notice citizen involvement and opinion.

 
*This article was originally published on The Complete Patient.

Pears—An Excerpt from Whole Foods Companion

Saturday, February 13th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Whole Foods Companion: A Guide for Adventurous Cooks, Curious Shoppers, and Lovers of Natural Foods by Dianne Onstad. It has been adapted for the Web.

(Pyrus communis)

There are only ten minutes in the life of a pear when it is perfect to eat.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pyrus is the classical Latin name for the pear tree, while communis means “common, general, or gregarious.” The English word pear derives from the Latin term.

General Information

The pear tree seems to have originated in western Asia around the Caspian Sea. Some pears are the distinctive pear shape, while others are elongated, and still others are round. The Romans introduced this fruit into Europe. More than five thousand varieties can now be listed, some spread throughout the world, others found in only one country or even limited to a small locality. In 1850, pears were so popular in France that it was the fashion among the elite to see who could raise the best specimen, and the fruit was celebrated in song and verse. In the United States the pear is almost as much a national favorite as the apple, to which it is related—both are members of the rose family and pome fruits (those with a distinct seeded core). Pear trees were brought to North America by early colonists, who used cuttings from European stock, and the fruit was introduced into California by Franciscan monks, who planted them in mission gardens. Today 95 percent of American-produced commercial pears are grown in Washington, Oregon, and California. Unlike most tree fruits, pears are best ripened off the tree; when tree-ripened, they develop little grit cells, or stones, in the flesh. Separated from the tree, this process cannot take place, and they ripen evenly and smoothly, with a creamy texture.

Buying Tips

Most pears are yellow and have brown or reddish overtones to them, depending on their variety. Select firm, unblemished fruit. They are fully ripe when they give to gentle pressure. Since pears ripen from the core outward, be careful not to let them soften too much, as they will turn to mush. Avoid those that are bruised, have rough scaly areas, or have soft flesh near the stem. Let pears ripen at home either on the counter or in a brown paper bag. Never store a pear sealed in plastic. Without freely circulating oxygen, the core will turn brown and brown spots will develop under the skin. When fully ripe and soft, pears should be stored in the refrigerator and used within a couple of days.

Culinary Uses

Pears are elegantly seductive. Sweet, juicy, wonderfully textured, and highly nutritious, they have the most subtle taste of all orchard fruit and leave the palate delightfully fresh and clean. They are probably the easiest fruit to identify by their shape: the small stem end gradually broadens to a plump blossom end like a bell. Properly ripened, pears are so tender they were once called the “butter fruit.” They can be used in all the same ways as apples, including for cider (called “perry”). Fresh pears make wonderful companions for wine, bread, and a mixture of sharp cheeses. Hollowed pear halves make attractive boats for various fillings.

Health Benefits

pH 3.50–4.60. Pears are extremely rich in alkaline elements, have a strong diuretic action, are helpful for constipation and poor digestion, and are valuable as general cleansers of the system. Their iodine content helps to keep the thyroid functioning properly and the metabolism balanced. Pears are an excellent source of water-soluble fibers, including pectin. In fact, pears are actually higher in pectin than apples. Pectin reduces serum cholesterol and cleanses the body of environmental and radioactive toxins. The regular consumption of pears is believed to result in a pure complexion and shiny hair. Dried pears are a good energy producer in the wintertime as well as a delicious snack year-round.

 

VARIETIES

Anjou (Beurre d’Anjou) are the most abundant winter variety of pear. Originating in France or Belgium in the nineteenth century, they are a round, yellowish-green pear that tapers bluntly to the stem end, with a thick, barely noticeable neck and no waistline. Belonging to the bergamot group of pears, their skin remains green but develops a definite glow when ripe; they should be eaten only when they yield to gentle pressure. Although the skin is not tough, it is not as sweet as the meat and has a slightly grainy texture. The flesh is spicy-sweet and juicy with a firm texture. Anjous are a wonderful dessert pear; their firm texture makes them the best pear for cooking and baking, since they never seem to lose their shape. Available from October through May.

Bartletts were first raised in 1770 in Berkshire, England, by a schoolmaster named John Stair. Arriving in London, this variety of pear was called Williams after Mr. Williams of Middlesex, who distributed them. In 1798 or 1799, it was brought to the United States and planted in Dorchester, Massachusetts, under the name of Williams’ Bon Chretien. Enoch Bartlett acquired the estate in 1817 and, not knowing the true name of the pear, distributed it under his own name. In other parts of the world it is still known as Williams or Williams’ Bon Chretien. The Bartlett is a true pyriform pear, with a definite waistline and a long stem; it is a large, golden-yellow summer pear, bell-shaped, with smooth, clear skin, often blushed with red. It has white, finely grained flesh that is juicy and delicious. The yellow variety ripens very quickly once picked and bruises easily (even loud noises are said to hurt them); they are best eaten while still flecked with green. The most common variety grown today, Bartletts comprise more than 65 percent of commercial production. They are excellent canners and dessert fruit but are too fragile for lunch bags and picnic baskets. Available July through December.

Bosc (Beurre Bosc) are a member of the conical pear family and are long, tapered, and waistless. They are generally medium-sized, dark yellow, with rough brown skins and long, narrow necks. When properly ripened, they become a dark russet color and respond to gentle pressure. The meat is firm and almost crunchy, cream-colored, very juicy, and smooth-textured. The larger ones usually have the best flavor and sweetness. An excellent pear for eating out of hand, the Bosc holds up well in lunch pails, picnic baskets, and fruit bowls; it is also wonderful baked, broiled, poached, or preserved. Available from October through May.

Clapp pears are hardly ever shipped but are frequently available at roadside stands and farmer’s markets. The green Clapp pear has a thinner skin than most, while the red Clapp has a heavier skin and a slightly firmer texture. Of medium size, they have very white flesh, a high sugar content, and plenty of juice.

Comice (Doyenne du Comice)—meaning “best of the show”) pears have the reputation of being the sweetest and most flavorful pears. They have a definite pyriform shape, with a short, wide stem end, a waistline, and a very wide blossom end. Somewhat squat and irregularly formed, they are heavily perfumed, with a heady, musky fragrance. Their color during peak ripeness is a soft green that glows with a golden aura and is sometimes slightly bronzed or flecked. Similar in size to the Anjou, they are distinguished from their cousin by a red blush. Their skin is so thin and the flesh so wet that anything more than a gentle stroke leaves a mark; their creamy smooth flesh literally melts in the mouth. Best when eaten fresh, they are also delectable baked into desserts. Available from October through January.

Packhams (Packham’s Triumph) are mostly imported, although some are grown in California. Coming in primarily medium and large premium sizes, this pear has a definite pear shape, but the wide bottom is irregular, with a deep blossom end. They also have a perfume that adds to their exotic flavor. Very, very juicy and sweet, a Packham pear at its peak (just turning soft gold all over) begs to be taken home. Available from late June to September.

Red Bartletts are a development of Northwestern pear growers and are fast becoming increasingly available. The red skin is heavier than the yellow variety, the pigment resists disease better, and the ripening process is not quite so quick. Three-quarters red, solid at the cone end, and striped below the waist, they are ripe when the yellow area shows slight green and the striped area is still red, not russet or brown.

Seckels are a true American pear, having been discovered as a mutant sometime around the time of the Revolution. They take their name from the man who acquired the land in Delaware where the original tree was discovered. They have hard green skin that turns slightly golden and develops a light red blush when ripe, a spicy aroma, and crisp but sweet flesh. Always very small and frequently only bite-sized, these are a fun fruit for all but make an especially good children’s fruit because of their size. Served fresh, poached, or pickled whole, these eye-catchers are sure to please with their sweet flesh. Available from September through January.

Localization: The Alternative to the Alternatives

Friday, February 12th, 2010

The following is an excerpt from Confronting Collapse: The Crisis of Energy and Money in a Post Peak Oil World by Michael C. Ruppert. It has been adapted for the Web.

The end of the Age of Oil will also be the end of globalization1, long-distance commutes, and long-distance transportation of goods and services—period. Oil is the only transportation fuel we have today, and it will be for some time. As president, you grasp that there is not going to be a last-minute reprieve from some new magical solution, a secret weapon that is going to win the “war” at the last minute. You look around and realize that localities are bearing the brunt of the hardship and you ask yourself what your role—what the role of the federal government—should be.

Since most Americans live in or near large cities, it might be best to hear what the cities are saying themselves. For almost every city in America oil is the single largest budget item, and in 2005 Denver’s oil costs surged by $1.9 billion. In 2005 and 2006 From the Wilderness attended conferences of the Association for the Study of Peak Oil, USA (ASPO-USA) in Denver and Boston. In Denver, Mayor John Hickenlooper made it clear that cities were bearing the heaviest burden because it was cities that delivered the services that mattered most to people.

Ad hoc networking had begun between many cities around the country to share ideas on efficiency, conservation and alternatives. Denver was sharing information with Portland and Chicago. Emergency energy task forces were sprouting up everywhere. Peak Oil was not speculation for these folks but a given at the local level, and there was serious frustration with the federal government, which was perceived as being “out of touch” as unfunded mandates on climate change and greenhouse-gas emissions strained municipal treasuries. Costs were being pushed down from Washington.

By 2008 the gap between what cities needed and the federal government was doing had worsened. I made several contacts with lobbying groups dealing with municipal issues in Washington. All sources spoke on a not-for-attribution basis but were very clear in their positions. “The federal government just doesn’t get it,” was said by more than one source. The general consensus was that by imposing unfunded mandates on climate issues and by continuing to build new roads through cities or major interstates, even as traffic flows were shrinking, the federal government had become a “huge drag on cities’ ability to respond to rising fuel costs and what that does to other services in municipal budgets.” The cities are now crying for what they call “reverse mandates” where cities can tell the federal government what is needed in the way of block grants that could be applied by local governments.

Some of the language was strong. “We’re getting creamed in every direction. The costs of capital improvements are like double-digit inflation. The federal government uses its resources in the most reckless and inappropriate ways.”

As president, your first awareness is that the federal government cannot and will not take on the role of solving problems in cities and townships. That would be inefficient and inappropriate on every conceivable level. Only the people in each locality know and can decide what they need most. Each location has different needs.

Your second awareness is that if localities fail at the bottom, the nation will fail at the top. Tax revenues are shrinking at every level of government. Federal employees all over the country are already having trouble getting to work because of economic challenges. That problem is going to worsen. America’s “all-volunteer” military will shrink because sons and daughters will have to stay at home to help support increasingly distressed families.

Decline is a fact that is not going to go away even if a million wells are drilled. Drilling holes does not mean that oil will be there. We might have better luck in Las Vegas or Atlantic City, although it’s pretty clear that these cities have short life expectancies. As oil supply tightens, the ability of the nation and of each community in it to respond effectively to problems, or to simply function at all, will be dictated by its degree of self-sufficiency and the degree to which it has liberated itself from dependence on anything from outside, whether the outside is 150 miles away or across an ocean. Food is the first concern here. Somehow America must start producing food where it is eaten, the way it did in the 19th century.

Awareness of this truth and some preparations for it have been underway for several years, slowly at first, but now at an accelerating pace—always at the local level, frequently at the individual household level. Yet many long-term activists, organizers and planners in the field complain that such preparations are far behind where they need to be.

As president, you might sit down one morning at your desk and receive the following briefing.

  • The Montana State Highway Patrol is cutting back on law enforcement patrols because it cannot afford the cost of gasoline.2 In fact almost every state highway patrol has been reducing services which has increased response times to emergency situations. Local police departments are faring no better. The El Paso County Sheriff’s Department in Colorado has ended car patrols within its 2,000-square-mile jurisdiction. One Ohio sheriff is putting his deputies into golf carts. Stillwater, Okla., has stopped mowing the grass on nearly half of its parkland.3 That seems like a small problem but it isn’t when untended parks provide havens for criminals and homeless. The Attorney General and the FBI are advising you in confidential briefings that crime rates in rural areas are rising rapidly as a result of unemployment and a growing awareness that police patrols have been cut back.
  • School districts around the nation have begun cutting back to 4-day school weeks because they can no longer afford the fuel for school buses.4 This is also causing an increase in juvenile crime and resulting in less-capable graduates entering an already overloaded work force.
  • Asphalt prices for road maintenance have risen so high that roads are starting to disintegrate, causing damage to private vehicles that fewer venues can afford to repair. A new report from Maryland indicates that asphalt prices have made it impossible to repair a road to a local church. A report from a local newspaper reports a discovery that every city and county in America is making, “To put it another way, a 20-foot wide, mile-long road with 2 inches of blacktop cost the county about $51,000 in 2004. That same road now costs $98,213.”5
  • In fact, 90% of U.S. cities are cutting back services because of fuel costs, everything from police and fire to trash pickup has been hit. “Several mayors—as they gripped-and-grinned at a downtown hotel—said the cost of fuel had become their obsession.”6 If trash isn’t picked up then disease becomes a risk, and public health becomes an issue. Larger cities have not been forced to cut back on emergency services yet, opting instead to cut back on lower priority social services and discretionary programs as rising energy costs sap their budgets. That can only last for so long.
  • All over the country, shelves at local food banks are empty, as food and transportation costs have collided headlong with a collapsing economy.
  • Displaced populations suffering from home foreclosures and unemployment are colliding with a new exodus moving into inner cities where those able to afford it have decided to move to cut commuting costs.

The list seems endless and is growing longer every day. All of these conditions are only magnified by the current depression.

Advisers have suggested to you that the federal government might start issuing mandates on energy use and setting standards for continued receipt of federal aid. As to the second point, you have decided that some standards might be necessary, but you have ruled out ones that require cities, counties, and states to spend money they no longer have. California’s 2008–9 budget crisis has made it clear that unfunded mandates might only accelerate the breakdown instead of slowing it.

One bright spot is that many thousands of individuals and families have, on their own, moved to make themselves less dependent upon fossil fuels and outside goods and services. A problem here is that there is no data base to track these efforts or what has been learned that may be exportable to other areas. There is no clearing house for data on individual initiatives producing a solution in Wyoming that could be applied to Massachusetts or Georgia.

The Perfect Laboratories

You look around to see if any place else has had to cope with sudden and severe oil shortages. Fortunately there are two clear and unequivocal examples. One shows what works and the other reveals what doesn’t. They are Cuba and North Korea, both of which experienced a sudden and dramatic absence of oil and natural gas products after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Neither country had any significant domestic energy sources although North Korea does have some coal. Both were totally reliant on oil and fertilizer (made from natural gas) exports from the Soviet Union. Agriculture in both countries had become dependent upon petrochemicals as we saw in Chapter Eight. But rather than a serious decline in the availability of oil and gas, for both of these nations it was almost an instant cold-turkey withdrawal.

One nation, following a rigid Soviet-style, top-down management system starved and ultimately nearly failed. Its populace suffered horribly as a complex civilization collapsed on all fronts. Trains didn’t run. There were massive blackouts. Frequently there was no water pressure. There was no fertilizer. That nation was North Korea.

The other nation turned almost immediately to local entrepreneurial capitalism and private ownership. It not only survived but ultimately became much healthier after a serious period of hardship. Its government made land ownership available to anyone who would farm it, even taking fallow land away from landowners who were not using it. It mandated local food production because not only was there no gasoline to drive food around the country there was almost none to power tractors and harvesters. There was no electricity to power irrigation pumps. It lifted all government interference and let the free markets operate in a way that would have made Adam Smith proud. The nation that survived was Cuba.

Cuba’s transition was by no means easy. Its soil had been harmed by decades of dependence on ammonia-based (natural gas) fertilizers and monocropping. So the first and immediate task was soil restoration. During that time only a few crops were grown. But, as time passed, the Cuban diet expanded from basic subsistence to become healthier and more diverse than ever before. Not only that, rooftops and vacant lots, almost every available square inch of land in Havana became local farms and markets within easy walking distance. Barter replaced cash. All food production became organic. Large state-owned farms were broken up, much as large American “agribiz” farming operations will eventually be broken up, out of necessity. Entropy makes everything break down into smaller components.

Notwithstanding the much better climate in Cuba and a series of natural disasters that hurt North Korea’s agricultural base, North Korea did everything wrong. The national government took strict control of almost every aspect of food cultivation. Cuba liberated it. After a few years of hardship Cuba’s population became healthier, the diet diversified and food choices increased dramatically. American film makers travelled to Cuba and documented this inspiring transition, showing that it is possible to survive and eat well after a loss of oil and gas.7 What proved essential was not for the national government to take control, but rather to get itself out of the way. Hunger drove the population to change its thinking or starve.

In 2003, my newsletter From The Wilderness published a two-part series by the brilliant Dale Allen Pfeiffer who had written our earlier story “Eating Fossil Fuels.” Titled “Drawing Lessons From Experience” the series contrasted the experience from both countries. Near the end of Part II Pfeiffer wrote:

The World Bank has reported that Cuba is leading nearly every other developing nation in human development performance. Because Cuba’s agricultural model goes against the grain of orthodox economic thought, the World Bank has called Cuba the “anti-model.” Senior World Bank officials have even suggested that other developing countries should take a closer look at Cuba. This despite that fact that the Cuban model flies in the face of the neoliberal reforms prescribed by both the World Bank and the IMF.8

Megan Quinn-Bachman is the Outreach Director of the Arthur Morgan Institute for Community Solutions of Yellow Springs, Ohio—one of the most active relocalization organizations in the world. She is also the co-producer of The Power of Community: How Cuba Survived Peak Oil, the 2005 award-winning documentary demonstrating that relocalization is the most effective way to deal with energy limitations. She has travelled to many countries and lectured all over the U.S. and Canada on the subject. In her late twenties, well-educated and an engaging speaker, she promises to be an important future leader for the generations that will have to deal with the worst parts of the energy/food crisis. I contacted her and asked her what information she had on relocalization efforts around the country and how such efforts were progressing. Her answer was less encouraging than I had hoped.

“Well . . . there are some localities taking steps. The municipalities showcase some bits and pieces of a good strategy (peak oil resolutions, planning & zoning that preserves land and resources, energy conservation for municipal energy use, etc.) but no place has put it all together and no place will survive the crisis without major challenges. Five years ago it was lip service, now its tokenism and a piecemeal approach. No community I know of has made community-wide (not just municipal buildings, fleets, etc.) energy reduction mandates, nor has any fully embraced a transition towards import substituting businesses and local living/security. None that I know of are storing emergency liquid fuel supplies and setting up emergency warm spaces and food preservation and storage facilities. None are figuring out how to prevent resources and money from leaving the community via banking and purchasing into local business incubators for entrepreneurs to set up local, low-energy businesses and infrastructure improvements (retrofitting homes, sustainable wastewater management, etc.).

Much of the best work is happening outside of municipalities, via community groups, neighborhoods, businesses, and pioneering individuals. CSAs [Community Supported Agriculture], food co-ops, local currencies & trading systems, are a few.

Relocalization groups, Transition Towns (http://www.transitiontowns.org/), etc. are all good starts, but they haven’t gone much beyond community education. They could be a great structure to use for disseminating viable options and models, but that’s currently not their use.”

Perhaps the one municipality in the United States with the biggest head start on relocalization is Willits, California.

A simple truth is all too apparent. There is no hope for any of us outside of a community. We must learn to work with our neighbors in developing sustainable lifestyles based upon reduced consumption and sharing of resources. This is difficult for Americans brought up on rugged individualism and competition and who have been taught to measure success in terms of consumer goods possessed and energy expended. But this is how our ancestors, the first settlers of this country, were able to survive and thrive. It is also how the Native Americans before them survived in a sustainable balance with the land and nature. Are we so deluded as to believe there can be no joy in life without rampant consumption?

A wise man once said that success was not having what you wanted but wanting what you had. Perhaps through relocalization, if it is embraced before it becomes an imperative, we will rediscover a quality of life that we have been missing and fill the void that we have been attempting to fill with consumption.

Either way, relocalization is going to happen. We can go there by choice, or we can resist and let our children suffer for our lack of vision. Some of the great champions of Peak Oil and sustainability like Jason Bradford and Matt Savinar live there. The web site http://www.willitseconomiclocalization.org/ is—as far as I can tell—a cutting edge of relocalization planning and experience.


Notes

  1. Larry Rohter, “Shipping Costs Start to Crimp Globalization,” New York Times, Aug 3, 2008.
  2. Associated Press, July 24, 2008.
  3. Los Angeles Times, June 30, 2008
  4. Reuters, July 24 2008.
  5. The Daily Times, June 16, 2006
  6. New York Times, June 21, 2008
  7. I strongly recommend the amazing documentary film The Power of Community from http://www.communitysolution.org.
  8. Dale Allen Pfeiffer, “Drawing Lessons From Experience,” Parts I & II, From The Wilderness, http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/111703_korea_cuba_1.html http://www.fromthewilderness.com/free/ww3/120103_korea_2.html

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