Jason Barton

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Archive for the ‘U.S.’ tag

Agricultural Policy Matters to Eaters and Energy Users as much as to Farmers

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Food and energy are increasingly intertwined. As energy is fundamental to food production, processing, and distribution, and because agricultural crops are used for biofuels feedstocks, the interconnections and impacts can become dizzyingly complex. Localizing both food and energy production can, in many instances, increase the efficiency, the quality, and the ecological cleanliness of these two essential production systems.

This is not to say I will give up the coffee that comes from Latin America, and it is often more efficient to eat tomatoes trucked from Mexico than to grow them in greenhouses further north, but there is much we can do to decrease energy inputs to the food system, and we can do it without making significant sacrifices.

By MICHAEL POLLAN
Published October 10, 2012

One of the more interesting things we will learn on Nov. 6 is whether or not there is a “food movement” in America worthy of the name — that is, an organized force in our politics capable of demanding change in the food system. People like me throw the term around loosely, partly because we sense the gathering of such a force, and partly (to be honest) to help wish it into being by sheer dint of repetition. Clearly there is growing sentiment in favor of reforming American agriculture and interest in questions about where our food comes from and how it was produced. And certainly we can see an alternative food economy rising around us: local and organic agriculture is growing far faster than the food market as a whole. But a market and a sentiment are not quite the same thing as a political movement — something capable of frightening politicians and propelling its concerns onto the national agenda.

Continue reading this article here.

Written by Jason

October 11th, 2012 at 5:42 am

Soil is essential, non-renewable, and disappearing

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The headline on the article below borders on yellow journalism (I hope I sufficiently toned down my own headline above), but the problem of soil erosion is very, very real. If there’s any doubt in your mind, head to the rural Midwest and take a look at a church yard nestled amongst the corn and soybean fields. The churchyard will be six to ten feet higher than the surrounding farm fields.

Why? Modern industrial agriculture, the methods widely practiced around the world, too often leads to massive amounts of erosion. The soil simply blows away or is washed downstream.

Deforestation leads to more erosion as plants that would have held the soil, and the water essential to healthy soil, are removed for timber or to make way for agriculture. The crops may be beneficial to the soils, a nice symbiotic relationship common in systems untouched by humans, but if the soil is left bare for months at a time, as is usually the case in the Midwestern US during the winter, that soil is still highly vulnerable to erosion, hence the church yard phenomenon.

Civilization’s Foundation Eroding

September 28, 2010

Lester R. Brown

The thin layer of topsoil that covers the planet’s land surface is the foundation of civilization. This soil, typically 6 inches or so deep, was formed over long stretches of geological time as new soil formation exceeded the natural rate of erosion. But sometime within the last century, as human and livestock populations expanded, soil erosion began to exceed new soil formation over large areas.

Sinai Desert
Credit: iStock Photo/stevenallan

[…]

In a section of his report entitled “The Hundred Dead Cities,” he described a site in northern Syria, near Aleppo, where ancient buildings were still standing in stark isolated relief, but they were on bare rock. During the seventh century, the thriving region had been invaded, initially by a Persian army and later by nomads out of the Arabian Desert. In the process, soil and water conservation practices used for centuries were abandoned. Lowdermilk noted, “Here erosion had done its worst….if the soils had remained, even though the cities were destroyed and the populations dispersed, the area might be re-peopled again and the cities rebuilt, but now that the soils are gone, all is gone.”

[…]
During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Amazon Deforested

Credit: iStock Photo/Brasil2

During the late nineteenth century, millions of Americans pushed westward, homesteading on the Great Plains, plowing vast areas of grassland to produce wheat. Much of this land—highly erodible when plowed—should have remained in grass. This overexpansion culminated in the 1930s Dust Bowl, a traumatic period chronicled in John Steinbeck’s novel The Grapes of Wrath. In a crash program to save its soils, the United States returned large areas of eroded cropland to grass, adopted strip-cropping, and planted thousands of miles of tree shelterbelts.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

September 29th, 2010 at 7:56 am

U.S. and Brazil Reach Agreement on Cotton Dispute

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There are two important relationships that I see between this decision and biofuels:

1. Brazil’s push for the U.S. to increase trade liberalization by reducing subsidies to cotton growers is similar to their push for the U.S. to lower its tariffs on imported ethanol. Brazil recently eliminated their own tariff on ethanol, and made it clear this was in part an effort to force us to do the same.

2. If people claim that diverting land from food to fuel is causing deforestation and driving up food prices (known as indirect land use changes, or ILUCs), why don’t we hear the same complaints about using agricultural land for fiber? The complaints may be valid, but it’s interesting that they aren’t applied to cotton. Cotton is certainly important, I’m wearing clothes right now, but transportation fuel is also important, so why the double standard?

The intellectual property rights discussed later in the article are another interesting matter, but that’s a whole other story.

By SEWELL CHAN
Published: April 6, 2010
WASHINGTON — The United States and Brazil have reached an agreement aimed at settling a long-standing trade dispute over American subsidies to cotton growers, officials in both countries said Tuesday.

The announcement came one day before Brazil was to begin imposing up to $830 million in sanctions with authorization from the World Trade Organization. The trade body had ruled last August that American subsidies to cotton growers had violated global trade rules.

[…]

Brazil had threatened, for example, to stop charging its farmers technology fees for seeds developed by American biotechnology companies and to break American pharmaceutical patents before their scheduled expiration. Those retaliatory actions would have cost American businesses up to $239 million.

“Traditionally, retaliation in trade has been the preserve of the largest developed countries, which have market power,” said Robert Z. Lawrence, a professor of international trade and finance at the Harvard Kennedy School. “But this mechanism — suspending intellectual property protection — gives smaller, developing countries a way to enforce their rights under trade rules.”

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

April 6th, 2010 at 5:09 pm

Should the U.S. compete or cooperate with China on clean energy?

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Here’s an editorial following up on and article posted earlier regarding Secretary Chu’s announcement that the U.S. invest US$37.5 million to cooperate with China on clean energy research.

Wind turbines are seen at the Da Bancheng Wind Farm in Xinjiang, China, last year as Beijing pushes companies to produce more renewable energy.
By Elizabeth Dalziel, AP

Amid recent studies suggesting the United States is losing the clean energy edge to China, the U.S. Department of Energy is helping fund a joint research center.

On Monday, Energy Secretary Steven Chu announced $37.5 million in U.S. funding over the next five years for the U.S.-China Clean Energy Research Center, to be located at existing facilities in both countries. The Center will focus on energy efficiency, clean vehicles and carbon capture from coal plants.

Read the entire article here.

United States and Brazil Sign MOU Limiting Deforestation

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BIOMASS INTEL

Posted by Mackinnon Lawrence on 3/08/10 • Categorized as News, Policy

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with Brazil last Wednesday to work together to reduce deforestation as part of an effort to slow climate change.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

March 8th, 2010 at 7:42 pm

Energy Spending to Aid Services

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Oilfield services dogged by price shifts

By PAUL VIGNA And JOHN SHIPMAN

As earnings season heats up, two big groups of companies won’t be enjoying the benefit of easy comparisons to a disastrous year-earlier quarter—energy companies and their handmaids, oil-field services. While the fourth quarter of 2009 was awful for a lot of industries, the energy business was strong.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

January 28th, 2010 at 11:57 pm

Brazil’s Petrobras In Ethanol Cooperative Pact With Petrochina

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The triangle of resource and labor exchanges between China, Brazil, and the United States merits close monitoring. When I began my PhD three and a half years ago, an unrealized goal was to learn Mandarin. Learning the languages of math, biology, physics, and chemistry, while continuing with Portuguese and Spanish, took a bit too much time for learning another language, which is fine as I already do more than enough traveling. Bringing biofuels to China even further into that mix adds an interesting dimension. The possibility of technology transfer and information sharing would be a much more efficient use of energy than China importing Brazilian ethanol.

DECEMBER 23, 2009, 11:06 A.M. ET

RIO DE JANEIRO (Dow Jones)–Brazil oil giant Petrobras and its biofuels subsidiary Petrobras Biocombustivel have signed a memorandum of understanding, or MOU,, with China’s Petrochina International Co. Ltd. (PTR) to cooperate in the ethanol sector.

Read the entire article here.

Written by Jason

December 24th, 2009 at 12:28 pm