Monday, February 28, 2011

Back to Sustainable Agriculture

Based of the Lecture Series Good Food: Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth, Brooklyn Public Library, February 26th, 2011

Last Saturday, I attended the lecture series Good Food at the Brooklyn Public Library. The speaker was Eric Herm, a cotton farmer from Texas. He recently wrote a book: Son of a Farmer, Child of the Earth. His vision of our current agricultural system is very interesting. He refers to farmers as the caretakers of the earth, that the soil, just like us, is capable of healing. He also mentioned that the real challenge of agriculture will be getting everyone together and defining how we go about change because what is happening to our food supply is also affecting our health. One particular idea that stayed with me is that it is time to put unity back in community.

He talked about how our life has gotten easier, and how we are used to picking all our food at the grocery store without the need to grow anything. We are also used to having access to a wide range of food any time of the year because it comes from all around the world. There is a cost to this diversity of choice; it takes a lot of energy to transport food from every corner of the globe

As farms get increasingly larger through consolidation, farmers are more inclined to use genetically modified organism (GMO) seed, mostly because it requires less labor by the farmer. This GMO seed has affected our soil system and made it weaker. Mr. Herm admitted to using GMOs in the past and explained to us how he is now farming with no GMO seed or pesticides and a limited amount of herbicides. His farm is also on the path to being certified organic.

While Eric Herm doesn’t pretend to have all the answers to fix our current food systems, he does have some ideas that could definitely get us on the path to a more sustainable food system. Eating locally and in season, growing a small garden, and growing perennial crops that don’t need to be replanted every year can save energy. In the end, people used to live closer to where their food is produced; it must be possible to go back to a more sustainable agriculture.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Not Just Carbon Emissions: Additional Ways to Reduce Climate Change

Blog post based on Piecemeal Possibilities publish in The Economist, February 19th, 2011.

This article was very interesting because it is a reminder that there is more to global warming than just carbon emissions. There is deforestation as well as greenhouse gases and other atmospheric pollutants.  According to the article, focusing on reducing these other causes could help lessen climate change. As of right now, reducing carbon emissions is an expensive and laborious project as carbon is the heart of our industrial life. The ability to control other pollutants might be easier and more cost-effective. These other causes may require less multinational oversight as well.
The article gives the example of how reducing black carbon that is obtained by inefficient combustion in cooking fires and by older diesel engines can give rapid and tangible results. The article mentions that this could be achieved by giving poor people cleaner ways to burn various fuels. This could not only help slow global warming but could also have huge health benefits.
Finally, the article mentioned that even if we take other actions to mitigate climate change, it is still very important to continue keeping in mind the importance of decarbonisation.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Regulation vs. Innovation: What is the answer to climate change?

Blog post based on Cap ad Trade is Dead. Now What? by Brian Walsh published in Good Magazine, Winter 2011.

Copenhagen was overall disappointing for the environmentalists and the people hoping to obtain a binding treaty that could help the world reduce carbon emissions. According to Brian Walsh, writer for Time's environment, it failed just like cap and trade failed this year in the US. The following quote explains it:

The idea that- in order to respond to our very real climate and energy challenges, we should set a pollution limit and then ratchet that limit down to a politically safe level- was always doomed.”

The author explains that the major problem with the cap and trade system is that it always sets an economic loser. We can make goods more expensive to pay for the cap and trade system but we will be at an economic disadvantage to others that do not participate in the system and can thereby sell the same goods cheaper.

The idea behind cap and trade is to create an incentive for alternative energy. While I don’t want to assume that it’s totally unworthy, I can see how it might never work in a worldwide model.  The article mentions how difficult it is for poorer countries to invest in a system that reduces carbon emissions when they are still developing and don’t always have access to reliable sources of energy.

The important point that the author makes in the article is that it’s not regulation and policy that can now “manage” carbon emissions but innovation. He argues that the money should be spent on research to find better and cheaper forms of green energy.  I particularly like the author’s idea to put a small tax on carbon in order to finance research into green energy. So is the answer innovation with a small dose of regulation?