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The Energy Game is Rigged: Fossil Fuel Subsidies Topped $620 Billion in 2011

By Emily E. Adams The energy game is rigged in favor of fossil fuels because we omit the environmental and health costs of burning coal, oil, and natural gas from their prices. Subsidies manipulate the game even further. According to conservative estimates from the Global Subsidies Initiative and the International Energy Agency (IEA), governments around the world spent more than $620 billion to subsidize fossil fuel energy in 2011: some $100 billion for production and $523 billion for consumption. This was 20 percent higher than in 2010, largely because of higher world oil prices. Of the $523 billion that supported …

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Wind Surpasses Nuclear in China

By J. Matthew Roney Wind has overtaken nuclear as an electricity source in China. In 2012, wind farms generated 2 percent more electricity than nuclear power plants did, a gap that will likely widen dramatically over the next few years as wind surges ahead. Since 2007, nuclear power generation has risen by 10 percent annually, compared with wind’s explosive growth of 80 percent per year. Before the March 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan, China had 10,200 megawatts of installed nuclear capacity. With 28,000 megawatts then under construction at 29 nuclear reactors—19 of which had begun construction since 2009—officials were confident …

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Warmest Decade on Record Brings Record Temperatures and Weather Extremes

By Janet Larsen In recent years weather events have whiplashed between the extremes of heat and cold, flooding and drought. Carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases—largely from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas—have loaded up in the atmosphere, heating the planet and pushing humanity onto a climatic seesaw of weather irregularities. High-temperature records in many places are already being broken with startling frequency, and hotter temperatures are in store. Without a dramatic reduction in fossil fuel use, we will veer even further away from the “normal” temperatures and weather patterns that civilization is adapted to. The world has …

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New Era of Food Scarcity Echoes Collapsed Civilizations

By Lester R. Brown The world is in transition from an era of food abundance to one of scarcity. Over the last decade, world grain reserves have fallen by one third. World food prices have more than doubled, triggering a worldwide land rush and ushering in a new geopolitics of food. Food is the new oil. Land is the new gold. This new era is one of rising food prices and spreading hunger. On the demand side of the food equation, population growth, rising affluence, and the conversion of food into fuel for cars are combining to raise consumption by …

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Global Grain Stocks Drop Dangerously Low as 2012 Consumption Exceeded Production

By Janet Larsen The world produced 2,241 million tons of grain in 2012, down 75 million tons or 3 percent from the 2011 record harvest. The drop was largely because of droughts that devastated several major crops—namely corn in the United States (the world’s largest crop) and wheat in Russia, Kazakhstan, Ukraine, and Australia. Each of these countries also is an important exporter. Global grain consumption fell significantly for the first time since 1995, as high prices dampened use for ethanol production and livestock feed. Still, overall consumption did exceed production. With drought persisting in key producing regions, there is …

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China’s Rising Soybean Consumption Reshaping Western Agriculture

By Lester R. Brown Global demand for soybeans has soared in recent decades, with China leading the race. Nearly 60 percent of all soybeans entering international trade today go to China, making it far and away the world’s largest importer. The soybean was domesticated some 3,000 years ago by farmers in eastern China. But it wasn’t until well after World War II that the crop gained agricultural prominence, enabling it to join wheat, rice, and corn as one of the world’s four leading crops. This rise in the demand for soybeans reflected the discovery by animal nutritionists that combining 1 …

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Expanding Dust Bowls Worsening Food Prospects in China and Africa

By Janet Larsen When most people hear the term “dust bowl,” they think of the American heartland in the 1930s, when a homesteading wheat bonanza led to the plowing up of the Great Plains’ native grassland, culminating in the greatest environmental disaster in U.S. history. Despite warnings from researchers and some farmers, history repeated itself in the Soviet Virgin Lands Project in the 1950s to early 1960s. Some 100 million acres (40 million hectares) of grassland were plowed under in Russia, Kazakhstan, and western Siberia during Premier Nikita Khrushchev’s push to produce ever more food from the land. When drought …

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World Nuclear Electricity Generation Down 5 Percent Since 2006

By J. Matthew Roney World nuclear electricity-generating capacity has been essentially flat since 2007 and is likely to fall as plants retire faster than new ones are built. In fact, the actual electricity generated at nuclear power plants fell 5 percent between 2006 and 2011. In 2011, following Japan’s Fukushima Daiichi nuclear disaster, 13 nuclear reactors in Japan, Germany, and the United Kingdom were permanently taken offline. Seven new reactors, three of them in China, were connected to the grid.  The net result was a two percent reduction in world nuclear capacity to 369,000 megawatts by the end of 2011. …

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Taking Stock: World Fish Catch Falls to 90 Million Tons in 2012

By J. Matthew Roney The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) projects that the world’s wild fish harvest will fall to 90 million tons in 2012, down 2 percent from 2011. This is close to 4 percent below the all-time peak haul of nearly 94 million tons in 1996. The wild fish catch per person has dropped even more dramatically, from 17 kilograms (37.5 pounds) per person at its height in 1988 to 13 kilograms in 2012—a 37-year low. While wild fish harvests have flattened out during this time, the output from fish farming has soared from 24 million tons …

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Dust Bowl Revisited

By Janet Larsen On October 18, 2012, the Associated Press reported that “a massive dust storm swirling reddish-brown clouds over northern Oklahoma triggered a multi-vehicle accident along a major interstate…forcing police to shut down the heavily traveled roadway amid near blackout conditions.” Farmers in the region had recently plowed fields to plant winter wheat. The bare soil—desiccated by the relentless drought that smothered nearly two-thirds of the continental United States during the summer and still persists over the Great Plains—was easily lifted by the passing strong winds, darkening skies from southern Nebraska, through Kansas, and into Oklahoma. Observers could not …

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