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Can industrial agriculture feed the world? Part 2

Global food riots edition

A couple of months ago, I raised the question, can industrial agriculture feed the world? I was being intentionally provocative. For decades, policymakers have treated low-input, diversified agriculture -- "organic" in the sense described by the great British agriculture scholar Sir Albert Howard -- as a kind of hippy indulgence. Sure, it's nice to grow food without poison, but you can't feed the world that way. To feed the globe's teeming masses, you need loads of mined and fossil-fuel synthesized fertilizers, pesticides by the tons, patent-protected genetically modified seeds, heroic irrigation projects, gargantuan, petroleum-fueled "combine" machines, etc. But as I …

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While food prices rise, here’s a stick-to-your-ribs pasta dish that won’t cause sticker shock

Every time I go to the supermarket lately, I get sticker shock. Why is it suddenly costing an arm and a leg to keep body and soul together? Part of the explanation lies in recent developments at the gas station. Skyrocketing fuel prices translate to higher costs for growing and transporting food -- and higher retail prices for us. Then there's the biofuel boom: As more and more grain gets diverted for use as car fuel, less is available as food, for both humans and livestock. That scarcity drives prices up. As a result, there's less and less grain being …

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How to reach Joe Sixpack on climate issues

Gore's spending $300 million on it, but actually, I think a more direct approach might do the trick.

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The technologies needed to beat 450 ppm, Part 1

Examining the IPCC’s ‘portfolio of technologies’

In 2007, the IPCC wrote [PDF] in its Working Group III summary (page 16): The range of stabilization levels assessed can be achieved by deployment of a portfolio of technologies that are currently available and those that are expected to be commercialised in coming decades. This assumes that appropriate and effective incentives are in place for development, acquisition, deployment and diffusion of technologies, and for addressing related barriers (high agreement, much evidence). This range of levels includes reaching atmospheric concentrations of 445 to 490 ppm CO2-equivalent, or 400 to 450 ppm of CO2. The first sentence does beg the question, …

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Smithfield's European strategy

The hog giant CAFOizes Poland and Romania to gain access to Western Europe

Farmers in Iowa and North Carolina -- the two states that together house nearly half of U.S. hog production [PDF] -- won't be surprised by this report, from the International Herald Tribune: The American bacon producer, Smithfield Farms, now operates a dozen vast industrial pig farms in Poland. Importing cheap soy feed from South America, which the company feeds intensively to its tens of thousands of pigs, it has caused the price of pork to drop dramatically in the past couple of years. Since E.U. membership, the prices [paid to farmers for] pork and milk have dropped 30 percent. As …

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Climate change affects — noooooooo! — beer

If dire warnings about the fate of global health and security don't move you to care about climate change, maybe this will: Climate change could make beer more expensive. (No! Anything but that!) Malting barley will likely be harder to grow in a warming world, especially in Australia, says climate scientist Jim Salinger. He warned at an Institute of Brewing and Distilling convention Tuesday that within the next 30 years, "either there will be pubs without beer or the cost of beer will go up." Now that's something that Foster's fear.

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This is sure to end well

What is it that we learn from history again? Oh, right, nothing: Out on the farm, the ducks and pheasants are losing ground. Thousands of farmers are taking their fields out of the government's biggest conservation program, which pays them not to cultivate. They are spurning guaranteed annual payments for a chance to cash in on the boom in wheat, soybeans, corn and other crops. Last fall, they took back as many acres as are in Rhode Island and Delaware combined. I'm reading J.K. Galbraith's book on the Crash of '29 -- uncomfortable to start reading again about pulling conservation …

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New vision for global agriculture

‘IPCC for agriculture’ has little teeth, but great timbre

Some are calling it a project that will transform global agriculture as we know it. Others are calling it a utopian dream. One thing is for sure, however: When the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAAST) releases the final draft of its report on April 15, sparks will still be flying. Instigated in 2005 by the United Nations and the World Bank, among others, the IAAST was supposed to be an IPCC for agriculture. (Indeed, the project's leader, Robert Watson, was former chair of the IPCC.) Its goals were impressive: How can we reduce hunger and …

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<em>Vanity</em> is Green

Digging into the relationships between business and environmentalism

Admittedly, this is more of a link dump than a true blog post, but sometimes the green goodness is too good to pass up ... As Sarah and David have mentioned, the May edition of Vanity Fair is their third annual green issue. Featuring, ironically, the material girl on the cover, it's crammed with features that will enlighten, illuminate, and ... disturb. Pulitzer prize-winning journalists Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele investigate Monsanto. ("We've never written about a company where some of its own customers are scared of it," they said.) Donald Trump and Michael Forbes duke it out …

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Notable quotable

"We'll be eight degrees hotter in ten, not ten but 30 or 40 years and basically none of the crops will grow. Most of the people will have died and the rest of us will be cannibals." -- CNN founder Ted Turner, on what will happen if global warming is not quickly addressed (video under the fold)

Read more: Climate & Energy, Food