Demand for food, wood, biofuels driving tropical deforestation, report says

Demand for food, wood, and biofuels will likely contribute to massive deforestation in developing countries around the world by 2030, according to a new report. The Rights and Resources Initiative estimates that if current agricultural land productivity doesn’t increase substantially, by 2030 about 1.2 billion additional acres of land will be needed to meet the world’s agricultural, biofuel, and wood-products demand. What’s more, only about half the land needed by then would be available without using tropical forestland. One solution stressed by the report authors is helping traditional tropical-forest inhabitants acquire formal legal rights to their land, which could potentially …

Too much of a good thing

The toll of agriculture and hundred-year rains on Wisconsin’s farmland

We are, for better or worse, part of the land we live on. We can choose to extract as much as possible from the earth around us, the "Manifest Destiny" (or nature's in my way) line of thinking. Or we can take as little as necessary and leave as small a trace as possible, the "Seventh Generation" concept of the Native American peoples. If farming well were easy and profitable, everyone would be doing it. Farming is never easy, no matter how you go about it, but at least when we farm with nature it's not a 24/7 battle.

The new film <em>Wall-E</em> gets it right

The link between obesity and the environment

Slate's Dan Engber has attempted to take down Wall-E in classic Green Room style with a piece slamming the film's connection between obesity and environmental destruction. Engber's critique is flawed in so many ways that it's hard to know where to begin ... For instance, he doesn't seem to believe that obesity really has much to do with being too sedentary or eating too much. To support this, he cites research saying that 80 percent of the variation in body weight can be explained by DNA. But what the research actually shows (and what his own colleague, William Saletan, has recently gotten right) is that 80 percent of the variation can be explained by DNA among individuals living in the same environment. If fatness is determined so strongly by genes, as Engber would have us believe, how in the world, then, is it possible to explain skyrocketing obesity rates in the past several decades? In sum, Engber thinks the Nalgene-toting eco-liberals are ridiculous (and disingenuous) in their linking of the expanding waistlines and climate change. It's a too-easy analogy, he says. Granted, I (most likely, we) are among those people Engber loves to loathe and could scarcely be dissuaded from doing so, but just in case -- in case there's been a fundamental oversight, a gap in education -- I feel like sending him a copy of Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food or Paul Robert's The End of Food. It's impossibly hard to argue, after reading either one, that agriculture, ecological degradation, and obesity aren't closely intertwined.

EPA cracks down on the pesticides on your peppers

The U.S. EPA plans to tighten restrictions on five nasty soil fumigants that keep pests away from strawberries, tomatoes, potatoes, carrots, and peppers. The proposed mitigation measures include buffer zones, warning signs, air-quality monitoring, management and outreach plans, emergency-response training, and provision of breathing masks for farmworkers. The rules would apply to five scary-sounding ‘cides: chloropicrin, dazomet, metam sodium, metam potassium, and methyl bromide (which depletes ozone and must be ceased altogether where alternatives are available). The EPA has never before required buffer zones, which could range from 25 feet (which health advocates say is inadequate) to half a mile …

As the ground shifts under their feet, food giants experiment with new strategies

When you smile, the food world smiles with you … maybe. Photo: Original by heatkernel For more than a generation, the major corporations that process and sell the vast bulk of our food have had it pretty easy. They’ve had access to cheap energy to ship food over globe-spanning distances and run giant food-processing plants; reveled in cheap inputs like corn and soy, transforming them into everything from breakfast cereal to chicken nuggets; and relied on low-paid, abundant, and politically disenfranchised workers to do the dirty jobs. Together, these elements formed a kind of tripod propping up the industry’s enormous …

Drought grips Iraq, threatening crops and water supplies

On top of Iraq’s myriad other problems, drought has hit the country hard recently, impacting crops and water supplies in many regions. Rainfall this winter was about 40 percent lower than usual in Iraq and Turkey, and as a result, the Tigris River near Baghdad is at its lowest level since 2001. In the country’s main grain-growing area, Diyala province, some irrigation canals have dried up completely. In many areas, patchy access to electricity — from American bombing of the country’s infrastructure in the first stage of the invasion, bouts of civil war, the ongoing occupation, and other problems — …

Simple cooking can produce delicious results — like old-fashioned Austrian pancakes

Get cooking, sonny. Too many people in this country have been sold a bill of goods. They’ve been tricked, flim-flammed, conned, and hustled. They’ve been bamboozled into believing that food comes wrapped in plastic from the freezer at the nearest Walmart. They’ve learned to believe that cooking is a chore — like laundry or washing windows — to be avoided if at all possible and then done only grudgingly when it can’t be. I understand that some people just plain don’t like to cook. That’s fine. But there are also those who would actually enjoy it, if they hadn’t been …

Check out the carbon

Will eco-labeling contribute to consumer shopping confusion?

Ben Tuxworth, communications director at Forum for the Future, writes a monthly column for Gristmill on sustainability in the U.K. and Europe. ----- British supermarket shoppers face increasingly bewildering claims about the ethical qualities of products. In one of retail giant Tesco's stores, shoppers can opt for goods branded with the Soil Association's organic standard, the Fairtrade Foundation's logo, the British Farm standard, or chain-of-custody marks from the Marine Stewardship and Forest Stewardship Councils. They can linger over footprint information from the Carbon Trust or dolphin-based evaluation of the fishing methods used to catch their tuna. On another spectrum altogether, they are offered "Finest" and "Value" brands on Tesco's own goods. And on most products they're also expected to wade through nutritional assessments, guideline daily amounts, glycemic index counts, information on allergies, and of course, brand, quantity, and price. As one weary consumer observed, supermarket shopping has become more like visiting a museum, with plenty to read and a clear educational agenda. Check-Out Carbon, a new report from my organization Forum for the Future, explores attempts to reduce the carbon intensity of the weekly shopping trip, and makes challenging reading for anyone hoping shoppers are taking it all in. After interviewing industry experts, conducting focus groups with consumers, and commissioning a survey of 1,000 U.K. adults, we found a surprising consensus: Despite the race to get ethically branded goods into stores, we're all expecting too much of shopper choice.

USDA pessimistic on hunger outlook

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Agriculture calculated that 849 million people across the globe were “food-insecure” — consuming less than 2,100 calories a day, or, in a word, hungry. But in its 2006 Food Security Report, the agency took an optimistic view of the situation, suggesting that the number of malnourished would fall to 800 million by 2017. Well, so much for that idea: In the just-released 2007 Food Security Report, the USDA estimates that 982 million people currently go without full bellies, and that that number will leap to 1.2 billion in a decade. The assessment makes the …