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Livestock’s long shadow

The NYT has an editorial today about the UNFAO's new report on the environmental degradation caused by increasing numbers of livestock. Money factoid: More greenhouse gases are produced by livestock than the entire global transportation sector.

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Umbra on eco-choices

Dear Umbra, While I usually love your column, I have to take issue with encouraging people to eat sushi. This is the second "green" site I have seen that proposes the solution to overfishing is to eat different fish. Saying "of course you can continue to eat at sushi restaurants without feeling guilty" amounts to pandering to people who are concerned about environmental problems but are not willing to make meaningful change to improve them. If you are truly concerned about the health of the world's oceans, you should be encouraging people to stop eating sushi and any fish. I …

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Chinese food quality a concern as 2008 Olympics approaches

In 2000, when Beijing made its bid for the 2008 Olympics, it promised to get all cleaned up if it could please, pretty please, be the host. Its wishes came true, but China's goal of throwing a green Olympics seems ever out of reach. To quote ourselves: China has promised to throw a "green" Olympics in Beijing in 2008 -- but simple livability may be the megacity's bigger challenge. Beijing has 15.2 million inhabitants; if current trends hold, that number could grow to 21 million by 2020. Gridlock is endemic, as the number of cars more than doubled in the …

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Don’t Have a Cow

About 20 percent of farm-animal breeds* are endangered, says FAO Word association time: What comes to mind when you think "endangered animals"? Odd-looking tropical frogs and obscure birds with funny names? Time to adjust your thinking: The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that one in five breeds of farm animal are in danger of extinction. Of more than 7,600 breeds that the FAO has in its farm-animal database, 190 have kicked the bucket in the last 15 years -- about one breed a month. The globalization of livestock production is the "biggest single factor" impacting farm-animal biodiversity, says the …

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What we’ve learned from the biofuels series

Future or folly? Photo: iStockphoto After spending much of the last several months thinking about the biofuels boom and its implications in preparation for this special series, we've come to a few conclusions. Like other energy sources, biofuels have significant environmental liabilities. Boosters' rhetoric about "renewable energy" aside, topsoil -- from which biofuel feedstocks spring -- is not an easily renewable resource. It takes centuries under natural conditions to replace an inch of topsoil lost to erosion. Lester Brown of the Earth Policy Institute reckons that "36 percent of the world's cropland is now losing topsoil at a rate that …

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It’s time for a real ‘food vs. fuel’ debate

Can U.S. farmers keep filling the nation's bellies as they scramble to fuel its cars? Given its evident gravity, the question has drawn remarkably little debate. Like it or not, though, more and more food is being devoted to fueling the nation's 211-million-strong auto fleet. High gasoline prices, a dizzying variety of government supports, and an investment frenzy have caused corn-based ethanol production to more than triple since 1998. As recently as a year ago, corn seemed wildly overproduced. Suddenly, it's a hot commodity. In 1998, about 5 percent of the corn harvest (526 million bushels) went into ethanol production, …

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A Krafty concoction of hydrogenated goo gets its day in court.

Do I live in an ethanol bubble? Yes I do, for another day or so. But I'm coming up for air for long enough to give the finger to Kraft, the world's largest branded food conglomerate, for ripping off and desecrating one of the world's greatest food items. Kraft's heinous Guacamole Dip contains about 2 percent avocado, which is a little like marketing a Martini with 2 percent gin and the rest, well, corn liquor (ethanol). A woman in California is suing Kraft, arguing that the "guacamole" claim fraudulently promised an avocado-based concoction, and instead delivered, well, industrial goo designed …

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An interview with Missouri farmer and ethanol co-op member Brian Miles

Cultivating change? Photo: iStockphoto Like his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather before him, Brian Miles spends his days working the family farm. Unlike his forebears, however, he also sits on the board of Mid-Missouri Energy, a farmer-owned ethanol cooperative in Malta Bend, Mo. Grist talked to Miles about the present ethanol boom, the potential for an ethanol bust, and the many splendors of fresh corn on the cob.   How did you get involved in the ethanol biz? Our state corn growers association had a meeting a few years ago, because they had isolated this area as a good spot for …

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Congress prepares to soak the 2007 Farm Bill in ethanol, to the delight of agribiz.

"You can have Republicans and Democrats absolutely in lockstep agreement on certain issues in the farm bill, and it has nothing to do with parties. These issues tend to be commodity-driven," gushed USDA chief Mike Johanns. Uh-oh. Looks like a good old-fashioned "bipartisan consensus" has formed: time to use the 2007 Farm Bill as a tool for maximizing ethanol production -- which evidently doesn't already draw enough government support. Talk in the above-linked piece centers on cellulosic ethanol and its most celebrated feedstock, switchgrass, which can potentially be grown with few inputs on marginal land. But like joy in Keats' …

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Not quite, but cellulosic ethanol may be coming sooner than you think

Even as organizations ranging from Consumers Union to the Cato Institute cast doubt on the environmental value of corn-based ethanol, facilities designed to make it are popping up by the dozen throughout the Midwest. Meanwhile, cellulosic ethanol -- which can be derived from just about any plant matter -- draws near-unanimous environmental raves. Trouble is, the technology required for producing it economically still hasn't quite emerged. Thus, like the kid in the back seat on a long family car trip, investors and other interested observers have for years been demanding to know, "When are we gonna get there?" Over and …

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