Food

The tropical global warming solution

Bali conference could end deforestation overnight

This post was co-written with Dorjee Sun, the head of Carbon Conservation, a company that works to protect forests in Indonesia from destruction. ----- Photo: www.viajar24h.com Bali, Indonesia, is the perfect backdrop for this week's climate summit. No country better embodies the immense peril of inaction -- and the immense opportunity this meeting has to make massive and immediate progress in stemming the climate crisis. Indonesia is the world's third largest global warming polluter, behind the United States and China, and just ahead of Brazil. But in Indonesia, like Brazil and the rest of the tropical world, pollution isn't coming from factories, power plants, or cars like it is in the industrialized world. Instead, almost all of it is coming from the rapid burning of the world's vast tropical forests to make room for timber, agriculture, and especially palm oil plantations. (Despite its green reputation, palm oil is anything but: a recent study in Science found that palm oil, like other biofuels, produces two to nine times more greenhouse gases than regular old crude oil because of the forests and grasslands destroyed for its production.) Companies like Starbucks, Procter & Gamble, Cargill and Seattle's Imperium Renewables are paying top dollar to turn palm oil into food, cosmetics and biodiesel. That global demand has driven the value of a hectare of palms above $1000 (PDF) in some cases -- providing a powerful financial incentive to corporations, investors, and farmers to raze the forests, regardless of the consequences to the climate or to the endangered orangutans, tigers, and rhinoceroses - and indigenous people -- who need them to survive. The Bali conference could immediately eliminate that perverse accounting by making sure forests and other wild lands around the world are financially valued for the carbon they store, and not just their potential as timber or agricultural land. The way to do that is to allow polluters to get credit for protecting forests that they can apply against their pollution reduction obligations, an idea called carbon ranching or avoided deforestation. Polluters would jump at this opportunity. Protecting forests from destruction can cost as little as 75 cents per ton of carbon dioxide - even at higher costs, it's a fraction of the price (PDF) of cleaning up most industrial pollution. In the past, some environmentalists criticized carbon ranching for this very reason: they were concerned that if polluters focused their greenhouse gas reduction efforts on forest conservation, that would divert money from necessary clean-ups in industrial pollution. That's the wrong way to look at it. Because locking up carbon dioxide by protecting forests is so cheap, it means that the world can achieve bigger reductions in global warming pollution faster and for less money. Carbon ranching should be an argument for bigger immediate pollution reductions, from both forests and industry, not a way for polluters to get around their responsibility to clean up their own pollution.

Tasting notes: How to select the best green wine

Tips for low-carbon merrymaking

See that green line on the map? Study it closely, boozehounds. Those of you to the right of it can enjoy a nice French Bordeaux. Those to the left should be getting your Pinot from Napa. So concludes Dr. Vino in his excellent -- and topical! -- study, "Red, White and 'Green': The Cost of Carbon in the Global Wine Trade." The paper is nicely readable in addition to being thorough. Few details go unconsidered. Dr. Vino cares about the CO2 produced from the breakdown of sugar during the fermentation process. He mulls the land-use implications of grape production. He knows his screw caps from his corks. All of these factors (well, not the corks) feed into a model that allows the paper's authors to compute the carbon content of different bottles of wine drunk in various points in the U.S. Some conclusions:

A bumper crop of corn

Malawi celebrates, but for how long?

So while the U.S. Farm Bill is out to pasture until 2008, it looks like most commodity subsidies will remain untouched. Agricultural price supports may be the law of the land here, but it's certainly not what we've been advocating abroad. A bittersweet story on page one of today's NY Times documents how Malawians are pulling back from the brink, largely because -- going against the wishes of the World Bank -- they've begun to reinstitute government crop subsidies:

Our challenge: surviving the rule of economists

"Ending famine simply by ignoring the experts" heads the encouraging story of Malawi's turnaround on hunger ... What's strange is that the "experts" in the piece are U.S. and British economists who advocated the standard imperial liberal solution (grow cash crops for export to us, and buy your food from us). Thankfully, the people of Malawi ignored such expertise and concentrated instead of the physical reality before them. There is very little time for us to stop seeing our manifest crises in the physical and biological world through the lenses of "experts" who are themselves totally untrained in those fields of study.

Gristmill community chastised!

The global nature of global warming

This is my formal rebuttal to Brooke Coleman (director of the Renewable Energy Action Project), specifically to comments found in Tom Philpott's latest corn ethanol article. I'm using my access to the bully pulpit to pull it out of comments, like I did the last time a corn ethanol enthusiast joined the discussion. Welcome to the best environmental blog on the planet, Brooke. You don't seem to have a very high opinion of this community, but maybe you'll warm up to us. I don't speak for the whole community of course, I'm just one of the many who come here to learn and engage in reasoned debate. You seem to think that anything is better than oil. But believe it or not, in the real world, we sometimes have to pick between the lesser of two evils, at least until something better comes along. Plowing under the world's remaining grasslands and forests to grow industrial agrofuels dwarfs the damage done by oil spills. What happens when you take grain off the world food market and stuff it into American gas tanks? I'll tell you. Someone somewhere on this planet takes advantage of the high prices to plant more of it to fill the hole in the human food chain. Where is the arable land they need to do that? It is under an existing carbon sink or has another crop on it already. The second leading cause of global warming is deforestation. How hard is that concept to understand? Global warming is global. What we do here screws everybody.

Pesticide use on crops drops in California, but fumigant use up

Agricultural pesticide use dropped by 10 million pounds in California last year — a bit of progress offset by an increased use of fumigants by strawberry growers. In addition, application of commercial pesticides for uses such as landscaping and mosquito control increased. California “works hard to promote least-toxic pest management” says Mary-Ann Warmerdam of the state Department of Pesticide Regulation, and “our efforts are paying off.” But, she adds, “we have more work to do.”