Treadles are not the devil, after all

Human-powered irrigation can increase harvests for farmers

Recently, I wrote about treadle pumps that let human power replace diesel power for irrigation. As a one-to-one replacement it sounded pretty oppressive. But it turns out that it is not a one-to-one replacement. Poor farmers who only earn a dollar or so, per person per day, can afford to do a lot more irrigation with treadles than they can renting diesel pumps from rich farmers and buying diesel fuel to run it. So they multiply the size of their harvests by two or three, their incomes by even more. Even in a formal efficiency analysis, you are probably increasing rather than decreasing the output per unit of labor. In human terms, you are increasing the amount of fresh vegetables the family can eat, and paying for things like school fees in areas where education is not necessarily completely tax-paid. So you are making life better for the farmers, and even slightly increasing their autonomy from richer neighbors.

Climate change will cause agricultural output to decline significantly, says study

Attention, people who eat: Climate change could cause global agriculture output to decline by up to 16 percent by 2080, according to a new study from the Center for Global Development and the Peterson Institute for International Economics. Like life itself, the allocation won’t be fair: productivity is likely to generally decline in developing countries — India, Pakistan, and most of Africa and Latin America — while improving in the U.S., most of Europe, and Canada. India, which is on track to become the world’s most populous nation by mid-century, could see its food production fall by up to 38 …

How the meat industry thrives, even as costs rise

Note: This is the second installment of a two-column series on global trends in agriculture. The first was on U.S. fruit and vegetable farming. When corn prices spiked last fall, things looked dire for industrial meat processors. These enormous companies thrive by confining (or contracting with farmers to confine) livestock into tightly packed quarters and stuffing them with corn. Pricier corn — in this case, pushed up by the government-backed surge in ethanol production — seemed to translate to lower profits for the industrial meat giants. On cue, Big Meat executives like Tyson’s Richard Bond complained bitterly about the end …

Talking Rain adds organic water flavors

Talking Rain now has four flavors of organic bottled water. Wow.

The USDA goes all lukewarm on cellulosic ethanol

In related news, the ’07 corn harvest will break records

For decades now, the USDA has been dumping cash into cellulosic ethanol research (most recently through a joint venture with the DOE). So the USDA’s analysts should know something about the prospects for mass production of cellulosic ethanol, hailed by its boosters as a panacea that can wean us not only from oil, but also from corn as an ethanol feedstock. So what’s the latest from USDA analysts on this miracle fuel? From a report released last week: Although cellulosic-based production of renewable fuels holds some longer-term promise, much research is needed to make it commercially economical and expand beyond …

Study says eating less red meat improves health, helps fight climate change

The British medical journal The Lancet published a study this week that advises people in rich countries to eat less red meat in order to help mitigate climate change and boost their health. Far from advocating citizens of the world entirely eschew meat, the study advised a climate-friendly cut in red-meat consumption of 10 percent of the world average by 2050; the average is currently 100 grams per person per day. However, the average reflects a rich-poor meat-consumption divide in which average people from wealthy nations consume 200 to 250 grams a day while citizens from poorer nations tend to …

Guest movie review: <em>King Corn</em>

Children of the corn armed with movie cameras

This is a guest post by Nicole de Beaufort, a long-time advocate for local, sustainable, and accessible food systems. She is principal of Fourth Sector Consulting in North Oaks, Minn., which employs strategic communications to work with food system advocates and funders to mobilize the growing food movement. The film King Corn is set to open in theaters nationwide starting Oct. 12 in New York. —– In 1977, Stephen King published a short story in Penthouse about some bad things happening in cornfields in the Midwest. Later, that story, “Children of the Corn,” became a successful B-movie franchise. Leave it …

Umbra on vegetarian remorse

Dear Umbra, I’ve been a vegetarian for almost 10 years. I started when I was 15, on pretty much a whim just to see if I could do it, but since then I’ve come to appreciate what I’m doing for my body and the planet. Lately, though, whether from boredom or subconscious protein cravings, I’ve been thinking about reintroducing fish to my diet. For convenience, variety, and health, I think it could be a good thing. But I don’t want to go backwards in terms of what good (or least possible harm) I’m doing the environment via my eating habits. …

Is eating local the best choice?

Strengthening community is an important benefit of eating locally

The following is a guest essay originally posted at AlterNet by David Morris, vice president of the Institute for Local Self-Reliance. Some 30 years ago NASA came up with another big idea: assemble vast solar electric arrays in space and beam the energy to earth. The environmental community did not dismiss NASA's vision out of hand. After all, the sun shines 24 hours a day in space. A solar cell on earth harnesses only about four hours equivalent of full sunshine a day. If renewable electricity could be generated more cheaply in space than on earth, what's the problem? A number of us argued that the problem was inherent in the scale of the power plant. Whereas rooftop solar turns us into producers, builds our self-confidence, and strengthens our sense of community as we trade electricity back and forth with our neighbors, space-based solar arrays aggravate our dependence. By dramatically increasing the distance between us and a product essential to our survival, we become more insecure. The scale of the technology requires a global corporation, increasing the distance between those who make the decisions and those who feel the impact of those decisions. Which, in turn, demands a global oversight body, itself remote and nontransparent to electric consumers.

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