Industrial Agriculture Losing Ground Faster

After Tropical Storm Lee in September, 2011, topsoil stripped from the farms of the Northeast flows down the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay. (NASA/Goddard photo.)

After Tropical Storm Lee in September, 2011, topsoil stripped from the farms of the Northeast (the brown stuff) flows down the Susquehanna River into the Chesapeake Bay. (NASA/Goddard photo.)

A new study out of Iowa State University confirms that industrial agriculture (please don’t call it farming) continues to squander the precious topsoil on which its existence — and ours — depends. This is a problem that has nothing to do with global climate change, or peak oil, but that may hit us all harder and sooner than either. The bad news in the study is that the losses of topsoil are stunningly large. The other bad news is that they are getting worse, despite billions of dollars’ worth of “conservation” efforts. There is no good news. Continue reading

Microbes Winning War on Terra

A bloom of deadly aspergillus on a cup of coffee. There was a misunderstanding: it likes its surroundings  hot and dry, not hot and black. (Photo by Albertstraub)

A bloom of deadly aspergillus on a cup of coffee. There was a misunderstanding: it likes its surroundings hot and dry, not hot and black. (Photo by Albertstraub)

While maximizing its profits, industrial agriculture has unleashed many deadly, slow-gathering threats on humanity. The downsides of mechanistic, chemically intensive (and now, genetically mutilated) food manufacture (please don’t call it “farming”) — air pollution, water pollution, loss of topsoil, food contamination — have become relatively well known, if not much discussed or dealt with. Now it is becoming obvious that mono-culture and animal crowding have set loose a new set of killers — a lethal fungus and a set of deadly bacteria — that no one seems to know how to stop.

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Corn Growers Suffer Quintuple Whammy

Drought-stressed corn, maybe also toxic, bug-bit and weed-plagued, in Kentucky last week. (Photo by CraneStation/Flickr)

The failure of industrial agriculture is on display everywhere in America’s “breadbasket” — now we should probably call it the ethanol basket,  or the high-fructose-corn-syrup basket — and the consequences are already spreading around the world. You thought it was just a drought? It would be bad enough of that’s all it was, but it is much, much more. The count so far: Continue reading

Top Hedge Fund Guy Sees Worsening Global Food Crisis

Famine, as visualized by sculptor Rowan Gillespie on Custom House Quay in Dublin, Ireland. Famine is what hedge fund manager Jeremy Grantham is really talking about in his latest investor letter. (Photo by William Murphy/Flickr)

The skipper of one of the larger hedge funds on the planet — $100 billion under management — has just laid out, again, in wonkish detail and with financial sophistication, the evidence that the industrialized world has fallen to its knees and is about to topple onto its face. He says, in short, Brace for Impact, and anyone who has  any interest in surviving the next couple of decades on Planet Earth would be well advised to read his report — and act accordingly. Continue reading

From American Drought to “Global Catastrophe”

Food riots erupted across North Africa in 2011 — this one in Algeria in January — after prices spiked. It’s about to happen again. (Photo by Magharebia/Flickr)

Some poet  invented the name “Arab Spring” as a label for the tsunami of public desperation that last year took down the governments of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Poets and Pollyannas saw the events as an upwelling of love for democracy. Realists related them to the spike in world food prices that threatened the survival of whole populations and made them desperate for change — any change.  Now, thanks in large part to events unfolding in the American heartland, get ready for another, worse, spike. Continue reading

Hunger Games in the Heartland

We’re headed back to the dustbowl future in the heartland. But not to hear the USDA tell it.

As recently as six weeks ago, the Pollyannas of industrial agriculture were all over the industrial media trumpeting the imminent “huge” corn harvest in the United States.  They knew it was going to be huge (see, for example, Bloomberg News on May 24) because more US acres were planted in corn this year than ever, and because there is no such thing as global climate change. Well, they didn’t say that second part, but they assumed it. Because if they hadn’t, they  might have foreseen the disaster now unfolding. Continue reading

The Silence of the Bats

This brown bat is lucky -- he's just stunned momentarily. If there were white spots on his nose, he'd be dead. (Photo by Velo Steve/Flickr)

Is there anything Americans care less about than species extinction? It is as if their house were on fire, but they continue to watch TV because a) they didn’t need that stuff in the garage anyway, and b) it will probably go out by itself before it gets to the living room, c) it’s not their job to fight fires, and d) if it was really important it would be on television. Now that the fire has reached the living room — i.e., impending extinctions are a direct threat to the human food supply — Americans are at last responding. By turning up the TV. Continue reading

The Silence of the Bees

To be a bee, or not to be a bee, that is the question when the colony is about to collapse. (Photo by Doug88888.Flickr)

This is how the media deal with stories such as bee-colony collapse disorder. It is as if, on day one, they sight a forest fire approaching the city and begin to air breathless bulletins containing little information and wild speculation bout how bad it might get. On day two, the fire being bigger and closer, they go to wall-to-wall coverage and talk of nothing else. On day three, the fire is even bigger and even closer, but it’s old news. Back to celebrity divorces. Thus has the prospect of losing our honeybees — and one third of our food — dropped from the public radar. Continue reading

Soy: It Isn’t So

One of the worst things you could eat is a fresh soybean -- even sauteed, as these have been. But there are lots of soy products that are even worse. (Photo by FotoosVanRobin/Flickr)

Once upon a time there was a lowly bean. Unlike other beans, in its natural state it was highly toxic to people and animals. Poor people in Asia discovered somehow — no doubt through desperate trial-and-error — that when fermented, the soy bean was edible. It became part of their diet. In the late 20th Century, when the industrialized diet of the West was afflicting its people with heart disease, cancers and diabetes, it was noticed that the spare Asian diet of fish, rice and a little fermented soy bean was not making people sick. Thus began one of the largest and most successful food cons ever perpetrated.
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UN, Oxfam Reports: Brace for Impact.

Oxfam volunteers demonstrate for non-readers the combined effects of rising seawater (climate change) and rising food prices. (AFP Photo/Alexander Joe)

The drumbeat of dire warnings continues about the inevitable and imminent collapse of the world’s food supply before the combined onslaughts of industrial agriculture and climate change. Despite the increasing number of scientific reports documenting ever more ominous conditions and prospects worldwide, the response from the people who could conceivably do something about it has been a collective yawn. The two latest cries of “fire” in our crowded theater came this week: Continue reading