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

Aquifer Pollution: Out of Our Sight, Out of Our Minds

Throughout human history, poisoning a well has been the foulest crime. Now it is approved by the EPA. (Photo by Kashif Mardari/Flickr)

Throughout human history, poisoning a well has been the foulest crime. Now it is approved by the EPA. (Photo by Kashif Mardari/Flickr)

One of the core ideas here at the Daily Impact is that industry, while pursuing profits (economies of scale), simultaneously concentrates risk. What industry has to do, then, is keep us focused on its quick payoffs (We’re job creators! We help the economy!) and distracted from the long term dangers posed by, for example, pollution. As our waters have increasingly been poisoned, our air relentlessly made more noxious, our very climate changed and our land made barren, getting the crap out of sight has become more and more difficult. But necessity is a mother, and it has borne  a new invention.

 

 

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Renowned Scientist Says Global Collapse “Likely”

(graph by net_efekt/flickr)

(graph by net_efekt/flickr)

According to a paper appearing in the March Proceedings of the Royal Society, “Now, for the first time, a global collapse [of civilization] appears likely.” The paper makes, in a scholarly, peer-reviewed manner, many of the same points about the existential threats that I made in my book Brace for Impact:Surviving the Crash of the Industrial Age. According to Paul R. Ehrlich’s paper, titled “Can a collapse of global civilization be avoided?” the threats include  toxic pollution, land degradation, scarcity of water and oil, plagues, resource wars (perhaps nuclear), over-consumption, overpopulation and the overarching threat multiplier, climate change.

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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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Expert: Shale Gas Boom a Bubble About to Pop

oil jacks

In the old days, when you poked holes in the ground and pumped out oil with jacks like these, it was a boom. Now, it’s just a fracking bubble.

One of the top geologists in the oil exploration and production business says: 1) shale gas production by hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) is a commercial failure. Is. Present tense. 2) shale gas will be the next financial “bubble” to collapse. 3) holding out the possibility of energy independence for the United States is “absurd.” To suggest it could be done in five years is “garbage.”

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Water Scarcer, Tensions Higher in the Heartland

As more and more of the breadbasket looks like this, tensions are rising and lawsuits are flying. (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flikr)

As more and more of the breadbasket looks like this, tensions are rising and lawsuits are flying. (Photo by Terry Shuck/Flikr)

According to government assessments released in the past week, both near- and long-term prospects are worsening for the drought-stricken Plains and Southwest states. As hope for relief fades, tensions are rising among towns, farms and states that are acting out the Tragedy of the Commons: as their water supply shrinks, they go after their neighbor’s.

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USGS Director to NE Coast: Brace for Impact

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

Superstorm Sandy not only did this to Fire Island, NY, but made it easier to do again. (Photo: Cheryl Hapke, USGS)

A week after announcing her retirement, the director of the US Geological Service told a Washington DC conference that Superstorm Sandy fulfilled her worst climate-change nightmare: it blew out the natural defenses against storms along hundreds of miles of the Northeast coastline, leaving them vulnerable to any garden-variety nor’easter that comes along

The USGS is one of the agencies of the US government that tells us the truth, starting with its insistence at the time that the Dust Bowl of the 1930s was a man made disaster, a fact that is not widely enough understood to this day. But it is funded by Congress, and while it has not knuckled under to the knuckle draggers (by, for example, refusing to research global warming issues because many Congress Persons don’t believe in science), neither has it been especially strident about the clear and present danger of climate change, rising sea levels, more frequent and more potent storms, etc. Continue reading

Brazil: Another Miracle Falters

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

Sugar cane, Brazil is discovering, is not the hoped-for panacea for energy independence. Photo credit: Sweeter Alternative

For years, all the countries that hoped wistfully for  energy independence, or renewable energy, or the oxymoronic “sustainable industry,” have looked to Brazil as a shining country on a hill that did it all, and had it all.  It was inspiring. A typical headline of a few years ago (simply Google “Brazil” to see dozens) appeared in The Daily Texan: “Brazil’s Energy Program Could Teach U.S.” It turns out to have been a perfect example of the mendacity of hope (see my essay About Hope). Continue reading

1,000 Risk Experts say: Brace for Impact

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

Superstorms, such as this 2012 typhoon photographed from the International Space Station, are according to risk analysts the new normal.

More than 1,000 experts on risk, consulted by the World Economic Forum for an upcoming annual meeting, agree that a perfect storm of rising risk, primarily driven by global climate change, and declining economic resilience pose mortal threats to governments, businesses and society in the near future. Continue reading

Australia Burning: US Smoldering

Tasmania fire 010413

Fires like this one on the island of Tasmania, the result of an historic heat wave, have been plaguing Australia all summer. Photo credit: Wikipedia

One of our continents is on fire. Australia is in the midst of a heat wave like none it has ever seen. On Monday the average high temperature — the average for the entire country — was 105 degrees Fahrenheit. It was the fifth consecutive day the national average high temperature had exceeded 102. When two young ladies at Oodnadatta, in southern Australia, tried to gas up their car to get the hell out of Dodge, the gasoline coming out of the pump vaporized before it could hit the bottom of the tank. Continue reading