Wednesday, June 04, 2008

I hope you know how to eat money...

The third world is mad at the US for taking food off the market to put in our gas tanks. People who need fuel have cars and therefore have higher incomes than people who only need food. The former say "more fuel!, More FUEL!" and are heard by the market. The latter are not heard until the food has been turned into fuel and the feed stocks have gone into play as yet another commodity in which to speculate. The people who do not have food will go without because no one but speculators plan ahead and the fast actors in the whole scenario are the speculators. Quit calling it "Green fuel", MSMorons! its just Greed Fuel. Ethanol is the darling of the grain futures traders and the giant middle men like ADM. The moral solution would be for those who bought cars under the myth of perpetual petroleum for pennys to put the damn cars in the garage for 3 days a week and to drive them at lower speeds only to car pool to work and for well organized and less frequent shopping trips. The US alone is in a position to SAVE more oil by reducing unnecessary use than most countries USE.

Where did we go wrong? I live in a country that has seen hard working farmers dispossessed of farms their families had worked for generations because market conditions for their products were poor while money and fuel were expensive. Now capital on a Buffet and Rockefeller scale swoops in to buy up formerly unprofitable land. Why have we made it so easy for the rich to get richer and the poor poorer? That is not sustainable social organization. And it does much to foster unsustainable use of the earth. The US Department of Agriculture was an afterthought, added to the structure of US administrations in 1862 by Abraham Lincoln as a minor office under the Department of the Interior and raised to cabinet level 25 years later due to heavy lobbying by farm industry representatives. So despite the noble stated purposes of the department, I see that all of the planning and monies that have shaped American farming have been entirely the work of lobbyists and hardly ecological. It has devolved from "the peoples department" of Lincoln's intentions to a gobbledygook encrusted shell only a commodity trader on the take could love ...but it does have the shiny homeland security color codes. Though USDA has dozens of programs with the word "conservation" in their titles, the efficacy of farming and the financial well being of farmers has not been conserved so much as milked, put on life support and forgotten.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

The festering sore at the top of the food chain

This NY Times editorial on proliferation of inhumane and dangerously unhygienic feed lots reminds us of many reasons why "free range" is not just a chic and politically correct adjective to prefix to meats so they can sell for a higher price.

We may protest that sewer-like living conditions and force-fed confinement don't match our personal values for how to treat other creatures...or we may feel so disconnected from cows and pigs exactly because we are so connected to steak and sausage by our stomachs. In the end consumers make the choice for a cheaper meal, regulators make a choice for happier consumers and producers and a handful of vegetarians ask what choice the cow had. With the stench and disease of feedlots far away from the mass of consumers, its "out of sight, out of mind" and business as usually exploitive. The communities that have the feedlots right in their back yard accept them because they mean a few more jobs in places where water pollution is a secondary concern to employment.

A point not brought up in the Times condemnation of these conditions is the green house gas consequences of feedlots. A point that even the Pew Trust study, to which the editorial was a response, fails to note is the petroleum used in moving cows from the places where they are born to these fetid fattening factories and then moving vast amounts of feed. The fuel costs of raising Big Macs this way will become apparent if you start charting the price history of your fast food. Yes we are having a mild food crisis in parts of the world that could barely afford their rice and bread. The efficiency by which a barrel of oil is turned into so many pounds of meat is a fraction of that for just eating the grain ourselves. But my point is that a pound of feed-lot beef is a meal from which you cannot divorce the fossil fuel. If you join a local CSA farm that provides meat and poultry, you really can cut most of the petroleum out of your meal. [not to mention, its fresher and has not been raised wallowing in wall to wall dung.]

Keeping in mind that methane is 20 to 30 times as effective as CO2 at trapping heat in the atmosphere, consider this graph of all human caused sources of methane release: its telling you that around 1980, livestock breeding and feeding became the largest single source.

[click on image to enlarge]