Rachel’s Democracy & Health News ……………[This story printer-friendly]
October 16, 2008
GOVERNMENT REPORT CRITICIZES U.S. PLANS FOR CARBON DIOXIDE BURIAL
[Rachel’s introduction: The U.S. is planning to bury enormous quantities of carbon dioxide in the ground to reduce the threat of global warming. However, a new government report says the plan is plagued by serious technological, economic, legal and regulatory problems.]
By Tim Montague
In the U.S. today we burn coal to make half of all our electricity. This coal emits about 1.9 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (CO2) per year, which is 33% of all U.S. CO2 emissions. CO2 is the main culprit in the global warming problem. Rather than eliminate the problem by weaning ourselves off fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas), government and industry are proposing an end-of-pipe solution — they intend to solve the global warming crisis partly by capturing and storing CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants. The CO2 would be captured as a gas, pressurized until it turned into a liquid, transported by pipeline to a suitable location, and pumped a mile or so below ground, intending for it to stay there forever.
This is called CCS, short for carbon capture and storage, and it is the coal and electric power industry’s strategy for allowing the continued use of coal. If CCS never happens on a large scale, then the global-warming CO2 emissions from burning coal will eventually kill the coal industry.
The basic problem, according to climate experts like the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), is that we need to reduce CO2 emissions by something like 80% by 2030 if we want to avoid runaway global warming. To do this, we could generate electricity using machines that don’t emit very much CO2 (wind, solar, geothermal) or we could add end-of-pipe filters to smoke stacks to capture CO2. According to some engineering projections, CCS filters could trap up to 90% of the CO2 from coal-burning power plants. However, to make a dent in the global warming problem, the International Energy Agency estimates that as many as 6,000 CCS projects would be needed, each injecting a million metric tons of CO2 a year into the ground. In other words, this end-of-pipe approach would require creation of a major new waste disposal industry devoted to CO2.
How far along are we toward actually burying CO2 in the ground? Last month the Government Accountability Office — the investigative arm of the U.S. Congress — released a report [2 Mbyte PDF] that looks at the state of CCS in the U.S.
The GAO took a broad survey of government officials, scientists, nonprofits, and fossil company executives to find out just how far along CCS is in the U.S. and what needs to be done to help it expand.
They concluded that CCS faces serious technological, economic, legal and regulatory barriers.
The GAO report says that CCS entails five steps: 1) Carbon capture and compression into liquid C02; 2) transport to a storage location; 3) injection and storage deep underground; 4) long term monitoring to verify that the CO2 stays put; 5) remedial measures in case leakage occurs.
Technological and Economic Barriers
The vast majority of coal power plants in operation today burn “pulverized” (powdered) coal to produce heat to create steam to drive a turbine to make electricity. Capturing the CO2 from the smoke stack of these power plants is difficult and costly, but not impossible. CO2 makes up just 15% of the waste stream from a coal plant, so it takes a lot of energy to concentrate the CO2 into a pure form that can be compressed and stored. There are currently no commercial-scale coal plants that do this. The world’s first demonstration-scale pulverized coal power plant to capture and store its CO2 emissions went online in Germany this Fall.
Here in the U.S., the DOE (Department of Energy) began studying CCS in 1997. However, the DOE program has largely ignored the capture of CO2 from existing pulverized coal plants; instead, DOE has focused on “next generation” power plants employing IGCC (integrated gasification combined cycle) — a new technology that doesn’t burn pulverized coal. An IGCC coal plant resembles a chemical factory — it treats coal with lots of heat and steam to break it into hydrogen and CO2 — and then burns the hydrogen to make electricity and disposes of the other byproducts, including CO2. Capturing and burying the CO2 from IGCC plants is cheaper, in theory, than from a pulverized coal plant. But again, CCS from an IGCC plant has never been taken to commercial scale — there are just two small demonstration IGCC plants in the U.S. today (near Tampa, Fla., and West Terra Haute, Ind.) and neither of them captures its CO2 emissions. Commercial scale IGCC (500 megawatt) plants are not expected until around 2020. (p.16)
Either way, capturing carbon, compressing it into liquid CO2, then transporting it and pumping it deep underground requires a lot of expensive equipment and energy. The GAO report says, “The cost of electricity production would increase by 35 percent for newly constructed IGCC plants with CO2 capture, compared to a 77 percent increase for newly constructed pulverized coal power plants equipped with CO2 capture.” (pg. 19) Perhaps because the DOE has largely ignored existing pulverized coal plants, the GAO report doesn’t give specific costs for adding CCS filters to existing power plants.
With the exception of the two small IGCC plants mentioned above, all U.S. coal-fired power plants burn pulverized coal; and one new pulverized coal plant is being built each week around the world today. So the GAO report strongly encourages the DOE and industry to stop focusing so much attention on IGCC plants and to get serious about capturing carbon from pulverized coal plants: “The outlook for widespread deployment of IGCC technology is questionable and the agency’s funding related to IGCC technology has substantially exceeded funding for technologies more applicable to reducing emissions from existing coal-fired power plants,” the GAO report says. (p. 31) In other words, the DOE has essentially ignored the biggest part of the problem.
Legal and Regulatory Barriers
As we have seen, to make a difference in the global warming problem, CCS would require creation of a major new waste disposal industry devoted to CO2. The GAO report says government needs to develop rules governing all aspects of this new industry — transporting, injecting and storing vast quantities of CO2. And government needs to clarify what existing laws apply to stored CO2. GAO says, “Key regulatory and legal issues will need to be addressed if CCS is to be deployed at commercial scale. Among these issues are (1) confusion over the rules for injecting large volumes of CO2, (2) long-term liability issues concerning CO2 storage and potential leakage, (3) how property ownership patterns may affect CO2 storage.” (p. 23)
The Safe Drinking Water Act says the EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) should protect public health by preventing waste- injection wells from endangering underground sources of drinking water. “However,” the GAO report says, “the injection of CO2 for long- term storage raises a new set of unique issues related to its relative buoyancy, its corrosiveness in the presence of water, and large volumes in which it would be injected.” (p. 23)
The “new set of unique issues” arises from the main CCS plan, which is to bury CO2 in places where the deep earth is comprised of sandstone saturated with water not suitable for drinking. CO2 pumped into the ground will push the water aside and fill the pores in the sandstone with liquid CO2. In these situations, the injected CO2 will be “buoyant” — meaning it will constantly be trying to move upward. The plan is to select underground locations where an impervious layer of rock, or “caprock,” prevents CO2 from rising back to the surface. However, any water in contact with CO2 will turn into carbonic acid and begin to eat away minerals in the rocks. Finally, to make a dent in the global warming problem would require burial of tremendous quantities of CO2. The GAO report says “it is likely that thousands or tens of thousands of injection wells would need to be developed and permitted in the United States.” (pg. 40)
Each of these burial wells would need to be approved by government, but the well owners would be liable for any harm their well might cause. In July of 2008, the EPA issued a ‘proposed rule’ under the Safe Drinking Water Act, which says in part “that well operators remain responsible indefinitely for any endangerment of underground sources of drinking water.” (p. 39)
The EPA is clearly concerned about the safety of underground storage of CO2. But it is still unclear whether U.S. hazardous waste laws will apply to CCS. The GAO says, “RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] and CERCLA [Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act] could pose similar complications for CCS projects. RCRA authorizes EPA to establish regulations governing the treatment, storage, and disposal of hazardous waste. A hazardous waste is generally defined as a solid waste that either (1) exhibits certain characteristics (ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity) or (2) has been listed as a hazardous waste by EPA.” (p. 41)
CERCLA established the Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste dumps. But CO2 is not listed as a hazardous substance under CERCLA. “However,” GAO says, “the [EPA] rule’s preamble cautions that injected CO2 streams could contain hazardous constituents that would make these streams ‘hazardous.'” (p. 41)
One might ask, if CO2 is not hazardous, why go to all the trouble of burying it deep in the ground?
According to the GAO, the federal government and other parties might be held liable if CO2 stored below public lands leaked onto adjoining property. “If CO2 was injected for geologic storage and it migrated underground into neighboring mineral deposits, for example, it could interfere with the adjacent mineral owners’ abilities to extract those resources, and the injection well’s operator could be held liable for nuisance, trespass, or another tort.” (p. 25)
An even bigger concern, according to the GAO, is the absence of a national strategy to reduce CO2 emissions, “…without which the electric utility industry has little incentive to capture and store its CO2 emissions.” (p. 3) This really cuts to the heart of the matter. Why would any coal power executive invest in expensive and experimental technology to capture and store CO2 when all it’s going to do is hurt their bottom line?
The GAO report touches on an important issue for toxics and climate justice activists. A 2005 study of the general population of the U.S. found that just 4 percent of respondents were familiar with carbon capture and storage. And, “Thus far at least, there has been little public opposition to the CO2 injections that have taken place in states such as Texas to enhance oil recovery.” (p. 48) But the GAO warns that the public health hazards and public opposition to large scale CCS could stifle its progress. Hazards like suffocation from leaking CO2, contamination of drinking water, or increased risk of earthquakes are just some of the concerns associated with CCS. So the GAO recommends that public agencies “immediately develop, in consultation with other agencies, a public outreach effort to explain carbon capture and sequestration.” (p. 49)
In sum, the coal industry’s future depends upon rapid development of a large new CCS industry. If the goal is to reduce U.S. CO2 emissions by something like 80% by 2030, just 22 years from now, then existing power plants — most of which would still be functional in 2030 — will need CCS to eliminate the bulk of their emissions, or they will need to be replaced by solar, wind and geothermal plants. The present slow pace of development of CCS for existing coal plants is probably keeping coal and electric utility executives awake at night. On the other hand, if CCS were deployed more rapidly and something went seriously wrong in an early demonstration, you could forget the grand- scale deployment of CCS that the coal and electric power industries are counting on.
 A metric ton = 2200 pounds. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA), in the U.S. in 2006, CO2 emissions totaled 5890.3 million metric tons (mmt). Of this, the electric power industry emitted 2343.9 mmt, or 39.8% of the total; of this 2343.9 mmt, coal accounted for 1937.9 mmt, or 82% of the electic power sector’s total CO2 emissions and 32.9% of the nation’s total CO2 emissions. See the Excel spreadsheet tab labeled “All,ElecPwr_CO2” at http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/ggrpt/excel/historical_co2.xls
 International Energy Agency, Near-term Opportunities for Carbon Dioxide Capture and Storage; Global Assessments Workshop in Support of the G8 Plan of Action (Paris, France: International Energy Agency, 2007), pg. 7. Available at http://www.precaution.org/lib/iea_global_assessments_wkshop.070601.pdf
 See page 9, but also see pg. 39 where the GAO acknowledges the need for “site closure and emergency and remedial response.”
From: New York Times Magazine (pg. 62) ……………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 12, 2008
FARMER IN CHIEF
[Rachel’s introduction: With a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation.]
By Michael Pollan
Dear Mr. President-Elect,
It may surprise you to learn that among the issues that will occupy much of your time in the coming years is one you barely mentioned during the campaign: food. Food policy is not something American presidents have had to give much thought to, at least since the Nixon administration — the last time high food prices presented a serious political peril. Since then, federal policies to promote maximum production of the commodity crops (corn, soybeans, wheat and rice) from which most of our supermarket foods are derived have succeeded impressively in keeping prices low and food more or less off the national political agenda. But with a suddenness that has taken us all by surprise, the era of cheap and abundant food appears to be drawing to a close. What this means is that you, like so many other leaders through history, will find yourself confronting the fact — so easy to overlook these past few years — that the health of a nation’s food system is a critical issue of national security. Food is about to demand your attention.
Complicating matters is the fact that the price and abundance of food are not the only problems we face; if they were, you could simply follow Nixon’s example, appoint a latter-day Earl Butz as your secretary of agriculture and instruct him or her to do whatever it takes to boost production. But there are reasons to think that the old approach won’t work this time around; for one thing, it depends on cheap energy that we can no longer count on. For another, expanding production of industrial agriculture today would require you to sacrifice important values on which you did campaign. Which brings me to the deeper reason you will need not simply to address food prices but to make the reform of the entire food system one of the highest priorities of your administration: unless you do, you will not be able to make significant progress on the health care crisis, energy independence or climate change. Unlike food, these are issues you did campaign on — but as you try to address them you will quickly discover that the way we currently grow, process and eat food in America goes to the heart of all three problems and will have to change if we hope to solve them. Let me explain.
After cars, the food system uses more fossil fuel than any other sector of the economy — 19 percent. And while the experts disagree about the exact amount, the way we feed ourselves contributes more greenhouse gases to the atmosphere than anything else we do — as much as 37 percent, according to one study.
Whenever farmers clear land for crops and till the soil, large quantities of carbon are released into the air. But the 20th-century industrialization of agriculture has increased the amount of greenhouse gases emitted by the food system by an order of magnitude; chemical fertilizers (made from natural gas), pesticides (made from petroleum), farm machinery, modern food processing and packaging and transportation have together transformed a system that in 1940 produced 2.3 calories of food energy for every calorie of fossil-fuel energy it used into one that now takes 10 calories of fossil-fuel energy to produce a single calorie of modern supermarket food. Put another way, when we eat from the industrial-food system, we are eating oil and spewing greenhouse gases. This state of affairs appears all the more absurd when you recall that every calorie we eat is ultimately the product of photosynthesis — a process based on making food energy from sunshine. There is hope and possibility in that simple fact.
In addition to the problems of climate change and America’s oil addiction, you have spoken at length on the campaign trail of the health care crisis.
Spending on health care has risen from 5 percent of national income in 1960 to 16 percent today, putting a significant drag on the economy. The goal of ensuring the health of all Americans depends on getting those costs under control.
There are several reasons health care has gotten so expensive, but one of the biggest, and perhaps most tractable, is the cost to the system of preventable chronic diseases. Four of the top 10 killers in America today are chronic diseases linked to diet: heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes and cancer. It is no coincidence that in the years national spending on health care went from 5 percent to 16 percent of national income, spending on food has fallen by a comparable amount — from 18 percent of household income to less than 10 percent.
While the surfeit of cheap calories that the U.S. food system has produced since the late 1970s may have taken food prices off the political agenda, this has come at a steep cost to public health. You cannot expect to reform the health care system, much less expand coverage, without confronting the public-health catastrophe that is the modern American diet.
The impact of the American food system on the rest of the world will have implications for your foreign and trade policies as well. In the past several months more than 30 nations have experienced food riots, and so far one government has fallen. Should high grain prices persist and shortages develop, you can expect to see the pendulum shift decisively away from free trade, at least in food. Nations that opened their markets to the global flood of cheap grain (under pressure from previous administrations as well as the World Bank and the I.M.F.) lost so many farmers that they now find their ability to feed their own populations hinges on decisions made in Washington (like your predecessor’s precipitous embrace of biofuels) and on Wall Street. They will now rush to rebuild their own agricultural sectors and then seek to protect them by erecting trade barriers. Expect to hear the phrases “food sovereignty” and “food security” on the lips of every foreign leader you meet. Not only the Doha round, but the whole cause of free trade in agriculture is probably dead, the casualty of a cheap food policy that a scant two years ago seemed like a boon for everyone. It is one of the larger paradoxes of our time that the very same food policies that have contributed to overnutrition in the first world are now contributing to undernutrition in the third. But it turns out that too much food can be nearly as big a problem as too little — a lesson we should keep in mind as we set about designing a new approach to food policy.
Rich or poor, countries struggling with soaring food prices are being forcibly reminded that food is a national-security issue. When a nation loses the ability to substantially feed itself, it is not only at the mercy of global commodity markets but of other governments as well. At issue is not only the availability of food, which may be held hostage by a hostile state, but its safety: as recent scandals in China demonstrate, we have little control over the safety of imported foods. The deliberate contamination of our food presents another national-security threat. At his valedictory press conference in 2004, Tommy Thompson, the secretary of health and human services, offered a chilling warning, saying, “I, for the life of me, cannot understand why the terrorists have not attacked our food supply, because it is so easy to do.”
This, in brief, is the bad news: the food and agriculture policies you’ve inherited — designed to maximize production at all costs and relying on cheap energy to do so — are in shambles, and the need to address the problems they have caused is acute. The good news is that the twinned crises in food and energy are creating a political environment in which real reform of the food system may actually be possible for the first time in a generation. The American people are paying more attention to food today than they have in decades, worrying not only about its price but about its safety, its provenance and its healthfulness. There is a gathering sense among the public that the industrial-food system is broken. Markets for alternative kinds of food — organic, local, pasture-based, humane — are thriving as never before. All this suggests that a political constituency for change is building and not only on the left: lately, conservative voices have also been raised in support of reform.
Writing of the movement back to local food economies, traditional foods (and family meals) and more sustainable farming, The American Conservative magazine editorialized last summer that “this is a conservative cause if ever there was one.”
There are many moving parts to the new food agenda I’m urging you to adopt, but the core idea could not be simpler: we need to wean the American food system off its heavy 20th-century diet of fossil fuel and put it back on a diet of contemporary sunshine. True, this is easier said than done — fossil fuel is deeply implicated in everything about the way we currently grow food and feed ourselves. To put the food system back on sunlight will require policies to change how things work at every link in the food chain: in the farm field, in the way food is processed and sold and even in the American kitchen and at the American dinner table. Yet the sun still shines down on our land every day, and photosynthesis can still work its wonders wherever it does. If any part of the modern economy can be freed from its dependence on oil and successfully resolarized, surely it is food.
How We Got Here
Before setting out an agenda for reforming the food system, it’s important to understand how that system came to be — and also to appreciate what, for all its many problems, it has accomplished. What our food system does well is precisely what it was designed to do, which is to produce cheap calories in great abundance. It is no small thing for an American to be able to go into a fast-food restaurant and to buy a double cheeseburger, fries and a large Coke for a price equal to less than an hour of labor at the minimum wage — indeed, in the long sweep of history, this represents a remarkable achievement.
It must be recognized that the current food system — characterized by monocultures of corn and soy in the field and cheap calories of fat, sugar and feedlot meat on the table — is not simply the product of the free market. Rather, it is the product of a specific set of government policies that sponsored a shift from solar (and human) energy on the farm to fossil-fuel energy.
Did you notice when you flew over Iowa during the campaign how the land was completely bare — black — from October to April? What you were seeing is the agricultural landscape created by cheap oil. In years past, except in the dead of winter, you would have seen in those fields a checkerboard of different greens: pastures and hayfields for animals, cover crops, perhaps a block of fruit trees. Before the application of oil and natural gas to agriculture, farmers relied on crop diversity (and photosynthesis) both to replenish their soil and to combat pests, as well as to feed themselves and their neighbors.
Cheap energy, however, enabled the creation of monocultures, and monocultures in turn vastly increased the productivity both of the American land and the American farmer; today the typical corn-belt farmer is single-handedly feeding 140 people.
This did not occur by happenstance. After World War II, the government encouraged the conversion of the munitions industry to fertilizer – ammonium nitrate being the main ingredient of both bombs and chemical fertilizer — and the conversion of nerve-gas research to pesticides. The government also began subsidizing commodity crops, paying farmers by the bushel for all the corn, soybeans, wheat and rice they could produce. One secretary of agriculture after another implored them to plant “fence row to fence row” and to “get big or get out.”
The chief result, especially after the Earl Butz years, was a flood of cheap grain that could be sold for substantially less than it cost farmers to grow because a government check helped make up the difference. As this artificially cheap grain worked its way up the food chain, it drove down the price of all the calories derived from that grain: the high-fructose corn syrup in the Coke, the soy oil in which the potatoes were fried, the meat and cheese in the burger.
Subsidized monocultures of grain also led directly to monocultures of animals: since factory farms could buy grain for less than it cost farmers to grow it, they could now fatten animals more cheaply than farmers could. So America’s meat and dairy animals migrated from farm to feedlot, driving down the price of animal protein to the point where an American can enjoy eating, on average, 190 pounds of meat a year — a half pound every day.
But if taking the animals off farms made a certain kind of economic sense, it made no ecological sense whatever: their waste, formerly regarded as a precious source of fertility on the farm, became a pollutant — factory farms are now one of America’s biggest sources of pollution. As Wendell Berry has tartly observed, to take animals off farms and put them on feedlots is to take an elegant solution — animals replenishing the fertility that crops deplete — and neatly divide it into two problems: a fertility problem on the farm and a pollution problem on the feedlot. The former problem is remedied with fossil-fuel fertilizer; the latter is remedied not at all.
What was once a regional food economy is now national and increasingly global in scope — thanks again to fossil fuel. Cheap energy — for trucking food as well as pumping water — is the reason New York City now gets its produce from California rather than from the “Garden State” next door, as it did before the advent of Interstate highways and national trucking networks. More recently, cheap energy has underwritten a globalized food economy in which it makes (or rather, made) economic sense to catch salmon in Alaska, ship it to China to be filleted and then ship the fillets back to California to be eaten; or one in which California and Mexico can profitably swap tomatoes back and forth across the border; or Denmark and the United States can trade sugar cookies across the Atlantic. About that particular swap the economist Herman Daly once quipped, “Exchanging recipes would surely be more efficient.”
Whatever we may have liked about the era of cheap, oil-based food, it is drawing to a close. Even if we were willing to continue paying the environmental or public-health price, we’re not going to have the cheap energy (or the water) needed to keep the system going, much less expand production. But as is so often the case, a crisis provides opportunity for reform, and the current food crisis presents opportunities that must be seized.
In drafting these proposals, I’ve adhered to a few simple principles of what a 21st-century food system needs to do. First, your administration’s food policy must strive to provide a healthful diet for all our people; this means focusing on the quality and diversity (and not merely the quantity) of the calories that American agriculture produces and American eaters consume. Second, your policies should aim to improve the resilience, safety and security of our food supply. Among other things, this means promoting regional food economies both in America and around the world. And lastly, your policies need to reconceive agriculture as part of the solution to environmental problems like climate change.
These goals are admittedly ambitious, yet they will not be difficult to align or advance as long as we keep in mind this One Big Idea: most of the problems our food system faces today are because of its reliance on fossil fuels, and to the extent that our policies wring the oil out of the system and replace it with the energy of the sun, those policies will simultaneously improve the state of our health, our environment and our security.
I. Resolarizing the American Farm
What happens in the field influences every other link of the food chain on up to our meals — if we grow monocultures of corn and soy, we will find the products of processed corn and soy on our plates. Fortunately for your initiative, the federal government has enormous leverage in determining exactly what happens on the 830 million acres of American crop and pasture land.
Today most government farm and food programs are designed to prop up the old system of maximizing production from a handful of subsidized commodity crops grown in monocultures. Even food-assistance programs like WIC and school lunch focus on maximizing quantity rather than quality, typically specifying a minimum number of calories (rather than maximums) and seldom paying more than lip service to nutritional quality. This focus on quantity may have made sense in a time of food scarcity, but today it gives us a school-lunch program that feeds chicken nuggets and Tater Tots to overweight and diabetic children.
Your challenge is to take control of this vast federal machinery and use it to drive a transition to a new solar-food economy, starting on the farm. Right now, the government actively discourages the farmers it subsidizes from growing healthful, fresh food: farmers receiving crop subsidies are prohibited from growing “specialty crops” — farm- bill speak for fruits and vegetables.
(This rule was the price exacted by California and Florida produce growers in exchange for going along with subsidies for commodity crops.)
Commodity farmers should instead be encouraged to grow as many different crops — including animals — a s possible. Why? Because the greater the diversity of crops on a farm, the less the need for both fertilizers and pesticides.
The power of cleverly designed polycultures to produce large amounts of food from little more than soil, water and sunlight has been proved, not only by small-scale “alternative” farmers in the United States but also by large rice-and-fish farmers in China and giant- scale operations (up to 15,000 acres) in places like Argentina. There, in a geography roughly comparable to that of the American farm belt, farmers have traditionally employed an ingenious eight-year rotation of perennial pasture and annual crops: after five years grazing cattle on pasture (and producing the world’s best beef), farmers can then grow three years of grain without applying any fossil-fuel fertilizer. Or, for that matter, many pesticides: the weeds that afflict pasture can’t survive the years of tillage, and the weeds of row crops don’t survive the years of grazing, making herbicides all but unnecessary. There is no reason — save current policy and custom — that American farmers couldn’t grow both high-quality grain and grass-fed beef under such a regime through much of the Midwest. (It should be noted that today’s sky-high grain prices are causing many Argentine farmers to abandon their rotation to grow grain and soybeans exclusively, an environmental disaster in the making.)
Federal policies could do much to encourage this sort of diversified sun farming. Begin with the subsidies: payment levels should reflect the number of different crops farmers grow or the number of days of the year their fields are green — that is, taking advantage of photosynthesis, whether to grow food, replenish the soil or control erosion. If Midwestern farmers simply planted a cover crop after the fall harvest, they would significantly reduce their need for fertilizer, while cutting down on soil erosion. Why don’t farmers do this routinely? Because in recent years fossil-fuel-based fertility has been so much cheaper and easier to use than sun-based fertility.
In addition to rewarding farmers for planting cover crops, we should make it easier for them to apply compost to their fields — a practice that improves not only the fertility of the soil but also its ability to hold water and therefore withstand drought. (There is mounting evidence that it also boosts the nutritional quality of the food grown in it.) The U.S.D.A. estimates that Americans throw out 14 percent of the food they buy; much more is wasted by retailers, wholesalers and institutions. A program to make municipal composting of food and yard waste mandatory and then distributing the compost free to area farmers would shrink America’s garbage heap, cut the need for irrigation and fossil-fuel fertilizers in agriculture and improve the nutritional quality of the American diet.
Right now, most of the conservation programs run by the U.S.D.A. are designed on the zero-sum principle: land is either locked up in “conservation” or it is farmed intensively. This either-or approach reflects an outdated belief that modern farming and ranching are inherently destructive, so that the best thing for the environment is to leave land untouched. But we now know how to grow crops and graze animals in systems that will support biodiversity, soil health, clean water and carbon sequestration. The Conservation Stewardship Program, championed by Senator Tom Harkin and included in the 2008 Farm Bill, takes an important step toward rewarding these kinds of practices, but we need to move this approach from the periphery of our farm policy to the very center. Longer term, the government should back ambitious research now under way (at the Land Institute in Kansas and a handful of other places) to “perennialize” commodity agriculture: to breed varieties of wheat, rice and other staple grains that can be grown like prairie grasses — without having to till the soil every year. These perennial grains hold the promise of slashing the fossil fuel now needed to fertilize and till the soil, while protecting farmland from erosion and sequestering significant amounts of carbon.
But that is probably a 50-year project. For today’s agriculture to wean itself from fossil fuel and make optimal use of sunlight, crop plants and animals must once again be married on the farm — as in Wendell Berry’s elegant “solution.” Sunlight nourishes the grasses and grains, the plants nourish the animals, the animals then nourish the soil, which in turn nourishes the next season’s grasses and grains. Animals on pasture can also harvest their own feed and dispose of their own waste — all without our help or fossil fuel.
If this system is so sensible, you might ask, why did it succumb to Confined Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs? In fact there is nothing inherently efficient or economical about raising vast cities of animals in confinement. Three struts, each put into place by federal policy, support the modern CAFO, and the most important of these — the ability to buy grain for less than it costs to grow it — has just been kicked away. The second strut is F.D.A. approval for the routine use of antibiotics in feed, without which the animals in these places could not survive their crowded, filthy and miserable existence. And the third is that the government does not require CAFOs to treat their wastes as it would require human cities of comparable size to do. The F.D.A. should ban the routine use of antibiotics in livestock feed on public-health grounds, now that we have evidence that the practice is leading to the evolution of drug- resistant bacterial diseases and to outbreaks of E. coli and salmonella poisoning. CAFOs should also be regulated like the factories they are, required to clean up their waste like any other industry or municipality.
It will be argued that moving animals off feedlots and back onto farms will raise the price of meat. It probably will — as it should. You will need to make the case that paying the real cost of meat, and therefore eating less of it, is a good thing for our health, for the environment, for our dwindling reserves of fresh water and for the welfare of the animals. Meat and milk production represent the food industry’s greatest burden on the environment; a recent U.N. study estimated that the world’s livestock alone account for 18 percent of all greenhouse gases, more than all forms of transportation combined. (According to one study, a pound of feedlot beef also takes 5,000 gallons of water to produce.) And while animals living on farms will still emit their share of greenhouse gases, grazing them on grass and returning their waste to the soil will substantially offset their carbon hoof prints, as will getting ruminant animals off grain. A bushel of grain takes approximately a half gallon of oil to produce; grass can be grown with little more than sunshine.
It will be argued that sun-food agriculture will generally yield less food than fossil-fuel agriculture. This is debatable. The key question you must be prepared to answer is simply this: Can the sort of sustainable agriculture you’re proposing feed the world?
There are a couple of ways to answer this question. The simplest and most honest answer is that we don’t know, because we haven’t tried. But in the same way we now need to learn how to run an industrial economy without cheap fossil fuel, we have no choice but to find out whether sustainable agriculture can produce enough food. The fact is, during the past century, our agricultural research has been directed toward the goal of maximizing production with the help of fossil fuel. There is no reason to think that bringing the same sort of resources to the development of more complex, sun-based agricultural systems wouldn’t produce comparable yields. Today’s organic farmers, operating for the most part without benefit of public investment in research, routinely achieve 80 to 100 percent of conventional yields in grain and, in drought years, frequently exceed conventional yields. (This is because organic soils better retain moisture.) Assuming no further improvement, could the world — with a population expected to peak at 10 billion — survive on these yields?
First, bear in mind that the average yield of world agriculture today is substantially lower than that of modern sustainable farming. According to a recent University of Michigan study, merely bringing international yields up to today’s organic levels could increase the world’s food supply by 50 percent.
The second point to bear in mind is that yield isn’t everything — and growing high-yield commodities is not quite the same thing as growing food.
Much of what we’re growing today is not directly eaten as food but processed into low-quality calories of fat and sugar. As the world epidemic of diet- related chronic disease has demonstrated, the sheer quantity of calories that a food system produces improves health only up to a point, but after that, quality and diversity are probably more important. We can expect that a food system that produces somewhat less food but of a higher quality will produce healthier populations.
The final point to consider is that 40 percent of the world’s grain output today is fed to animals; 11 percent of the world’s corn and soybean crop is fed to cars and trucks, in the form of biofuels. Provided the developed world can cut its consumption of grain-based animal protein and ethanol, there should be plenty of food for everyone — however we choose to grow it.
In fact, well-designed polyculture systems, incorporating not just grains but vegetables and animals, can produce more food per acre than conventional monocultures, and food of a much higher nutritional value. But this kind of farming is complicated and needs many more hands on the land to make it work.
Farming without fossil fuels — performing complex rotations of plants and animals and managing pests without petrochemicals — is labor intensive and takes more skill than merely “driving and spraying,” which is how corn-belt farmers describe what they do for a living.
To grow sufficient amounts of food using sunlight will require more people growing food — millions more. This suggests that sustainable agriculture will be easier to implement in the developing world, where large rural populations remain, than in the West, where they don’t. But what about here in America, where we have only about two million farmers left to feed a population of 300 million? And where farmland is being lost to development at the rate of 2,880 acres a day? Post- oil agriculture will need a lot more people engaged in food production — as farmers and probably also as gardeners.
The sun-food agenda must include programs to train a new generation of farmers and then help put them on the land. The average American farmer today is 55 years old; we shouldn’t expect these farmers to embrace the sort of complex ecological approach to agriculture that is called for. Our focus should be on teaching ecological farming systems to students entering land-grant colleges today. For decades now, it has been federal policy to shrink the number of farmers in America by promoting capital-intensive monoculture and consolidation. As a society, we devalued farming as an occupation and encouraged the best students to leave the farm for “better” jobs in the city. We emptied America’s rural counties in order to supply workers to urban factories. To put it bluntly, we now need to reverse course. We need more highly skilled small farmers in more places all across America — not as a matter of nostalgia for the agrarian past but as a matter of national security. For nations that lose the ability to substantially feed themselves will find themselves as gravely compromised in their international dealings as nations that depend on foreign sources of oil presently do. But while there are alternatives to oil, there are no alternatives to food.
National security also argues for preserving every acre of farmland we can and then making it available to new farmers. We simply will not be able to depend on distant sources of food, and therefore need to preserve every acre of good farmland within a day’s drive of our cities. In the same way that when we came to recognize the supreme ecological value of wetlands we erected high bars to their development, we need to recognize the value of farmland to our national security and require real-estate developers to do “food- system impact s tatements” before development begins. We should also create tax and zoning incentives for developers to incorporate farmland (as they now do “open space”) in their subdivision plans; all those subdivisions now ringing golf courses could someday have diversified farms at their center.
The revival of farming in America, which of course draws on the abiding cultural power of our agrarian heritage, will pay many political and economic dividends. It will lead to robust economic renewal in the countryside.
And it will generate tens of millions of new “green jobs,” which is precisely how we need to begin thinking of skilled solar farming: as a vital sector of the 21st-century post-fossil-fuel economy.
II. Reregionalizing the Food System
For your sun-food agenda to succeed, it will have to do a lot more than alter what happens on the farm. The government could help seed a thousand new polyculture farmers in every county in Iowa, but they would promptly fail if the grain elevator remained the only buyer in town and corn and beans were the only crops it would take. Resolarizing the food system means building the infrastructure for a regional food economy — one that can support diversified farming and, by shortening the food chain, reduce the amount of fossil fuel in the American diet.
A decentralized food system offers a great many other benefits as well. Food eaten closer to where it is grown will be fresher and require less processing, making it more nutritious. Whatever may be lost in efficiency by localizing food production is gained in resilience: regional food systems can better withstand all kinds of shocks. When a single factory is grinding 20 million hamburger patties in a week or washing 25 million servings of salad, a single terrorist armed with a canister of toxins can, at a stroke, poison millions. Such a system is equally susceptible to accidental contamination: the bigger and more global the trade in food, the more vulnerable the system is to catastrophe.
The best way to protect our food system against such threats is obvious: decentralize it.
Today in America there is soaring demand for local and regional food; farmers’ markets, of which the U.S.D.A. estimates there are now 4,700, have become one of the fastest-growing segments of the food market. Community- supported agriculture is booming as well: there are now nearly 1,500 community- supported farms, to which consumers pay an annual fee in exchange for a weekly box of produce through the season. The local-food movement will continue to grow with no help from the government, especially as high fuel prices make distant and out-of- season food, as well as feedlot meat, more expensive. Yet there are several steps the government can take to nurture this market and make local foods more affordable. Here are a few:
Four-Season Farmers’ Markets.
Provide grants to towns and cities to build year-round indoor farmers’ markets, on the model of Pike Place in Seattle or the Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. To supply these markets, the U.S.D.A. should make grants to rebuild local distribution networks in order to minimize the amount of energy used to move produce within local food sheds.
Agricultural Enterprise Zones.
Today the revival of local food economies is being hobbled by a tangle of regulations originally designed to check abuses by the very largest food producers. Farmers should be able to smoke a ham and sell it to their neighbors without making a huge investment in federally approved facilities. Food-safety regulations must be made sensitive to scale and marketplace, so that a small producer selling direct off the farm or at a farmers’ market is not regulated as onerously as a multinational food manufacturer.
This is not because local food won’t ever have food-safety problems – it will — only that its problems will be less catastrophic and easier to manage because local food is inherently more traceable and accountable.
Local Meat-Inspection Corps.
Perhaps the single greatest impediment to the return of livestock to the land and the revival of local, grass- based meat production is the disappearance of regional slaughter facilities. The big meat processors have been buying up local abattoirs only to close them down as they consolidate, and the U.S.D.A. does little to support the ones that remain. From the department’s perspective, it is a better use of shrinking resources to dispatch its inspectors to a plant slaughtering 400 head an hour than to a regional abattoir slaughtering a dozen. The U.S.D.A. should establish a Local Meat-Inspectors Corps to serve these processors. Expanding on its successful pilot program on Lopez Island in Puget Sound, the U.S.D.A. should also introduce a fleet of mobile abattoirs that would go from farm to farm, processing animals humanely and inexpensively. Nothing would do more to make regional, grass-fed meat fully competitive in the market with feedlot meat.
Establish a Strategic Grain Reserve.
In the same way the shift to alternative energy depends on keeping oil prices relatively stable, the sun-food agenda — as well as the food security of billions of people around the world — will benefit from government action to prevent huge swings in commodity prices. A strategic grain reserve, modeled on the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, would help achieve this objective and at the same time provide some cushion for world food stocks, which today stand at perilously low levels. Governments should buy and store grain when it is cheap and sell when it is dear, thereby moderating price swings in both directions and discouraging speculation.
Regionalize Federal Food Procurement.
In the same way that federal procurement is often used to advance important social goals (like promoting minority-owned businesses), we should require that some minimum percentage of government food purchases — whether for school- lunch programs, military bases or federal prisons — go to producers located within 100 miles of institutions buying the food. We should create incentives for hospitals and universities receiving federal funds to buy fresh local produce. To channel even a small portion of institutional food purchasing to local food would vastly expand regional agriculture and improve the diet of the millions of people these institutions feed.
Create a Federal Definition of “Food.”
It makes no sense for government food-assistance dollars, intended to improve the nutritional health of at-risk Americans, to support the consumption of products we know to be unhealthful. Yes, some people will object that for the government to specify what food stamps can and cannot buy smacks of paternalism. Yet we already prohibit the purchase of tobacco and alcohol with food stamps. So why not prohibit something like soda, which is arguably less nutritious than red wine? Because it is, nominally, a food, albeit a “junk food.” We need to stop flattering nutritionally worthless foodlike substances by calling them “junk food” — and instead make clear that such products are not in fact food of any kind. Defining what constitutes real food worthy of federal support will no doubt be controversial (you’ll recall President Reagan’s ketchup imbroglio), but defining food upward may be more politically palatable than defining it down, as Reagan sought to do.
One approach would be to rule that, in order to be regarded as a food by the government, an edible substance must contain a certain minimum ratio of micronutrients per calorie of energy. At a stroke, such a definition would improve the quality of school lunch and discourage sales of unhealthful products, since typically only “food” is exempt from local sales tax.
A few other ideas: Food-stamp debit cards should double in value whenever swiped at a farmers’ markets — all of which, by the way, need to be equipped with the Electronic Benefit Transfer card readers that supermarkets already have.
We should expand the WIC program that gives farmers’-market vouchers to low-income women with children; such programs help attract farmers’ markets to urban neighborhoods where access to fresh produce is often nonexistent. (We should also offer tax incentives to grocery chains willing to build supermarkets in underserved neighborhoods.) Federal food assistance for the elderly should build on a successful program pioneered by the state of Maine that buys low-income seniors a membership in a community-supported farm. All these initiatives have the virtue of advancing two objectives at once: supporting the health of at-risk Americans and the revival of local food economies.
III. Rebuilding America’s Food Culture
In the end, shifting the American diet from a foundation of imported fossil fuel to local sunshine will require changes in our daily lives, which by now are deeply implicated in the economy and culture of fast, cheap and easy food.
Making available more healthful and more sustainable food does not guarantee it will be eaten, much less appreciated or enjoyed. We need to use all the tools at our disposal — not just federal policy and public education but the president’s bully pulpit and the example of the first family’s own dinner table — to promote a new culture of food that can undergird your sun-food agenda.
Changing the food culture must begin with our children, and it must begin in the schools. Nearly a half-century ago, President Kennedy announced a national initiative to improve the physical fitness of American children. He did it by elevating the importance of physical education, pressing states to make it a requirement in public schools. We need to bring the same commitment to “edible education” — in Alice Waters’s phrase — by making lunch, in all its dimensions, a mandatory part of the curriculum. On the premise that eating well is a critically important life skill, we need to teach all primary-school students the basics of growing and cooking food and then enjoying it at shared meals.
To change our children’s food culture, we’ll need to plant gardens in every primary school, build fully equipped kitchens, train a new generation of lunchroom ladies (and gentlemen) who can once again cook and teach cooking to children. We should introduce a School Lunch Corps program that forgives federal student loans to culinary-school graduates in exchange for two years of service in the public-school lunch program. And we should immediately increase school-lunch spending per pupil by $1 a day — the minimum amount food- service experts believe it will take to underwrite a shift from fast food in the cafeteria to real food freshly prepared.
But it is not only our children who stand to benefit from public education about food. Today most federal messages about food, from nutrition labeling to the food pyramid, are negotiated with the food industry. The surgeon general should take over from the Department of Agriculture the job of communicating with Americans about their diet. That way we might begin to construct a less equivocal and more effective public-health message about nutrition.
Indeed, there is no reason that public-health campaigns about the dangers of obesity and Type 2 diabetes shouldn’t be as tough and as effective as public- health campaigns about the dangers of smoking. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that one in three American children born in 2000 will develop Type 2 diabetes. The public needs to know and see precisely what that sentence means: blindness; amputation; early death. All of which can be avoided by a change in diet and lifestyle. A public-health crisis of this magnitude calls for a blunt public-health message, even at the expense of offending the food industry. Judging by the success of recent antismoking campaigns, the savings to the health care system could be substantial.
There are other kinds of information about food that the government can supply or demand. In general we should push for as much transparency in the food system as possible — the other sense in which “sunlight” should be the watchword of our agenda. The F.D.A. should require that every packaged-food product include a second calorie count, indicating how many calories of fossil fuel went into its production. Oil is one of the most important ingredients in our food, and people ought to know just how much of it they’re eating. The government should also throw its support behind putting a second bar code on all food products that, when scanned either in the store or at home (or with a cellphone), brings up on a screen the whole story and pictures of how that product was produced: in the case of crops, images of the farm and lists of agrochemicals used in its production; in the case of meat and dairy, descriptions of the animals’ diet and drug regimen, as well as live video feeds of the CAFO where they live and, yes, the slaughterhouse where they die. The very length and complexity of the modern food chain breeds a culture of ignorance and indifference among eaters. Shortening the food chain is one way to create more conscious consumers, but deploying technology to pierce the veil is another.
Finally, there is the power of the example you set in the White House.
If what’s needed is a change of culture in America’s thinking about food, then how America’s first household organizes its eating will set the national tone, foc using the light of public attention on the issue and communicating a simple set of values that can guide Americans toward sun-based foods and away from eating oil.
The choice of White House chef is always closely watched, and you would be wise to appoint a figure who is identified with the food movement and committed to cooking simply from fresh local ingredients. Besides feeding you and your family exceptionally well, such a chef would demonstrate how it is possible even in Washington to eat locally for much of the year, and that good food needn’t be fussy or complicated but does depend on good farming. You should make a point of the fact that every night you’re in town, you join your family for dinner in the Executive Residence — at a table. (Surely you remember the Reagans’ TV trays.) And you should also let it be known that the White House observes one meatless day a week — a step that, if all Americans followed suit, would be the equivalent, in carbon saved, of taking 20 million midsize sedans off the road for a year. Let the White House chef post daily menus on the Web, listing the farmers who supplied the food, as well as recipes.
Since enhancing the prestige of farming as an occupation is critical to developing the sun-based regional agriculture we need, the White House should appoint, in addition to a White House chef, a White House farmer. This new post would be charged with implementing what could turn out to be your most symbolically resonant step in building a new American food culture.
And that is this: tear out five prime south-facing acres of the White House lawn and plant in their place an organic fruit and vegetable garden.
When Eleanor Roosevelt did something similar in 1943, she helped start a Victory Garden movement that ended up making a substantial contribution to feeding the nation in wartime. (Less well known is the fact that Roosevelt planted this garden over the objections of the U.S.D.A., which feared home gardening would hurt the American food industry.) By the end of the war, more than 20 million home gardens were supplying 40 percent of the produce consumed in America.
The president should throw his support behind a new Victory Garden movement, this one seeking “victory” over three critical challenges we face today: high food prices, poor diets and a sedentary population. Eating from this, the shortest food chain of all, offers anyone with a patch of land a way to reduce their fossil-fuel consumption and help fight climate change. (We should offer grants to cities to build allotment gardens for people without access to land.)
Just as important, Victory Gardens offer a way to enlist Americans, in body as well as mind, in the work of feeding themselves and changing the food system — something more ennobling, surely, than merely asking them to shop a little differently.
I don’t need to tell you that ripping out even a section of the White House lawn will be controversial: Americans love their lawns, and the South Lawn is one of the most beautiful in the country. But imagine all the energy, water and petrochemicals it takes to make it that way. (Even for the purposes of this memo, the White House would not disclose its lawn-care regimen.) Yet as deeply as Americans feel about their lawns, the agrarian ideal runs deeper still, and making this particular plot of American land productive, especially if the First Family gets out there and pulls weeds now and again, will provide an image even more stirring than that of a pretty lawn: the image of stewardship of the land, of self-reliance and of making the most of local sunlight to feed one’s family and community. The fact that surplus produce from the South Lawn Victory Garden (and there will be literally tons of it) will be offered to regional food banks will make its own eloquent statement.
You’re probably thinking that growing and eating organic food in the White House carries a certain political risk. It is true you might want to plant iceberg lettuce rather than arugula, at least to start. (Or simply call arugula by its proper American name, as generations of Midwesterners have done: “rocket.”) But it should not be difficult to deflect the charge of elitism sometimes leveled at the sustainable- food movement. Reforming the food system is not inherently a right-or- left issue: for every Whole Foods shopper with roots in the counterculture you can find a family of evangelicals intent on taking control of its family dinner and diet back from the fast-food industry — the culinary equivalent of home schooling. You should support hunting as a particularly sustainable way to eat meat — meat grown without any fossil fuels whatsoever.
There is also a strong libertarian component to the sun-food agenda, which seeks to free small producers from the burden of government regulation in order to stoke rural innovation. And what is a higher “family value,” after all, than making time to sit down every night to a shared meal?
Our agenda puts the interests of America’s farmers, families and communities ahead of the fast-food industry’s. For that industry and its apologists to imply that it is somehow more “populist” or egalitarian to hand our food dollars to Burger King or General Mills than to support a struggling local farmer is absurd. Yes, sun food costs more, but the reasons why it does only undercut the charge of elitism: cheap food is only cheap because of government handouts and regulatory indulgence (both of which we will end), not to mention the exploitation of workers, animals and the environment on which its putative “economies” depend. Cheap food is food dishonestly priced — it is in fact unconscionably expensive.
Your sun-food agenda promises to win support across the aisle. It builds on America’s agrarian past, but turns it toward a more sustainable, sophisticated future. It honors the work of American farmers and enlists them in three of the 21st century’s most urgent errands: to move into the post-oil era, to improve the health of the American people and to mitigate climate change. Indeed, it enlists all of us in this great cause by turning food consumers into part-time producers, reconnecting the American people with the American land and demonstrating that we need not choose between the welfare of our families and the health of the environment — that eating less oil and more sunlight will redound to the benefit of both.
Michael Pollan, a contributing writer for the magazine, is the Knight Professor of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley. He is the author, most recently, of “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.”
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
From: The Morning Herald (Sydney, Australia) ………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 14, 2008
GREENHOUSE GAS THREATENS FOOD CHAIN
[Rachel’s introduction: Polar life, from tiny seabirds through penguins and seals to whales, depends for food on Antarctic krill, which has a biomass estimated at around 500 million tonnes. A new study suggests that rising levels of greenhouse gases could have a “catastrophic” impact on Antarctic life by harming krill.]
By Andrew Darby
The predicted rise of atmospheric carbon dioxide will wreak havoc on krill, the tiny crustacean at the heart of the Antarctic food web, a study has shown.
Captive-bred krill at the Australian Antarctic Division developed deformities as larvae and lost energy when they were exposed to the greenhouse gas at levels predicted for 2100.
The damage meant that the krill were unlikely ever to breed, said a University of Tasmania researcher, Lilli Hale.
Polar life, from tiny seabirds through penguins and seals to whales, depends for food on Antarctic krill, Euphausia superba, which has a biomass estimated at around 500 million tonnes.
A loss of krill suggested there would be a catastrophic impact on these other species, Ms Hale said.
The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide now stands at 384 parts per million (up 100 ppm since 1832), according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. At a worst case, it could reach about 900 ppm in 2100.
Carbon dioxide is absorbed by the sea most easily in the colder Southern Ocean, which becomes more acidic, interfering with the formation of calcium carbonate. Krill rely on calcium for the formation of their shells. In Ms Hale’s pilot study the division’s world-first krill breeding research facility near Hobart was used to hatch 200 larvae in jars with an artificial atmospheric carbon dioxide level increased to the worst-case 2100 level.
“Their anatomy wasn’t quite right,” Ms Hale said. “They were a bit deformed, and they were listless. It’s unlikely they would have survived through to adulthood.”
When carbon dioxide levels were raised even further, fertilised eggs did not hatch at all.
The Antarctic Division’s program leader, Steve Nicol, said ocean acidification from rising carbon dioxide levels was real, and there was an urgent need to find out what effect it was going to have on sea life.
“At the microbial level some species might have time to evolve. But longer-lived animals like krill won’t have time to adapt to higher levels of carbon dioxide.
“The next step is for us to conduct longer studies at lower carbon dioxide levels to see what krill can cope with.”
The Australian Antarctic research ship Aurora Australis departed on Sunday carrying researchers who will investigate ocean acidification’s effects on marine microbes.
From: Discovery News ……………………………….[This story printer-friendly]
October 13, 2008
OZONE POLLUTION TO WORSEN UNDER CLIMATE CHANGE
[Rachel’s introduction: In a report published this week by the Royal Society in the U.K., a team of researchers argue that even though nations like the United States, the U.K., and Japan have taken steps to curtail pollution that causes deadly ground-level ozone, global warming will negate their efforts by the year 2050.]
By Michael Reilly, Discovery News
Surface-level ozone, a poisonous gas that claims tens of thousands of lives annually, could get much worse thanks to the effects of climate change, according to new research.
While international treaties like the Kyoto Protocol attempt to curb greenhouse gas emissions and limit the effects of global warming, researchers say ozone is a silent killer that has stayed below the radar.
“It’s the third most important greenhouse gas after carbon dioxide and methane,” David Fowler of the National Environmental Research Council in the United Kingdom said. “But it’s not the biggest one, and it’s not the biggest threat to human health — particulates in the atmosphere are worse. So it’s a sort of Cinderella gas that has been mostly ignored.”
In Europe alone an estimated 21,400 people die prematurely each year as a result of inhaling too much ozone, which damages lung tissue and exacerbates a variety of respiratory ailments.
In a report published this week by the Royal Society in the UK, Fowler and a team of researchers argue that even though nations like the United States, the U.K., and Japan have taken steps to curtail pollution that causes ozone, global warming will negate their efforts by the year 2050.
In developing countries, the outlook is far worse.
“If countries like China and India sign up to all of the emissions controls currently planned, things won’t get much worse,” Fowler said. “But they won’t get much better, either. If the controls aren’t vigorously applied, ozone could multiply by several factors easily.”
Since 1900, background ozone concentrations worldwide have gone from about 10 parts per billion to between 30 and 50 parts per billion today. High in Earth’s stratosphere, ozone is crucial to life on the surface, shielding us from harmful solar radiation. When humans and plants breathe it in, though, it’s toxic.
Copyright 2008 Discovery Communications, LLC.
From: Democracy Now! ………………………………..[This story printer-friendly]
October 8, 2008
IS POSSE COMITATUS DEAD?
[Rachel’s introduction: “The whole question here about what the Pentagon is doing patrolling in the United States gets to the real heart of the matter, which is, do we have a democracy here? I mean, there is a law on the books called the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act that says that the president of the United States, as commander-in-chief, cannot put the military on our streets. And this is a violation of that…”]
By Amy Goodman
Why are there active duty soldiers stationed on U.S. streets?
Amy Goodman: In a barely noticed development last week, the Army stationed an active unit inside the United States. The Infantry Division’s 1st Brigade Team is back from Iraq, now training for domestic operations under the control of U.S. Army North, the Army service component of Northern Command. The unit will serve as an on- call federal response for large-scale emergencies and disasters. It’s being called the Consequence Management Response Force, CCMRF, or “sea-smurf” for short.
It’s the first time an active unit has been given a dedicated assignment to USNORTHCOM, which was itself formed in October 2002 to “provide command and control of Department of Defense homeland defense efforts.”
An initial news report in the Army Times newspaper last month noted, in addition to emergency response, the force “may be called upon to help with civil unrest and crowd control.” The Army Times has since appended a clarification, and a September 30th press release from the Northern Command states: “This response force will not be called upon to help with law enforcement, civil disturbance or crowd control.”
When Democracy Now! spoke to Air Force Lieutenant Colonel Jamie Goodpaster, a public affairs officer for NORTHCOM, she said the force would have weapons stored in containers on site, as well as access to tanks, but the decision to use weapons would be made at a far higher level, perhaps by Secretary of Defense, SECDEF.
I’m joined now by two guests. Army Colonel Michael Boatner is future operations division chief of USNORTHCOM. He joins me on the phone from Colorado Springs. We’re also joined from Madison, Wisconsin by journalist and editor of The Progressive magazine, Matthew Rothschild.
We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with Colonel Michael Boatner? Can you explain the significance, the first time, October 1st, deployment of the troops just back from Iraq?
Col. Michael Boatner: Yes, Amy. I’d be happy to. And again, there has been some concern and some misimpressions that I would like to correct. The primary purpose of this force is to provide help to people in need in the aftermath of a WMD-like event in the homeland.
It’s something that figures very prominently in the national planning scenarios under the National Response Framework, and that’s how DoD provides support in the homeland to civil authority. This capability is tailored technical life-saving support and then further logistic support for that very specific scenario. So, we designed it for that purpose.
And really, the new development is that it’s been assigned to NORTHCOM, because there’s an increasingly important requirement to ensure that they have done that technical training, that they can work together as a joint service team. These capabilities come from all of our services and from a variety of installations, and that’s not an ideal command and control environment. So we’ve been given control of these forces so that we can train them, ensure they’re responsive and direct them to participate in our exercises, so that were they called to support civil authority, those governors or local state jurisdictions that might need our help, that they would be responsive and capable in the event and also would be able to survive based on the skills that they have learned, trained and focused on.
They ultimately have weapons, heavy weapons and combat vehicles and another service capability at their home station at Fort Stewart, Georgia, but they wouldn’t bring that stuff with them. In fact, they’re prohibited from bringing it. They would bring their individual weapons, which is the standard policy for deployments in the homeland.
Those would be centralized and containerized, and they could only be issued to the soldiers with the Secretary of Defense permission.
So I think, you know, that kind of wraps up our position on this.
We’re proud to be able to provide this capability. It’s all about saving lives, relieving suffering, mitigating great property damage to infrastructure and things like that, and frankly, restoring public confidence in the aftermath of an event like this.
AG: So the use of the weapons would only be decided by SECDEF, the Secretary of Defense. But what about the governors? The SECDEF would have — Secretary of Defense would have — would be able to preempt the governors in a decision whether these soldiers would use their weapons on U.S. soil?
MB: No, this basically only boils down to self-defense. Any military force has the inherent right to self-defense. And if the situation was inherently dangerous, then potentially the Secretary of Defense would allow them to carry their weapons, but it would only be for self- and unit-defense. This force has got no role in a civil disturbance or civil unrest, any of those kinds of things.
AG: Matt Rothschild, you’ve been writing about this in The Progressive magazine. What is your concern?
Matthew Rothschild: Well, I’m very concerned on a number of fronts about this, Amy. One, that NORTHCOM, the Northern Command, that came into being in October of 2002, when that came in, people like me were concerned that the Pentagon was going to use its forces here in the United States, and now it looks like, in fact, it is, even though on its website it says it doesn’t have units of its own. Now it’s getting a unit of its own.
And Colonel Boatner talked about this unit, what it’s trained for.
Well, let’s look at what it’s trained for. This is the 3rd Infantry, 1st Brigade Combat unit that has spent three of the last five years in Iraq in counterinsurgency. It’s a war-fighting unit, was one of the first units to Baghdad. It was involved in the battle of Fallujah.
And, you know, that’s what they’ve been trained to do. And now they’re bringing that training here?
On top of that, one of the commanders of this unit was boasting in the Army Times about this new package of non-lethal weapons that has been designed, and this unit itself is going be able to use, according to that original article. And in fact, the commander was saying he had even tasered himself and was boasting about tasering himself. So, why is a Pentagon unit that’s going to be possibly patrolling the streets of the United States involved in using tasers?
AG: Colonel Boatner?
MB: Well, I’d like to address that. That involved a service mission and a service set of equipment that was issued for overseas deployment. Those soldiers do not have that on their equipment list for deploying in the homeland. And again, they have been involved in situations overseas. And having talked to commanders who have returned, those situations are largely nonviolent, non-kinetic. And when they do escalate, the soldiers have a lot of experience with seeing the indicators and understanding it. So, I would say that our soldiers are trustworthy. They can deploy in the homeland, and American citizens can be confident that there will be no abuses.
AG: Matt Rothschild?
MR: Well, you know, that doesn’t really satisfy me, and I don’t think it should satisfy your listeners and your audience, Amy, because, you know, our people in the field in Iraq, some of them have not behaved up to the highest standards, and a lot of police forces in the United States who have been using these tasers have used them inappropriately.
The whole question here about what the Pentagon is doing patrolling in the United States gets to the real heart of the matter, which is, do we have a democracy here? I mean, there is a law on the books called the Posse Comitatus Act and the Insurrection Act that says that the president of the United States, as commander-in-chief, cannot put the military on our streets. And this is a violation of that, it seems to me.
President Bush tried to get around this act a couple years ago in the Defense Authorization Act that he signed that got rid of some of those restrictions, and then last year, in the new Defense Authorization Act, thanks to the work of Senator Patrick Leahy and Kit Bond of Missouri, that was stripped away. And so, the President isn’t supposed to be using the military in this fashion, and though the President, true to form, appended a signing statement to that saying he’s not going to be governed by that. So, here we have a situation where the President of United States has been aggrandizing his power, and this gives him a whole brigade unit to use against U.S. citizens here at home.
AG: Colonel Michael Boatner, what about the Posse Comitatus Act, and where does that fit in when U.S. troops are deployed on U.S. soil?
MR: It absolutely governs in every instance. We are not allowed to help enforce the law. We don’t do that. Every time we get a request — and again, this kind of a deployment is defense support to civil authority under the National Response Framework and the Stafford Act.
And we do it all the time, in response to hurricanes, floods, fires and things like that. But again, you know, if we review the requirement that comes to us from civil authority and it has any complexion of law enforcement whatsoever, it gets rejected and pushed back, because it’s not lawful.
AG: Matthew Rothschild, does this satisfy you?
MR: No, it doesn’t. One of the reasons it doesn’t is not by what Boatner was saying right there, but what President Bush has been doing. And if we looked at National Security Presidential Directive 51, that he signed on May 9th of 2007, Amy, this gives the President enormous powers to declare a catastrophic emergency and to bypass our regular system of laws, essentially, to impose a form of martial law.
And if you look at that National Security Presidential Directive, what it says, that in any incident where there is extraordinary disruption of a whole range of things, including our economy, the President can declare a catastrophic emergency. Well, we’re having these huge disturbances in our economy. President Bush could today pick up that National Security Directive 51 and say, “We’re in a catastrophic emergency. I’m going to declare martial law, and I’m going to use this combat brigade to enforce it.”
AG: Colonel Michael Boatner?
MB: The only exception that I know of is the Insurrection Act. It’s something that is very unlikely to be invoked. In my 30-year career, it’s only been used once, in the LA riots, and it was a widespread situation of lawlessness and violence. And the governor of the state requested that the President provide support. And that’s a completely different situation. The forces available to do that are in every service in every part of the country, and it’s completely unrelated to the — this consequence management force that we’re talking about.
AG: You mentioned governors, and I was just looking at a piece by Jeff Stein — he is the national security editor of Congressional Quarterly — talking about homeland security. And he said, “Safely tucked into the $526 billion defense bill, it easily crossed the goal line on the last day of September.
“The language doesn’t just brush aside a liberal Democrat slated to take over the Judiciary Committee” — this was a piece written last year — it “runs over the backs of the governors, 22 of whom are Republicans.
“The governors had waved red flags about the measure on Aug. 1, 2007, sending letters of protest from their Washington office to the Republican chairs and ranking Democrats on the House and Senate Armed Services committees.
“No response. So they petitioned the party heads on the Hill.”
The letter, signed by every member of the National Governors Association, said, “This provision was drafted without consultation or input from governors and represents an unprecedented shift in authority from governors… to the federal government.”
Colonel Michael Boatner?
MB: That’s in the political arena. That has nothing to do with my responsibilities or what I’m — was asked to talk about here with regard to supporting civil authority in the homeland.
AG: Matthew Rothschild?
MR: Well, this gets to what Senator Patrick Leahy of Vermont was so concerned about, that with NORTHCOM and with perhaps this unit — and I want to call Senator Leahy’s office today and ask him about this — you have the usurpation of the governor’s role, of the National Guard’s role, and it’s given straight to the Pentagon in some of these instances. And that’s very alarming. And that was alarming to almost every governor, if not every governor, in the country, when Bush tried to do that and around about the Posse Comitatus Act. So, I think these are real concerns.
AG: Matt Rothschild, the Democratic and Republican conventions were quite amazing displays of force at every level, from the local police on to the state troopers to, well, in the Republican convention, right onto troops just back from Iraq in their Army fatigues. Did this surprise you?
MR: It did. It surprised me also that NORTHCOM itself was involved in intelligence sharing with local police officers in St. Paul. I mean, what in the world is NORTHCOM doing looking at what some of the protesters are involved in? And you had infiltration up there, too.
But what we have going on in this country is we have infiltration and spying that goes on, not only at the — well, all the way from the campus police, practically, Amy, up to the Pentagon and the National Security Agency. We’re becoming a police state here.
AG: Colonel Michael Boatner, a tall order here, could you respond?
MB: Well, that’s incorrect. We did not participate in any intelligence collection. We were up there in support of the U.S. Secret Service. We provided some explosive ordnance disposal support of the event. But I’d like to go back and say that, again, in terms of — AG: Could you explain what their — explain again what was their role there?
MB: They were just doing routine screens and scans of the area in advance of this kind of a vulnerable event. It’s pretty standard support to a national special security event.
AG: And are you saying there was absolutely no intelligence sharing?
MB: That’s correct. That is correct…. We’re very constrained– MR: But even that, Amy, now the Pentagon is doing sweeps of areas before, you know, a political convention? That used to be law enforcement’s job. That used to be domestic civil law enforcement job.
It’s now being taken over by the Pentagon. That should concern us.
AG: Why is that, Colonel Michael Boatner? Why is the Pentagon doing it, not local law enforcement?
MB: That’s because of the scale and the availability of support. DoD is the only force that has the kind of capability. I mean, we’re talking about dozens and dozens of dog detection teams. And so, for anything on this large a scale, the Secret Service comes to DoD with a standard Economy Act request for assistance.
AG: Boatner, in the Republican Convention, these troops, just back from Fallujah — what about issues of, for example, PTSD, post- traumatic stress disorder?
MB: Well, my sense is that that’s something that the services handled very well. There’s a long track record of great support in the homeland. If those soldiers were National Guard soldiers, I have no visibility of that. But for the active-duty forces, citizens can be confident that if they’re employed in the homeland, that they’ll be reliable, accountable, and take care of their families and fellow citizens in good form.
AG: Last word, Matthew Rothschild?
MR: Well, this granting of the Pentagon a special unit to be involved in U.S. patrol is something that should alarm all of us. And it’s very important to the Army.
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