Hot lobster

November 9th, 2002 § One comment § permalink

Scientists have discovered an apparent correlation between increased temperatures in Long Island Sound and the declining health of the area’s lobster population. Put simply, lobsters in the Sound are dying and could disappear entirely.

Christ on a clutch

November 8th, 2002 § One comment § permalink

A coalition of evangelical Christians is trying to convince thousands of churchgoing Americans that Jesus wants them to get better mileage. The campaign presents transportation choices as an ethical issue, encouraging Christians to consider the environmental consequences of their SUVs.

Meanwhile, under President Bush–whose favorite philosopher, as you may recall, is Jesus–the Environmental Protection Agency is forcing fewer polluters to pay fines, and collecting less money in fines overall.

Cod wallop

November 7th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Due to years of overfishing, the North Sea’s cod population is lower than it has ever been, and experts are worried that the region will never recover unless commercial cod fishing is banned indefinitely.

The article notes that a fishing ban would destroy the economies of some Danish towns. Surely, though, it would be better (and cheaper, in the long run) for the European Union to subsidize those towns temporarily rather than watch the cod stock dwindle to nothing.

There’s another more difficult issue here, as the article acknowledges: “[E]ven if the North Sea cod are saved, the pressure will likely move to other fisheries to meet the voracious appetite for fish sticks, fish and chips and fried fish sandwiches–or it will go to other species.” The only way around that problem is for people to change the way they eat. (Farm-raised fish are an alternative, but they’re far from a panacea.)

Suburb of the future?

October 28th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

A new housing development in Brisbane, Australia promises to be one of the world’s most ecologically sustainable communities. Residents will generate their own energy from solar panels and sewage digesters, treat their own wastewater on site, and even grow some of their own food.

Adapting to catastrophe

October 24th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Diplomats are meeting right now in New Delhi to discuss global warming. They’re not talking about how to prevent it from happening; they’re talking about how to adjust to its effects. And an anonymous United States negotiator is pleased: “‘We’re welcoming a focus on more of a balance on adaptation versus mitigation,’ said a senior American negotiator in New Delhi. ‘You don’t have enough money to do everything.’”

Okay, let’s look at some of the predicted effects of global warming that we’ll have to “adapt” to. For starters, there’s the likelihood that harvests of wheat, rice, and corn will drop up to 30 percent. If starvation doesn’t worry you, perhaps property damage does. In addition to deforestation and mosquito infestations, Alaska has already suffered enormous property losses caused by the thawing of permafrost; houses in Fairbanks must be supported on jacks, and engineers worry that the Trans-Alaska Pipeline may become unstable.

As for the claim that mitigation is too expensive, I would note that in the United States, companies nearly always complain about costs when they’re told to implement new regulations. It does not appear that American capitalism has collapsed as a result. (If that’s too flip for you, I’ll offer an example: Would it really bankrupt American car companies if they were forced to improve the abysmal fuel economy of sports utility vehicles?)

My hope is that it’s not too late to prevent massive, worldwide disaster. Just in case, though, I’m stocking up on shorts, T-shirts, and plenty of Soylent Green.

Rooftop gardens

August 8th, 2002 § Two comments § permalink

Here’s a great way to make cities more sustainable: Turn rooftops into gardens. Rooftop gardens save energy by insulating buildings and keeping cities cooler; they ease the burden that rainstorms impose on a sewer system; and best of all, they look nice and produce tons of tasty homegrown vegetables.

The Earth Pledge Foundation is working to add more rooftop gardens to buildings in New York City. They also have a Web site promoting New York farms, including some excellent recipes that show how to use all that fresh produce. Best of all, you can view the recipes by season–not too useful if you only shop at supermarkets, but incredibly helpful if you want to buy locally-grown food and eat seasonally.

Sustainable communities

August 7th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Just so there’s no confusion about yesterday’s entry, I didn’t mean to imply that charrettes, or community meetings, would fix the Bay Area’s housing problems. A real fix will require changes in city, county, and state law, plus a healthy dose of luck. Charrettes should be immensely helpful, though, once the Bay Area starts taking serious measures to resolve its housing problems.

While I’m more or less on the subject, I’ll point you to Sustainable Urban Settlement, from the planning department of New South Wales, Australia (Sydney is in New South Wales). This Web site has some terrific (and very readable) information about how to create a sustainable community. In particular, their introductory guidelines are well worth reading.

The cornification of America

July 19th, 2002 § One comment § permalink

America’s food supply depends heavily on corn, far more than most people realize. All that corn is hurting our health and our environment.

Sustainable diet

July 11th, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

In response to my post about disgusting chicken-related issues, Christie asked, “In terms of killing the chickens (organic or otherwise), what would be a more humane way?”

Temple Grandin might be able to tell you. She’s helped American slaughterhouses find more humane ways of killing cattle, pigs, and other livestock, although I’m not sure whether she’s done any research with chickens. You can read more about Grandin and her work if you’re interested; she’s a fascinating person.

Humane slaughter is important, but it’s hardly what concerns me most. Let’s start by adding some historical context to this issue. In most parts of the world, meat was not a central element of the average person’s diet until fairly recently. Harold McGee explains this in his book On Food and Cooking:

Human diet from about A.D. 1400 to 1800 was essentially vegetable, for economic reasons; at that time, agriculture fed from 10 to 20 times the population that could be supported by animals grazing on the same acreage. …In the 17th and 18th centuries, the majority of people on the European continent rarely took more than a quarter of the total calorie intake from meat. Often it was closer to 10%…

Americans today eat an unusually large amount of meat, thanks to our affluence. “With one fifteenth of the world’s population,” according to McGee, “the United States eats one third of the world’s meat.”

This dietary emphasis on meat comes at a steep environmental price. Feeding and watering livestock takes an enormous toll on agricultural resources. In 1997, according to a Cornell University report, the grain used to feed livestock in the United States could feed 800 million people. Alternatively, we could farm less intensively if we ate less meat–a far better idea, since America is losing its irreplaceable topsoil at an unsustainable rate. As the Cornell report notes, “Iowa has lost one-half its topsoil in only 150 years of farming—soil that took thousands of years to form.” If our topsoil disappears, it will become difficult, if not impossible, to grow many crops. Millions would starve.

Our current situation is an anomaly. At some point, all of us will have to stop eating as much meat as we do, not because of ethics or health but as a practical necessity. Our current diet is leading us towards widespread famine.


May 31st, 2002 § Comments off § permalink

Contamination from genetically engineered crops could make it impossible to practice organic farming in the future. That’s been known for a while; what’s interesting is that the European Union agrees (although it doesn’t want you to know that).

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