Archive for December, 2012

I was having a discussion about climate change, the drought in the mid-west, super-storm Sandy, and the strange weather we are having on the East Coast currently.

After showing somebody the following site, (http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/), they asked what could be done about it. While, obviously, we cannot make it rain of our own intentions, there is much I think we must do, first to inform ourselves, and then to act appropriately. Especially when we realize that what is occuring now is not unprecidented in history.

This is how I responded:

For one, we need to think about agriculture and history. We were all taught about the dust-bowl. What many of us do not realize is that high impact farming and over-stocking the range were largely to blame. We dealt with over-stocking the range by putting the animals in enclosures. This, as inhumane or repugnant as one might find it, ultimately solved the issue for roughly 70 years. However, many people do not consider the amount in water it takes to raise these animals, and to raise food for these animals. It is a high impact industry, and the water use is massive. Since most of this style of agriculture occurs in areas that are drought prone in the west, I think it is safe to say that the solution to the problem is to consume less beef. This is an individual decision, obviously.

We also must consider high impact industrial farming in general. The better part of the grains we consume come from high impact farms in the west and mid-west. Many of these places have operating costs in the millions, because they need to pump water in from miles away. That is why you see those circular fields of crops when you fly over the western states. It is highly inefficient, and costs far more than it would if we planned our society better. Instead of suburban sprawl in states in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, we might consider keeping our farmlands, because we recieve far more rain and have far better soil than the western states. To have designated arrid states as the agriculture zones has only further contributed to our vulnerability to drought. When we also consider that such farms are using chemicals that not only contribute to the Gulf of Mexico “dead zone,” but also pollute fresh water… When we consider that such farms do not practice crop rotation or other soil improvement methods… When the whole puzzle is put together, it is pretty obvious that desertification of the western arrid zone would result.

Furthermore, Texas, Wyoming, Montana, Oklahoma, Alabama, Colorado and other drought impacted states are engaging in hydrolic fracturing for shale gas (http://earthjustice.org/sites/default/files/feature_expanded/2011/frackmap_png_14404.png). Hydrolic fracturing, as many Pennsylvanians already know, uses millions of gallons of FRESH water, which is then combined with many carcenegous and toxic chemicals, before being injected into the well. This is done each time the well is fracked and can occur numerous times per well. Areas like the Barnett shale in Texas have a well every quater mile or so in some places. Thousands of wells, using millions, sometimes billions of gallons of fresh water. Are these uses of water sane practices in a drought? Obviously we cannot make it rain. Evidence, (http://abcnews.go.com/Technology/late-stop-global-warming/story?id=17557814) suggests that we are too late to deter some of the worst impacts of global warming. So, we need to think about the best practices for our natural resources.

Obviously, I do think that we need to revamp energy policy. Whether we are too late to stop “runaway global warming” (the feedback loop that is likely to occur when methane is released from melting permafrost), or not, that does not mean we are damned and might as well just keep making it worse. The more of us that can take measures to reduce our impacts the better. This inevitably means driving less, consuming less fossil fuels, consuming less plastic, consuming less electricity, consuming NO coal… Also, restoring forest cover is vital to reducing human impact. Trees are able to recycle and reduce carbon. They are limited in this capacity, but every little bit helps. More trees have numerous benefits and that is just one. This can be done, by moving human impact closer to cities (especially agriculture). The benefits of this are profound, and extend beyond just environmental benefits. First of all, energy consumption would be significantly reduced if people did not have to commute as far, and goods did not have to travel as far to market. If agriculture moves close to the city, and even into it in the form of rooftop farms, abandoned/blighted lot farms, warehouse farms etc., it frees up space in the country to be reforested and converted back to wilderness. It has long been recreational conservation theory that by designating certain areas as human recreation areas and others as wilderness, the majority of human impact can be limited to certain, controlleable spaces. If you look at that on a macro scale, the logical conclusion is that if people live their lives largely within cities, we can impact the entirety of the planet considerably less.

There are other benefits, such as stronger, more sustainable local economies, but because that is not the focus of what I am discussing I will not go into that.

Obviously this all takes years, but I do think that the goals should be as follows; more relliance on renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal, hydro-electric and solar, less energy consumption, more concentration of human impacts, and sustainable food systems. It is all possible, if humanity should just decide to do it. It is not incompatible to economy, it is just an economy where top down autocracy is not possible. This is why it is opposed.

What everybody can do, as individuals, is to vote with their dollars. That matters. Investment will follow consumption. In all areas of your life where you have a choice, make a conscious decision to support a more sustainable future. There is always opportunity loss. Sometimes it costs more and you have to tighten your fiscal belt to do it. Sometimes it is less convenient than the other option. If it matters, though, you will find a way.

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