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August 17, 2008

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sean healy

This is an interesting, important question -
"Why are agricultural yields not keeping up with population growth?"

but unfortunately, what you put forward as the major reason...

"In large part because the European Union essentially banned genetically modified crops both on its own soil and in imports, thus exporting its technology-blocking regulations to trade partners in Africa and elsewhere."

reveals more about technocentric thinking / biases, than the actual contributors to this problem, which are vast and numerous ...

What would exploring a 'long tail of food production' reveal? That perhaps while vast monocultural agricultural practices aren't increasing yield, a diverse range of smaller, local food growing communities and thriving in much more beneficial ways...

There are many aspects of the food chain econcomic rationalists don't take into account, but equally missing the bigger picture - is the kind of thinking that suggests we just need newer machines to keep increasing the yield of each square metre of soil.

Newer machines are part of a solution, not the main driver.

Jean Ziegler's work over at http://www.righttofood.org is also useful for pointing out how much economic trade sanctions and practices are an incredibly important contribution to the gap between population growth and available food. While GE enhanced crops may have some role to play in the future, if an endgoal is feeding our growing population, then surely the whole issue of 'cash crops' ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_crops ) being grown on land that could be feeding the starving locals, is worth plonking on the table too?

“In a world overflowing with riches, it is a outrageous scandal that more than
852 million people suffer hunger and malnutrition and that
every year over 6 million children die of starvation and related causes.
We must take urgent action now.”
Jean Ziegler, April 2008

Some of the permaculture principles below also reveal some of the shortcomings behind the kinds of large monocultural agricultural practices that tend to be most interested in GE crops...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permaculture

Holmgren's 12 design principles

These restatements of the principles of permaculture appear in David Holmgren's Permaculture: Principles and Pathways Beyond Sustainability [5]; Also see permacultureprinciples.com [6];

1. Apply self-regulation and accept feedback - We need to discourage inappropriate activity to ensure that systems can continue to function well.
2. Catch and store energy - By developing systems that collect resources when they are abundant, we can use them in times of need.
3. Creatively use and respond to change - We can have a positive impact on inevitable change by carefully observing, and then intervening at the right time.
4. Design from patterns to details - By stepping back, we can observe patterns in nature and society. These can form the backbone of our designs, with the details filled in as we go.
5. Integrate rather than segregate - By putting the right things in the right place, relationships develop between those things and they work together to support each other.
6. Observe and interact - By taking the time to engage with nature we can design solutions that suit our particular situation.
7. Obtain a yield - Ensure that you are getting truly useful rewards as part of the work that you are doing.
8. Produce no waste - By valuing and making use of all the resources that are available to us, nothing goes to waste.
9. Use and value diversity - Diversity reduces vulnerability to a variety of threats and takes advantage of the unique nature of the environment in which it resides.
10. Use and value renewable resources and services - Make the best use of nature's abundance to reduce our consumptive behaviour and dependence on non-renewable resources.
11. Use edges and value the marginal - The interface between things is where the most interesting events take place. These are often the most valuable, diverse and productive elements in the system.
12. Use small and slow solutions - Small and slow systems are easier to maintain than big ones, making better use of local resources and produce more sustainable outcomes.

Pat

You are on the right track when it comes to reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled. Anything we can do to reduce the miles that need to be traveled to accomplish a task will lead to energy security and independence.

Man, oh, man ...but...everything else.... thumbs down.....

1) EU's policy on GMO was driven by the choice of its *people* (as in a democracy lets its people decide). Or do you now believe that you should not be allowed to decide what kinds of food you eat?

2) Africa doesn't want GMO because they don't want to have to pay Monsanto to grow crops that African farmers have grown for centuries. African farmers like most indigenous farmers save seed from one crop to start the next. GMO seed from Monsanto means that those farmers have to pay for the privilege of what they have done for free for generations. In a case in Canada -- a farmer was accused by Monsanto of 'stealing' their corn seed because the GMO Monsanto corn had cross-pollinated with his corn stock. Whether or not you believe the defendant farmer is immaterial. Why would Africans be stupid enough to make let Monsanto, et.al. control their food supply?

3) Africa is the original source for barley (13 or so subspecies). Coming in with a GMO pollutes the seed stock. To see what I mean just google for "GMO Corn pollution".

4) Blaming environmentalists for the lack of LNG terminals is just wrong. Most people don't want to have an LNG terminal anywhere near them because if an LNG tanker is ever successfully attacked (and its already been attempted) everyone with waterside property will be crispy. There is a reason the Coast Guard establishes a 2 mile security zone in front, 1 mile behind, and 500 yards on either side of an LNG ship.

5) Natural Gas is another fossil fuel that is running out. Its prices are going up for the same reason that oil in general is going up ... increased demand.

6) Corn prices have shot up because the US has decided that it would be a good idea to burn our food in our cars in the form of ethanol rather than eat it.

7) Our agriculture is a very fossil fuel intensive endeavor. Fertilizers are made from fossil fuels. Farmers use fossil fuel hungry tractors and equipment. The food is grown thousand of miles away from where it is consumed. And lastly, meat production is even more intensive as it takes all that fossil fuel in the form of corn and then feeds it to cattle. So we should not be surprised that fossil fuel prices sky-rocketing results in high food prices.

8) Nuclear -- No nuclear power plants are being built because the economics simply are not there. Nuclear power plants come in only one size -- extra large. Power companies are trying to adjust their production with the demand. A nuclear power plant is a decade-long bet on a huge increase in demand. This is a very dangerous bet that no sane energy executive will make. California has shown that it is possible to reduce per-capita energy consumption without severe noticeable economic issues. California has been doing this for decades (even before the Enron fiasco). So an energy executive has got to decide today that in 2018 electrical demand is going to be so high that any advances in solar, wind, geothermal + any advances in energy efficiency is going to justify an all-or-nothing bet on a nuclear power plant.

9) Nuclear -- any nuclear power plant needs an enriched power source. More nuclear power plants means more incentive for other less stable nations to decide they want their own nuclear power plant -- which of course makes it easier for nuclear fuel to fall into the wrong hands. Do you think it is a great idea for nuclear technology to be spread everywhere?

10) Nuclear -- There really isn't that much uranium in the world. And as this article explains most uranium comes from .... other countries. So once again our energy security would be out of our control!

Gary

Why? Greed! IMHO

friarminor

Consider this, folks!

We used to be one of the biggest rice producing country in the world but now reduced to importing rice.

The Intl Rice Research Institute is housed here and that is from where the neighboring countries got the technology to increase their yield and how we are their rice export customer.

Dang. Easy to point finger at politics but it really is politics, the corrupt kind.

Best.
alain
from .ph

Stephen R

"Nuclear power was supposed to bring electricity too cheap to meter, but our electricity bills have never been higher."

Because we haven't built any nuke plants in years. Thank you, environmentalists.

There's hope for the future, though. Many environmentalists are now calling for nuclear power, including the founder of Greenpeace (who is no longer with that organization).

Pat

@Stephen R ---

You are funny... We have experienced 8 years of the most anti-environmental administration. In that time, entire mountains have been leveled in West Virginia and Kentucky using MTR (Mountain Top Removal) mining to get to coal. Wolf populations have been removed from the endangered species list so that Idaho and Alaska can use helicopters to shoot wolves from the air. Our National Parks have multi-billion dollar maintenance backlogs and are being increasingly privatized.

But yet some how the environmentalists have managed to stop anyone from even proposing a single nuclear power plant. ROTFL.

Reread my earlier comment... Nuclear power plants are un-eco-no-mi-cal as in they cost too much, take too long to build, and have huge liability potential. Show me the insurance company that can handle the risk of a nuclear disaster.

Ohh... I know its the trial lawyers that are the problem! Or maybe all those gays getting married in California.

Chris Derry

You have only addressed price inflation but not dollar inflation. Why haven't you discussed the effect of the Federal Reserve rapidly increasing the supply of dollars, reducing the value of every one of them in circulation?

Why has the US$ shrunk in value against the Euro? It's not our productivity - led by technology - it's the fact that the US is printing more dollars per unit of production than the Euro.

Alex Tolley

Agriculture is not a good example, simply because of Malthusian pressure to grow populations to meet the supply.

Energy is not expensive - over the long term it has been falling in real terms, as have transport costs. With falling prices comes increased demand.

The current short term increases in energy prices due to global demand meeting limited supply should be put into the context of history. At some point technology will provide alternatives that will continue the trend of producing more for less.

will

Thank you PAT. You saved me a lot of keystrokes. Except you forgot: specious hogwash.

oyunlar

thanks for the post.
god write

Laurus Nobilis

Unfortunately, inflation can not be stopped by technology. The reason for this is that every technological novelty is overpriced. Overpricing and high margin reflects to prices in other industries etc. This stimulates inflatory spiral.

Introspective

In the economics books they say that inflation of few percent is desirable, for economic growth. It is not likely that technology will save us from inflation, since there are other economical levers that influence the inflation.

Joshua

Just heard there is a Dutch electricity retail company that sells 100% nuclear power to consumers and small businesses! The company is called Atoomstroom (www.atoomstroom.nl). The only English article about the initiative that I could find is here: http://www.atoomstroom.nl/documents/Nuclear_Power_from_the_heart_of_the_Amsterdam_WTC.pdf

Technology Solution Provider New York

The name of the article was "Why technology hasn't saved us from inflation." Simple Because it hasn't been used againts the people/groups/institutions and organizations causing inflation.

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Tidbits

The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

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