High-Value Crops: Sustainability and Climate Change (4)

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 7:38 PM GMT on September 21, 2011

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High-Value Crops: Sustainability and Climate Change (4)

In the past three articles (Sustainability 1, Sustainability 2, Sustainability 3) I have been exploring the relation between climate change and sustainability. I have focused on the interface between different communities and the conflicts that arise as people push and shove different agendas. There are many issues at play, and when you think about climate change and sustainability, and bring in population and consumption, there are many things that are done in the spirit of sustainability that don’t address climate change – and are, perhaps, not really sustainable.

It is my belief that disentangling the issues at the interfaces will, ultimately, lead to more people engaging in the pursuit of solutions to the challenges of climate change – rather than dismissing the climate issue as unimportant – at least, to me, right now, for this problem. For this final entry in the series I want to start with a local discussion about genetically modified sugar beets. (Bet you did not see that sentence coming.)

First, I don’t know exactly where I sit on the issue of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). There are many complex issues, including serious issues of ethics and social justice. Within the realm of climate change, some argue that one of our major adaptation strategies will be new GMO crops that are more heat and drought tolerant. Or, perhaps, to counter the spread of malaria by GMO mosquitoes. Enhanced removal of carbon dioxide by GMO plants? We could argue perhaps GMOs are some sort of fast evolution.

I want to talk about something far smaller. Beets. The arguments around here, Boulder County, Colorado, center on Roundup Ready Beets (for and against). Roundup is an herbicide, and the genetically modified beets definitively allow both less use of herbicides and fossil fuels – hence, cost reduction. According to the articles I linked above, the vast majority of the commercial sugar beet farmers have quickly embraced the GMO sugar beets. The argument in Boulder County is whether or not these beets should be allowed on county land that is leased for agricultural use. This leads, naturally, to discussions of local agricultural, organic farming, sustainability and things that are “good for the climate.” (Some local press coverage Boulder Weekly, Letters in Response)

The place I want to bring this blog is specifically, “high value crops.” One of the arguments that came forward is that rather than allowing GMOs, that local farmers could grow high-value crops, such as organic vegetables. It is argued that this supports local farmers and sustainability. (I cannot resist pointing out that the farmers who desire to plant GMO beets are also “local.”) It is pointed out that since, at least to some extent, that organic farming replaces the use of herbicides and fossil fuels with jobs for crop tenders. Hence it is good for the local workforce and, well, climate change.

The key to this argument is “high-value” crops. The organic and local vegetables that flow from Boulder County, definitely, require a population that can pay a high cost. This does not mean that the small local farmers are getting wealthy. It also does not mean that a large local workforce is being supported – many of the local farms have aggressive volunteer and education programs. The high cost represents a price that is indicative of the cost of raising crops in a region that is water-stressed, with a short growing season, with shifts between too hot and too cold, with more than its share of grasshoppers, magpies, rabbits and coyotes. And, the local farmer also needs to either be able to live in the region that can afford high-value crops.

High-value: High-value implies wealth, and in the here and now, wealth is correlated with energy use which is correlated with burning fossil fuels. The wealth that supports the ability to buy high-value crops follows, directly or indirectly, from the use of fossil fuels. Therefore the ability to buy high-value crops comes with a large carbon footprint. Therefore the argument that the small, local farm that generates high-value produce is climate friendly is, in the here and now, a hollow argument. In fact, if I wanted to make a climate-based argument, anything that requires less fossil fuel is more climate friendly. Perhaps, GMOs.

When I teach climate change problem solving, I advocate that my students try to organize the problem along three axes: time, is it near-term or long-term; space, is it local or global; and wealth, rich or poor. Wealth is the difficult axis. It represents consumption, how you think about mitigation and adaptation, and environmental justice. Earlier research shows that the wealthier a country is the less concerned they are about climate change. That’s a useful sociological consideration.

There are many issues that we conflate to support what we believe and what we want. (I also teach how do we separate what we know, we believe, we want.) We link things casually that make sense. When we think about sustainability and climate change, we have to think about our imperative to succeed, to consume. We live in a world where economic growth is required by policy, demanded by people, and economic growth means consumption. It gets back to energy and fossil fuels. To have a sustainable planet with more than 7 billion consuming humans, we have to decouple energy from carbon dioxide emissions. To address climate change we will have to figure out how to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. We might even need GMOs.
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159. liulinda
9:17 AM GMT on November 03, 2011
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158. Xandra
10:17 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
Quoting JBastardi:
An interesting read, especially for Nea, who is fond of stating that Monckton knows not of which he speaks:

This is more interesting,

The chief troupier: the follies of Mr Monckton


A point-by-point evisceration of Monckton put together by Professor John Abraham
Member Since: November 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1281
157. Skyepony (Mod)
5:17 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
As for the bee decline. That reddish stuff that Bayer pretreated seeds (like corn) with kills bees. Seen that first hand. Bees are weak. Studies are looking like several factors are causing their collapse. So could be iron broadleaf killer bayer makes too.. There is some really good research on GMO & Bee death out there. Different gene spices causing different problems.. Like the gene to cause the crop to produce terminator seeds.. Seeds that won't grow if replanted are causing a colon cancer type problem in bees & killing them. Wunder why colon caner in people have been on the rise?

& what about patenting life? When you can't keep your crop's seeds to sew again next year your hurting Agriculture as a whole. Plus these genes float away on the air in pollen & fall out of trucks to the side of the road & grow. We've set things free that the ramifications are beginning to look not so good in so many ways.
Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 191 Comments: 38624
156. Skyepony (Mod)
5:07 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
Spathy~ Monsanto has spent alot of money trying to convince people Roundup is safely applied to your food..that this does no harm.. Please look at independent research, what real universities are saying & published papers. The evidence is overwelming. It's another version of the tobacco companies saying smoking isn't bad for your health..

Source for the following...Thousands and thousands of acres in the United States are being sprayed annually with nearly 50 million pounds of Roundup, a broad-spectrum herbicide designed to kill any plant it hits, unless the plant has been genetically altered to tolerate the chemical. Roundup has accounted for half of Monsanto's corporate profits in recent years. Now the company has expanded its Roundup market by genetically engineering "Roundup Ready" soybeans, corn, and other crops.Monsanto's advertising campaigns have convinced many people that Roundup is safe, but the facts simply do not support that conclusion. Independent scientific studies have shown that Roundup is toxic to earthworms, beneficial insects, birds and mammals. Plus it destroys the vegetation on which they depend for food and shelter. And although Monsanto claims that Roundup breaks down into harmless substances, it has been found to be extremely persistent, with residue absorbed by subsequent crops over a year after application. Roundup show adverse effects in all standard categories of toxicological testing, including medium-term toxicity, long-term toxicity, genetic damage, effects on reproduction, and carcinogenicity. Here is some of the research that demonstrates the ways that Roundup's active ingredient, glyphosate, adversely affects plants and animals:

In a study conducted by T.B. Moorman and colleagues at the USDA Southern Weed Science Laboratory in Stoneville, Mississippi, glyphosate reduced soybeans' and clover's ability to fix nitrogen. A study conducted by G.S. Johal and J.E. Rahe of the Center for Pest Management at Simon Frase University in Burnaby, British Columbia, found that glyphosate made bean plants more susceptible to disease. At Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, D. Estok and colleagues found that glyphosate reduces the growth of beneficial soil-dwelling mycorrhizal fungi. Moving up to mammals, sperm production in rabbits was diminished by 50 percent when they were exposed to glyphosate, in research conducted by M.I. Youset and colleagues at the University of Alexandria in Egypt and the University of Tromso in Norway. Brand-new evidence suggests that Roundup may cause cancer. The study, published in Environmental and Molecular Mutagenesis (vol. 31 pp. 55-59, 1998), found that an unidentified chemical in Roundup caused genetic damage in the livers and kidneys of mice exposed to the herbicide. The researchers believe additional experiments are needed to determine which chemical in the Roundup mixture is causing the damage. They point out that this will be very difficult because "the precise composition of the mixture...is not available due to protection by patent regulation." In other words, Monsanto doesn't have to reveal to the public exactly what chemicals are in Roundup. In California, where pesticide-related illness must be reported, Roundup's active ingredient (glyphosate) was the third most commonly reported cause of pesticide illness among agricultural workers, and the most common cause of pesticide illness in landscape workers. According to two New Zealand toxicologists, the symptoms experienced by workers exposed to Roundup included eye and skin irritation, headaches, nausea and heart palpitations.

More here..

The reason food is cheaper is because we are employing machines, chemicals & the energy of oil to produce it.. It all can be grown organically..it would put millions back to work & do wonders for our topsoil & environment.

Member Since: August 10, 2005 Posts: 191 Comments: 38624
155. Some1Has2BtheRookie
4:49 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
Quoting greentortuloni:


I think the first ripples of the tech. sing. are coming. The fact is that, aside from housing, medicene (et all) and food, no one needs a hell of a lot of hte crap that we produce.

Aside from all the other reasons, this is why i don't take all the worries about liberals using global warming to back door socialism from the right wing idiots very seriously. It's coming anyway, of a sort. As technology raises the bar higher and higher (fewer jobs that computers can't do better than us) and more and more people become unemployable, more and mroe people will become socialists.


We were warned, back in the 70's, that as robotics replace workers in manufacturing that there will be fewer employable people. Economies are based upon consumption. Consumption ends when there are too few left that are able to afford "the luxuries", in life. While trying to increase short term profits, you are ending the viability to sell your product(s), in the future. We all may want that big house on the hill and will work to get it but, when the money you receive is insufficient for you to so, the big house on the hill is never built. When the big house on the hill is never built, you loose the ability to create wages for those that will build and maintain that house. When only a few are allowed to afford that big house on the hill you loose the sustainability of being able to continue to live in that big house. Pretty soon, we all see a lot of empty houses and no one being able to afford them.

Computers have been better able to design and control robotics. Computers have helped us do our work but, at the same time, reduced the requirements for having a workforce. In a sense, the dog is chasing its own tail. What has not yet been understood is that the tail, once caught, can be a very painful experience. ... When the base of the pyramid crumbles, the top will fall. Just my thoughts.
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4754
154. greentortuloni
3:33 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
Quoting Some1Has2BtheRookie:


I hear all that you say and I cannot disagree with you, to any real extent. The way I see it, there are two ways to accomplish what you want:

1. End all government.

2. End all professional lobbyist.

The first one does no one any good except for those that chose anarchy. The second one can and should be done and everyone benefits, except for the special interest groups. Elect anyone you wish to any public office you wish. Let me control the special interest groups and the professional lobbyist. Let us see who controls policy.

What timing. I just found this article:

"Voting is worthless"


I think the first ripples of the tech. sing. are coming. The fact is that, aside from housing, medicene (et all) and food, no one needs a hell of a lot of hte crap that we produce.

Aside from all the other reasons, this is why i don't take all the worries about liberals using global warming to back door socialism from the right wing idiots very seriously. It's coming anyway, of a sort. As technology raises the bar higher and higher (fewer jobs that computers can't do better than us) and more and more people become unemployable, more and mroe people will become socialists.
Member Since: June 5, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1220
152. Some1Has2BtheRookie
1:23 PM GMT on September 28, 2011
Quoting spathy:
Sorry but I must continue.
Just as the average Joe cant figure out a convoluted pesticide label,The average Legislator cant possibly know all the tens of decades worth of legislation that has preceded him or her.
They will never look very deeply to see if some law preceded there idea. They will hardly ever look to see how there new feel good law may contradict previous law. What they are trying to accomplish might be a grand idea.
But the companies that these laws will effect know full well what doors are opened by confusion and contradiction of legislation.
Gov has gotten too big.
Just like President Obama promised.
There needs to be a complete overview of the myriads of legislation and streamline it.
Because trust me!!!!!
The Big Corps that so many rail against?
They know the laws and know exactly how to confuse and manipulate a do good legislator.
It starts with tax reform and it continues with legislative review.
That is the only way to separate Gov from Business.
Trust me on this.
The more convoluted the myriad of laws, the more Gov and Business will play on each-other and result in us the public and the environment getting screwed!
Gov needs to be brought down to brass tax.
Simplification leads to less abuse and confusion.
This is the only path that can possibly lead to a clear path forward for America.
Additional legislation,more obfuscation,continued confusion and contradiction are not going to clear a path for prosperity and clean solutions.
Think about it please.


I hear all that you say and I cannot disagree with you, to any real extent. The way I see it, there are two ways to accomplish what you want:

1. End all government.

2. End all professional lobbyist.

The first one does no one any good except for those that chose anarchy. The second one can and should be done and everyone benefits, except for the special interest groups. Elect anyone you wish to any public office you wish. Let me control the special interest groups and the professional lobbyist. Let us see who controls policy.

What timing. I just found this article:

"Voting is worthless"
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4754
151. eggs4everyone
2:23 AM GMT on September 28, 2011