Saturday, April 30, 2011

Talking the walk

There are inherent values expressed in our language. I will never forget Phuntso from Bhutan, who at the final evaluation of a one month training said that he had found the training very useful, but that he took exception of that we referred to some animals as meat, we called them "beef cattle", which is what you do call cattle destined for the slaughter-house in Sweden. Our ideas and the language we use for technology, ecology and economy, even for people (who are "workers" or "capitalists" or "consumers") are part of our cultural narrative, similar to the religious categories (sin, guilt, hell, heaven) of previous cultures. We often smile over other cultures' myths and fetishes, but we fail to see that the holy car is as laughable as the sacred cow, the statues of the Easter Islands or the temples of Maya. In my writing I have used expressions like "social capital", "ecosystem services", "externalities". They all take the norm from the capitalist world view. So called economic externalities can also be called "destruction" or even "theft", because that is what it amounts to. By speaking about "biomass" we point at the use of life as a raw material for further processing. Not only that, the use of the word "biomass" makes algae, a rose, a cow and a forest interchangeable and see them primarily as raw materials in our mills. 
Money is like an alphabet with only one sign says Alf Hornborg (2010). That is the reason for why you can't communicate any meaning with money, anything more nuanced than a call to consume, i.e. to use up resources. In the market society the only way to assign a value to anything is to sell it (or as we seen in some examples about ecosystem services, to trade the guarantee that it will not be traded, i.e. exploited), which means that things that are outside the market circulation almost by definition has no value.

Our use of money as the sole ruler of value and the submission of our society to "economics" make us believe that market transactions are voluntary, that we are enabled by the market instead of dependent, and that those transaction are equal and fair. How we discuss "efficiency" or "productivity" and "technology" has strong biases, clearly visible in agriculture, where the systems that waste most, pollutes most and use much external energy are those that are "modern", "efficient" and "productive". The function of technology[1] to put other peoples' resources in the service of the already wealthy, and to constantly increase the gap is obscured by our myths about "progress". Governments speak about their citizens as clients or customers and NGOs use market logic to achieve their goals (even "sell their message", their magazines are closed down because they are not “profitable”) and churches compete for souls in the market place with simplistic TV spots much in the same way as political parties do. In changing the world we also need to change the language use. We need to build new narratives, new tales, new heroes and new myths.

[1]       This is obviously not the only function, but one that is largely overlooked.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The business plan of the factory is to produce externalities

To a very large extent, many of our industrial technologies are about producing "externalities". The industrial capitalist model extracts resources in distant places (destroying other peoples' nature and possibly livelihoods), it has workers do something with them and pay them only part of the added value, the cost of pollution is carried by the local communities, the cost of health care is footed by society, the cost of schooling the workers is covered by society etc. The products are sold at a profit and the waste is someone else's problem. Our natural and social "commons" are resource pools and dumping grounds for the factory. Those that are most successful in externalising their costs are the most successful. "The rationale of machine technology is to (locally) save and liberate time and space, but (crucially) at the expense of time and space consumed elsewhere in the social system" as summarized by Alf Hornborg (2006). When one realise this, one see that what economists are calling "externalities" as if they were some kind of mistake in the process, are part and parcel of the business plans that are behind factories. Of course, there are tools and machines that are producing very few externalities or where those externalities are very small. By and large, however, competition drives industries into increasing externalities. The most apparent example is re-location of factories, to the emerging economies, where salaries are lower and regulations laxer. Many more trends in modern manufacturing can be viewed with that perspective. There is always a counter-movement from society to pressurise industries to take care of those externalities, as they are indeed damaging.

Hornborg (2009) shows how the unequal exchange underlying machine technology can be exposed by measuring the net flows of biophysical resources such as energy, matter, embodied land (ecological footprints), or embodied labour. The mechanical ‘power’ of the machine is to a large extent also an expression of the economic and ideological ‘power’ through which it is sustained. Ultimately, what keeps our machines running are global terms of trade, where the poor get a raw deal. Like with so many other discussions it is hard to discern cause and effect. Is it technology, the machine, as such that creates this imbalance in power, or is the imbalance in power that skews the application of technology into favouring the powerful? I think that they are mutually reinforcing, like so many other issues. In the market place, it is clearly technologies - and organizational forms - that tilts the terms of trade in your favour that will survive. Technology has created the illusion that economic processes can "produce" resources; that we through technological and economic transformation of raw materials into consumer goods can make more resources available; for the price of a particular consumer good, we can buy more material than were used for the production of the good. This is also reflected in the extraction of added value from labour. The value (price) of a good is higher than the work embedded in it, after deduction of other costs, which means that the capitalist can buy more work. These are also the mechanism by which capitalism, technology and economic growth are intrinsically intertwined, and one more reasons for why sustainable capitalism is an oxymoron.

Hornborg, Alf 2006, Footprints in the cotton fields: The Industrial Revolution as time-space appropriation and environmental load displacement, Ecological Economics, Volume 59 Issue: 1, Pages: 74-81
Hornborg, Alf 2009, Zero-Sum World Challenges in Conceptualizing Environmental Load Displacement and Ecologically Unequal Exchange in the World-System, International Journal of Comparative Sociology Vol 50(3–4): 237–262

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Welcome to Antropocene and the anthropogenic Biomes

While most ecologists classify the biomes (nature types or ecosystems) of the world largely as if they were not touched by humans, the truth is that humans now influence most parts of the world, even to the extent that some scientists speak about the Antropocene as a geological era; that we actually change both the geology and climate. Ellis and Ramankutty (2008) identify eighteen anthropogenic biomes and only three biomes that could be considered ”wildlands”, most of them barren, permafrost or sparsely forested. The wildlands represents around 22 percent of the terrestrial land, but only 11 percent of the net primary production (the photosynthesis) because they are cold or dry, or both. All other nature type have been so heavily influenced by humans that they can be called man-made landscapes. Of course, even in those landscapes there are patches of land that is less influenced and even in a field, there are weeds and wild life, but they are all there under conditions created by us; ”human systems with natural ecosystems embedded within then”. It is assessed that we control at least one third of the all terrestrial primary production (i.e. the biological production emerging from the photosynthesis). Rangelands are with this classification the most common landscapes, covering nearly one third of the ice-free lands. Due to arid conditions, the primary production is low, only 15 % of the worlds total and only 5% of the population lives in those landscapes (Ellis and Ramankutty 2008). The value of marginal land is changing. In the past livestock occupied vast territories because there was no possible – or profitable alternative use. It might actually be better to have wild animals roam those plains – as they did long before we tamed our animal companions.

Area, population and primary production of the world

Area (%)
Net Primary Production (%)
Population (billion)
Dense settlements
Source: adapted from Ellis and Ramankutty 2008.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The tragedy of the tragedy of commons

(what is tragic with this forest?)

The expression “tragedy of the commons” (Hardin 1968) was coined by the ecologist Garret Hardin (1915-2003) to describe that common resources need to be protected and monitored to be protected from over-exploitation. Many, in particular neo-liberals have used his article, or at least the catchy phrase to argue that common resources should be privatised because that would mean that they will be taken care of; sustainability would be guaranteed through the profit interest of the individual. It has also been used against common management or public management of resources. Hardin himself clarified in a later article 2003 that what is needed is that the commons are managed: "A 'managed commons' describes either socialism or the privatism of free enterprise. Either one may work; either one may fail: 'The devil is in the details.' But with an unmanaged commons, you can forget about the devil: As overuse of resources reduces carrying capacity, ruin is inevitable." He also stated that:

The more the population exceeds the carrying capacity of the environment, the more freedoms must be given up. As cities grow, the freedom to park is restricted by the number of parking meters or fee-charging garages. Traffic is rigidly controlled. On the global scale, nations are abandoning not only the freedom of the seas, but the freedom of the atmosphere, which acts as a common sink for aerial garbage. Yet to come are many other restrictions as the world's population continues to grow. (Hardin 2003)[1]

Very seldom do we hear those that babble about the tragedy of the commons quote this statement.

Privatization of commons played a big role for the development of capitalism in England. It is worth noting that there is no indication of that those commons, before they were privatized, represented any tragedy, i.e. that they were mismanaged in any way. They were common in order to protect them from over-use rather than the opposite (Montgomery 2007). On the Solomon Islands, the white beech is a rare tree essential for constructions of canoes. When someone knows they will need a new canoe in the future, they mark a young tree to inform the others of its future use, and still ask the chief for permission before finally cutting it (Satoyama 2010). The same is reported from many other places: ”well-organized village communities were frequently in a better position to care for the common forest in keeping with their needs than money-hungry lords who wished to fill their coffers with the forest and who often did not even know the woods they were supposedly protecting”. It was precisely the division of the commons that was often followed by the cutting of the forest (Radkau 2008). Our society institutions are also a kind of commons, created by ourselves. Last decades have experienced a wide-spread battle over how to manage resources like schools, hospitals, utilities, postal service and water works just to mention a few.

Experiences of how to manage common resources point in different directions and we should not jump into conclusions how they should be managed in order not to be destroyed. There are other options than privatization and state control; many common resources, probably most, have been managed by local communities, and it is rather recent that they have been either privatised or taken over by the state. Elinor Ostrom, 2009 Nobel Laureate in economy, has shown how cooperation in the management of common resources is the rule rather than an exception (Ostrom 2009). What is of critical importance is that the users have real say in the arrangements. This is hardly anything new; Kropotkin said the same almost 150 years earlier. For sure there will still be no guarantee that the management will be perfect, people can act egoistically or foolishly both as individual owners and members of a community. The difference is that in a community, the majority must act egoistically and foolishly for it to dominate.

(More extracts from Garden Earth)

[1] My references to Hardin here should not be seen as an endorsement of his ethics regarding how to behave in an overstretched world, some of which I find questionable to say the least.

Monday, April 25, 2011

carbon projects drives land grabbing and GMOs?

Carbon credits rarely deliver money to projects and communities on the ground. Out of a total carbon market volume of $144 billion in 2010, only 3,370 million (0.2%) was for project-based transactions, with only a very small proportion of that likely to reach the community level. Most of the money stays in the global North, even though projects themselves are in the South. Those that benefit most from carbon trading are financial speculators such as J.P.Morgan, Goldman Sachs and Merryl Lynch, who buy and sell carbon credits like they do any other internationally tradable commodity.
Says a briefing from the Gaia Foundation. They claim that there private companies will draw all benefits from carbon offsetting projects. I am inclined to agree with them that there are big risks for that, and that ultimately, carbon credits, mitigation banks, payment for environmental services (TEBB) represent a giant leap towards privatization of our common nature resources. I have written about it many times. 
Ecosystems: Invaluable and worthless

I can also recommend a paper by Sian Sullivan:
The environmentality of ‘Earth Incorporated’: on contemporary primitive accumulation and the financialisation of environmental conservation

Having said that, I don't really agree with some other analysis in their briefing. Two other points are that 1) it is very hard to measure the real offsets in soils, 2) GMO crops and land-grabbing are likely to be strong features in carbon offset projects. There is a certain merit in both point, but rather limited in my view. There is no indication that carbon offset farm projects will use more GMOs than food production. And the same land grabbing are explained by increased food prices, meat production, production of export crops and bio fuel. I don't defend land grabbing, but it is essentially a function of inequality and power relations regardless of the purpose for which land will be used. Huge land grabbing has taken place in most parts of the world in stages.  Just look at the Americas, earlier colonial land grabbing and even massive land grabbing of forests some hundred and fifty years ago in my native Sweden - or even the classic enclosures in England some five hundred years ago. With increased pressure on land, we will see more in the future, if local communities power over their resources are not asserted. I do realize that it is very hard to measure actual carbon sequestration in soils, but don't think it is a valid argument against agriculture carbon sequestration projects. It is difficult to measure most effect from farming, because it relies on local eco systems and because it is carried out by half a billion people, each one doing a bit differently. But with that logic you could also not make statements on effects of farming on environment, biodiversity, the nitrogen cycle or almost anything else as they are all site specific and hard to measure.

Gaia contradicts itself somewhat, when calling for "the use of agro-ecological farming systems to minimise agricultural GHG emissions, and to restore soil carbon. These approaches also provide numerous “multi-functionality” benefits for adaptation, ecosystems, human health, equitable access to resources, and long-term food security." This is a clear example on where it is really hard to measure carbon offset, compared to large-scale carbon offset programs. Don't misunderstand me, I support the use of organic and agro-ecological farming, but if you argue about its benefits for carbon sequestration, people will compare those with other farming systems. 
"Agriculture, with its intensive use of fossil fuels, synthetic agro-chemicals, machinery, transport and intensive livestock rearing, is clearly a significant contributor to climate change. But done properly, the right kind of agriculture can also be a major part of the climate solution.", says Gaia. I couldn't agree more.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

To save nature – with no nature

My latest posting was about that local food production is not always the best, and now this one is about that sometimes use of non-renewable resources can "save" on renewable resources. And before that I spoke for more nuances in how we look upon meat production. Am I leaving the environmentalist camp? Well, I am not so keen on being in any "camp" at all, but I certainly prefer the environmentalist camp over the other.  Having said that, I think it is best for us that we have a nuanced view of reality. The dogmas make it harder to find solutions.

The use of non-renewable resources has followed man since she became man, first in the form of stone for tools. There has been a dramatic shift of our production and consumption away from renewable sources to non-renewable sources, fossil fuel and minerals lately. By and large, this is a negative development as these resources, by definition, are not renewable, and will sooner or later run out. Sometimes the use of a mineral can lead to a substantially eased pressure on a renewable resource, however. One such example is the production of potash. Potash is a raw material used from the dawn of history in bleaching textiles, making glass, and in making soap. It is today also the basis for potash fertilizers and various food additives. In the 19th century, it became an important export product for countries like Canada and Sweden. Forest was cut down and put into big heaps and burnt, just to be able to extract the ash, which was the raw material for potash. Large tracts of forest were cut down in order to produce potash. The relationship was 1:1000, i.e. thousand ton of wood was needed to produce one ton of potash. As early as 1767, potash from wood ashes was exported from Canada, and exports of potash and pearl ash (potash and lime) reached 43,958 barrels in 1865. The industry declined in the late 19th century when large-scale production of potash from mineral salts was established in Germany (Ostlund 2009, Wikipedia 2011a). The example of potash shows how a wasteful use of natural, renewable resources could be replaced by a rather harmless use of mineral, non-renewable resources. There is also a movement between different materials. Asphalt is used instead of cobble stone, concrete instead of wood or stone, iron replace bronze and so forth. Substitution of raw materials is an ongoing process and human ingenuity is great if the price is high enough. This is however mainly true for minerals and other raw materials, but not to a very large extent for ecosystem services. Our ability to substitute for ecosystem services is very small, both because they are so complex and hardly visible and even more because they are for free – there are simply no incentives to “save” on them. 

Why local food production is stupid in Dubai

"We don’t have water here, it’s a stupid idea to farm without water.” says Nils El Accad, CEO of Dubai-based Organic Foods and Café. He continues:“Most farmers rely upon desalinated water, which means the carbon footprint of food grown using it is much higher than if you air freight it in,” read the rest

I did a job for the ministry of agriculture in the UAE some ten years ago, about the development of organic agriculture in UAE. My conclusion was quite the same: Date palms, sheep and camels are the traditional food produced in these very dry areas, and they can be produced sustainably. But all the vegetables, the strawberries and other food are better produced where there is more water around. Alternatively they can use waste water for irrigation of the food crops - now they use it for golf courses and lawns - equally ridiculous things in a desert.  For using waste water they need to change their consumption patterns and use less harmful stuff. 

Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has also come to similar conclusions, as I write about in Garden Earth: 
In the 1970s, Saudi Arabia supported massive expansion of grain production based on subsidized irrigation. It was, by and large, very successful. In the 1990s, it became clear that it wasn’t sustainable. In some areas, ground water table dropped 5 meters per year and some farmers were drilling at 1000 meters to reach water. In response to this production of wheat was reduced from 4.5 million tons 1992 to 1.8 million tons 1993 and the production of barley dropped from 2.2 million tons to just 100,000 tons by year 2002. In 2002 the ministry of agriculture announced that it would cease feed production altogether because of its negative effect on water resources.
Local food production is in most cases a good idea, but there are many situations where some trade is also justifiable also from an "ecological" perspective. Alpine farms specialize in animal production, making cheese etc. They have bought grain for centuries, which is actually a better idea than plowing steep mountains. The same patter can be seen where farms in mountain areas in Italy and Greece grow olives and grapes, and buy grain from plains. A too fundamentalist approach to local self-sufficiency would in those cases be more damaging.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The complicated story of meat

So many want so simple answers. Is meat good or bad for the environment? Does it take away food from poor people? Sorry, there is no such simple answer. It is one thing if you don't want to kill animals, or support a system that kill animals at all. That is a ethical position which obviously can be discussed as such (I am not going to in this posting though). It is quite another story to say that meat is bad for other reasons. I believe it is simply not possible to make such statements. Fish can be produced in a nice way in small scale ponds integrated with farming and it can be produced (rather consumed) from deep-sea fishing, depleting the fish stocks, using huge amounts of energy. Lettuce can be produced in heated green-houses, consuming disastrous amounts of energy compared with its energy content. Grain can be produced in monocultures with irrigation depleting ground water. As little as we refrain from eating grain because some (as a matter of fact most of it) grain production is bad, should be we judge meat as it was one product. 

Global meat consumption per capita doubled between 1983 and 2005, which meant that total production increased even more as population also grew with almost 2 billion. Consumption of meat is estimated to double again between 2000 and 2050, the biggest increase in developing countries. China is today both the biggest producer and consumer (FAO 2006). Meat consumption is fairly strongly correlated to income. For an average Brazilian an increase of income with ten percent leads to an increase of meat consumption with 7 percent, but for the average American, who already eats so much meat, the same increase results in only one percent increase in meat consumption (USDA 2008). 

At any given time, there are around 4.3 billion animals in our service. Not only has the number of animals increased but their role in farms has changed. In traditional European farming, livestock was an integrated part of farming; they were a source of power and they occupied different ecological niches than the humans; they transformed nutrients, both to the field and directly to humans, from lands that were not suitable for arable farming and they supplied us with meat, milk, eggs, fibre, feather, fats and natural remedies. In many cultures, especially the pastoral cultures, livestock was and is a source of status, pride and social position.
 Livestock provides 17 percent of all energy and 33 percent of all protein for human nutrition. Meat consumption ranges from 5 kg per person and year in India to 123 kg in the United States (FAO 2006). The changes in the livestock sector influences also the arable farming as more meat is nowadays grain fed. This is particularly the case for pigs and poultry. Thirty-eight percent of all grain in the in the world is used for animal feed, in  high income countries as much as 60 percent. It takes 3 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of chicken and slightly more for pork. Ruminants, cattle, sheep and goats, are increasingly also fed by grain, something they are not well adapted to. Their main diet should be grass, which humans can’t eat.

Things are not so simple though. Globally it is assessed that it takes 1.3 to 1.4 kg of protein in grain and others sources to produce 1 kg of animal protein, but animal proteins have mostly higher quality than vegetable proteins.   Increasing consumption of animal protein is one of the easiest (admittedly not the only one) methods to rapidly improve nutrition and avoid long term damage caused by malnutrition of children, who may never develop to their full bodily or intellectual potential. Livestock is an important buffer of food and provides livelihoods for people who otherwise had no income and there is no evidence that livestock production detract food from those who currently go hungry (CAST 1999, FAO 2006). 600 million people today are engaged in small-scale livestock production and 200 million people live on pastoralism. This kind of animal production uses ecological niches that would not be suitable for arable farming. Ruminants graze pastures that are no good for arable farming, e.g. to steep, too dry, to cold. Small-scale pig or poultry rearing is based on waste products from field or kitchen, sometime from food processing (e.g. pigs getting whey or distiller’s wash). That kind of livestock production doesn’t really compete with production of food for humans. In addition, there are 400 million heads of livestock used as draft animals, and their role is mainly to help humans to grow more food for themselves, even if they also, mostly, also end up on our tables. (FAO 2007, Worldwatch Institute 2006, Erb and others 2009). We have seen in the case of the first agriculture revolution in Europe that integration of livestock in the farm production, including the growing of fodder on arable land, actually increased production tremendously, both of feed and food.

Industrial livestock production is, however, the opposite to the traditional systems, it needs a lot of capital and nature resources, water consumption is big. To produce 1 kg of beef 100,000 litres of water is used. Energy use is also high; a calorie of beef requires thirty-three times as much energy to produce than one calorie of potatoes. Large scale ranching might be better in many of these regards, but instead poses threats to other valuable ecosystems e.g. from forests that are cleared for grazing; A big share of the increased meat production in Brazil is from the rainforest zone (FAO 2007, Worldwatch Institute 2006). 

What about green house gases?
Methane is emitted from ruminants, from paddy rice production and from manure. Knowledge is still scarce and incomplete for many aspects of methane emissions, e.g. how the feeding influence methane emissions or how one can reduce methane emissions from paddy rice. Rice production with no or less flooding, e.g. the SRI system[1], release less methane than the normal practices. The methane emission is from the rice plant itself (up to 90%) and there are variety differences that could be exploited (FAO 2003). Intensification of livestock systems will lead to higher emissions from manure handling, but is claimed to lead to less methane per produced unit of meat or milk[2]. But we also need to relate the emissions from the domesticated ruminants with the wild fauna they have replaced. In some areas cattle, sheep and goats have replaced herds of buffalo, deer and bison, animals that also are ruminants and emit methane. On the American prairies there were 30 million bison two hundred years ago (Chapman and Reiss 1999) and the number of cows today are more or less the same. Presumably cows are eating more, despite their smaller size, because of their high production.  Research has shown that permanent pastures, such as the Hungarian puszta, can accumulate organic matter for centuries and thereby be substantial carbon sinks and to some extent balance the methane emissions from grazing cows (SvD 2008). The methane emissions of a typical African cow are, according to researchers at the International Livestock Research Institute, normally offset by carbon sequestration in their pastures (Maarse 2010). In addition, if land can not be used for pasture it has three other destinations, converted into forest, left idle or converted into farm land. The last alternative leads inevitably to more carbon emissions; the average loss of soil carbon was 59% according to a meta-analysis of 80 reports on conversion of grassland to cropland (FAO 2009). Therefore, it is doubtful if one can count the metabolism of ruminants like any other factor. 

Energy efficiency
A report from a “meat-negative” organization, Friends of the Earth, says:
“It should also be noted that extensive livestock systems with large input-output ratios are not necessarily inefficient. The efficiency measure (input-output ratio) is based on the assumption that animal protein is the major output of livestock systems, a perspective which fails to account for the utility of livestock in less developed regions where livestock fulfils a huge range of functions besides production of protein-rich food for human consumption. In low input agriculture, livestock is required to provide power for agriculture and transport and indispensable for the management of nutrients. A crucial function of livestock is the ability of ruminants to convert biomass not digestible by humans into food for humans, for example, biomass from waste lands or semi-deserts. Thus, livestock systems that appear to be inefficient due to their input-output ratio may in fact represent well-adapted, highly efficient production systems in their respective local contexts.”(Erb and others 2009). 

Water efficiency
It is well known that a lot of water is used to produce meat. But many misses a point. Pastoral meat production in dry places does use a lot of water (as rainfall), but there is not enough water per area unit to support farming, instead the animals walk around and eat the scarce grass and thereby make use of it. Again, industrial farming is quite something different. 
From this brief overview, it should be clear that one can’t make general statements of the effect of eating meat. Most of the criticism of how meat is produced is targeting two different production systems: grazing of cattle in the rainforests zones and the industrial grain-based feeding in richer countries, but this has almost no relevance to large parts of the livestock production, and certainly not for the pastoralist systems. Still, the total increased pressure on nature resources caused by the combination of growth of population and growth of meat consumption is worrying.

[1]       System of Rice Intensification, see more on
[2]       The evidence for this seems weak and few. To measure actual emissions from the two ends of the cow in practical experiments is complicated and the empirical materials is therefore very thin.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Our drinking water: a toxic brew?

Most countries don’t systematically follow drug residues in drinking water and there are also no maximum residue thresholds. In the USA, at least one contaminant was detected in seventy-five percent of the groundwater wells tested; in virtually all the streams and stream sediments tested; in about 80% of the estuarine sediments tested; in about 80% of the freshwater fish tested and in nearly all of the salt-water fish tested (H. John Heinz III Center 2008). 

N.J. water contains traces of daily life
Drink a glass of water in New Jersey and you'll likely get more than you expect: prescription drugs, preservatives, caffeine, even a by-product of nicotine. Hundreds of these compounds, the residue of our chemical-intensive society, have been found in tap water around the state. Meanwhile, epilepsy drugs, deodorants, and other compounds have been discovered in minute amounts in 30 of New Jersey's brooks and rivers. From the Peckman River in West Paterson to the Wallkill in Sussex, researchers found traces of antibiotics, flame retardants, artificial colours, and fuel additives. Carbamazepine, a painkiller; AHTN, a fragrance in consumer products; and prometon, a herbicide, were most common. Two of the sites - the Passaic and Ramapo rivers - supply water to more than 1 million customers in North Jersey. The medicines and other chemicals were discovered in such tiny concentrations that many scientists think they pose no risk. Still, researchers admit that no one knows for sure. Many of the compounds have been studied in high doses, but not at low concentrations ingested over months, years, or a lifetime. Even less understood are the chemical cocktails now forming as they mix in the environment. "The question is, 'Is this something the body deals with at low levels, metabolizes, and there's no problem? Or is this something that accumulates in the body?' We just don't know," said Brian Buckley, the Rutgers chemist who led the four-year drinking water study. "To be honest, we are just starting to deal with the question." (North Jersey News 2003).

 Of 62 big waterworks in the USA, only 28 had tested their water for drug residues by the mid 2000s. New York, Houston, Chicago and Miami had never tested their water. Those that do test find a disturbing reality. In Philadelphia 56 different drugs were found in the drinking water and 63 in the water source. In San Francisco’s drinking water there are sexual hormones, in Washington 6 different drugs (USA Today 2008). Purification of water to get rid of the drugs might cost in the range of 200 dollar per inhabitant and year (UNT 2008).

Among the human medications found in water in the USA are antidepressants, medications for high blood pressure and diabetes, anticonvulsants, steroid medications, oral contraceptives, hormone replacement therapy medications, codeine, non-prescription pain relievers, chemotherapy drugs, heart medications, and antibiotics (President’s Cancer Panel 2010)

Our drinking water doesn't only contain prescription drugs, but pesticides as well. In most countries there is no systematic follow up of pesticides in nature and in no country there is monitoring of all active substances; what is found is still frightening enough. Eighty percent of all rivers in the USA contain pesticide residues. Sixty percent of all wells have residues. The proportion contaminated wells was almost as high in urbanized areas, due to use in home gardens, gravel or stone paths, golf courses etc. In France, pesticides are found in all rivers and half of all water sources had at least traces of them. Of the fifty substances that are checked in the Netherlands, two thirds were found in ground water (OECD 2001). 20 pesticides were found in groundwater used by 3.5 million people in the Santa Ana River watershed. On the great plains in the USA researchers detected two insecticides and 27 herbicides in reservoir water. Water treatment removed from 14 to 86% of individual herbicides. Drinking water contained 3–15 herbicides (average, 6.4).

Engineering the globe: trusting the hand that flip the switch

Climate change has triggered ideas for large scale engineering of global systems. Large-scale ‘technological fixes’ fall into two categories. Carbon dioxide removal (CDR) techniques are designed to extract CO2 from the atmosphere. Solar radiation management (SRM) techniques are intended to reflect a portion of the sun’s light back into space. CDR is based on biological, chemical or geological carbon sequestration. SRM is based on natural effects observed in the atmosphere following volcanic eruptions. A proposal for ‘sunshade’ geo-engineering consists of the installation of space-based sun shields, or reflective mirrors, to deflect a proportion of incoming solar radiation before it reaches the atmosphere. Sunlight deflectors would be placed in near-Earth orbits or near the Lagrange point, about 1.5 million kilometers above the planet, where the gravitational pull of Earth and the sun are equal. An array of sunshades in this position would pose less threat to orbiting satellites than would near-Earth objects (UNEP 2010b, the Economist 2010b). If anything, these proposals underline the severity of the situation as well as how little we really know. They also give new perspectives on power. As Andre Matthews, an anthropologist at the University of California puts it, it is not just a matter of constructing a switch, it is a matter of constructing a hand you trust to flip it (the Economist 2010b). We should also realise how little we understand and realise that the risks of such global large scale engineering are huge and totally unpredictable. 

It is already a fact that we change many of the planet's systems enormously, but in the same way as most of these changes are a result of many small things (the car you drive, the meat you eat etc), also the solutions are to be found there rather than in macro engineering.   

UNEP 2010b, UNEP Year Book 2010
The Economist 2010b, We all want to change the world, 3 April 2010

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Wanted; someone breaking the rules

The combination of Swedish and Portuguese can give quite interesting English.
I am seriously contemplating putting in an offer for a smaller violation. I am almost a specialist in breaking the local rules with my bicycle. Have to amend my CV...

Monday, April 18, 2011

Sustainable coffee is increasing, but only 35% is sold as such.

Markets are growing rapidly across all Voluntary standards Initiatives (VSI), in all sectors reviewed, at rates far beyond the growth of markets for conventional products. The production of VSI compliant goods is now reaching significant levels of market penetration, accounting for over 10 per cent of global production across several of the sectors surveyed.

- The land area covered by global sustainable forestry initiatives (FSC and PEFC) has grown by a total of 232 per cent over the past five years and, at 341,703,696 hectares, accounted for 18 per cent of global managed forests (nearly 9 per cent of global forested land) by the end of 2009.

- Over the past five years, sustainable coffee sales have grown by 433 per cent and, at 457,756 metric tons, accounted for 8 per cent of global exports in 2009.
- Global supply of sustainable coffee, however, is still significantly higher than demand, with supply reaching 1,243,257 metric tons, or 17 per cent of global production.
- Reported premiums for sustainable coffees for 2009 ranged from US$0.025 to US$0.405 per pound, with most premiums falling in the US$.05 to US$.10 per pound range.

- From 2007 to 2009, sustainable banana sales have grown by 63 per cent and, at 3,480,565 metric tons,
accounted for approximately 20 per cent of world exports by 2009.

This and much more you can read in a new report from the IISD,
The State of Sustainability Initiatives Review 2010: SUSTAINABILITY AND TRANSPARENCY

Japan: the tragedy has a face

I got an email from a friend in Japan, She writes:
> We already lost numerous farmlands from TSUNAMI. In addition to the
> disaster, Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant has, and is going to affect more
> farmland, of course organic farms also.
> You might already know that a farmer had committed suicide because he
> found his organic vegetables were contaminated by radiation effects. He
> has been organic farmer more than 30 years; his life was all about
> producing safe, careful, ethical foods. It is just such a pain.

No further comments.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

India: The poor will pay the bill for climate change

There are a number of reasons to believe that the costs of climate change will not be borne equally across income groups. First, regional variation is expected in future warming as well as in the climate sensitivity of agricultural production. Irrigated areas, for instance, may be wealthier and, at the same time, less vulnerable to rising temperatures. Secondly, households differ in their ownership of agricultural assets, notably land, as well as in their human capital and allocation of labor. The returns on land and labor (of different types) will probably respond differently to climate change. Thirdly, households will be exposed in varying degrees to changes in food prices that are likely to occur with global warming. Urban households tend to be net buyers of food to a much greater extent than rural households (as are non-farm households within rural areas), leaving them relatively worse o when prices rise.

A recent research paper from the World Bank analyzes how changes in the prices of land, labor, and food induced by modest temperature increases over the next three decades will affect household-level welfare in India. The authors predict a substantial fall in agricultural productivity, even allowing for farmer adaptation. Overall, the welfare costs of climate change fall disproportionately on the poor. This is true in urban as well as in rural areas, but, in the latter sector only after accounting for the effects of rising world cereal prices. The results suggest that poverty in India will be roughly 3–4 percentage points higher after thirty years of rising temperatures than it would have been had this warming not occurred.

The report also says that:
The substantial fall in agricultural productivity (17 percent overall) that we predict as a result of warming will translate into a much more modest consumption decline for the majority of households. This is because these households derive the bulk of their income from wage employment and (rural) wages are estimated to fall by only a third as much as agricultural productivity. 
But here I loose the reasoning: If agriculture productivity is supposed to fall, realistically prices would go up. And if wages are also supposed to fall those poor that derive most of their income from wage labour must suffer hard from falling wages and increased food prices. Perhaps I am missing some part of the argument? 

Monday, April 11, 2011

"When collapse happens, it’s not linear and neat. "

With the collapse of the financial system, and subsequent government rescue, we understand what happens when complex systems collapse.  As we enter the second “food crisis” in three years, alleviated only by the greatest economic contraction since the great depression, we would be wise to learn some critical lessons from the financial collapse: When collapse happens, it’s not linear and neat.  It expands through the interconnections of the complex system in ways that are difficult to anticipate and impossible to manage.
This was written by by former JPMorgan Managing Director John Fullerton from The Capital Institute as a reflection from his participation at a US department of Agriculture Conference.  A short piece worth reading. 

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Water footprint: How much water is there in a 0.5 l soda

Well you might believe it is like 0.495 l. But according to the water foodprint methodology it is some 170 liters to 310 liters....
I posted something on water pricing the other day, and here comes a bit more on water.
There is the concept of water foot print or why not call it "waterprint", which is an indicator of freshwater use that looks at both direct and indirect water use of a consumer or producer. Recently a standard for the calculation of water footprint is developed

Some facts and figures

  • The production of one kilogram of beef requires 16 thousand litres of water. There is a huge variation around this global average. The precise footprint of a piece of beef depends on factors such as the type of production system and the composition and origin of the feed of the cow.

  • To produce one cup of coffee we need 140 litres of water. This, again, is a global average. 
    There are of course differences between countries, but the water footprint doesn't differ as much between poor and rich countries as many other resources uses.  The Americans use about four times as much water per person than the people in the countries with the smallest water footprint, e.g. in Yemen. The water footprint of China is about 700 cubic meter per year per capita. Only about 7% of the Chinese water footprint falls outside China.Japan with a footprint of 1150 cubic meter per year per capita, has about 65% of its total water footprint outside the borders of the country. The USA water footprint is 2500 cubic meter per year per capita.

Derk Kuiper is executive director of the Water Footprint Network, an organisation established in the Netherlands in 2008 to promote sustainable and equitable water use worldwide by promoting the water footprint. in an Interview he says that:

 In the sustainability assessment, water footprint uses the concept of sustainability boundaries – which is about how to actually sustain the environmental and social benefits associated with your water. And if you start pricing those you can actually balance them much better against the economic activities that are taking place on the basis of water.
An interesting, and for me a bit disturbing, perspective is that: 
It is generally accepted that emissions of greenhouse gasses, such as CO2 from fossil energy carriers, are responsible for anthropogenic impacts on the climate system. In this context, there has been a remarkable shift in policy attitudes towards CO2-neutral energy carriers such as biomass. The production of biomass for food and fibre in agriculture requires about 86% of the worldwide freshwater use. In many parts of the world, the use of water for agriculture competes with other uses such as urban supply and industrial activities. In a scenario of increasing degradation and decline of water resources, a shift from fossil energy towards energy from biomass puts additional pressure on freshwater resources. says the

Farmers don't want to pay - surprised?
With overexploitation of water rife in agriculture, making farmers pay real prices for publicly managed irrigation systems could push them to avoid waste and adopt more sustainable practices, argues the European Environment Agency (EEA).According to the agency, water pricing is "the core mechanism" for making agricultural water use more efficient, and research shows that farmers reduce irrigation and adopt water efficiency practices when illegal extraction is effectively policed and water paid for by volume.
The EU agricultural association Copa-Cogeca recognises that agriculture is a big user of water, especially in Southern Europe, but underlines that "the upward trend for use of water for irrigation has slowed down in several countries during recent years," while "water-use efficiency in agriculture is improving every year" due to the modernisation of irrigation systems. Copa-Cogeca is wary about water pricing, which "can bring about more negative effects to the agricultural sector than to other economic sectors, which can more easily pass on the costs for the use of water resources to the end-consumer," it said. Read more

Developing countries to do 65% of emission reductions.

It is amazing that the rich countries first think they can pollute and exploit the nature resources of the world, and then when things get rough, they ask the poor countries to save and reduce their pollution. Rich countries consume in the range of 10 times more resources than poor countries, and rich people in rich countries consumer hundreds, perhaps thousand as much resources than poor people in poor countries. And then we moan over their population being a threat to the environment.....

A Bolivian ambassador, Ambassador Solon, stated recently that
The gap in the abatement is 7.4 to 5.3 Gt. of CO2e (53% to 38%)
• This can lead us to a 4°C to 5°C increase in the global temperature
• Developing countries are going to do more emission reductions than
developed countries (54% vs. 46 % in LEP and 57% vs. 45% in
• The offsets can be 16% of global nominal pledges (1.1 Gt. CO2e for
Lower End Pledges)
• Because of offsets the abatement can be only 5.5 Gt. for the Lower
End Pledges.
• The gap in the abatement will be higher because of offsets: 8.5 Gt.
for the Lower End Pledges. (61 % of the 14 Gt. of CO2e)
• With offsets developing countries will do even more effort than
developed countries (65% versus 35%)

He based his presentation on the following two sources. I have not crosschecked them.
STOCKHOLM ENVIROMENT INSTITUTE, The implications of International Greenhouse Gas Offsets on Global Climate Change, publications/id/380 
UNEP, The Emissions Gap Report, Are the Copenhagen Accord Pledges Sufficient to Limit Global Warming to 2 ºC or 1,5ºC?, ebooks/emissionsgapreport/

Friday, April 8, 2011

An economics of water: Why “Free” Is the Wrong Price for Water

I just came accross an interesting paper Change this Why "Free" Is the Wrong Price for Water—Even If You Live on $1 a Day 
 some extracts:
Although we don’t often consider it, free isn’t that great. The lack of a price—on water or on any other resource—leads to all kinds of inequities and inefficiencies. Water is the most vital substance in every aspect of human endeavor, but the economics of water are a mash-up of tradition, wishful thinking, and poor planning.  In Las Vegas, the water supply is in such desperately critical shape that the water utility pays homeowners $40,000 per acre to rip up their lawns. And yet Las Vegas has among the lowest residential water rates in the country. A typical family’s bill there is $23.62 a month. In Atlanta, the same amount of water would cost you $50.

The average home in the U.S. pays $3.24 for 1,000 gallons of water.
The average home in Las Vegas pays $2.71 for 1,000 gallons of water.
A farmer in the Imperial Valley pays six cents for 1,000 gallons of water.
And here’s the really astonishing thing: The farmer in the Imperial Valley is using exactly the same water as the guys in Las Vegas
 Exactly HOW to solve the use of water is another question though. I remembered visiting Namibia (very dry place) and they had staggered payments, so the people paid very little for the first liters, but it was prohibitively expensive to fill your pool or water your lawn. That made a lot of sense. A privatization of water resources would lead to better management, but I believe that that is a dangerous path to tread. I guess it is about the so called "tragedy of the commons" - a concept that often is misinterpreted to mean that commons are bad, that is not at all what was intended by Hardin when he coined it. It was that commons need to be managed that was his point. Privatize them is just one way of doing that. Mostly commons are managed perfectly fine by communities. I think the fluid nature of water makes it, together with the air, the most difficult commons to manage. Public waterworks certainly should start to price money. Overall, all nature resource use should be charged for in my opinion, just to keep our consumption in check. If this is done by the public sector it will get an awful lot of money which partly can be redistributed to ensure that poor people are not harmed by these policies. Ultimately the poor use a lot less anyway - that is the definition of poverty in the first place....