US corn-belt farmers: ‘The country has turned on us’

From The Guardian UK:

As Congress reviews 30 years of corn ethanol subsidies, the global food crisis has shone a negative light on biofuel production

in Whitten, Iowa, Monday 15 August 2011

There were times when Arlyn Schipper could almost feel heroic on his family farm in the heart of America’s corn belt.

His 1,619 hectares (4,000 acres) in Iowa, planted almost entirely with corn, were helping to feed a nation – or at least help put fuel in its gas tanks, as his crop was processed into corn ethanol.

Schipper still sees it that way. It is just he feels America has moved on, or as he put it: “The country has turned on us.”

The US debt crisis, and the challenge of finding $1.3tn (£796bn) in budget cuts, has forced Congress to re-examine three decades of government subsidies for corn ethanol.

Drought and famine in the Horn of Africa have exposed further a negative consequence of biofuel production: the global food crisis. By competing with food crops for land, large-scale biofuel production has constricted supply and so boosted food prices across the world. This has led to a backlash against biofuels such as corn ethanol from environmentalists and development charities.

“Ten years ago this was the greatest thing since apple pie – ethanol. A lot of farmers invested in this, and a lot of farmers invested in ethanol plants. Everybody wanted it. Our country wanted it. It was a renewable resource,” said Schipper. “And now that we have got all of this money tied up in this, it’s kind of turned on us.”

Many will feel that corn farmers have had it pretty good. And the ethanol industry still has a mighty hold on America’s corn belt. America is projected to produce 14bn US gallons (53bn litres) of corn ethanol this year at 200 refineries across the midwest.

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GM corn being developed for fuel instead of food

From The Guardian UK:

Campaigners say plants being grown in US may worsen global food crisis, while farmers express cross-contamination fears

, US environment correspondent, Monday 15 August 2011

US farmers are growing the first corn plants genetically modified for the specific purpose of putting more ethanol in gas tanks rather than producing more food.

Aid organisations warn the new GM corn could worsen a global food crisis exposed by the famine in Somalia by diverting more corn into energy production.

The food industry also opposes the new GM product because, although not inedible, it is unsuitable for use in the manufacture of food products that commonly use corn. Farmers growing corn for human consumption are also concerned about cross-contamination. The corn, developed by a branch of the Swiss pesticide firm Syngenta, contains an added gene for an enzyme (amylase) that speeds the breakdown of starches into ethanol. Ethanol plants normally have to add the enzyme to corn when making ethanol.

The Enogen-branded corn is being grown for the first time commercially on about 5,000 acres on the edge of America’s corn belt in Kansas, following its approval by the US Department of Agriculture last February. In its promotional material Syngenta says it will allow farmers to produce more ethanol from the corn while using less energy and water.

Meanwhile, campaigners say the corn will heap pressure on global food supplies and contribute to environmental degradation. They argue Enogen will lead to an increase in the amount of food crops going to fuel, leaving less for human consumption and leading to food price rises. That will lead to food price rises on the global market. “The temptation to look at food as another form of fuel to use for the energy crisis will exacerbate the food crisis,” said Todd Post of Bread for the World, a Christian anti-hunger organisation.

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Thirty Years Ago Today

I was working a summer student job at a Junior college I was attending in Northern California.

I was creating an Electronic’s Lab Inventory on an Intel computer that was basically an S100 bus system that  was running a proprietary Intel OS called Isis rather than a generic CP/M.

I was using something like “Type Pad” because either they were too chintzy to buy Wordstar or because Wordstar hadn’t been ported to Isis.

No mouse, no icons, no graphics.  Just a prompt for a command line that needed to be entered exactly, down to spacing and punctuation.

Then 30 years ago today came the PC and for a while it looked like IBM was going to live up to the sarcastic slogan people attributed to the company, “Reach out and crush someone.”

But the PC had one thing, open architecture with standards.  It took a while for plug and play but the machine was beautiful if you were a techie who liked to DIY.  Soon there was Compaq and dozens more.  Then you could buy a box and boards, do your own custom build.  All it took was a medium phillips head screwdriver.

Now I know that lots of folks swear by Apple, but not me.  I may not be politically correct but I love my PC.

I started out with MS Dos 3.0 and all the upgrades along the way.  Windows for Work Groups, NT, 95/98.  Millennium really really blew and so did Vista.  Like they were someone’s idea of a prank that would make everyone want XP or Windows 7.

I built the machine I’m posting this on.

I there is no chance I’d trade it for a Mac.  I never really saw the supposed charms of Mac OS and the idea of buying apps every time you turn around seems kind of silly. i-Pad, i-Phone, i-Pod…  Well they are cute.  But the ATT really sucks and I’d rather be aware of my surroundings instead of plugged into and oblivious.

i-Pad would be kind of nice if they attached a key pad that folded over the screen.  Oh wait I have one of those, a cheapo Toshiba laptop I bought three or four years ago to take when we travel.  It isn’t all that slick but it does what I need it to do.

As for a phone…  I have a nice one that makes calls just fine, even has a camera and a micro SD slot.  I don’t Tweet or text.  We have a huge big screen and watching movies on a phone seems sort of a waste of time.

Any how…  Here’s a Big Happy Birthday PC

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There is Power in a Union

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4 Dirty Secrets Hiding In Your Tuna Can

From Alternet:

Tuna may be one of the most popular seafood products in the U.S. but there are four important things you should know before popping open that can.

By Casson Trenor
August 15, 2011

Seafood isn’t only sold in the seafood section. Americans buy a tremendous amount of seafood from the shelves of our local grocer rather than from the freezers, including one particular item found in everything from sandwiches and casseroles to salads: tuna fish.

For decades, tuna was the most widely consumed seafood product in the United States. Although it has recently lost pole position to farmed shrimp, it is still massively popular, and even though it’s in a can, it is still fish, and thus merits scrutiny in terms of sustainable practices — or, in this case, the total lack thereof.

Here’s the issue: catching tuna in a manner that keeps the price hovering around $1-$2 per can is difficult. It’s a challenging process for a number of reasons, not least of which is that most species of tuna are constantly on the move across the vastness of the open ocean. Chasing these schools around is a time- and resource-intensive process — especially with oil prices on the perpetual upswing — but the tuna industry has found a way to cut some pretty significant corners. Unfortunately, this has led to any number of nasty consequences, and those smiling bumblebees and luxuriating mermaids on the tuna cans at your neighborhood grocery store have done a great job covering them up… until now.

The tuna industry has a dirty little secret — actually, it has four of them.

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New study blames human beings for half of Arctic ice melt

From McClatchy DC:

By Richard Mauer | Anchorage Daily News
August 14, 2011

ANCHORAGE — About half the recent record loss of Arctic sea ice can be blamed on global warming caused by human activity, according to a new study by scientists from the nation’s leading climate research center.

The peer-reviewed study, funded by the National Science Foundation is the first to attribute a specific proportion of the ice melt to greenhouse gases and particulates from pollution.

The study used supercomputers and one of the world’s most sophisticated climate models to reach its conclusions, said lead author Jennifer Kay, a staff scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colo. The paper was published last week in the scientific journal Geophysical Research Letters.

Kay said her study was an attempt to learn how much Arctic Ocean melting can be attributed to “natural variability” – complex changes wrought by nonhuman forces – and how much has been caused by greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide and by atmospheric particulates.

In doing so, she was also able to look ahead to future annual and decade-long fluctuations. She and the other authors said conditions will become more volatile from year to year. That means there will be years and perhaps decades when the ice pack expands. But the trend is in the other direction.

“There’s no doubt about it – sea ice is going away,” she said. “What we found was that about half of that trend is related to the increasing greenhouse gases.” The other half of the sea-ice loss, as observed over the late 20th century, was “just related to variability in the system.”

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Palestinians to present statehood bid to UN general assembly

From The Guardian UK:

Palestinians to push ahead with bid next month despite US opposition and warnings move will endanger future peace talks

in Jerusalem, Sunday 14 August 2011

Palestinian leaders have said that they will formally request recognition of their state and full membership of the UN next month, despite strong US opposition amid warnings that such a move would jeopardise future peace talks.

Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian president, will personally present the application to the UN secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, before the UN general assembly opens on 20 September.

The UN has the moral, legal, political and historical responsibility to recognise Palestine and “to put an end to the Israeli occupation”, said Ryad Malki, the Palestinian foreign minister.

Abbas is to travel to Lebanon on Tuesday to discuss the plan. Lebanon will hold the rotating presidency of the UN security council next month and is expected to be sympathetic to the Palestinian campaign.

The Israeli prime minister’s office said the Palestinian move was “expected and regrettable”. “Binyamin Netanyahu [the Israeli prime minister] still believes that only through direct and honest negotiations – not through unilateral decisions – will it be possible to advance the peace process,” the statement said.

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You Can Go Green and Get Rich Too. I Hope.

From Tree Hugger:


When I posted an interview with wind energy pioneer Dale Vince, one Facebook commenter took issue with my references to his “hippie dropout” past, and the fact that he is now on Britain’s rich list. The idea that we should be impressed by how his “wind energy empire was built”, she said, nearly turned her stomach. Whether or not my original words were appropriate, this brought up a very valid debate once again.

Are the notions of material/financial wealth and environmental sustainability mutually exclusive?

Hippie Dropout is Not an Insult
I should first note that my references to Dale as a “hippie dropout living in a bus” were not intended to be derogatory—I originally wrote “New Age traveler”, which is the term we use in the UK for the subculture, but was not sure how culturally relevant that would be to a US audience.

Semantics aside, what are we to do about the thorny conundrum of wealth and sustainability?

Learning from Alternative Culture
The man himself speaks of “dropping out”, and describes that time as deeply informative and educational. And while he has now chosen a different path, I don’t think he would argue against those who choose to continue pursuing “alternative lifestyles”. In fact, from encouraging conversations about veganism and lower impact lifestyles at the soccer (sorry Dale, football!) club he owns, to exploring new ways of financing that cut out banks and traditional financial institutions, Dale’s activities often seek to tackle some of the same cultural sticking points that the alternative/traveller/hippie movement has sought to address—they just do so from a different perspective.

Economics is a Real Issue
On the one hand, i have a lot of sympathy with those who argue that no growth economics should be pursued with vigor, and i have respect for those—like the Moneyless Man, aka Mark Boyle—who have sought (with varying degrees of success) to disconnect themselves from the destructive nature of our current economy.

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