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China Gobbles the World

Meat consumption is skyrocketing in China – and that's bad news for the environment

When the world’s biggest pork producer, Smithfield Foods, was bought by China’s largest pork company last year, early coverage provoked fears of putting US hogs in the hands of foreigners.

However, in time the deal may come to be seen as symptomatic of something much more troubling: the meatification of Asian diets and the spread of the environmental disaster that is American-style industrial farming.

Chinese pig farmerphoto by by ILRI, on FlickrChinese pig farmer.

The speed of the growth in meat consumption in China during the past three decades is staggering. While the amount of meat eaten per person annually in China remains around half the US equivalent, it still managed to jump from 4 kilograms to 61 kilograms between 1961 and 2010.

And with a population roughly one billion persons larger than the US, this translates into a lot of meat. One-third of the world’s meat, to be precise, is produced in China. And China alone consumes half of the world’s pork.

As its meat production and consumption has risen, China has looked enviously at the US, not just in terms of its large-scale commercial pig, poultry and beef rearing systems, but also its comparative abundance of resources.

With not-so-distant memories of famine, China has long been wedded to self-sufficiency in key food staples, including meat. Yet, as Chinese officials recently admitted, such a policy is unsustainable. Its water availability per capita is around 2,000 cubic metres (cm) compared to 9,000 cm in the US. China’s per capita arable land availability is about one-quarter of the average for developed countries.

There just aren't enough resources in China to produce such large quantities of meat.

And what resources it does have are rapidly being degraded by livestock production. Livestock is the main source of both soil and water pollution, according to data released by the government.  Animal feed production is leading to severe soil degradation and water shortages in the North China Plain  –  the most important agricultural region in the country.

For a solution, China has looked West – to Brazil, to offshore some of the resource strain by importing its oilseeds to feed livestock, and to the US for expertise on how to intensify production and control environmental and public health problems.

As a recent …more

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Why Roger Pielke, Jr.  is the Wrong Choice for FiveThirtyEight

New news venture's science writer ignores data on climate science

Editor’s Note: In addition to writing for 538, Roger Pielke, Jr. is also a one-time contributor to Earth Island Journal and has an article in our current print edition. We found Dr. Pielke a pleasure to work with and were pleased to have him in our magazine.

Roger Pielke, Jr. Photo by Tine Harden/Play the GameRoger Pielke, Jr.

There are consequences for being wrong — consistently. We are a forgiving society but even Americans can sense when someone passes from being well intended to habitually in the wrong.

That’s sadly where we are with climate contrarian Dr. Roger Pielke Jr., who has joined Nate Silver’s new high-profile news venture at ESPN, . Ever since he correctly predicted all 50 states’ presidential choice in 2012, Silver’s reputation for accuracy has been legendary.

Pielke’s hire makes us question his judgment.

Yesterday, climate scientists criticized Pielke’s first piece published on FiveThirtyEight as “deeply misleading” for downplaying extreme weather concerns, putting Pielke on the defensive and drawing attention from national media outlets.

Pielke argued that extreme weather events are costing us more money to clean up, but that is not because climate change is making extreme weather more frequent or intense. It’s because we are getting richer. Pielke denies the link between climate pollution and drought, extreme downpours and intensifying hurricanes. He has for years.

Just about everyone of any reputation disagrees with him. Take Dr. Michael Mann, who has been fighting against phony science and climate deniers for years. Said Mann in Think Progress:

“Pielke’s piece is deeply misleading, confirming some of my worst fears that Nate Silver’s new venture may become yet another outlet for misinformation when it comes to the issue of human-caused climate change. Pielke uses a very misleading normalization procedure that likely serves to remove the very climate change-related damage signal that he claims to not be able to find.”

Silver launched the data-driven FiveThirtyEight website to “critique incautious uses of statistics when they arise elsewhere in news coverage.” But for years, Pielke has done just the opposite. Check out Joe Romm’s great work debunking Pielke over the years. You might also check out a paper from White House …more

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Nativescaping: Habitat Restoration, One Garden at a Time

Go wild in your garden

Looking to heal our world? The first step is in your own backyard: One of the easiest ways to restore the wild is to prioritize native plants in your home garden.

California Native Garden "English Cottage" style - Pasadena, CAPhoto by Pete Veilleux/East Bay Wilds NurseryA Northern California native garden.

Nowadays, the world is blanketed with buildings, roads, farms, factories and trash. So where do the wild things go? Answer: anywhere that feels like home, “home” defined as any functional habitat. That could mean your backyard, your front yard, on your rooftop, balcony, office, factory and in hedgerows and ditches on your farm.

Every ecosystem has a highly localized plant palette evolved over millennia to suit the local geology and hydrology. When we you put these local native plants back into the landscape, we also make homes for the other creatures that depend upon them, including native bees, butterflies, amphibians, and reptiles.

So, how do you go wild in your garden?

Step One: Fall in love with the native plants that make up the glory of your own region. Get inspired with a hike, a run or a stroll in a nearby regional park or nature preserve. If you’re looking to see what your own ecosystem would look like under native conditions, you can always start with the closest National Park. In my home ecosystem, the closest parks are Malibu State Park and Topanga State Park.

When you visit your local parks, make sure to bring a guidebook. I’m fond of the classic Flowers of the Santa Monica Mountains, because Milt McAuley, the old man who wrote it, used to give wonderful wild flower tours every spring. Find the old guy or old gal in your neck of the woods and sign up for a flower or tree tour.

Step Two: Learn the names and habits of native plants. Figure our where the closest native plants botanical garden is and take a tour. Many universities often have botanical gardens, as do natural history museums. Note that most botanical gardens – like, say, the New York Botanical Garden or the Chicago Botanic Garden – feature plants from all over the world, with smaller gardens focused on regional native plants. Other botanic gardens exist only to teach about native plants and are thus …more

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New Film on Pro Surfers’ Efforts to Fight the GMO Industry in Hawaii

Surfing for Change tells stories of people who are engaging their passions to create change

I've been to the North Shore of Oahu just about every winter since I was 15. It's the Mecca of surfing and if you are a Pro Surfer like me, you need to go there in order to stay relevant.

photo of a man surfingphoto by Ryan Craig

Every winter I would travel to Hawaii, try and get a few waves at the famous surf break, Pipeline, and go home. Selfish I know. When you realize that you are going to a place to use a resource (waves), and giving little back to the community it can feel superficial at times. This was the main motivation for me to create the YouTube documentary series, Surfing For Change when I was 18.

So when I learned that Hawaii is ground zero for GMO chemical testing worldwide and that Hawaiian surfers are organizing around kicking companies like Monsanto, DuPont, and Syngenta off the islands, I was inspired to make our new Surfing For Change video about the issue. Nothing gets me more fired up than telling stories of people who are engaging their passions to create change. In this case, Hawaiians are uniting around their passion for surfing and rallying around a desire for sustainable farming. I had a chance to meet up with a few of these influential surfers and local activists. This short documentary is what resulted.

Thanks for watching.

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Colorado Supreme Court Overturns ‘Big Food’ Challenge, Keeps GMO Labeling Bill Alive

Initiative can now appear on the state's November 2014 ballot

The Colorado Supreme Court overturned a major challenge by mainstream biotech, pesticide and grocery interests last week, allowing for the possibility of a genetically modified organisms (GMO) labeling bill to appear on the state's November 2014 ballot.

photo of marchers, one carrying a sign that reads, why not label it - let us decide!photo by on FlickrIn order for the ballot initiative to come before voters, it needs 86,105
petition signatures to be submitted to the state by early August.

In order for Ballot Initiative #48 – a bill that would mandate the labeling of GMO foods on product packaging – to come before voters, it needs 86,105 petition signatures to be submitted to the state by early August, according to Right to Know Colorado GMO, a grassroots initiative established by local residents, which introduced the bill.

On Tuesday, Right to Know announced its plans to partner with local farmers, farmers markets, moms, faith-based organizations, natural, organic and non-GMO food retailers, and other health, sustainability and consumer advocacy organizations to gather the required signatures.

"We are pleased that the state Supreme Court ruled in favor of the GMO labeling ballot title, and we look forward to bringing a GMO labeling initiative before the voters of Colorado this fall," said Larry Cooper, one of the proponents of the Right to Know initiative.

Right to Know reports:

With no federal GMO labeling requirements in place in the U.S., it is estimated that more than 80 percent of conventional processed foods contain genetically engineered ingredients, primarily from GMO corn, soy, canola, cotton, sugar beets and other GMO crops. However, according to national GMO labeling advocacy organization Just Label It, more than 90 percent of U.S. consumers surveyed want mandatory labeling of GMO foods.

While pro-biotech interests claim that GMOs are safe, a growing body of scientific research suggests there may be enough risks to justify the need for consumer transparency. More than 64 other countries require mandatory labeling of genetically engineered or GMO foods. Colorado joins more than two dozen other states, including Oregon, Arizona, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Pennsylvania and elsewhere, in calling for GMO labeling legislation.

"Coloradans have the right to know what is in their food, and to make purchasing decisions for their families based on knowing whether their …more

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The Future of Achoo!

Global warming likely to worsen allergies

Have your eyes been running more in the spring?  Are you sneezing more in the fall?  After this frigid and snowy winter, it may be hard to remember what the allergy season feels like. But if you‘re one of the more than 80 million Americans who suffer from seasonal allergies, you might recall that last year’s allergy season was a doozy in many parts of the US. And it turns out that people might at least be partially responsible for a more allergenic environment. As we change the climate, many of the plants that terrorize us through the allergy season are becoming more pernicious. While a warming climate lengthens the pollen season, increased carbon dioxide is making some allergens more noxious.

photo of a man sneezing into a tissuephoto by foshydog on Flickr

This change is most obvious with the troublesome ragweed plants, which are the curse of many allergy sufferers. A group of flowering plants found all over the United States, the hardy ragweed loves a disturbed environment. It pops up along roadways and at the edge of agricultural fields, colonizing abandoned lots. Ragweed is common enough that you most certainly have seen them before, and it is highly likely that a ragweed plant’s pollen has made you or a loved one sneeze at least once. 

Ragweed pollen is one of the largest causes of allergic rhinitis – AKA hay fever – the sneezy, runny nose reaction many people are familiar with. Unlike many other plants, ragweed doesn’t ring in the spring with large flowering blooms. Rather, they flower in the late summer, releasing their pollen just in time for a congested fall. Normally this plant is trouble enough, having a pollen season that can last between two and three months. Now, with a longer-frost free season (the amount of time between the spring thaw and fall freeze) due to a warming climate, the ragweed plant has a longer time period to get larger and hardier and to produce pollen. 

A longer growing season is only one part of the problem. Ragweed also responds positively to increases in carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Carbon dioxide levels before the Industrial Revolution were about 280 parts per million; with the increase in emissions through the burning or fossil fuels and other human activities, those levels have recently reached 400 parts per million. …more

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Thousands Converge on Sacramento for Anti-Fracking Rally

Governor Brown’s support for fracking has alienated his environmentalist base

SACRAMENTO — A busload of people from San Diego awoke early Saturday and hit the road as one of 20 buses from across California headed to the state capitol. The buses were full of passengers eager to express their concerns with hydraulic fracking and urge Gov. Jerry Brown to place a moratorium on this controversial form of oil and natural gas extraction.

anti-fracking protestors in SacramentoPhoto by Cole AllenPeople from all over California converged on the capitol in Sacramento March 15 for an anti-fracking rally that organizers said is the largest one in the state to date.

“No freaking fracking!” protestors chanted throughout the rally, which attracted at least 5,000 people on March 15, making it the largest anti-fracking mobilization in the state, according to organizers. “It shows that people care enough to come all the way to Sacramento to have their voices heard,” said Hillary Aidun, an organizer with the Center for Biological Diversity. Aidun’s group is a member of Californians Against Fracking, a coalition of more than 80 environmental and public health organizations.

“I’m here today because I believe clean air and clean water are civil rights and human rights,” Madeline Stano of the Center on Race, Poverty and the Environment told the crowd. “And I believe all Californians deserve a safe place to live, work and play.”

Fracking blasts large volumes of water mixed with toxic chemicals into the earth to dissolve and break up rock formations and release the fossil fuels inside, which then flow to the surface. Proponents see say the technique is critical for getting inside California’s Monterey Shale, which is estimated to contain up to 15.4 billion barrels of recoverable oil. The formation extends 1,750-square-miles below ground from central to southern California. Fracking is currently taking place in the state with no government regulation or oversight.

Fracking proponents see the potential for new jobs and tax revenue. Foes see a practice that pollutes the air and water, would make California more susceptible to earthquakes, and threatens the health of humans, animals, crops and ecosystems. “It affects everyone,” Aidun said. “People who live near fracking and the water and air contamination are more at risk, but it poses a serious threat to all of us, particularly because it exacerbates climate change.”

Methane, which is a powerful global-warming pollutant and much more potent than carbon dioxide, …more

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