Global Environment RSS feed

The Reactive Nitrogen “Wicked Problem”– critical nutrient, disastrous pollutant

Posted by Craig Frear | August 11, 2014

Nobel Peace Prize recipient and Director of the Purdue University Climate Change Research Center, Dr. Otto Doering, recently gave a keynote speech where he highlighted his definition of Wicked Problems facing the globe and the US.

In brief, he used US struggles regarding affordable health care and the debate regarding the Affordable Health Care Act as a prime example of a Wicked Problem. Regardless where one might stand politically on such an issue, it is clear that the issues of affordable health care and potential policy solutions are of great importance to many, with its tentacles reaching into vast and diverse sectors of our society. No clear consensus on how to solve the problem appears to be present, due to the complexities and interrelationships involved. In particular, solutions can be shown to result in a cascade of unknown consequences, either positive or negative, with individual stakeholders holding a diversity of economic, personal and social viewpoints.  Read more »

Ecosystems are Not Smart, We Are – Applications on the Farm

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 5, 2014
17 species cover crop seed blend

Cover crop seed blend of 17 species

In a recent post, I argued that we should cast aside the ideas of “balance of nature” and “nature knows best” in designing farming systems. If nature has not been optimized by any process that we know of, and therefore consists of mostly random mixes of species dictated primarily by natural disturbances, then there is no reason to “follow nature’s lead.”  But if we don’t, what are we left with? Read more »

Don’t Mimic Nature on the Farm, Improve it

Posted by Andrew McGuire | March 3, 2014

Garden of Eden. Thomas Cole [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Behind many efforts to make agriculture more sustainable is the idea that our farming systems need to be more like nature. According to agroecologist Miguel Alteri, “By designing farming systems that mimic nature, optimal use can be made of sunlight, soil nutrients, and rainfall.” This strategy arises from a long history of thinking that there exists a “balance of nature.” This idea has greatly influenced how we look at nature1 and agriculture. In the latter case, it drives much of what is done in organic farming and agroecology, but also finds its way into no-till farming. Nonetheless, it is false, and because it is false we can abandon the restrictive “nature knows best” argument in designing agricultural systems. Instead, we can improve on nature.

Read more »

Expanding organic on the landscape: does farm size matter?

Posted by David Granatstein | November 3, 2013

In the 1970s, I was part of the “back to the land” movement and very interested in organic farming as the solution to sustainability problems in agriculture. At that time, organic was close to invisible on the agricultural and food landscape. In spite of this, many of us strived toward “the whole world being organic.” A lot has changed since then; and a lot has not. Organic has undergone exponential growth in the marketplace, with increases in both the number of farmers and the land area involved. Organic is still a small fraction of the market, however, and many of the problems we saw decades ago still persist. Read more »

No, I won’t stop eating meat to feed the planet

Posted by Chad Kruger | September 6, 2013

Full disclosure: I come from a livestock-producing family tradition and I eat meat. And I like it. A lot.

In his latest provocative post, my colleague Andy McGuire reflects on a new paper that assesses the potential to feed a growing global population by shifting from meat consumption to a vegetarian diet. The paper presents a very compelling scientific rationale for the shift and has Andy contemplating his future dietary choices. Go read Andy’s post – it’s worth your time. In the conclusion of his post, Andy asks readers whether they would quit meat to feed the planet.

My answer to Andy is an unequivocal “No.” Read more »

Forego a Hamburger, Feed a Person

Posted by Andrew McGuire | September 5, 2013

I eat meat. More specifically, I eat feedlot beef from major supermarket chains and generally enjoy it. Nonetheless, the implications of a recent study have me questioning whether I will eat meat in the future. Read more »

Organic farming – environmental benefit, yield cost?

Posted by David Granatstein | August 27, 2013

While most consumers may choose organic foods for their potential health characteristics (e.g., lower chance of pesticide residue and potentially greater nutrient value), these same consumers generally believe that organic farming is “good” for the environment and thus worth supporting.  But is the assumption of environmental benefit correct? And is there a cost? Let’s take a look at how the newer studies compare to older research findings. Read more »

No glyphosate-tolerant wheat found by WSU wheat breeders

Posted by Chad Kruger | August 8, 2013

I know that many residents of Washington were extremely concerned to learn about the discovery of glyphosate-tolerant wheat in an Oregon farm field this spring. WSU’s Agricultural Research Center released a news update today indicating that the glyphosate-tolerant gene was NOT discovered in any of the WSU breeding lines (commercialized or in development) nor in other tested lines developed by regional universities and companies. While it’s still not clear how this incident happened, this is certainly great news for the region. Also, I think it is really important to note how rapidly and extensively our breeding programs and administration responded to this concern to protect the interests of the state and our wheat producers.

More detail is available here.

 

Waiting for more data vs. acting in good faith

Posted by Chad Kruger | March 21, 2013

In the comment string of my original post Reflections on Savory, reader Rondi Lightmark asked a very legitimate set of questions:

How much closer are we going to get to catastrophes far worse than the Dust Bowl while scientists sit around and debate the merits of a new idea? Allan [Savory] has adequately demonstrated the success of his work to warrant significant support for implementing his methods on a large scale. What do we have to lose if we do? Who can answer that question?

While I responded to the comment in that post, I’ve had several similar questions raised in other settings recently so I thought this topic justified its own more general post. Do we wait for more data or act in good faith based on what we know? Here is the rub between science and action on challenging issues like climate change, soil erosion or desertification. I completely understand the frustration that it often seems as though science moves “too slowly” to enable us to respond effectively to increasingly complex global problems. On the question of climate and global carbon emissions, scientists like James Hansen (Hansen et al., 2008) have actually indicated that we may, in fact, have waited too long to take serious action and that we may be too late to curb the more detrimental global effects of a changing climate. With this in mind, it makes acting seem more urgent and often leads us to make significant societal investments in ideas that don’t have solid quantification or evaluation to support. Read more »

The importance of planetary “skin care” for our soils

Posted by David Granatstein | February 28, 2013

Soil is often called the “living skin” of planet Earth; an essential but fragile part of the biosphere.  Attention to soil health (or soil quality) has waxed and waned over the years, but it appears to be making a comeback.  In the past few months I have been to two exceptional meetings on soil health – one in Moses Lake (>200 attendees) and one near Spokane (>100 attendees).  Growers and crop consultants made up the largest share of the audience, mostly larger commercial growers.  In my 25 years of working on soil quality, I have never experienced the level of excitement I saw and the depth of actual change on the case study farms presented.  Ideas like the soil food web, that sometimes can be vague and hard to translate to action, were illustrated in actual practices on the ground that are improving the soil and profitability at the same time.  Cover crops played a big role in the presentations.  These appear to be underused here in Washington relative to some other parts of the country.  To me, this spells opportunity. Read more »

« Older Posts