Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Politicizing climate science is ultimately deterimental to the world

Recent news about politicians such as Texas Governor Rick Perry and his views on climate science makes me so frustrated. Perry’s comments that climate scientists "manipulate" their data to keep "dollars rolling into their projects" are completely contrary to what scientists actually do and frankly, by that logic, every scientific field would be subject to the same incentive to manipulate data for funding. Climate scientists are after the factual truth about climate change, not some political agenda. I agree with Andrew Dessler of the Texas A&M Department of Atmospheric Sciences:

I would add that the governor has it exactly backwards. There is evidence that climate skeptics are working off a political agenda. See [University of Alabama-Huntsville scientist and climate change skeptic] Roy Spencer’s statement, "I view my job a little like a legislator, supported by the taxpayer, to protect the interests of the taxpayer and to minimize the role of government." There’s no way that you can reach that conclusion by looking at data, and it is typical of the political views of skeptics. It’s a pre-determined political goal.

That is the most disconcerting part to me – scientists should always be critical about their work and that of their peers, but not for political reasons. To jump from climate data to minimizing the role of government seems to me something that is completely driven by political ideology and it has no place in science.

Another interesting article I came across recently was this describing how white conservative males tend to doubt climate change more than the general population. Again, it’s pointing to how climate science gets politicized from the right in the US, from those in organizations with outspoken views and resources to publicize them. It doesn’t surprise me that the trend towards climate skepticism is increasing in this group from the way the issue is so vehemently denied and associated with extreme anti-Americanism or anti-business in conservative networks. Interestingly, social conservatism isn’t always linked with disbelief in climate change – the UK and Germany were cited as examples – which makes me wonder why the US alone is so set against climate change.

My thoughts from all this is that American politicians are holding too much to their ideologies and not paying attention to facts. When people are unwilling to be flexible with their views, they cannot do what is best for the whole community. It doesn’t matter if the first ones to be hit aren’t going to well-off Americans; there are already people suffering from rising sea levels, prolonged drought, and poor agricultural yields. We as human beings have a responsibility to take care of each other and this planet. This isn’t about who’s right or who’s wrong or what political party is in charge – this is about everyone’s well-being in the present, as in NOW. We are in a point in time when action needs to be taken by community leaders on environmental issues like climate change and unless the political right gets their heads out of the sand, we’re going to be in a lot of trouble.

There are things the everyday person can do, however, and the first and foremost is to get informed on the issue. For credible sources of information on climate science, here are some resources provided by the Australian Primary Industries Adaptation Research Network (PIARN):

  • Climate Change Guide for the Perplexed New Scientist magazine
  • Skeptical Science 'Getting skeptical about global warming skepticism'
  • Facts and Fictions About Climate Change The Royal Society UK
  • The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007

  • Tuesday, August 23, 2011

    Meat eater's guide, supermarket access, and vertical farming

    Meat Eater's Guide ranks foods by environmental, health effects. Lamb, beef, cheese, and farmed salmon generate the most greenhouse gases of 20 popular meat, fish, dairy and vegetable proteins, according to a new study from the Environmental Working Group. This study looked primarily at the ecological footprint via life cycle analysis based on CO2 output from farm to table. A useful parameter, especially considering climate change, though I would argue not the only factor (how accessible alternative options and can those alternatives be mass produced?). Still, it's a useful reminder that eating less meat (even just one meal per week) and more organic produce is better for the environment and human health.

    Access to supermarkets doesn't improve diets, study finds. The study found that people didn't eat more fruits and vegetables when they had supermarkets available in their neighborhoods. Instead, income — and proximity to fast-food restaurants — were the strongest factors in food choice. Not surprising. Even if people are aware of the nutritional cons, if produce costs more upfront and you don't have the time to cook it, then fast food is the way to go. I do agree with the article on the point that not all grocery markets are created equal (having more expensive health food options at stores in low income areas). The problem is figuring out what's the root of the problem - lack of access to (cheaper) healthy food, lack of income, lack of knowledge, or combination of factors.

    Vertical farming: Can urban agriculture feed a hungry world?: Another article on growing food in high rise buildings designed to simulate outdoor farm environments. Experts say that vertical farming could feed up to 10 billion people and make agriculture independent of the weather and the need for land. But such urban farms need huge amounts of energy, to the point where it becomes way too energy intensive to bring to the scale needed for feeding a city or country. The article reports that there has been progress with ThePlantLab in the Netherlands, a 10yr company that has grown many different plant species 3 stories underground without natural sunlight. I'd like to know more on how they're accomplishing this (genetic selection, energy efficient light technology?), but the crux is still the energy factor. If it's not energy efficient on large scale, maybe this is something that can only be accomplished on the small scale and maybe that's the direction that needs to be taken in the long run (individual gardens).

    Wednesday, August 17, 2011

    Food deserts and why we need to change the US food system

    This article on food deserts in New Jersey and communities that lack access to healthy fresh food highlights how there is a real systemic problem for food access. I agree that the problem is complicated by lack of information and knowledge about better nutrition - too many families out there think fast food is an acceptable alternative for homecooked meals, but at the same time, when fast food is the ONLY cheap alternative to expensive groceries, that is a huge issue. A 15 min drive to the nearest supermarket for people who don't have cars means a 45 min walk one way. When you're faced with such time drains for food you eat every day, it's hard not to go buy fast food, which really contributes to the US' obesity problem and huge healthcare problems for the whole society in the long run. This isn't to say that there isn't ANY food in these communities, but mini-marts and groceries stores mark up their prices such that those fresh produce options become too expensive.

    If the government isn't willing or able to resolve the issue of access, one option is to turn unused land lots into community gardens. Find a piece of government owned property that is not be used and ask the local town council if part of it can be devoted to a community garden. Parcel out the land so that each interested party has a place to plant their crop. Ask the local library if they can get someone to talk to the group on topics about canning and other ways of preserving fresh produce. This takes a lot of self initiative, but has a lot of benefits, such as community and relationship building, connection to one's own food, and not having to rely on government officials for hand outs. Another option is setting up a food co-op or farmers' market via local government.

    (Yes, I realize not all areas are suitable for sustaining food growth because of water shortages or weather. But that's a whole other argument I'll save for later).

    The problem is, of course, not just limited to access. Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution program was started because there is a paucity of knowledge about good nutrition and cooking in the US. There was a scene from his show of Jamie going to elementary schools to teach about food and the kids couldn't even name half the vegetables, including eggplant and broccoli. Problem? I think so. Is it compounded by socioeconomic class? Perhaps - you can make the argument that those living in poorer neighborhoods may not have as much education resources (libraries, community centers, universities, etc). With so many health problems coming from poor nutrition, like diabetes and obesity, I think it's worth investing in programs to teach people about growing food and better nutrition. There are a good few examples of school programs that combine gardening and cooking (such as the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Foundation and the Chez Panisse Foundation) and the movement is growing. Do a search in your neighborhood for similar programs.

    The point is that what we have going on NOW in terms of food in the US is not working and there needs to be changes.

    Welcome to A Life of Green!

    Hello there! I'm starting up this blog to post thoughts on environmental and sustainability issues, including food and agriculture, community development, global climate change, and green practices. There'll also be the occasional post on LGBTQ rights, social justice, arts/music, and diversity. Follow me as I embark on a journey to link science with community oriented projects and spread awareness about living the green life.

    - Journeywoman Fei