Stories tagged land use

Apr
22
2011

Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.
Meat: Is it your good friend, or old enemy? Tell us.Courtesy Another Pint Please...
Ok, Buzzketeers, buckle up for some meaty issues, juicy discussion, and humorless punnery. But first:

Do you eat meat?

Let me say off the bat that this isn’t a judgment thing. Yeah, I am judging you, but only on your grammar, clothing, height, gait, pets, personal odor, and birthday.

But not on your diet. So there will be no bloodthirsty carnivore or milquetoast vegetarian talk here. Y’all can have that out on your own time.

This is more of what I like to call an entirely unscientific poll about meat, the future, and your deepest secrets. (Depending on what you consider secret.)

When you get to the end, you can see what everyone else voted.

Tell us, do you eat meat? (click here for the poll)

Or jump right to the results.

Or go ahead and discuss this stuff.

Mar
03
2011

Just a few of your billions of hungry friends
Just a few of your billions of hungry friendsCourtesy SchuminWeb
Buckle up, because this is a long post. But it’s about your second favorite thing: food. If you’re the impatient type, skip to the end for the bullet points.

(The number one thing is Hollywood gossip, duh. Go on and act like it’s not.)

So … imagine you and six of your friends standing in a room together. I know some of you don’t have six friends (Facebook doesn’t count), but for the sake of science pretend that you do. And I don’t know why you all are just standing around in a room. Trying to prove a point, I guess.

Imagine you and six of your friends are standing in a room together. Now, imagine one hundred times that number of people. Now imagine one hundred times that number. And one hundred times that number. And a thousand times that number.

That’s seven billion people, all just sort of standing around a room, and that’s about the number of people we have on the planet today.

And the thing is, all seven billion of y’all eat like Garfield. (Garfield, for all of you foreign Buzzketeers, was the 20th president of the United States, and he loved lasagna.) Seven billion people, eating, eating, eating. That’s you.

Obviously y’all have to eat, so we put a lot of effort into producing food. Right now, humans have used up about 40% of the planet’s land surface, and the vast majority of that is dedicated to agriculture (i.e., food production). In fact, if you were to take all the crop-growing land in the world and lump it together, it would be the size of South America. And if you were to take all of the pastureland (land for raising animals) in the world and lump it together, it would be the size Africa!
The land we use: Green areas are used for growing crops, brown areas are used for raising animals.
The land we use: Green areas are used for growing crops, brown areas are used for raising animals.Courtesy IonE

That is obviously a lot of land. The transformation of that land from its natural state into agricultural land may be responsible for about a third of all the carbon dioxide mankind has released into the atmosphere. And each year agriculture is responsible for more than 20% of all the new greenhouse gas emissions. And the whole process takes 3,500 cubic kilometers of water, and hundreds of millions of tons of non-renewable fertilizers, and lots of people don’t have enough food …

But we’re pretty much doing it. It’s not pretty, but we’re feeding the planet.

Here’s the punch: there’s a lot more people coming soon, and not much more food. By 2050, there will very probably be about 9 billion people on the planet. How are we going to feed 2 billion more people than are alive today? While there is a lot unused land out there, very little of it is arable. That means that we’ve already used up almost all of the land that’s good for growing food.

Oh, shoot.

What we need to do is produce more food with just the land we’re already using. Fortunately, scientists are working on ways to do this.

I’m going to get the first one out of the way right now, because you aren’t going to like it …

Eat less meat. Eat a lot less meat.
A handy meat conversion chart!: Keep one in your wallet, or tattooed on your forearm.
A handy meat conversion chart!: Keep one in your wallet, or tattooed on your forearm.Courtesy IonE

Don’t get me wrong—I agree with you that meat is delicious and manly (or womanly), but we eat a lot of meat, and raising meat animals is a really inefficient way to get food. To get lots of meat, and to get the animals to grow quickly, we feed them grains that we farm. But to get just one pound of beef (not one pound of cow; one pound of beef) we have to feed a cow about 30 pounds of grain. Say what you will about meat being calorically more dense, it doesn’t have 30 times the nutritional value of grain.
How much of what we grow gets eaten?: Crops grown in the blue areas are mostly eaten by people. But in the yellow and red areas, the crops are mostly used as animal feed. Say what?
How much of what we grow gets eaten?: Crops grown in the blue areas are mostly eaten by people. But in the yellow and red areas, the crops are mostly used as animal feed. Say what?Courtesy IonE

If you look at the maps that compare the volume of crops we grow to the volume of crops we actually eat, you find that places like North America and Europe actually use most of their crops for something besides directly eating—mostly because we’re feeding them to animals (and using them for biofuel feedstock).

Leaving alone the amount of water animals need, and the pollution they can cause, eating meat doesn’t make a lot of sense.

So there you go. I told you that you wouldn’t like it. If it makes you feel any better, you’re not the only one causing the problem—the rest of the world, as it gets wealthier, wants to eat as much meat as you, and so unsustainable meat production is on the rise for just about anyone who can afford it.

Ok, here’s the next idea:

Cut it all down, and turn the planet into one big ol’ farm.
You can barely hear the chainsaws: ...over the sound of the baby animals crying. Seriously, though, as awesome as that would be, it's probably an awful idea.
You can barely hear the chainsaws: ...over the sound of the baby animals crying. Seriously, though, as awesome as that would be, it's probably an awful idea.Courtesy Jami Dwyer

We aren’t going to be growing crops in the arctic any time soon, but there are areas we could take advantage of still. Like the tropical forests. We could bulldoze those suckers down, and use the land for crops.

This, of course, is a horrible solution, and I snuck it in here just to bother you. Even if you don’t prioritize the biodiversity of the world’s tropical forests, or the ways of life of the people who live in them, tropical forests play a huge role in keeping the planet a livable place. So we should table that one for a while, unless you really, really want to bulldoze the rainforests.

And then there’s this idea:

Grow more food on the land we’re already using.

Of course! Why didn’t we think of this before?!

Well, we did think of this before, about 60 years ago. Back in the middle of the 20th century, populations in developing countries were exploding, much faster than food production was increasing. Trouble was on the horizon.

And then … Norman Borlaug came along. Of course, lots and lots of people helped deal with the food crisis, but Borlaug was at the center of what became known as the Green Revolution. He worked to build up irrigation infrastructure (to water crops), distribute synthetic fertilizers (mostly nitrogen chemically extracted from the atmosphere), and develop high-yield crop varieties that would produce much more food than traditional crops, when given enough fertilizer and water.
The man they call Borlaug: On the left. The other guy is just some hanger-on, I guess.
The man they call Borlaug: On the left. The other guy is just some hanger-on, I guess.Courtesy University of Minnesota

Now, some folks point out that the Green Revolution had plenty of environmental and social drawbacks, but the fact remains that it also kept millions upon millions of people from starving. And Borlaug himself said that while it was “a change in the right direction, it has not transformed the world into a Utopia.”

The change in the right direction part is what scientists are working on now.

Researchers at organizations like the University of Minnesota’s Institute on the Environment (IonE) are figuring out implement the sorts of things Borlaug worked on more fully, and more efficiently.

By combining satellite data with what can be observed on the ground, IonE is determining exactly where crops are growing, how much each place is growing.
This is how much corn we grow right now
This is how much corn we grow right nowCourtesy IonE
This is how much corn we could grow: If we grew corn everywhere.
This is how much corn we could grow: If we grew corn everywhere.Courtesy IonE
This is how much more corn we could grow: If we focus on the areas where we already grow corn. The green areas are growing almost as much as possible, but the yellow areas could grow a lot more. Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Central America could grow a lot more food with the right resources.
This is how much more corn we could grow: If we focus on the areas where we already grow corn. The green areas are growing almost as much as possible, but the yellow areas could grow a lot more. Eastern Europe, West Africa, and Central America could grow a lot more food with the right resources.Courtesy IonE

They can then compare this information with estimates of how much each place could grow, given the right conditions. The difference is called a “yield gap.” What it will take to close the yield gap, and get area place growing as much as possible, differs from place to place. But IonE is trying to figure that out too—some places need more water, and some need more nitrogen, phosphorus, or potassium fertilizers.

Knowing how much of a particular resource a place needs, and what the food payoff will be when it receives those resources is a big step in working up to feeding nine billion people. It’s not the last step, not by a long shot, but it provides an excellent map of where future efforts would be best invested.

Aaaaannnnd … the bullet point version for you osos perezosos out there:

  • In a few decades, there will be about 9 billion people on the planet.
  • There’s not enough food for 9 billion people.
  • There’s not really enough land available to grow enough food for 9 billion people.
  • We can get more food out of the land we’re already using.
  • Scientists are trying to figure out which areas have the potential to grow more food, and what it will take to get them to do it.
  • Doing this will be difficult, but probably not impossible.

Land required to produce some energy: Find out how much land you need to make some kilowatts with your favorite energy tech.
Land required to produce some energy: Find out how much land you need to make some kilowatts with your favorite energy tech.Courtesy Robert I. McDonald
Renewable energy is awesome! Do not read me wrong. However, there are many things to take into account when we think about a new energy technology like wind or ethanol. Like, how much land do we need to devote to producing that energy? A new study shows that some darlings of the renewable fuels set are pretty land intensive (NPR story on energy sprawl). What's the least land intensive? Reducing our consumption....gulp.

Aug
27
2009

Getting the Facts

Today we are all experiencing a global food crisis. Food prices are inflating, families are food poor. Some of the deaths due to hunger or hunger related causes can be avoided. Many children are malnourished but The most damaging micronutrient deficiencies in the world are the consequence of low dietary intake of vitamin A. In the world, the largest dietary eaten is rice, over 80 percent of the world's population depends on rice as their staple food. Although rice tastes awesome with chicken and with everything else, many people around the world do not get enough β-carotene (provitamin A, the form before vitamin A is converted) to help produce Vitamin A in what they are eating or able to afford to eat. Vitamin A is necessary, without Vitamin A our eyes would be unable to function properly. According to the World Health Organization, 250,000 to 500,000 children to go blind every year due to the lack of Vitamin A deficiency (VAD). Every year it has has claims the lives of 350 000 or more, people who are VAD become blind and 60% of those who become blind will die. 400 million rice-consumers may lead to fatal health problems, some are impaired vision; impaired epithelial integrity, exposing the affected individuals to infections; reduced immune response; impaired haemopoiesis (and hence reduced capacity to transport oxygen in the blood) and skeletal growth; and measles infection. MAP
MAPCourtesy Wikipedia

The science behind

Golden rice is a genetically modified (GM), it is made through genetic manipulation. The gene responsible for the yellow color like the daffodils is inserted into the rice genome, and causes rice to produce large quantities of β-carotene.

The purpose of golden rice was made to to produce B-carotene, In the location where people eat the most, the endosperm. β-Carotene is composed of two retinyl groups ( the animal form of Vitamin A, which is different from the plants who are able to perform photosynthesis for their Vitamin A), and is broken down in the the mucous membrane of the small intestine by B-carotene to retinal, a form of vitamin A. Carotene can be stored in the liver and body fat and converted to retinal when it is needed, thus making it a form of vitamin A for mammals like us. SCIENCE
SCIENCECourtesy Wikipedia

for more details on the science behind golden rice you can check out this website:

http://goldenrice.org/Content2-How/how1_sci.html

But Why Is This Not Happening?

But behind this great discovery and invention people are bound to have their own reason's why they would like it or not. Many have responded with Golden Rice with rage and the desire for those to stop making the golden rice. Many of whom wish for those who do have VAD to receive naturally grown food instead of humans modifying. Those who feel this way feels that other's deserve to eat real food instead of man made. How do you feel towards genetically modified food? Is it still food or something else? With this conspiracy going on the Golden Rice is being stored in a building in Europe because of those who angered about the Golden Rice. Not only do people feel that way other's also said that it will effect the economy worldwide, if golden rice keeps going around the world for free people will stop buying rice and the rice industry would fall apart and the two largest rice exporters ( Thailand and Vietnam ) economy would fall apart and possibly even worse.

My view on this is that Genetically modified food is still food and is made for the better. If we waited for naturally grown food to grow I think it will take way to long for it to be ready for animals and humans to eat, in the world the food consumption is rising and more people demanding food. For example, in 1985 the average Chinese
consumer ate about 20 kg (44 lb) of meat a year, and now consumes over 50 kg (110 lb). Genetically modified food can help feed those who need it. And I understand that there are many people in Europe who do not support GM food, but don't you think we should send food those people who are dying from hunger and save them as soon as possible?

May
29
2008

Here's mud on your truck: Here's a sample of mudder truck action. These photos are not from the May 3 event near Isanti, Minnesota, which has generated controversy about how much damage a private property owner can do to his own land.
Here's mud on your truck: Here's a sample of mudder truck action. These photos are not from the May 3 event near Isanti, Minnesota, which has generated controversy about how much damage a private property owner can do to his own land.Courtesy katiew
When does a mud hole turn into a wetland?

That’s a question that’s heated up debate in the north metro area as a rural Isanti man now faces wetland damage charges after hosting a mudder truck event on his property earlier this month.

The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources cited the guy under a little-used law for wetland damage. If convicted in court, he could be forced to restore the mud hole/wetland to its former condition, pay a big fine and/or serve jail time.

Chad Hunt, the property owner, contends he can do anything he’d like on his own property and that the area where the trucks were rumbling around on was just a mud hole. About a dozen modified trucks took part in the event on May 3, and also drew a large crowd of spectators.

The DNR took aerial photos of the site after the event (included in the news story link above) that show a large amount of truck ruts and damage.

So what do you think? How far do individual property rights extend when it comes to actions that could have negative environmental consequences? Where does a mud hole end and a wetland begin? What rights does a property owner forfeit when it comes to activities that take place on his property? Share your thoughts here with other Science Buzzers.