Resolved to go organic in 2012? Consider these 10 points.

Over at Eco Women: Protectors of the Planet! you can find eight resolutions for 2012. A few of them make sense: turn off any unnecessary appliance; choose tap water over bottled water; cut down on meat. These are, if not necessarily environmentally sensible, at least economically sensible. I have quibbles with their list but it has modest merit.

#4 on their list “Start buying the locally grown organic version of one thing you consume…Choose one product off your shopping list and commit to finding the locally grown or produced organic alternative” is wrong on all levels. Here are 10 reasons:


  1. There is no difference in nutritional value between organically grown and conventionally grown food. (see this by the Mayo Clinic)
  2. There is no difference in taste or texture between organically grown and conventionally grown food.
  3. There is no difference in food safety between organically grown and conventionally grown food. (see this by the Mayo Clinic).
  4. While some studies indicate similar safety, some studies indicate organic may be less safe than conventionally grown food. A UK Independent story notes, “Large studies in Holland, Denmark and Austria found the food-poisoning bacterium Campylobacter in 100 per cent of organic chicken flocks but only a third of conventional flocks; equal rates of contamination with Salmonella (despite many organic flocks being vaccinated against it); and 72 per cent of organic chickens infected with parasites.” And a post on the Scientific American site notes, “Between 1990 and 2001, over 10,000 people fell ill due to foods contaminated with pathogens like E. coli, and many have organic foods to blame. That’s because organic foods tend to have higher levels of potential pathogens.”
  5. Both organic and conventional systems use pesticides. Organic farming is allowed to “natural” pesticides such as calcium hypochlorite, chlorine dioxide, sodium hypochlorite, calcium polysulfide, copper hydroxide, copper oxide, soluble boron products, copper oxychloride, lignon sulfate; silicates of zinc, iron, magnesium, manganese, molybdenum, selenium, and cobalt, and host of other items. (The full list is available here in PDF)
  6. The pesticides used by organic farming can be worse for the environment. Whereas conventional farming can use synthetic pesticide that targets specific pests, organic farmers are left with choices that don’t discriminate and kill a broader spectrum of species. We know how this worked out for antibiotics.
  7. Studies show that eliminating pesticides diminishes yields. Eliminating pesticide use could cut corn yields by 30 percent, rice by 57 percent, soybeans by 37 percent, and wheat by 24 percent. That means to maintain our current level of food, it needs more land (forest or grassland) to be plowed up.
  8. Organic farming needs more land to grow its food and fiber.
  9. Organic farming needs more energy. More land takes more energy to cover. And, since they don’t use herbicides, organic farmers needs to plow more. Farmers plow to primarily control weeds (plowing harms wildlife, earthworms and such, in the soil).
  10. “Locally grown” is an arbitrary boundary. Why not eat only food that you produce in the window sills of your apartment if you want really local food? We’ve covered local grown before here. Buy stuff that makes sense. If someone is selling locally grown bananas near my place in Northern California, we know from the outset that it may well have taken lots of energy to produce—much more energy than growing it in its native habitat and shipping it to me.



Watch the video where Penn& Teller explain organic food. This is a piece from their show, Bullshit! (R-rated language)


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Will Living Simply Help Save the World?

Jane Goodall 3

Image via Wikipedia

Last month, famed primatologist Jane Goodall was quoted on the Huffington Post as saying, “The world is in a horrible mess … We need to starting changing (sic) the way we live, from the clothes we buy to the food we eat. We need to change our greed and materialism. We need a critical mass to realize that we need money to live, rather than to live for money.” Or, to put that another way, “Live simply, so that others (including non-human species) may simply live.”

Now I have enormous respect for Dr. Goodall; her studies into the habits of chimpanzees shifted our thinking about primates, but I disagree with her assertion. As counterintuitive as it sounds, it is because we want to buy more stuff that our world even becomes ever more sustainable.

Dr. Goodall may base her statement in logic and The Litany: that is, we are killing ourselves because the more of us there are, the faster we consume the natural resources we humans depend upon for our very survival.

We have heard The Litany for so long it becomes almost calming.

“The water is polluted and the air is worse. We’re washing away topsoil from our farmland; and what we aren’t washing away, we’re paving over. The more technology we manufacture, the less livable becomes our world. Humans produce too many babies. Our exploding population increases poverty and misery and decreases habitat for every other living thing that we share this tiny and fragile world with.”

The only thing is, The Litany has been with us for thousands of generations. Consider this second-century quote from the early-Christian writer, Tertullian, “We are burdensome to the world, the resources are scarcely adequate for us…”

This is not to say that, collectively, we do not affect our world significantly–we do–in good and bad ways. I am only saying that our impact is decreasing due to our acquisitiveness.

You see, the more we trade goods and services, the more we trade ideas as well. Matt Ridley, author of “The Rational Optimist,” says ideas “have sex.” Like DNA recombining to make unique individuals, bits of ideas cross-fertilize with others to make better ways of doing things. “In a nutshell,” Ridley writes [PDF], “the most sustainable thing we can do, and the best for the planet, is to accelerate technological change and economic growth.”

It will be technological change (caused by trade) that makes the world more habitable for all its species, and not a decision to spend less on luxuries. History bears this out:

  • Land was freed up from agricultural production not by eating less meat, but by using machines for farming (since machines don’t need pasture).
  • It was the discovery of how to use coal, instead of wood, to power machines that saved forests, not from deciding to use less wood.
  • More land was freed up by making each acre more productive via synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, not by fasting once a week.
  • Whales were saved from extinction, not by lowering the amount of whale oil one bought, but by people buying the newer and more affordable kerosene (derived from coal) for lighting.
  • Even habitats can benefit from trade. According to Susan Hecht writing in the publication, Nature, El Salvador’s forests have increased, not shrunk, due to globalization, Salvadoreans working abroad send remittances to relatives so they no longer have to clear forests for subsistence farming.

While logic and The Litany tell us that we will run out of resources very soon, humanity’s track record for thousands of generations shows the world has become less polluted and more resilient. Prophets have preached “the end is near” since the dawn of man–they still do. But, far from being the world’s executioner, globalization and the consumerism it cultivates, are its salvation.

So, will living simply help save the world? In a word, no.

Living simply will simply not save the world. But globalization will.


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Deforestation diminishing the Snows of Kilimanjaro

Last year a Huffington Post post conjectured that the loss of snow on Mount Kilimanjaro was another sign of global warming. A team observed that Kilimanjaro’s glaciers were receding and “The increase of Earth’s near surface temperatures, coupled with even greater increases in the mid- to upper-tropical troposphere, as documented in recent decades, would at least partially explain” the observations.

I and others pointed out that the more likely reason for the receding glaciers could be explained by deforestation. Now, nearly a year later, New Scientist has a post that more data point to deforestation. “Nicholas Pepin from the University of Portsmouth, UK, and colleagues say deforestation could be an important part of the puzzle,” because transpiration from trees plays a role in humidity and temperature. “Pepin suggests that extensive local deforestation in recent decades has likely reduced this flow of moisture, depleting the mountain’s icy hood.” Professor Pepin is no denier of climate change and has been studying global warming for two decades. According to his biography on the University’s site, his “main research interest is in assessing evidence for climate change in the mountainous areas of the globe, specifically how the high elevation signal of global warming may be different to that at sea-level.”

Deforestation’s causes are many but in Africa cooking and heating with wood is much of the problem.

Would better stoves help slow the loss of snow from Kilimanjaro?

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