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Scientists Are Making Brazil’s Savannah Bloom

Larry Rohter, New York Times
PLANALTINA, Brazil – Anyone curious to know how Brazil has become what the former secretary of state, Colin L. Powell, calls an “agricultural superpower” – poised to overtake the United States as the world’s leading exporter of foodstuffs – would do well to start here in this busy network of government laboratories.

The sprawling labs and experimental fields are operated by Embrapa, Brazil’s agricultural and livestock research agency, and have become an obligatory stop for any third world leader visiting Brazil.

Although little known in North America, Embrapa has in three decades become a world research leader in tropical agriculture and is moving aggressively into areas like biotechnology and bio-energy.

“Embrapa is a model, not just for the so-called developing world, but for all countries,” said Mark Cackler, manager and acting director of the Agricultural and Rural Development Department of the World Bank. “A key reason that Brazil has done so well with its agricultural economy is that it has invested heavily and intelligently in front-end agricultural research, and Embrapa has been at the forefront of that effort.”
(2 October 2007)
The article lacks a critical viewpoint, so that it comes off as a rah-rah piece. -BA

Peak Forestry in Tasmania?

Original: Mill: the risk factor
Mike Bolan, Tasmanian Times.
The Gunns board has a lot to thank mill protestors for

During the entire period of the pulp mill ‘approval’ process, Gunns has acted as if their success were assured. They’ve put up an absurdly positive economic case that has directed attention away from difficult areas like wood supply and impacts on other industries rather than trying to inform by covering all risks and exposures. When the RPDC found them to be ‘critically non-compliant’, Gunns ‘withdrew’ from the process and the state government created a new, easy path for their mill that was ‘evaluated’ by a pulp mill supplier who would benefit from the project proceeding. The trouble is that independent reviews are important to project proponents themselves because they alert the company to risks and threats that they, themselves, may have missed. This is particularly true when they are marching to someone else’s drum, for example being sold a large industrial plant.

THE TASMANIAN forest industry has done well for itself over the last 20 years. It has been able to gain the ear of government, convince state and federal governments to exclude them from many of the laws that the rest of us have to live by, and hand over well over $1 billion in subsidies of various kinds in the last decade. They’ve benefited from federal MIS wherein taxpayers help fund their growth of plantations and deliver sufficient profits from that activity to buy more land as it becomes available.

The longer term trouble with these kinds of cozy arrangements is that they make subsidised companies lazy, disconnect them from the free market and cushion them from the results of poor decision making. While other industries like agriculture and fishing respond to the free market and are highly regulated by government, forestry is heavily subsidised, deregulated and cushioned from the rigours of the market and therefore has easily been able to win the competition for scarce resources like forests, water and land.

…Meanwhile, global events have been busy catching up. Not only are world supplies of pulp set to quintuple over the next few years, but Gunns costs are set to become highly unpredictable as oil prices start to climb in response to greater global demand, countries become concerned about ‘peak oil’ and the US threatens to nuke Iran. At the same time rainfall patterns are placing Tasmania in drought status, threatening not only the growth rates of Gunns plantations, but also Australia’s last reliable ‘food bowl’ in Tasmania.

…Tasmania’s rapidly drying climate is not only stunting plantation growth, it is placing serious pressure on our food production systems, made significantly worse by the vast area of plantations drawing massive amounts of water out of our catchments through their long roots and thereby lowering water tables. No government is going to tolerate growing trees while its population starves so the tree MIS would be early, and popular, targets. Without MIS subsidies, Gunns business will suddenly assume major additional costs that were not factored into their IIS. If the trees don’t grow fast enough, they’ll be forced into our native forests again but access and transport costs are increasing as they’ve ‘cherry picked’ the cheapest coupes and are now forced into harder to reach locations. Their contractors are facing huge additional costs without any certainty of compensating income.

From a strategic business point of view, Gunns board should be thanking the various groups that have criticised their proposal and reviewing their threats and exposures more completely.

Mike Bolan is an independent professional change facilitator with over 30 years’ experience based on a strong information technology and science research background with practical experience at all levels of management in both the private and public sectors in Australia and overseas. He is part of a team of independent consultants engaged by Tasmanian community and business groups to represent their interests in the matter of the pulp mill.
(1 September 2007)
Contributor Rick Dworsky writes:
Peak wood? Perhaps it’s time to consider the sustainability of industrial forestry practices, globally.

Although the article concerns a local political issue, I thought some parts might have general interest. As we know, oil affects everything, including wood.

Article reappeared at:

Soil Matters CSA II / Marion Nestle
Jon Steinman, Deconstructing Dinner via Global Public Media

Soil Matters CSA

One of the greatest threats facing farmers today and hence facing our own food supply is the financial rewards found in the field of farming, rewards that are seemingly more often then not, in the negative digits. Many argue that food and agriculture should be removed from global trade regimes.

One of the reasons for such an idea comes from a belief that farmers themselves should not have to bear the financial risks associated with such a volatile industry, and all people should equally share such risks as food is a need and not a desire. One alternative to the dominant food system is the model of Community Supported Agriculture, whereby a set number of people within a city or town become a member of a farm, and in doing so pay the farmers at the beginning of the season when farmers need the money most.

Members who join are then guaranteed what is most often a weekly box of fresh produce. As many farmers know all too well how easily an entire crop can be lost due to weather, pests or unforseen circumstances, members of a CSA share this risk with the farmer and on the other side can also share in the abundance. Just outside of Nelson, British Columbia, two intrepid farmers who only began farming a few years ago, have launched a CSA this year. Host Jon Steinman chose to become a member and document the process of creating a CSA and the potential for such a model to reconnect people with their food and provide farmers with a more secure source of income.

Part II
On September 8, Soil Matters hosted a members potluck and discussion. Deconstructing Dinner’s Jon Steinman facilitated the discussion where members shared their experiences of becoming part of a CSA. How has joining a farm changed eating patterns? How has working on the farm reshaped our connection to food? What changes should be made to the administration and functioning of the CSA for next year?

Marion Nestle – “The Ethics of Food Marketing”

Marion Nestle is the Paulette Goddard Professor of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health at New York University, in the department that she chaired from 1988 through 2003. She also holds appointments as Professor of Sociology in NYU’s College of Arts and Sciences and as a Visiting Professor of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Agriculture at Cornell University. Her degrees include a Ph.D. in molecular biology and an M.P.H. in public health nutrition, both from the University of California, Berkeley.

Her research focuses on the politics of food with an emphasis on the role of food marketing as a determinant of dietary choice. She is the author of “Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health” (University of California Press, 2002) and “Safe Food: Bacteria, Biotechnology, and Bioterrorism” (University of California Press, 2003), and is co-editor of “Taking Sides: Clashing Views on Controversial Issues in Food and Nutrition” (McGraw-Hill/Dushkin, 2004). Her new book, “What to Eat,” was published in May, 2006.

In November 2006, Princeton University hosted a 5-part conference, exploring the broad and compelling issues and ethical dilemmas surrounding food production in the U.S. and the choices individuals make regarding the food they eat. Marion Nestle was invited to speak on “The Ethics of Food Marketing”. We hear segments from her presentation.

More info at
(2 October 2007)
Marion Nestle is one of my favorite writers on nutrition. In the talk, she says:

…you don’t need to be an Einstein to figure out what to have for dinner. And to me nothing could be simpler. I think it’s simply a matter of:

  • Eating less

  • Moving more
  • Making sure you get plenty of fruits and vegetables
  • Not eating too much junk food
  • Enjoying your food.

That takes care of most of the problems of diet and health.