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Marijuana, Dark Horse Savior of California Agriculture

Sam Kornell, Miller-McCune
While a legalized marijuana crop wouldn’t solve all of California’s agricultural woes, it might still keep the state in the green.

… Since California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, and particularly since the state Legislature specified how much pot could be cultivated for medical purposes, in 2003, growing marijuana in California has become extremely lucrative. The street value of the state’s crop was roughly $14 billion in 2008. Walking through the garden, it wasn’t hard for me to see why — each pound of buds harvested from the enormous plants would fetch upwards of $3,000 at medical marijuana dispensaries.

Farms like the one I visited have helped guarantee stories about marijuana entrepreneurs. Last year it netted a healthy profit for its young bohemian proprietors, who ensured that it stayed within legal cultivation limits. During my visit, one of them told me the cliché is true: A second gold rush has hit Northern California.

But in all of the press coverage of marijuana, one story has been overlooked. It has to do with the health of California’s agriculture industry. The most bountiful farming region in the world, the Golden State is contending with three potentially catastrophic problems: population growth, dwindling water resources and climate change. Marijuana could potentially provide a bulwark against a future of steadily declining crop yields.
(1 April 2010)
Not to speak of the advantages of legalizing hemp production. An anonymous commentor on the article writes:

This is a good article but I believe the author is overlooking one major point of marijuana legalization, that being the recreation of the hemp industry. One of the greatest losses to the American agriculture industry is the inability of farmers to produce hemp, which can be used to produce products ranging from plastic to food. It is true that legalization may cause the collapse of many pot economies, but the boom that could result from the reincorporation of hemp into American farming and manufacturing holds an economic potential that far outweighs the loss. Legalize the plant.

And in an April 4 discussion about clothing at The Oil Drum, mcain6925 writes:

[Hemp is] Versatile for lots of things — paper, construction materials, and oil-based paints to name some of them. It is not always the best material for the job, but most parts of the plant can be used for multiple purposes. I’ll believe that the US government has bought into localization when they make industrial hemp legal again.


The Only Way to Have a Cow

Bill McKibben, Orion
A call for America to divest its heart and stomach from feedlot beef

MAY I SAY—somewhat defensively—that I haven’t cooked red meat in many years? That I haven’t visited a McDonald’s since college? That if you asked me how I like my steak, I’d say I don’t really remember? I’m not a moral abstainer—I’ll eat meat when poor people in distant places offer it to me, especially when they’re proud to do so and I’d be an ass to say no. But in everyday life, for a series of reasons that began with the dietary scruples of the woman I chose to marry, hamburgers just don’t come into play.

I begin this way because I plan to wade into one of the most impassioned fracases now underway on the planet—to meat or not to meat—and I want to establish that I Do Not Have A Cow In This Fight. In recent years vegetarians and vegans have upped their attack on the consumption of animal flesh, pointing out not only that it’s disgusting (read Jonathan Safran Foer’s new book) but also a major cause of climate change. The numbers range from 18 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions to—in one recent study that was quickly discredited—51 percent. Whatever the exact figure, suffice it to say it’s high: …

Still, even once you’ve made that commitment, there’s a nagging ecological question that’s just now being raised. It goes like this: long before humans had figured out the whole cow thing, nature had its own herds of hoofed ungulates.

… So why weren’t they filling the atmosphere with methane? Why wasn’t their manure giving off great quantities of atmosphere-altering gas?

The answer, so far as we can tell, is both interesting and potentially radical in its implications. These old-school ungulates weren’t all that different in their plumbing—they were methane factories with legs too. But they used those legs for something. They didn’t stand still in feedlots waiting for corn, and they didn’t stand still in big western federal allotments overgrazing the same tender grass. They didn’t stand still at all. Maybe they would have enjoyed stationary life, but like teenagers in a small town, they were continually moved along by their own version of the police: wolves. And big cats. And eventually Indians. By predators.
(March/April 2010)
Recommended by Bill Henderson who writes:

Bill McKibben gets to where Richard Manning was a decade ago. Too bad the conversation is still restricted to just smart consumerism instead of how to close down factory farming. (Not the same.)


On job creation—local fruits and vegetables vs. corn and soybeans

Ben Lilliston, Think Forward, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP)
It turns out that foods that are better for you may also be better for farmers and local job creation. A new study by the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture at Iowa State University found that expanding fruit and vegetable production in the upper Midwest could bring significantly more economic benefits than conventional corn and soybean production on the same acreage.

The study, by Iowa State Research Scientist Dave Swenson, looked at the potential for fruit and vegetable production in Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin. It identified 28 kinds of fruits and vegetables that farmers are able to grow in the region. Currently, much of the fruits and vegetables in the region come from other parts of the country or even outside the country.

Some key findings on the economic impacts on the region as a whole:

  • Increased fruit and vegetable production in the six states could mean $882 million in sales at the farm level, and more than 9,300 jobs. Corn and soybean production on that same acreage would support only 2,578 jobs.
  • If half of the increased production was sold in farmer-owned stores, it would require 1,405 such stores staffed by 9,652 people.
  • Only 270,025 acres—roughly equivalent to the average cropland in one of Iowa’s counties—would be needed to grow enough fruits and vegetables for the six-state region.

Previous research found that smaller sized farms (50 acres and smaller) are more likely to produce fruits and vegetables than standard-sized farms so it is likely that more, smaller farms would be needed. Researchers assumed that 50 percent of fruit and vegetable production would be directly marketed in-state by farmer-owned stores. Local and regional ownership of the food chain will be essential for maximum job creation.

The study breaks down the numbers by state and metropolitan region so it’s easy to get a sense of what your neck of the woods could be doing to create new local food jobs.

The barriers to transitioning toward more fruit and vegetable production in the Midwest are enormous. Farmland is hard to come by as values are seen as a better investment than the stock market. U.S. farm policy greatly incentivizes corn and soybean production in a number of ways, including helping farmers to manage risks and supporting research for those crops. And then there’s the lack of infrastructure needed to help local food systems serve a booming market. Despite these barriers, this study gives us a guidepost for the potential economic benefits of a new model for agriculture that produces healthier and more locally grown food.

©2010 IATP
(2 April 2010)
Also at Common Dreams

Organic Farming Opens a Way for Farmers to Return to Their Proper Role as Innovators and Stewards of the Land

Olga Bonfiglio, Common Dreams
“There seems to be three ways for a nation to acquire wealth: the first is by war…this is robbery; the second by commerce, which is generally cheating; the third by agriculture, the only honest way.” Benjamin Franklin

The twenty-first century’s uncertainty about the future abounds with predicaments like climate change, depletion of our water resources, and the end of cheap energy. And farmers are being called upon to assume a new role as innovators and stewards of the land because they know how to produce food.

“Farmers were the true founders of the United States,” said Lisa Hamilton, author of Deeply Rooted: Unconventional Farmers in the Age of Agribusiness, “because they went out into the wild and built the first structures and communities that eventually became our cities and the nation.” In 1800, 90 percent of Americans were farmers.

She spoke recently at the 21st Annual Conference of the Midwest Organic & Sustainable Education Service (MOSES) held in La Crosse, Wisc.

By 1900 after the frontier closed and the nation moved from an agricultural to an industrial economy, the percentage of farmers dropped to almost 40 percent. That’s also when farmers began to shift in their role from “citizens” to “producers.”

And they have been rebelling ever since over land and crop prices and agricultural policies, said Hamilton.
(3 April 2010)
Olga Bonfiglio is a contributor to Energy Bulletin. -BA

Should we be planning a new approach for producing clothing?

Gail Tverberg, The Oil Drum
“Should we be planning a new approach for producing clothing?” sounds like a strange question. Should we even be thinking about it?

If the economy declines slowly, surely someone, somewhere will be manufacturing clothing, and all we have to do is buy new clothes. Besides, clothing lasts a long time. Most of us could get along with our current clothing for ten years (perhaps with a little swapping around for children’s clothing). So why worry about clothing?

But it seems like we should at least do a little thinking about the subject. A transition to a new approach for manufacturing clothing would take a long time. Fossil fuels are declining, and some folks would like to phase out fossil fuels because of CO2 and other issues. Furthermore, collapse related to financial issues is at least somewhat of a possibility. …

Several different types of plans might be made for manufacturing clothing, considering the likely decline in the availability of fossil fuels:

1. We might get along with whatever clothing factories currently available are able to produce, plus reusing whatever clothing we have now. Hopefully, any serious downturn is far enough away that someone else can figure out the details later, if another plan is needed.

2a. Individuals interested in sustainability might attempt to grow their own linen, or cotton or hemp, or raise sheep, and start from scratch gathering the supplies they need to first make thread or yarn, then weave it into cloth, dye the cloth, and make it into clothing.

2b. If there is a village of interested people, the functions in 2a might be divided up a bit, with some growing the linen, cotton, hemp, or wool, some making yarn from the materials, some dying the yarn, some weaving the yarn into cloth, and some making clothing from the cloth. Necessary tools and equipment using local materials would need to be figured out now, well in advance of the decline, and workers would need to start now, practicing their new skills.

3. We might set up some factories powered by wind or water that would make cloth, using technology that has been around for centuries. Nearby, we might start training individuals to grow the inputs needed for these factories, such as linen or hemp, using approaches that do not require fossil fuels. Some method of transportation of the goods to and from the factories would also need to be put in place, perhaps using animal power. All of the tools and equipment would be made mostly out of wood or other local materials, so they could be easily replaced when they wear out.

4. We might set up some factories powered by solar PV, and enlist some farmers nearby to grow crops that could be used to make the cloth, using electric vehicles (golf carts, or something fancier, if available) for transportation and for work in the fields. Solar panels might be used for recharging the electric vehicles as well. We might stockpile three or four sets of solar PV panels, plus a few batteries, so that the factories would have fairly long lives, even if no replacement solar panels and batteries are ever made again.

5. We might set up a network of fossil fuel powered factories around the country, first to make cloth (perhaps make synthetic fabrics from oil), and then to make the cloth into “local clothing”. We might make obtaining fuel and parts for the factories a priority, and hope the factories would be able to stay in operation for quite a while. …
(4 April 2010)
One of the more interesting discussions at The Oil Drum follows the post at the original. Perhaps because clothing is something concrete, about which one can relate stories and experiences. Oil depletion, in contrast, is abstract and outside the experience of most of the population. -BA