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China's Bad Earth

Josh Chin and Brian Spegele, Wall Street Journal
For years, public attention has focused on the choking air and contaminated water that plague China's ever-expanding cities. But a series of recent cases have highlighted the spread of pollution outside of urban areas, now encompassing vast swaths of countryside, including the agricultural heartland.

Estimates from state-affiliated researchers say that anywhere between 8% and 20% of China's arable land, some 25 to 60 million acres, may now be contaminated with heavy metals. A loss of even 5% could be disastrous, taking China below the "red line" of 296 million acres of arable land that are currently needed, according to the government, to feed the country's 1.35 billion people.

Rural China's toxic turn is largely a consequence of two trends, say environmental researchers: the expansion of polluting industries into remote areas a safe distance from population centers, and heavy use of chemical fertilizers to meet the country's mounting food needs.
(27 July 2013)
Suggested Resilience EB contributor Jeffrey J. Brown, who writes: "Pretty stunning article. It's behind a paywall, but you might find it by doing a Google Search for: "China’s Bad Earth" -BA. (27 July 2013)

Pesticides, fungicides harming bee colonies, UM study says

Candy Thomson, The Baltimore Sun
Honeybees responsible for pollinating crops worth billions of dollars are under attack from a cocktail of fungicides and pesticides that weaken colonies and make them susceptible to a deadly parasite, according to a study by the University of Maryland and federal agriculture researchers.

The report, published in the online scientific journal PLOS ONE this week, said contaminated pollen from seven different test crops on the East Coast reduced the ability of healthy bees to fend off a parasite that causes them to starve to death.

Researchers say this is the first study to demonstrate how the blending of pollen collected in the field and pesticides affect honeybee health.
(26 July 2013)
The study is  online at PLOS ONE: Crop Pollination Exposes Honey Bees to Pesticides Which Alters Their Susceptibility to the Gut Pathogen Nosema ceranae. -BA

Can Agriculture Reverse Climate Change? A Future Tense Event Recap.

Jathan Sadowski, Future Tense (blog), Salon
Climate change is the gravest existential threat the planet faces. Whether we’re talking about flora or fauna, the damage that could, and is likely, to occur should give rise for alarm. To tackle such a complex problem will require major shifts in society. And one large sector that’s ripe for change is agriculture.

The current industrialized food systems—factory-style farming that consumes massive amounts of resources and relies heavily on chemicals—that are widespread in developed countries are a major contributor to climate change. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Key shifts in the way we produce food could take agriculture from a climate bust and turn it into a climate boon. This undertaking is the cause that gave rise to a Future Tense event at the New America Foundation on Thursday, July 25, called “An Agricultural Revolution to Fight Climate Change?” The event brought together a number of experts for panel discussions about how to spur on an agricultural transition—from an industrial process to an ecological, innovative method.

For instance, Mark Hertsgaard, the Schmidt Family Foundation fellow at New America and the author of HOT: Living Through the Next 50 Years on Earth, explained how consumers don’t need to give up their hamburgers and steaks to be environmentally conscious. An ecological model of cattle ranching, in which cows are grazed on grasslands instead of corn, can actually be beneficial for the climate.
(26 July 2013)

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