Researchers are starting to point out that farmers could actually directly contribute to the fight against climate change with better practices.
As irrefutable evidence that the globe is getting hotter mounts, eyes are starting to turn to the global agricultural system, especially with Earth’s human population at seven billion and counting. Climate change will have long-lasting and irrevocable effects on agriculture with serious potential implications, particularly in the global south, which is already starting to be hit hard by changing conditions. The planet is getting too hot, too fast, and normal adaptation can’t move at that speed.
Agriculture has always been a highly risky business, although many people in the west may not think of it that way. When food comes readily packaged at prices that remain steady in the grocery store, without a meaningful connection between consumer and farmer, people don’t often stop to consider the conditions, and factors, that go into food production. This has been illustrated by the general lack of interest in farm labour and the abuses that take place in the agriculture industry, and in the lack of understanding about how fragile farming can be, and how susceptible it is to climate change.
Farmers are utterly dependent on the weather for their crop. If it’s too cold, too hot, too wet, or too dry, they can experience radical declines in yield and quality, or lose a crop altogether. Seasonal changes that occur too early can also be a culprit in destruction; an early frost, for example, can destroy a harvest, while floods may wash away crops. In addition to affecting crops directly, changes in weather patterns can also create ideal conditions for pests, creating a secondary problem that needs to be addressed. An increase in weeds is projected to be one of the major problems associated with climate change, for instance.
Climate and weather projections have thus always been of acute interest to farmers, who rely on accurate forecasting and models to make decisions about what to plant, when, and where. With the climate changing, shifts in temperatures and weather patterns are already disrupting farming practices worldwide, especially when paired with loss of arable land due to a variety of factors. Farmers are being forced to give up their land, flooding and drought conditions are destroying usable land, development is eating farmland, and land is being rendered useless by shifts like desertification, which is a consequence of poor land management.
Many conventional western agricultural practices contribute to these issues; there is a premium in the west on high yields at the cost of long-term soil health and general environmental well-being. Researchers at agencies like the Environmental Protective Agency are starting to point out that farmers could actually directly contribute to the fight against climate change with better practices, like managing crops and soil to sequester carbon, using renewable fuels, and taking other measures to increase efficiency.
Notably, these tactics mark a return to more traditional farming techniques in many regions of the world, and in some cases represent traditional uses of farmland that were preferred by indigenous populations before the imposition of western agriculture. Just as the west swept into the Global South to dictate farming practices in what became known as the ‘green revolution,’ effectively telling people to stop using traditional farming methods that actually preserved the integrity of the soil and traditional ways of eating, the west is now slinking back to tell people to return to what they were doing, presenting their original practices as novel inventions rather than admitting that it was wrong. A classic example of colonialism followed by appropriation.
For farmers, adapting to climate change is going to require more than crop rotation, the use of cover crops instead of continuous production farming, renewable energy, and the occasional chicken tractor. It’s also going to necessitate a fundamental shift in what is farmed and where as the climate forces changes in temperatures and weather patterns, because most crops grow in a very narrow range of acceptable conditions.
Corn, for example, is a very water-intensive crop that requires warm temperatures, but not too warm. That makes it less than ideal for many regions affected by climate change, because it’s sensitive to disruptions in water supply such as the massive drought that devastated the US Midwest in 2012, and it doesn’t like increases in average annual temperature. With corn growing in a narrower range, this heavily-subsidised crop will become more expensive, and competition may arise between corn for fuel, food, and animal feed purposes as farmers struggle to meet a demand that will only grow with time.
Tragically, this didn’t have to be the case. Corn is perhaps one of the single greatest illustrations of the problems with modern western agriculture, reflecting a confluence of circumstances that’s led to a resource dilemma. This crop was once incredibly diverse, with hundreds of cultivars in question across Latin America in communities that relied on maize as a primary component of their diet.
However, this diversity wasn’t ideally suited to western agriculture, which prefers monocropping, the production of high volumes of a single cultivar of a specific crop. High production also means the generation of numerous uses for crops; corn is in a vast number of products in the US, some of which (corn syrup, for example) have been developed specifically to come up with uses for the overrun of corn produced.
Monocropping allows farmers to use standardized equipment and standardized seed and supplies, but it also creates extreme vulnerabilities. Even as corn has been developed into a few very specific strains for particular purposes, each strain becomes more vulnerable to infectious organisms, pests, and other problems.
If, for example, a fungus that attacks a given corn cultivar develops, it can spread like wildfire across a farming region, utterly destroying the corn crop for that year and putting immense pressure on the food system. Were farmers growing a diverse array of corn cultivars, the fungus would be limited to a small proportion of the crop: a problem for those affected, but not something that would bring the industry to its knees.
A similar situation has occurred with the Cavendish banana, which has become the cultivar of preference throughout the industry. (If you have bananas sitting on top of the fridge to ripen, chances are high that they’re Cavendishes.) A fungus that causes a condition called Panama disease has slowly spread worldwide, threatening the global banana supply; it makes for funny headlines (‘Yes, we have no bananas’) but illustrates how vulnerable the global food system has become with a preference for monocropping.
Thousands of heritage cultivars of crops like tomatoes, apples, potatoes, maize, and more have been utterly lost to time, and in addition to being a source of sorrow to committed foodies, this is also a serious problem for agriculture, especially with climate change looming overhead. More cultivars mean more chances to develop crops that can withstand greater ranges of temperatures and more adverse conditions, and a chance to combine genes in creative and effective ways to keep crops healthy and diverse. The loss of these cultivars is a net loss to the gene pool and society in general, and should be viewed as a cause of grave concern.
Yet, many people are blissfully unaware of the threats facing the biological diversity of the crops they buy without thinking about it at the store. When they see a limited range of potatoes, onions, and apples on display, they don’t consider the implications of this, and the risks created when we rely on limited genetic sources for the bulk of our food supply.
And when these foods are produced primarily in conditions that are not environmentally friendly. Western agriculture relies heavily on practices like the use of pesticides and herbicides, which in addition to acting as pollutants and causing problems with herbicide resistance in the future can also contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. It relies heavily on equipment from tractors to long-haul trucks that runs on non-renewable fuels and emits pollution, and it relies on soil use practices that are truly appalling, from the perspective of those concerned about the overall health of the globe.
Traditional farming practices naturally condition the soil, sequester carbon, and prevent problems like erosion, water waste, and pollution. When soil becomes stripped of its nutrients and the microorganisms that normally inhabit it, it becomes a wasteland, not suitable for crops (requiring more fertilizers, which can in turn run off and cause nutrient pollution). And the thin, grainy soil holds water like a sieve. More water than before is needed for farming, which contributes to water loss, while crops struggle to survive in the harsh soil, which erodes quickly in any rainy weather. This is a recipe for disaster, as it can take decades to rebuild the soil, yet the agricultural community has been slow to act on bringing some of its worst abuses in check.
Changing lifestyles are also creating added pressures. More people are demanding meat as part of their diets, precisely at the moment that animals are being adversely affected by climate change. Raising livestock tends to be more intensive than raising crops, because they need fodder, and they’re also extremely sensitive to heat waves and water shortages; in Texas, for example, cattle and horses died in the hundreds during the drought that gripped the United States in 2012, because farmers couldn’t afford to feed them and they couldn’t cope with the high temperatures.
Fisheries aren’t exempt from this problem either; as the oceans warm and acidify in response to climate change, it’s going to drastically affect the supply of food from the sea. Some species may die out altogether while others may migrate and be subject to more diseases. Already, many species are starting to move to colder northern waters to cope with changing ocean temperatures.
As the west exports a very specific lifestyle worldwide, pushing people to adopt the increased consumption of animal products as a status symbol, it creates even more pressure to produce these intensive products rather than relying on crops. This, too, is a combination that could lead to trouble, as many nations in the global south are devoting their energy to producing meat for export along with fad crops that fetch high prices on the western market, and are having difficulty feeding themselves.
Look at the case of quinoa, for instance, a crop which has been traditionally consumed in Bolivia for centuries. As quinoa consumption has risen worldwide, the nation has been forced to export more and more of its crop, while at the same time limiting production space to make room for pasturing livestock, particularly cattle, in order to meet the demand for meet. Within Bolivia, the cost of quinoa is rising to the point that many people cannot afford it, highlighting another problem the world can expect to face with climate change: increasing food inequality.
The west is determined to adapt, and it has the money, technology, and space to maintain a steady supply of food; while food insecurity is a problem for numerous people in the west, the issue is not agricultural but political. The food is there, it’s simply not reaching the people who are hungry. This is not the case in many regions of the Global South, where food resources are flowing to the west as people starve. Subsistence farming is much less sustainable in these regions than it once was, and in regions like Mexico, many people are abandoning it altogether to seek their luck elsewhere.
Economically, the Global South is not prepared to cope with the agricultural effects of climate change, a problem primarily created by the west. As usual, people in these nations will bear the brunt of western arrogance while the west saves itself.
Once again, rape becomes a political tool and women’s bodies are used as the battlefield where political maneuvers are enacted for male politicians, leaders and journalists to further their agendas.
It seems to be a recurring theme when politics and rape allegations mix: women’s bodies become the battlefield where access to justice is secondary, a mere afterthought or a nuisance. Julian Assange, currently locked in an embassy in London, was granted asylum in Ecuador while his alleged victims in Sweden are denied their day in court because “more important matters” take precedent in a political game eerily similar to the situation with Roman Polanski’s extradition request. Both cases, while differing in circumstance and details, share a commonality based on rape culture values. The bodies of raped victims are not treated as valuable as the political circumstances that surround their cases.
If we’re going to talk about the power of girls, well, they have their own ideas about the ways in which they are powerful and how they want to direct their potential.
8 March! Don’t we love 8 March? It is that wonderful day during the course of which we internationally celebrate women! Women are pretty great. I know because I am one of them. Women are, however, not the only members of their gender. There are these other people called girls who are also pretty great. I know because I was one of them once, too. Girls are people who are wonderful and vulnerable in their own particular ways. This is why I am right on board for the theme for this, the 101st International Women’s Day, which is “Connecting Girls, Inspiring Futures”.
This is the victory of a disobedient woman. A woman who systematically refused to be pigeonholed, controlled and manipulated. A woman whose policies might not be to everyone’s taste, but whose political skills cannot be derided.
Yesterday, Cristina Fernandez was re-elected as President of Argentina with 54% of the votes (as of this writing, media reports she won by 54%, with final results expected by the end of the week, probably with a slight difference in her favor). Her political alliance, known as “Front for Victory” (a faction of the Justicialist Party) now controls both the Congress and the Senate. She is the third most voted President in Argentinian history (after Hipolito Yrigoyen in the 30’s and Juan Domingo Peron in the early ‘70’s). She is also the only Argentinian President to win with the biggest margin of votes to the closest opponent. At the time of this publication, her next contender, Hermes Binner is at a distant second with 16.9% and, in third place, Ricardo Alfonsin, with a paltry 11%. But this is not any victory, if anything, this is the victory of a disobedient woman. A woman who systematically refused to be pigeonholed, controlled and manipulated. A woman whose policies might not be to everyone’s taste, but whose political skills cannot be derided. A woman who, for the first time in Argentina’s history, put gender at the center of a political project.
Western economies currently battling the effects of a long term recession and pressures from the International Financial industry might benefit from adopting a few of the measures that Argentina put in place in the aftermath of the 2001 crisis.
In 2001, Argentina was in the middle of a very serious social and economic turmoil. The population had seen their pensions taken away or reduced to amounts that could barely cover basic living expenses, unemployment was at a historical high, inflation had jumped and devalued whatever meager savings the population had at that point, local industries were decimated. However, unlike other moments of social unrest in the South American nation, this one was distinctly democratic in nature. There was no clamor for a return of a military rule, nor a demand for police repression of working class protests. It was the first time in modern history that the middle classes had joined the working class and the poor to take on the streets to demand change. The incessant impositions of the IMF to further liberalize markets, to adjust currency exchange rates and to lower the quality of government provided public services in detriment of the population had finally reached a critical mass of public protest. The unrest reached its peak on December 20th of 2001, when crowds took to the streets to demand immediate change. The protests resulted in more than 20 dead people and the birth of a grassroots rebellion that ended in the slogan “Throw them all out”.
A grassroots rebellion is taking place in Argentina with the common refrain “que se vayan todos”, or “throw them all out”. It is directed against the entire political leadership of the country as well as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and transnational companies doing business in the country.
What is the future of food production in a world of rapid climatic change and heightened weather extremes?
Global temperatures are rising, and they’re bringing global food prices along with them. The last year has seen massive flooding in Pakistan and Australia, alongside devastating drought in China and the Horn of Africa. Particularly in the Global South, localized food crises have accompanied these meteorological calamities. These “extreme” events are consistent with the reality of a warming planet. As the balance of Earth’s thermal energy increases, so does the range of meteorological possibilities. The news wires serve as a reminder that not all of these possibilities end well. What, then, is the future of agriculture and food security in a world of rapid climatic change and heightened meteorological extremes?
The first step to imagining the future of agriculture is to admit that the current industrial paradigm is part of the problem. The latter half of the twentieth century saw a massive consolidation of agricultural concerns, not just in terms of bank accounts, but also in farm fields. We are growing few crops on fewer farms than at any time in modern history. As fields have become larger, the ruthless, fossil-fueled efficiency of the Green Revolution has become standard. In many parts of the world, governments have encouraged growing crops in locations, densities, and varieties not supported by local water supplies, leading to declining water tables and soil salinization.
Under this industrial model, rapid shifts in climate coupled with increasingly frequent extreme weather will create plenty of opportunities for widely dispersing, environmentally tolerant pests to threaten our crops. Weeds are the future, and thanks to the marvels of modern genetic engineering, these weeds may be tougher than they’ve ever been. The status quo is unsustainable.
Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots is an intriguing collection of mismatched elements that sheds new light on sexuality, gender and race in religious locations.
Lisa Isherwood and Mark Jordan, Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots: Essays in Honour of Marcella Althaus-Reid, SCM Press, 2010.
Argentinian theologian Marcella Althaus-Reid was a pioneer in the field of queer theology. In her books Indecent Theology and The Queer God (both on Routledge), she insistently queried the sexual and gender suppositions of Christianity and theology. In particular, she relentlessly pushed the liberation theology of Latin America, demanding that its vision of social justice for the poor expand to include–even centre–women and GLBT people and the multiplicity of desires and practices involved in sexual subcultures. In the striking introduction to Indecent Theology, she asked if theology had space for female vendors on the streets of Buenos Aires, who sell lemons without wearing underwear. Theologians, she suggests, must remember their own bodies, their own desires: “The Argentinian theologian would then like to take off her underwear to write theology with feminist honestly, not forgetting what it is to be a woman when dealing with theological and political categories.”
Sadly, Althaus-Reid died of breast cancer in 2009, leaving behind not only those two important books, but writing and editing numerous innovative books on feminist, body, liberation, queer and transgender theologies in partnership with Lisa Isherwood on SCM. Fittingly then, Isherwood has, with Harvard theologian Mark Jordan, assembled a collection entitled Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots on that press that not only pays homage to Althaus-Reid’s legacy, but extends it.
We might have the technology to produce enough food to feed that world – but will we have the political will to distribute it fairly?
One of the most under-reported factors behind the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt was the rise in food prices in the Middle East over the last year. It’s simple, really: hungry people become desperate very quickly, yet governments and markets forget this simple lesson all too frequently. A new report from Oxfam details the looming crisis, predicting even greater unrest for the future. They estimate that worldwide water demand will increase 30% by 2030, and by 2050, “there will be 9 billion people on the planet and demand for food will have increased by 70 per cent.”
In February, the President of the World Bank Robert Zoellick said on Bloomberg television, that “there’s no doubt that we’re seeing rising food prices just as we saw a couple of years ago and it puts stress on the most vulnerable. People often in developing countries spend half or three quarters of their income in food, so they’ve got little margin.” For people in wealthy countries, the rise in food prices may be more easily absorbed. Yet even in those, there may be significant food insecurity–the United States reported a record 14.6% of households experienced some form of food insecurity in 2008.
This book paints a deeply disturbing picture of the United States interventions in the Caribbean: propping up brutal dictators, overthrowing democratically elected governments, and undermining social reform in the name of anti-communism.
Alex von Tunzelmann, Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean , Henry Holt and Co, 2011.
Americans remain fascinated by the Cuban Missile Crisis. In the fall of 1962, American planes photographed Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba. The situation quickly escalated with members of both the American and Soviet governments calling for nuclear war. Mercifully, both U.S. President John Kennedy and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev came to their senses before blowing up the world.
At the heart of the conflict was Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whose 1959 revolution threw American leaders into fits of fury. Alex von Tunzelmann’s new and very readable book, Red Heat: Conspiracy, Murder, and the Cold War in the Caribbean, certainly will appeal to readers fascinated by the intrigue between Castro and Kennedy. This relationship became implanted in popular memory both through the missile crisis and with the rumors that Castro was behind the plot to assassinate JFK.
We don’t know anything concrete about Castro’s involvement in that murder, but we do know that Kennedy did approve several plots to kill Castro. That’s just the start of von Tunzelmann’s detailing of American outrages committed in the Caribbean during the Cold War. Focusing on Cuba, Haiti, and the Dominican Republic she paints a deeply disturbing picture of the United States propping up brutal dictators, overthrowing democratically elected governments, and undermining social reform in the name of anti-communism.
It’s Grey’s reprised, except set in an exotic locale – more snakes and fewer coffee carts.
Auteur television producer Shonda Rhimes is probably most famous for her work on Grey’s Anatomy, a primetime medical drama that debuted in the 2005 midseason, followed by spinoff Private Practice. As a high profile Black woman working in Hollywood, Rhimes has broken down a number of barriers and stereotypes in her work, from her approach to casting to her depiction of relationships. She’s also got the medical drama down pat, and recently added a third show, Off the Map, to her roster. It’s Grey’s reprised, except set in an exotic locale; more snakes and fewer coffee carts.
Rhimes’ latest, vaguely set ‘somewhere in South America,’ features a team of doctors working at a rural clinic to provide basic medical services to the population. The cast is heavily stocked with WASPs, complete with tragic backgrounds, and a handful of people of colour who mainly seem to populate the set to give the show more authenticity; we are not provided with information about their lives or backgrounds.
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