Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

January 5, 2006
By: Kevin Drum

GLOBAL WARMING SOLVED!....The topic of this year's Edge question is "What is your dangerous idea?" The responses are all here, and they range from dangerous to incomprehensible to completely off-topic. However, some are not only not dangerous, but positively optimistic. Gregory Benford, for example, says that the carbon in farm waste alone is a substantial fraction of the man-made carbon that's responsible for global warming:

Take advantage of that. The leftover corn cobs and stalks from our fields can be gathered up, floated down the Mississippi, and dropped into the ocean, sequestering it. Below about a kilometer depth, beneath a layer called the thermocline, nothing gets mixed back into the air for a thousand years or more. It's not a forever solution, but it would buy us and our descendents time to find such answers. And it is inexpensive; cost matters.

The US has large crop residues. It has also ignored the Kyoto Accord, saying it would cost too much. It would, if we relied purely on traditional methods, policing energy use and carbon dioxide emissions. Clinton-era estimates of such costs were around $100 billion a year a politically unacceptable sum, which led Congress to reject the very notion by a unanimous vote.

But if the US simply used its farm waste to "hide" carbon dioxide from our air, complying with Kyoto's standard would cost about $10 billion a year, with no change whatsoever in energy use. The whole planet could do the same. Sequestering crop leftovers could offset about a third of the carbon we put into our air.

This sounds pretty obviously too good to be true. Does anybody know what the catch is?

Kevin Drum 2:15 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (197)

Bookmark and Share
 
Comments

How about all the residual chemicals, pesticides, fertilizers, etc. clinging to all that farm waste?

Posted by: The Tim on January 5, 2006 at 2:20 PM | PERMALINK

Maybe some of it could collect along the banks of the lower Mississippi and shore up the delta against hurricane flooding, too.

Posted by: tj on January 5, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

He understands very little plant biology, it seems.

Posted by: KillerMac on January 5, 2006 at 2:21 PM | PERMALINK

Personally, I imagine the bedwetting wingnut contingent will find some utterly down-is-up rationale not to support it, the real reason being that it might prevent Armageddon in our lifetimes.

Posted by: Baldrick on January 5, 2006 at 2:22 PM | PERMALINK

Several things would have to be considered: soil nutrient and organic matter loss (assuming the material would have been incorporated into the soil), decomposition rate of this material (even if it decomposes slowly it may be completely decomposed before it subducts), will it subduct?, and more. It is theoretically possible but a lot of research that would take long periods of time (decades, centuries) is necessary before it could be utilized.

Posted by: Bill Hicks on January 5, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

An obvious catch, to me, would be that it would completely alter the biological makeup of the oceans...

Posted by: elfranko on January 5, 2006 at 2:26 PM | PERMALINK

Removing all the waste from the fields removes all of those nutrients from the field, thus making the field less productive next year. Most of that carbon gets recycled back into the soil anyway, where it is definitely needed. That is if you want to grow stuff. In otherwords, the soil is a carbon sink as is. Why put it in the oceans where it won't do us any good, while at the same time doing nothing to reduce CO2 emissions otherwise. YEAH...great idea!

Posted by: mike on January 5, 2006 at 2:27 PM | PERMALINK

Corncobs float.

Posted by: Schwag of TUlsa on January 5, 2006 at 2:28 PM | PERMALINK

The trouble is, those leftover corncobs and stalks are plowed under and are recycled. The soil is less depleted that way.

Assuming you want to eliminate that very simple and common sense fact, and I don't know why you would, you'd then need more trucks to haul the farm waste, since the trucks being used now haul the stuff that people sell.

How much carbon does about ten thousand or so extra frieght hauling trucks put into the atmosphere? And how much does the tug pushing the barges down the Mississippi use?

It's not a bad idea. It just doesn't seem practical.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 5, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Well, you have to figure the cost of increased use of man-made fertilizer in there - most of this 'crop waste' ends up as fertilizer, fodder, or fire. Delivery could be an issue. So would the effect of that much carbon on the sub 1k foot environment. (Stuff does live down there.) Most of this carbon doesn't get put into the atmosphere - taking carbon out of the ground and putting in the sea doesn't help, you still need to suck the carbon back out of the air.

The advantage of the 'planting trees' approach to sequester is that the carbon primarily does come from the air. Drowning carbon from crop waste doesn't increase the rate of carbon withdrawal from the air, it just transfers some of the non-dangerous solid stuff from point A to point B.

Posted by: rvman on January 5, 2006 at 2:29 PM | PERMALINK

Bill Hicks and mike beat me to it--sorry guys.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 5, 2006 at 2:30 PM | PERMALINK

Dangit, rvman...missed you, too.

Yeah, Kevin--if four or five of us can spot it I think there's probably a downside here.

Posted by: Pale Rider on January 5, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

As I understand it, everything Kevin wants from government is backed by theory, but what other people want is not backed by theory.

I think that is it. Government control of the health industry, the lack of government support for shoelace safety and global warming, all proven, mainly by the scientific method of having sex with Frenchmen, for is it not true that nothing is right until the Europeans believe it?

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 2:31 PM | PERMALINK

1. Better to use suitable farm waste as green manures; cutting manufacture and use of chemical fertilizer will help conserve fossil hydrocarbons, limit eutrophication of fresh and ocean waters (remember that dead zone off the Mississippi River mouth?), and recycle a valuable organic resource;
2. How are you going to collect, condense and transport the massive amount of farm waste whose deep-sixing would make a difference without lots of fossil hydrocarbon use;
3. How do you get the farm waste to sink and not float for long periods of time; and
4. Won't successful installation of vast quantities of farm waste at depth perturb the sea bottom ecology with unpredictable effects?

Posted by: biosparite on January 5, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

For example, these Harvard researcher seem to have a different science than Kevin:

http://www.theage.com.au/articles/2003/04/06/1049567563628.html

"These claims [ about today being the hottest on recotrd] have been sharply contradicted now by a comprehensive study of world temperatures over the past 1000 years. A review of more than 240 scientific studies has shown that today's temperatures are neither the warmest nor are they producing the most extreme conditions, in stark contrast to the claims of the environmentalists.


The review, by a Harvard University team, examined the findings of studies of temperature proxies such as tree rings, ice cores and historical accounts that allowed scientists to estimate temperatures.

The findings prove that the world had a medieval warm period between the ninth and 14th centuries, with world temperatures significantly higher than today's.

They also confirm claims that a little Ice Age set in about 1300, during which the world cooled dramatically. Since 1900, the world has begun to warm up, but has still to reach the balmy temperatures of the Middle Ages."
------------------------------------
So, these scientists must not have the same scientific method as Kevin, perhaps they do not have sex with Frenchmen?


Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 2:36 PM | PERMALINK

There was a plan to add iron to the oceans to trigger massive algal blooms. These blooms would then consume CO2 from the atmosphere, and most of it would end up sinking to the bottom of the ocean. They actually did experiments to see if it would work, and it did. I don't think it was very cost effective per unit CO2.

But it's certainly better than any the farm waste bomb idea.

Posted by: kevin. on January 5, 2006 at 2:37 PM | PERMALINK

Well waddya know, from the same report, this group of global warming advocates seem to have accepted some scient which their ally, Kevin, desires to ignore:

"The UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the official voice of global warming research, has conceded that today's temperatures may be at least partly caused by the Earth recovering from a cold period. "

Well, that occupied at least five minutes of my time.

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 2:39 PM | PERMALINK

A much more provocative answer to the Edge's question "What is your most dangerous idea" is that given by Paul Davies:

"The fight against global warming is lost"
http://www.edge.org/q2006/q06_10.html#davies

Davies says that we're going to burn all the oil there is, come hell or high water, because that's the nature of economics and of humankind. So we're going to have to adapt to global warming, and that there will be places that benefit and places that suffer.

Posted by: Ben on January 5, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Carbon sequestration in agriculture is an important tool in the management of greenhouse gases. However, this is the dumbest suggestion that I've heard. There are certainly better ways to accomplish the same goal. As someone pointed out above, the CO2 generated to move all of the waste would outweigh the savings and at the same time the loss of the crop residue would decrease soil fertility. This sounds like a suggestion from a city boy.

Posted by: J Bean on January 5, 2006 at 2:40 PM | PERMALINK

Here's a catch:
The ocean isn't a trashcan.

Posted by: Raymondo Magnifico on January 5, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

an easier solution would be to end organic farming.

higher crop yields from conventional farming mean that we could use less farm land...thus reducing carbon emissions.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 2:44 PM | PERMALINK

I've been avoiding the comments for a long time, is Matt the same douchebag from, like, Calpundit days? I'd like to see a scientific study that explains how many calories or thermal units or whatever continued, massive douchebaggery requires. I'd suspect years of douchebaggery really take their toll on a body.

Sorry for feeding the troll.

Posted by: The Tim on January 5, 2006 at 2:45 PM | PERMALINK

Anything, anything, any silly old crackpot scheme -- anything but reducing our use of fossil fuels, eh?

What's "politically unacceptable" is not the supposed and wildly exaggerated "high cost" of complying with Kyoto.

What's "politically unacceptable" is moving away from fossil fuel use to clean, renewable energy, since that would undermine the profits of the fossil fuel industry which owns our government.

The countries that are already moving aggressively to meet the Kyoto requirements are, in the process, building themselves a highly efficient, clean, renewables-based energy, transportation and industrial infrastructure and they will reap great benefits from doing that. In contrast, the US will remain mired in the dinosaur fossil fuel technology, wasting our resources (not to mention lives) fighting foreign wars for military control of the world's dwindling oil and natural gas supplies.

This is the future that the fossil fuel industry and its bought-and-paid-for servants in the US government have in mind for America. Not only the catastrophe of global warming-induced climate change, but economic and technological backwardness that will reduce the USA to a third-world wreck of a nation, while astronomically enriching a handful of already ultra-rich corporate fascists.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 2:47 PM | PERMALINK

Odd, another one minute of search reveals this National Science Foundation study that shows that Antarctica is cooling, contradicting the scientific consensus that Kevin claims.

http://usgovinfo.about.com/library/weekly/aa011802a.htm?iam=savvy&terms=%2Bdoran+%2Bantarctica

"Authors of the new NSF report point out that previous studies showing Antarctica to be warming were conducted over 20 years ago, with temperature readings taken largely on the Antarctic Peninsula extending toward South America.

Peter Doran, of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the lead author of the paper, and his co-authors, contend that averaging the temperature readings from the more numerous stations on the Peninsula led to the misleading conclusion that the entire continent was warming. "Our approach shows that if you remove the Peninsula from the dataset, and look at the spatial trend. The majority of the continent is cooling," said Doran."

Need I go on identifying the consensus that Kevin claims? Need I talk about the satellite temperature readings which ocntradict the land temperatures, showing a much lower temp rise? Or perhaps, I should just agree with the French and simply ignore other science?

This is fun, I think I will look for more of this "consensus".

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 2:49 PM | PERMALINK

You don't want to dump more nutrient-rich stuff into the Mississippi delta. That would lead to ridiculously eutrophic conditions there, baterial and algal blooms and huge fish- (and otherstuff-) kills.

Posted by: TJ on January 5, 2006 at 2:53 PM | PERMALINK

"an easier solution would be to end organic farming.

higher crop yields from conventional farming mean that we could use less farm land...thus reducing carbon emissions"

That's utterly ridiculous. I don't even understand what you're getting at and I'll bet you don't either. Where does the massive amounts of carbon come from in an organic farm opposed to a "conventional" farm, anyway? Are you serious or just being a troll?

Posted by: The Tim on January 5, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

Whoops, an MIT mereorologists poo poos the IPCC report global warming report.

"Dr. Richard S. Lindzen, the Alfred P. Sloan professor of meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a lead author of the IPCC Third Assessment Report, delivered a scathing critique of the IPCC process at a briefing sponsored by the Cooler Heads Coalition on May 1 on Capitol Hill.

What are some of the problems with the IPCC process according to Lindzen? It uses summaries to misrepresent what scientists say; uses language that means different things to scientists and laymen; exploits public ignorance over quantitative matters; exploits what scientists can agree on while ignoring disagreements to support the global warming agenda; and exaggerates scientific accuracy and certainty and the authority of undistinguished scientists.

The "most egregious" problem with the report, said Lindzen, "is that it is presented as a consensus that involves hundreds, perhaps thousands, of scientists and none of them were asked if they agreed with anything in the report except for the one or two pages they worked on."

-----------------
What did he say? He said that some idiots around the world are claiming a consensus on global warming, but have never actually asked the scientists involved, they just assumed they were all anti-oil, and so must agree with IPCC.

Funny, this scientist was actually a co-author of the report. Gee, this is still fun. I found all these disagremeents in the same time that Kevin spent writing his blog on the subject, I think!


Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 2:56 PM | PERMALINK

I thought you were going to look at methane from cows.

Posted by: KathyF on January 5, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

corn cobs

1) corn cobs float

2) you have to put a bunch of CO2 into the atmosphere transporting them and tying little weights to each one.

iron

There are many other limiting nutrients in the ocean other than iron. Iron only stimulates growth until the next most limiting nutrient is depleted. The net benefit is pretty small.

nuclear bombs

the most realistic option in my opinion

1) We could catastrophically melt Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets with excess nuclear bombs from cold war arsenals. The sea level increase will stabilize non-permafrost methane hydrates and put out 95% of anthropogenic CO2 generating fires.

2) We could convectively and advectively mix the ocean with nuclear bombs creating significant upwelling of nutrient rich waters into the photic zone, increasing algal productivity, and creating a net transport of biological carbon into the deep ocean.

Posted by: B on January 5, 2006 at 2:57 PM | PERMALINK

Ocean levels will rise even further?

What do I win?

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on January 5, 2006 at 2:59 PM | PERMALINK

Definitely check out the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for your global warming needs. Especially nonbelievers. :)

http://www.ipcc.ch/

A new report:
http://www.ipcc.ch/activity/ccsspm.pdf

covers Carbon Dioxide Storage in the ocean - seems to say that we just need more testing that is longer in duration and larger in scale.

Posted by: JeffB on January 5, 2006 at 3:00 PM | PERMALINK

higher crop yields from conventional farming mean that we could use less farm land...thus reducing carbon emissions.

You're kidding, right?

Posted by: obscure on January 5, 2006 at 3:01 PM | PERMALINK

kevin (the commenter not the blogger!) - another problem with the blooms is that the algae give off methane, partly counteracting the stated purpose of reducing greenhouse gas emissions :)

matt - whether or not temperatures were higher at some time prior to today is irrelevant. none of the people you mentioned believe that we have NO effect on the warming of the earth's surface temperature, and most people think this is problematic. i fail to see your larger point (other than ridicule)

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Algae blooms.

Posted by: obscure on January 5, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Good grief, the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration claims we are slightly cooler, overall, in the lower 48, but it has been raining a lot more.

http://www.independent.org/newsroom/article.asp?id=294

"Its barely 1/30th of a degree cooler per decade for the lower 48 states as a whole. In the northern Midwest and west of the Rockies, it has gotten hotter, and much hotter in Southern California. But it is cooler in the Eastespecially the Southeastand the lower Midwest.

Its cooler nationwide mostly because late summers and falls have been cooler. Winters have been warmer.

Theres been nothing subtle or variable about precipitation in the nation. Its been hard to miss. Nearly the entire countryexcept for slivers of Idaho, Washington state and Oregonhas been wetter. Much wetter. The United States has been getting 9/lOths of an inch more precipitation every decade since 1966. And each month is more moist than it used to be, with autumn far wetter.

We cant really pin any of this on a definite physical cause, said study co-author Rich Tinker, a meteorologist at the Climate Prediction Center, a division of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration."

The Global Warmists will claim that the evidence we are slightly cooler will be proof positive that we are hotter than ever, sicne political prediction trumphs scientific evidence.

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:03 PM | PERMALINK

Sorry, Matt, you will have to do better than to refer to an unpublished "Harvard" study in Energy and Environment. If it is the Work of Sallie Baliunas and co-workers, they have a pretty bad track record of subjective data choices. This is why claims like that have trouble getting published in Science or Nature.

As for the satellite data, that canard was thoroughly debunked this summer by three independent papers in Science. Not that Matt cares. But other readers of this blog should care.

Posted by: troglodyte on January 5, 2006 at 3:05 PM | PERMALINK

"
Davies says that we're going to burn all the oil there is, come hell or high water, because that's the nature of economics and of humankind. So we're going to have to adapt to global warming, and that there will be places that benefit and places that suffer.
"

Davies is, of course, correct. But he omits discussing the obvious followup question --- what happens to the places that suffer?
He says some truly stupid things about how there has been substantial human migration over the last 200 years implying that this will re-occur over the next 200 years, and apparently forgetting that 200 years ago there were no passports, border control guards and political systems hellbent on keeping out immigrants.
The political dimensions of this are obvious --- there are going to be places that are completely screwed by global warming, the rest of the world is going to do nothing to help these people, and we're going to see a violent ideology arise that blames the west for all of these people's ills, only this time it will actually be 100% correct which may translate into it being rather more effective as a terrorist organization than Islamic groups because it won't attract only the crazies.

Posted by: Maynard Handley on January 5, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

It's a silly idea, for the several reasons others have outlined here. Farm waste is part of the short-term carbon cycle, and if you want to make use of it without adding to the overall carbon load like fossil fuels do, turn it into fuel. Plowing it under as fertilizer works, too.

Cripes, people, just build the nuclear power plants already.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 3:06 PM | PERMALINK

matt - Lindzen has been the premier contrarian on this issue for over a decade. He believes that negative feedback will minimize the higher temperatures that mechanically come from higher atmospheric CO2. He is not followed by many other climate scientists in this view, and he most assuredly disagrees with whatever stupid idea you have about this issue.

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

C'mon, troll-boy, you can do better than that if you're trying to muddy the waters on global warming. Just for fun, because I like to do this kind of thing with my kids (it's called a "teachable moment"), can you tell me, Matt, why the historical record of average temperature in Antarctica is essentially meaningless one way or the other in the debate over whether temperature has increased globally?

That last word is a clue, Matt.

As for the "Harvard team", a couple of things: Why are people so quick to tout "Harvard" credentials when someone supports their pre-fabricated hypothesis? If the "Harvard team" had said something different, would you have been providing us that link, Matt, or would that be just all part of the ivy league liberal elite whitewash that we should ignore?

Second, it hasn't been published. Let it go through the peer-review process, then get back to me, k? Meanwhile, the IPCC, whose findings have gone through the peer review process (virtually to death), asserts at the end of the article points out that the "medieval warm period" was not a global phenomenon. So it is the same mistake you made with the Antarctica stuff, and gosh, I'm shocked you didn't quote that part of the article (did you stop reading before you were contradicted?).

It only took you five minutes of time to get that far. Maybe you should've spent ten.

There's plenty of uncertainty in climatology, but trolls always jump on the most dishonest ways to make their arguments. Get out of the way, please, and let real scientists work on the problem. It's hard enough as it is.

Posted by: Observer on January 5, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

Are you serious or just being a troll?

You have to ask?

Posted by: MeLoseBrain? on January 5, 2006 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

And here is the crux of the argument:

http://www.clearlight.com/~mhieb/WVFossils/ice_ages.html

"No matter if the science is all phony, there are collateral environmental benefits.... Climate change [provides] the greatest chance to bring about justice and equality in the world."

Christine Stewart, Minister of the Environment of Canada recent quote from the Calgary Herald

So, you see, science is subordinated to blanket statements about what is environmentally desirable, according to someone's view, namely attack big oil.


Right out of the Mad Magazine fold out. They have this pic of lovely flowers, liberal hippy gals, and fresh air. Do the fold and you get, "Attack Big Oil."

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:10 PM | PERMALINK

I agree with J Bean.

In recent years, scientists have been investigating the feasibility of using farmland to store excess carbon so that greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide aren't released into the air. If farmland can be used to sequester carbon, then why would you want to dump the farm waste in the ocean? In this context, Benford's proposal makes no sense.

Even if carbon sequestration isn't feasible, greenhouse gases generated due to agricultural production aren't simply dumped into the air. Instead, they get absorbed by other crops so that they have no net effect on air quality.

Posted by: Frank S on January 5, 2006 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

matt - a lot of it is social justice, but not in the sense you mean it to be. the countries that will be most affected by warming will be poorer on average, and the countries that put the most CO2 into the air per person will be richer on average.

if the US were a low-lying agricultural economy with significant eco-tourism dollars, the political dynamics would change.

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:15 PM | PERMALINK

Amazing.

Being involved in politics, along with the Google search engine, makes people experts on everything.

Posted by: DR on January 5, 2006 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

In Alaska the tudra is melting releasing tons of co2 into the air,So are we going to bulldoze 27 million acres of tudra into the ocean?

Posted by: scott on January 5, 2006 at 3:20 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Lookie here. Some scientist measured a temperature decrease. It probably took me less time to refute global warming than it takes you to start fuming in frustated fury. Funny how the scenery changes when you throw some facts in the mix, aint it.

Posted by: Matt on January 5, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

The mass of the carbon in the farm waste for a year would not equal the mass of the carbon in the oil, natural gas and carbon that is sent into the atmosphere by combustion of these materials.

The concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere has increased over 100 parts per million over the past hundred years or so. Just think how much carbon that is to change the concentration of the entire atmosphere of the earth.

Think of the tons of coal, barrels of oil and cubic yards of gas that is consumed everyday by the U.S. alone. To stap increasing the amount of carbon (CO2) in the atmosphere we must find a way to take the mass of carbon that is consummed by the entire planet and remove it from the atmosphere. It seems clear that we must find an alternative source of energy. Where would one put all of the carbon that is contained in all of the coal, oil and gas that is used every day if one could remove it from the atmosphere?

Posted by: Ed Jr. on January 5, 2006 at 3:23 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: Cripes, people, just build the nuclear power plants already.

Nuclear power is the answer! (What was the question? It doesn't matter -- nuclear power is always the answer!)

As usual, the fake, phony, taxcut-libertarian tbrosz is pushing his massively taxpayer funded, dinosaur Soviet-era neo-Stalinist nuclear power idiocy.

The market has completely, utterly rejected nuclear power. It is an economic failure. No company in the world will build a single nuclear power plant unless some government (ie. the taxpayers) subsidizes it and absorbs all the risk -- let alone the many hundreds of nuclear power plants that would be required in the USA alone to replace the energy equivalent of the oil, coal and natural gas that we burn today.

And when it comes to producing electricity -- which is the only thing that nuclear power is good for -- wind and photovoltaics can produce as much as nuclear, sooner, cheaper, forever, and without any of the numerous, severe problems that nuclear power sticks us with, from the toxic waste of uranium mining, to spent nuclear fuel, to vulnerability to terrorist attacks.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 3:24 PM | PERMALINK


I don't want to feed the trolls, but if anyone is interested in why the Soon and Baliunas "Harvard study" of 2003 (referenced all over the net and by right-wing media) is crap, just go to realclimate

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php?p=109

Posted by: theo on January 5, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

I suggest the author go make this argument to some farmers. They can always use a good laugh.

Posted by: MJ Memphis on January 5, 2006 at 3:25 PM | PERMALINK

The reference by Matt to statements by Richard Lindzen, the esteemed meteorology prof at MIT, fails to take into account the extreme denial that Lindzen tends to express when confronted with evidence from recent climate measurements. When he gives talks to scientists nowadays, he defends his views mostly by stating that what people have been measuring just cant be correct. After a few questions from the audience it becomes evident that no observational evidence could change Lindzen's views on global warming. He has left the realm of scientific inquiry and entered the realm of psychological case studies, Im afraid. He is still a very smart guy, of course, just not a reliable source

Posted by: troglodyte on January 5, 2006 at 3:26 PM | PERMALINK

My understanding is that in many regions the ocean floor is sloped and/or geologically unstable. Piling tons upon tons of material on a shelf of icy slush that may be ready to slide already sounds like it could have potential consequences. A massive slide from an undersea hill slump has been blamed as the cause for some destructive historical tsunamis.

Posted by: melior on January 5, 2006 at 3:27 PM | PERMALINK

The reference by Matt to statements by Richard Lindzen, the esteemed meteorology prof at MIT, fails to take into account the extreme denial that Lindzen tends to express when confronted with evidence from recent climate measurements. When he gives talks to scientists nowadays, he defends his views mostly by stating that what people have been measuring just cant be correct, or just cant be significant in the context of global warming. After a few questions from the audience it becomes evident that no observational evidence could change Lindzen's views on global warming. He has left the realm of scientific inquiry and entered the realm of psychological case studies, Im afraid. He is still a very smart guy, of course, just not a reliable source about climate trends.

Posted by: troglodyte on January 5, 2006 at 3:31 PM | PERMALINK

The basic idea in the post is totally flawed. There is a lot of carbon in limestone too. Can we satisfy the Kyoto treaty by dumping rocks into the deep ocean? What changes in the uptake of carbon, if any, would occur when we took all of that organic matter and dumped it into the sea? I'm not even sure that it would reduce the net contribution of the US at all.

Posted by: Marc on January 5, 2006 at 3:34 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, in answer to your question:

Farm "waste" releases carbon because before it became waste it was plants pulling carbon out of the air. In other words, what Benford is suggesting is that we use crops to pull carbon out of the air and then sequester them before they rot and release the carbon again.

There are many ramifications to this, plenty of which were touched on by other comments above. However, the largest one IMO is that plants also use and then release a great many other elements, many from the soil, and if the dead plants are taken away and not allowed to decompose and release those elements for the next generation of plants we condemn ourselves to a future of massive and unavoidable use of fertilizers and soil supplements.

Being in California you are probably aware of the recent storms threatening several of the Delta islands. What you might not be aware of is that when these islands were cut out of the swamps back before the second world war, they were above sea level. Decades of spring windstorms coming just after the tilling season blew the topsoil away, several inches a year. Now the islands are down to the water table in many places, severely restricting what can be grown there, and rendering them almost certain to eventually flood.

The Midwest has excellent, deep soil, but trucking away and sequestering the farm waste year after year would leach and thin that soil as surely as the spring winds blew away the freshly tilled peat of the Delta.

Posted by: S Ra on January 5, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

tbroz>Cripes, people, just build the nuclear power plants already

You know, statements like that are a severe test of just how much greenies like myself believe climate change is a threat. In any event, the problem is not the safety of *a* particular plant. The biggest problem is the world would need thousands of plants, many of them breeder reactors. I don't trust most of the world's nations to operate breeder reactors safety, and we happen to share an atmosphere.

Ben>Davies says that we're going to burn all the oil there is, come hell or high water, because that's the nature of economics and of humankind...

I remember a few years ago the head of the ESA was musing over creating a global genome and cultural data "backup" copy, and landing it in a nice cold dark crater on one of the moon's poles. Probably only cost a few billion, and it would accelerate "frozen ark" and open-source dna digitizing projects.

It no longer seems like a crackpot idea. A friend of mine is nearly obsessed with Roman history for example, but 99.99% of their works are gone.

How do we know we're not already past the peak of our civilization? What would it look like, from the inside? I suspect the apollo landings might look like the apex, from say 2200. Per capita energy consumption more or less leveled off right after that. Global per capita crop production peaked in 1985 or so, global ocean catches started to drop a few years ago. If peak oil theory is right, there's another one. And it certainly seems like nobody's at the wheel any longer - or at least, they're wild of eye and not in control.

I think a likely path for the next century or two is a gradual un-acknowledged crumpling of the system, while at the same time basic science and biotech continue to progress. Nature contracts and adjusts wrenchingly, with massive biodiversity losses. It becomes impossible to protect many habitats from people desperate to not lose their way of life.

When a know-how rich but resource poor world gradually reorganizes after a gradual population decline, as long as little information is lost then at least in principle the long term future (millenia) would have lost nothing by our mistakes. On our current path, a great deal could be extinguished forever.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 5, 2006 at 3:39 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist:

The problems with nuclear power can be dealt with. It's a mature technology, and most of the obstacles are political, not technical.

People like you are perfectly willing to drop billions in taxpayer money on your favorite alternative energy schemes, some of which still need a lot of development, so that argument is getting a bit tired.

Please check out what would be required in terms of manufacturing, toxic waste produced, acreage consumed, and the rest for a 1 GW photovoltaic power system. Include transmission issues for getting the power from climates appropriate for solar power to climates that aren't.

You might also want to come up with where that gigawatt is going to come from after the sun goes down.

A realistic solution will incorporate many concepts, including solar, nuclear, and many others. In areas where solar power works best, a solar plant handling peak daylight loads is power that a nuclear or gas-fired plant doesn't have to provide.

The objection to nuclear power for some people seems to be on a par with the objection other people have to evolution. It's based more on superstition than facts.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 3:40 PM | PERMALINK

What global warming?

Posted by: WhoSays on January 5, 2006 at 3:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce:

Nobody is suggesting nuclear power as the only solution. It has the advantage of being safer than hydrocarbon power (which killed 13 more people than the entire U.S. commericial nuclear industry just this week). It's a mature technology, and packs a lot of 24 hour a day power generation into a small space.

Still, there is room for a lot of other alternatives where they are feasible, and strawman arguments about how many reactors it would take to replace every other power generation method aren't useful.

For the record, in the year 2000, that theoretical number for the United States would have been about 600 reactors. 500 if you count the ones already in service.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 3:49 PM | PERMALINK

There is only one really good sequestration strategy, and it is reforestation. If you want to get off of our presently increasing use of fossil fuels, then you need to create a completely decentralized power system in which individuals and families generate their own power using whatever renewable source, or combination of sources, that is appropriate to them.

However, this will likely not happen anytime soon (such as in the next century) since fossil fuels, even without the direct subsidies, are at such a cost advantage. Almost no signatory country will actually meet the goals laid out in the Kyoto treaty or the follow up treaty, whatever it is. We will just have to adapt to an increasing CO2 level, whether we like it or not.

Posted by: Conspiracy Theorist ph.D. on January 5, 2006 at 3:50 PM | PERMALINK

I wasn't joking about conventional farming v. organic farming.

its really simple.

conventional farming has over twice the yield of "organic" farming (an arbitrarily defined term anyway) which means that it requires less than half the farmland. I assume this isn't too abstract.

there are no documented benefits from "organic" farming anyway -- no nutrient increases, positive health effects, etc. its just a status symbol for wealthy westerners and for many just as much a religion as "intelligent design"

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

After the sun goes down?!? Ha ha ha ha ha ha
i guess the concept of a billion is just too much for some people. ha ha ha ha ha ha ha

Posted by: Rick on January 5, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Need I talk about the satellite temperature readings which ocntradict the land temperatures, showing a much lower temp rise?

That contradiction that turned out not to exist? Oh, please do, Matt. You dishonest piece of shit.

Posted by: derek on January 5, 2006 at 3:55 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy theorist:

reforestation? huh? we actually now have more forested land on the planet than 70 years ago. there's only so much more that can be done.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK

Rick,

I guess the concept of rotation is too difficult for others.

Posted by: Conspiracy Theorist ph.D. on January 5, 2006 at 3:58 PM | PERMALINK

Conspiracy:

Actually, I have a lot of confidence that decentralized energy production is going to be a hot item in future years, including home-and-community-based solar and small fuel cell plants. Solar power costs have dropped considerably just in the past few years, and hybrid cars are driving battery technologies up and costs down.

Home Depot is selling home solar cell roofs, which has to be a good sign.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan,

I wonder if what you wrote is really true for the planet as a whole. I don't doubt that it is true for the United States, but could you supply a link?

However, I see a lot of land around me that could hold a lot trees, and I live in an area that has undergone a lot of reforestation in the last century.

Posted by: Conspiracy Theorist ph.D. on January 5, 2006 at 4:01 PM | PERMALINK

Nuclear vs. photovoltaic as an energy source...

I live in Scotland, latitude 54N. The sun rises about 9 a.m. these days and sets around 3:30. Most of the day it's hidden behind thick cloud (it's winter here and that means rain and fog). During daylight the sun is low in the sky which means a long airpath that absorbs ultraviolet light and severely reduces the amount of electricity a photovoltaic cell can generate. If we went photovoltaic we'd freeze to death in the dark.

Luckily for me and my neighbours a few miles to the east of where I'm typing this there's a cubical lump generating 1200 MW of electricity pretty much around the clock and emitting no CO2 into the atmosphere. Every couple of months a single truck comes by and delivers all the fuel this lump requires to keep on supplying 1200 MW. A bit further to the west there's another place with big chimenys and an endless stream of Diesel-powered coal wagons running into it that generates about a thousand MW of electricity. The wagons take away hundreds of tonnes of toxic ash to be dumped in convenient holes somewhere while the chimneys emit thousands of tonnes of CO2 every week.

Where are the cheap eco-friendly high-reliability high-efficiency photovoltaic cells that the nucler-rejecting "market" has promised us? No poisonous chemicals used in their manufacture, no large amounts of energy required to melt and reform silicon, able to be made in massive quantities in cheap fabrication facilities? Ah. I see.

Posted by: Robert Sneddon on January 5, 2006 at 4:02 PM | PERMALINK

the "catch" is that the process would result in massive corn-fed octupus that would take over the earth.

Posted by: MP on January 5, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: The problems with nuclear power can be dealt with.

No, they can't, but that's fine, because there's no need to "deal with" them, because we don't need nuclear power.

Of course your solution is for (other) taxpayers to pay the huge cost of "dealing with" the problems of nuclear power.

People like you are perfectly willing to drop billions in taxpayer money on your favorite alternative energy schemes, some of which still need a lot of development, so that argument is getting a bit tired.

Government spending on solar and wind energy development has been consistently miniscule compared to government spending on fossil fuels and nuclear for decades. No one, including me, is proposing government spending on renewables that comes anywhere remotely close to what the nuclear industry wants the taxpayers to hand over to them.

In fact, I don't propose any government spending at all on solar or wind technology development. There's no need -- private enterprise loves both solar photovolaic and wind technologies and is investing plenty already. New technology breakthroughs are announced nearly every day, from drastically cheaper photovoltaics to ultra-small, high-efficiency wind turbines suitable for residential applications.

The only government intervention that I advocate is some modest tax breaks to encourage private investment (got a problem with tax breaks?) and some modest regulatory requirements for utilities to provide a certain percentage of their energy from wind and solar (as for example has been done in Texas, signed into law by Governor George W. Bush). And most, if not all, of that would be done at the state level, not at the Federal level.

I'm certainly not advocating the Federal government spending hundreds of billions of dollars to develop the technology, to subsidize the construction of generating plants, and to cover all the risks of accident, which is what your beloved nuclear power industry is demanding.

Please check out what would be required in terms of manufacturing, toxic waste produced, acreage consumed, and the rest for a 1 GW photovoltaic power system.

Miniscule compared to a nuclear power plant, and of course once built the solar facility requires no fuel, ever. No uranium mining. No waste.

Photovoltaic systems will be smaller scale, distributed systems powering businesses and homes, with utility intertie, not predominantly large centralized facilities. Wind farms will be the large centralized facilities, and private industry loves them and is scrambling to build them, without any government subsidies, whereas private industry won't touch nuclear power unless the government pays the bill and absorbs all the risk.

The objection to nuclear power for some people seems to be on a par with the objection other people have to evolution. It's based more on superstition than facts.

Bullshit. Opposition to nuclear power is based on very real facts, as you well know. It's your mindless support of it -- support that is moreover in diametric opposition to your stated economic and political philosophy -- that is irrational.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 4:03 PM | PERMALINK

>You might also want to come up with where that gigawatt is going to come from after the sun goes down.

There are already economically-viable systems on the grid that handle that. Proven methods of storage include thermal, flow-batteries, underground pressurized air storage (feed the pre-pressurized air into natural gas turbines, and the efficiency is astonishingly high), and either pumped or simply deferred hydroelectric power. On the horizon technologies include superconducting energy storage and lossless long distance transmission.

Given that for-profit energy storage schemes to buy power off peak and sell it at peak were built decades ago, I think the "intermittency" issue is overstated as a problem. The real issue is capital costs, but the total compares favourably with, say, nuclear.

And where there isn't sun, there's usually wind and/or existing hydro, which work well together. Wind's intermittency is smoothed by the vast energy storage represented by existing reservoir capacity.

There are also proven, highly land-efficient forms of solar that do not require exotic or very polluting materials, such as Stirling Solar dishes, which run at 30% efficiency. A 900mw plant is in the works.

Combine that with lithium-polymer powered electric cars of moderate size, and you have a oil-independent economy (in the real world, electric cars meet 98% of commuters needs. They lack motivation to drop that 2%). Add a real effort at new efficiency improvements, and you can replace plant capacity over a few decades to a fairly high percentage of the shift required.

It's doable. But we needed to start 20 years ago.

Posted by: Bruce the Canuck on January 5, 2006 at 4:05 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: conventional farming has over twice the yield of "organic" farming (an arbitrarily defined term anyway) which means that it requires less than half the farmland. I assume this isn't too abstract.

It's not abstract. It's false. Yields from organic agriculture are comparable to those from so-called "conventional" agriculture, and in droughts (which global warming is expected to make more frequent, more intense and more prolonged) organic agriculture has higher yields than conventional.

there are no documented benefits from "organic" farming anyway -- no nutrient increases, positive health effects, etc.

False. There are numerous documented health benefits from nutrient increases as well as reduction in exposure to pesticides and other nasty chemicals found in conventionally produced foods. Moreover, there are major ecological benefits as well as direct benefits to the global warming equation, since organic agriculture has smaller petrochemical inputs.

its just a status symbol for wealthy westerners and for many just as much a religion as "intelligent design"

Vacuous bullshit.

So, your score is two blatantly ignorant falsehoods and one empty sneer.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 4:10 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan,
According to this article, the forest coverage is still falling.

"Taking into account plantations, landscape restoration and the natural expansion of some forests, the FAO said the net loss of forest area between 2000-2005 was some 7.3 million hectares a year against 8.9 million hectares in the 1990-2000 period."

http://forests.org/articles/reader.asp?linkid=48216

Posted by: DR on January 5, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Sneddon: Where are the cheap eco-friendly high-reliability high-efficiency photovoltaic cells that the nucler-rejecting "market" has promised us? No poisonous chemicals used in their manufacture, no large amounts of energy required to melt and reform silicon, able to be made in massive quantities in cheap fabrication facilities? Ah. I see.

No, you don't see, because you're not looking, because you'd prefer to remain arrogant and ignorant.

It's not hard to follow developments in photovoltaic technology if you want to, both at the level of research into new technologies for future commercialization, and the commercialization of recently developed new technologies. But it's easier to wallow in ignorance.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 4:15 PM | PERMALINK

Clinton-era estimates of [Kyoto Accord commitment] costs were around $100 billion a year—a politically unacceptable sum, which led Congress to reject the very notion by a unanimous vote.

Goodness me, I can't imagine Congress enthusiastically voting for something that cost a hundred billion dollars a year, can you?

Posted by: derek on January 5, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz is the only one who accurately answered Kevin's question. Corn stalks etc. are part of the short term carbon cycle, i.e. the balance between photosynthesis and respiration. Fossil fuel is part of a long-term carbon cycle. The short term carbon cycle is at a steady state. It produces no significant change in atmospheric CO2. The reason CO2 is increasing is that we are rapidly pulling carbon out of the long term cycle (buried FOSSIL fuel) and putting it into a reservoir (the atmosphere) of the short term cycle. If it is any consolation, CO2 will again decline in about 50,000 to 100,000 years. --A Carbon Cycle Scientist

Posted by: NeilS on January 5, 2006 at 4:28 PM | PERMALINK

I say dump all of the toxic waste in Bush and Cheney's backyard - that should take care of that pesky NIMBY problem....

Posted by: Stephen Kriz on January 5, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

Corncobs alone may not be enough. We could:
(a) Reduce fossil fuel use, or
(b) Wait for the Rapture.

The Bush administration's policy is obviously (b).

Posted by: skimble on January 5, 2006 at 4:36 PM | PERMALINK

"Take advantage of that. The leftover corn cobs and stalks from our fields can be gathered up, floated down the Mississippi, and dropped into the ocean, sequestering it. Below about a kilometer depth, beneath a layer called the thermocline, nothing gets mixed back into the air for a thousand years or more. It's not a forever solution, but it would buy us and our descendents time to find such answers. And it is inexpensive; cost matters."

It's actually not a bad solution: however the mass flow we're talking about may not be sufficient, IIRC (from when I was working on economics of CO2 sequestration 2 years ago).

According to EIA (http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/analysispaper/biomass/) the US produces ~410 million tons of biomass (dry weight); I'd eyeball that at equivalent to ~600 million tonnes of CO2. Assuming that one could capture ~70% of that biomass, that gives you an offset of ~0.3 Gigatonnes of CO2 for the US, maybe between 1.5-1.8 Gt if practiced worldwide. IIRC, the imbalance between CO2 released to the atmosphere and CO2 absorbed is ~5 Gigatonnes. So you still have a ways to go. Same with no-till farming; the CO2 offset is small and only temporary.

In addition, you might get more CO2 offset by using the biomass for fuel and using less fossil fuel.

You have to use more than one strategy to get you to CO2 stabilization, as argued by Soclow in his paper here.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on January 5, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Matt-the-troll,
I'll weigh in on this one because I have a background in oceanography, and I and almost every other scientist find this kind of scientific cherry-picking extraordinarily tiresome and counterproductive. If you are actually interested in climate science, please take a little time to learn some. I recommend Wikipedia, and I'd be happy to recommend some books if you're interested. For starters, any introductory book on physical oceanography will do, since the ocean's heat capacity makes it like a flywheel for the atmosphere.

Now let's get straight on some of the basics about the state of climate change.

+ Nobody in the entire climate science community is claiming that temperature will uniformly go up, either now or in the medium term. What is claimed almost uniformly is that MEAN GLOBAL TEMPERATURE (that means the average over _different places_) is predicted to go up substantially over a short climatological timescale (i.e. decades). Even the most minimal reading will reveal agreement on considerable probability that Europe will get initially get colder as heat flows (especially the Gulf Stream) change. This is why the scientific community has referred "climate change" rather than "global warming" for nearly a decade now.

+ Nobody denies that in the medium to long term carbon loading of the atmosphere has the general effect of raising global temperature. As I recall the concept of the greenhouse effect is taught quite clearly in junior high school. Furthermore, read a little bit about Earth albedo and feedback loop for clear evidence that changes in atmospheric carbon content can drive rather rapid changes in heat absorption in various regions as well as globally.

+ There is still substantial disagreement about what will happen as the Earth (re)adjusts to a carbon-loaded atmosphere. A famous oceanographer named Wally Broeker put forth a theory of a "Big Amplifier", namely that carbon loading, in which thermohaline circulation shifts towards Antartic production of bottom water, rather than North Atlantic production. Last I checked there was no agreement about this theory.

+ There is nearly universal agreement that substantial to massive changes in weather patterns are imminent, due in some measure to anthropogenic atmospheric carbon. As Katrina so amply demonstrated, such changes (e.g. a rise in sea level of a foot, or a preponderance of hurricanes at higher latitudes) can cause massive devastation.

For those of us who take a serious interest in this subject, your petulance is not appreciated. Either take the time to learn what the larger community climate science has to say, or shut up and listen to people who know more than you.

Posted by: Eric E on January 5, 2006 at 4:42 PM | PERMALINK

Note, too, that Lindzen was offering his opinions at a Cooler Heads Coalition event. And what, pray-tell is the CHC? Well, that'd be an effort by none other than our friends at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. And they are? Basically a front for corporate propaganda. Really. Their funders include Ford, GM, ExxonMobil, ARCO, and Texaco. Methinks he doth protest too much, especially given who he protests to and for.

Cheers!
Everett Volk

Posted by: Everett Volk on January 5, 2006 at 4:44 PM | PERMALINK

Bizarrely enough, I have to agree with tbroz. Nuclear has matured greatly since it was too-rapidly put into production following Fermi's breakthroughs in the 40s. Other energy sources are promising, but are not yet far enough along to really carry the load of energy needs in this country (others can debate the merits of how we got here). Think of energy like an asset portfolio - the mix should be changed as things evolve.

And no energy is "free" - it always comes from somewhere. Just yesterday Slashdot featured a story on a guy who wants to use cold temperatures at the bottom of the ocean to drive a heat engine. Like this nonsense farm waste idea, that would almost certainly prove disastrous. Nuclear has some pitfalls, but it also has a lot of benefits. With care, its pollution can be reasonably contained, and it produces a lot of energy.

Posted by: Eric E on January 5, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

can you tell me, Matt, why the historical record of average temperature in Antarctica is essentially meaningless one way or the other in the debate over whether temperature has increased globally?

This is essentially the problem as with people who don't understand a closed system, so they can't understand how the universe could be cooling over all but things on earth are getting hotter.

What's that saying? A little knowledge is a dangerous thing?

Posted by: Bob on January 5, 2006 at 4:47 PM | PERMALINK

Hey piss-name -

Other than your stupid-ass pissy name, your math might be ok. Just for the sake of (your) argument, let's assume they're correct.

"that gives you an offset of ~0.3 Gigatonnes of CO2 for the US, maybe between 1.5-1.8 Gt if practiced worldwide. IIRC, the imbalance between CO2 released to the atmosphere and CO2 absorbed is ~5 Gigatonnes. So you still have a ways to go."

Actually, that sounds like a HUGE improvement on anything that Kyoto could ever hope to provide in terms of reduction in the imbalance. And at a fraction of the cost.

Hmm... greater benefits, lower costs. Sure doesn't sound like a difficult decision.

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 4:50 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce the Canuck raises interesting questions. I am not all that optimistic about the ability of the world to organize itself adequately to take control and responsibility for the climate. Science is giving us the power to affect the earth's climate and its biosphere, without a commensurate elaboration of the political and social structures necessary to exercise rational control.

Just consider the history of financial markets and central banking over the last 350 years, as instructive concerning the human ability to organize control of complex systems. The business cycle was already manifest when Columbus discovered America, but people recognized it, and its relation to money, in the 17th century. The Bank of England was founded in 1694, to manage a loan to the government; Adam Smith published in 1776; the Bank of England assumed formal control of interest rates in 1870; the Great Depression commenced circa 1929 and was only the last and greatest of a series of cruel business depressions, which had occurred frequently thru the 19th century because of a brain-dead hostility to central banking and a fetish for the gold standard; Keynes published in 1936; the U.S. Federal Reserve stopped administering the market for U.S. Federal debt and turned to monetary policy aimed at economic stabilization in 1951; and the U.S. adopted a frankly Keynesian fiscal policy for the first time in 1961. From the time the merchants of London and Amsterdam first began to notice a problem with the money supply to today is roughly 350 years. And, all along, we had conservatives arguing for stupid, self-destructive policies and arbitrary increases in human suffering. Why should climate policy be any different? The whole process will take centuries, and all along the right-wing alliance of the greedy and stupid will make things worse.

If the American individual standard of living, circa 2000, is a reasonable benchmark, than I would guess the world can not sustain anything close to its projected peak population, circa 2050, of 10 billion. Something will have to happen to bring about a crash in the human population. Earth could probably do quite nicely with a technologically advanced human population of 500 million or less, but getting there from here is not all going to be pretty.

My own expectation is that genetic engineering is likely to result in the creation of a genetically-enhanced aristocracy, which will move to dominate and eliminate the rest of humanity. Homo sapiens sapiens is just a stretch of branch, not an enpoint, on the tree of life. An aristocracy confident of its objective superiority will treat the rest of us with all the care and compassion our ancestors afforded the peasant serfs, the Indians and the African slaves.

Posted by: Bruce Wilder on January 5, 2006 at 4:54 PM | PERMALINK

secular animist:

I'm waiting for citations from you to peer-reviewed scientific publications. what, you don't have any? fancy that.

but given the cognitive dissonance embodied in your moniker....

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 4:55 PM | PERMALINK

"tbrosz is the only one who accurately answered Kevin's question. Corn stalks etc. are part of the short term carbon cycle, i.e. the balance between photosynthesis and respiration. Fossil fuel is part of a long-term carbon cycle. The short term carbon cycle is at a steady state."

This is signed by "A Carbon Cycle Scientist" - Yeah, and I'm Professor Earthnut.

Look, the whole point of Dr. Benford's idea is to take this biomass, which (yawn) is now in the short-term cycle, and put it in the Long-term cycle. If the stuff disappears down the Mariana hole, and doesn't reappear for thousands of years, then that's long term. That essentially means it functions like what happened when all those trees and other things fell down in the carboniferous period and became coal, oil, gas etcetera.

Think next time you want to brain-fart.

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 4:56 PM | PERMALINK

For the trolls: google "arctic sea ice coverage", "Siberian permafrost thawing", "North Atlantic Deep Water", and "Vostok ice cores". While you process the implications we will all have a welcome respite from your intellectual dishonesty and foolishness. The climate we enjoy here on Earth is only metastable,(that's how we get ice ages periodically), once the variables are pushed past the bounds of stability, we hit a tipping point and a new equilibrium is found. We may be close to such a tipping point. The positive feedback potential of decreasing sea ice coverage and the megatons of methane released from thawing boreal permafrost could dwarf humanity's contributions to atmospheric greenhouse gases. But its pretty clear that the increase of atmospheric CO2 since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution has played a role in getting to this point. As to Mr Benford's original dangerous idea, could it be any worse? The billions of tons of recoverable agricultural waste represent a huge potential feedstock for biomass derived fuels, which we are going to need to use as cleanly as possible as we pass through the global oil production peak. More importantly, we have to get serious about sustainable ways to power our planet. For traditional fossil/nuclear phobic greens that means taking a serious look at pebble bed reactor technology, F/T coal conversion and the various bio-conversion technologies that work right now. Hydrocarbons are too valuable to reject because of how they have been used to date. We can burn less per capita and burn it cleaner, think the latest diesel/electric hybrids. As for hydrogen, Stanford can take their lab work on wind-powered cracking from sea water to the market, but that will limited to how much wind energy we have/how much we can spare for hydrogen production, we will still need a hydrocarbon source for the bulk of our hydrogen.
Tbrosz has a point about current PV technology but look at what xsunx and Konarka and researchers at Cal are doing with PV films, power plastics and full-spectrum (IR/visible/UV) PV before dismissing solar. Distributed generation doesn't begin to cover it when any surface exposed to sunlight, exterior walls, roads and parking lots can have integrated PV. The subsidies that Reagan gutted need to be restored and then some. The need to replace the dirty inefficient power source for the planet could not be any more obvious. We are facing two crises, global climate change and a global oil production peak, Mr Benford's dangerous idea seems to be ignoring one of them. Now, if we only had a government that wasn't comprised of myopic, reactionary and crooked Texas oil men we could get started.

Posted by: Grim on January 5, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Why don't you ask James Hansen at NASA or someone like that to comment?

Posted by: bob h on January 5, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

Nobody yet mentioned the treaty (whose name escapes me) that specifically bans this kind of off-shore dumping?

Cue George W(e dont need no steenking treaties) Bush

Posted by: Tony on January 5, 2006 at 4:57 PM | PERMALINK

My own expectation is that genetic engineering is likely to result in the creation of a genetically-enhanced aristocracy, which will move to dominate and eliminate the rest of humanity.

What?! No benevolent mechas like in AI?

Posted by: Bob on January 5, 2006 at 4:59 PM | PERMALINK

seriously, does anyone else think we need to just stop and recognize the fact that the earth isn't fragile, its actually very tough and would be better off without us trying to "fix" anything?

Posted by: chris on January 5, 2006 at 5:00 PM | PERMALINK

Animist, so where are these cheap photovoltaic cells you keep on talking about? How many square metres of cells can be produced each year (we'll need millions of sq metres each year to replace dead cells on a continual basis)? How much energy does it take to make each cell and how long will they last? Will they reach breakeven at all, generating more power than they "cost"?

There are lots of wonderful technological fairy stories out there. Few ever make it into the real world off the glossy brochures, and most of those cost more and deliver less than they promised when the punters were trying to separate cash money from banks and venture capitalists.

Right now PV cell arrays are expensive. The land to erect them on is expensive. They cost more energy than they can return in a period of years and they degrade over time, requiring replacement. They use dangerous chemicals and produce waste in manufacture. They need backup power storage systems that are expensive and they don't work at night and in winter when we need energy the most.

I've tracked alternative enegy sysems for the past thirty years as a hobby and what you're saying about PV systems is what people were saying thirty years ago, cheap low-impact efficient cells are just around the corner, promise.

Right now I've got a nuclear reactor to the east of me that's actually delivering real electrical power to my flat; it's about ten in the evening and the sun went down about four o'clock (I assume, there was thick cloud in the way). That reactor will be supplying power all through the night and the next day and the next and it will emit very little CO2 (they test the standby generators occasionally so it's not actually CO2-free). Your mythical PV systems aren't anywhere near providing anything like that capability, and if they can't then either I freeze to death in the dark or I burn evil nuclear electricity instead. I choose the light.

Posted by: Robert Sneddon on January 5, 2006 at 5:07 PM | PERMALINK

"False. There are numerous documented health benefits from nutrient increases as well as reduction in exposure to pesticides and other nasty chemicals found in conventionally produced foods. Moreover, there are major ecological benefits as well as direct benefits to the global warming equation, since organic agriculture has smaller petrochemical inputs."

Secular, could you please cite the studies?

The health benefits from nutrient increases I can buy (particularly, say, from lower anemia from better biotin nutrition).

But I'd be surprised if there were an epidemiological study showing actual health benefits from lower pesticide exposure (because typical levels of exposure would be below the adverse effect levels, especially given socioeconomic differences in organic vs. non-organic consumers).

Similarly, I'd like to see a good cradle-to-grave Life Cycle Analysis to justify your claim on lower CO2 impact of organic versus conventional crops. (My guess would be that lower yields/acre of organic crops would make any difference a wash.) If you're just citing differences in petrochemical consumption, you need to be wary; most of the fossil fuels consumed in agriculture aren't liquid petroleum products, but natural gas and coal to make syngas to make ammonia to make nitrate fertilizers. The carbon consumption from pesticide application will be minimal relative to other components (transportation and fertilizer use). Even using e.g. Bacillus thuringeinsis (sp?) as a pesticide will consume a fermentable substrate (e.g. corn or soybean meal), which will have to be factored into your life-cycle analysis.

Posted by: Urinated State of America on January 5, 2006 at 5:09 PM | PERMALINK

This is a really interesting & informative thread, and I wish I had the background to mull over some of the details of the little debates here more effectively.

I just want to mention a couple points about Kevin's original question that I don't think anybody else got to.

First, I don't think it's too clear between Gregory Benford (the guy whose idea Kevin quoted, you'll remember) and all of you, to what extent the carbon produced by plants is reabsorbed into the soil. A lot of you seem to be assuming that Benford just forgot that the reasbsorption happened, and that his assessment of the problem relies on net carbon produced, rather than on how much is going where. I think we have to find out for sure how much carbon goes where before we can assess his suggestion.

Second, Benford said that this area of the ocean has special properties that keep everything that's down there, down there. I think we have to figure out whether or not dropping all the farm products down there would change that property so tha carbon would start getting release upwards much more quickly. A lot of you wrote about the effects of the products on the ocean, but I don't think any of you considered this specific problem.

Lastly, some people mentioned the CO2 expended by vehicles to ship the crop waste, however, Benford is suggesting that this stuff be barged down the river. So relying on rivers is his answer to that.

Posted by: Swan on January 5, 2006 at 5:11 PM | PERMALINK

oh, SA:

just for fun, you can begin with these cites --

Woese, K. et al. J. Sci. Food Agric. 74, 281293 (1997).

Schupan, W. Qual. Plant. Plant Foods Human Nutr. 23, 333358(1974).

Coggon, D. & Inskip, H. Br. Med. J. 308, 705708 (1994).

Kirchmann, H. & Thorvaldsson, G. Eur. J. Agron. 12, 145161 (2000).

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

Eric E wrote: Other energy sources are promising, but are not yet far enough along to really carry the load of energy needs in this country

Your statement is incorrect.

Wind power, in the form of medium to large scale wind turbine "farms" is at least "far enough along" to provide more electricity faster, sooner, cheaper, and much more safely than building new nuclear power plants possibly could.

And the potential electrical generating capacity from small, distributed, grid-connected rooftop photovolaics also could produce more electricity faster, sooner, cheaper, and more safely than building new nuclear power plants possibly could.

You mention in a previous, and excellent, post that you are a scientist with a "background in oceanography". How much of a background in wind and solar photovoltaic technology and its present commercial state of development do you have?

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 5:12 PM | PERMALINK

"Wind power, in the form of medium to large scale wind turbine "farms" is at least "far enough along" to provide more electricity faster, sooner, cheaper, and much more safely than building new nuclear power plants possibly could."

Ridiculous. Wind power can produce electricity and some of it relatively cheaply, but in only a few places (and these places have neighbors - anyone hear about the proposed windfarm near the lefties on Nantucket - that one went over real well). It could produce just a microscopic fraction of what we need.

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 5:15 PM | PERMALINK

the following cite regarding organic farming should be considered definitive until SA comes up with some legitimate cites of his own.

Urban Myths of Organic Farming. Trewavas, Anthony. Nature, Vol 410, 22 March 2001 pp 409-410

for those of you without any sort of scientific background...the two most prestigious scientific journals are without question Nature and Science. the peer review process for both of these journals is arduous and has been mentioned above by other posters.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 5:17 PM | PERMALINK

Bruce Wilder,

When were going to get around to cleaning my toilet?

Posted by: Genetically Enhanced Aristocrat on January 5, 2006 at 5:24 PM | PERMALINK

Looking over the comments it seems clear that everyone has their preferred energy source. What doesn't seem as clear is that we're going to need all of them. We've burned through our inheritance and now we have to start making it on our own. It is insane to dismiss solar since we only have to figure out how to capture a tiny percentage of it to make a dent in our total budget. The accelerating revolution in materials science (nano, quantum dots, CNC/rapid prototyping FEA)as it relates to all energy production makes it worth some serious study.

Posted by: Grim on January 5, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

USA: not only is SA loony on wind-power and PV (if only it were so!),

but there are no legit studies finding increased nutrients in organic foodstuffs...in fact, there are some studies finding a decrease! (the difference is small and I'm somewhat skeptical of them).

the difference in crop yields is, of course, undisputed.

as for petrochemical use, as the Nature article I referred to above indicates, the consumption appears to be actually higher in organic farming.
throw in the benefits to be derived if we really went to widespread efficient-GM use (as opposed to the hodgepodge GM of every crop in the world) and it's not hard to see that eating organic foods is environmentally pernicious and even unethical.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 5:25 PM | PERMALINK

Robert Sneddon: How much energy does it take to make each cell and how long will they last? Will they reach breakeven at all, generating more power than they "cost"? [...] They cost more energy than they can return in a period of years.

That is ludicrously false. I posted a documented and detailed debunking of that myth on this site months ago. Typical modern photovoltaic panels return all the energy that it takes to make them in a period of months, and they last at least 30 years. The BP solar panels that Home Depot sells are warranteed to last for 25 years. You are full of shit.

Right now PV cell arrays are expensive. The land to erect them on is expensive.

The price of the PV panels has been plummeting for years. I got a price quote from a local installer for a residential PV system that would provide all my household electricity: the cost is about the same as a new gas-fired HVAC system, in other words, a quite mainstream and reasonable cost for a system that will provide electricity at no additional cost for 2 to 3 decades and will pay for itself in a few years.

They use dangerous chemicals and produce waste in manufacture.

Both of which are already being reduced by new materials and manufacturing techniques, and can be contained, and are far far less than the hazardous wastes produced by uranium mining, let alone the radioactive waste produced by the nuclear plants themselves. Funny how nuclear waste is always a "manageable problem" to you guys (even though there is actually no real world solution for it), but the comparatively miniscule and insignificant waste products from PV manufacture are unacceptable.

I've tracked alternative enegy sysems for the past thirty years as a hobby

You obviously haven't tracked it very well, since you are clearly uninformed about the commercial state of the art in PV technology and its plummeting costs, and you are spouting long-discredited, completely false myths about PV producing less energy over their lifetimes than it takes to make them.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 5:26 PM | PERMALINK

That article (Urban Myths of Organic Farming) can be found at this site:

http://www.junkscience.com/

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 5:28 PM | PERMALINK

Urinated State of America wrote: most of the fossil fuels consumed in agriculture aren't liquid petroleum products, but natural gas and coal to make syngas to make ammonia to make nitrate fertilizers

Synthetic fertilizers such as you describe are not used in organic agriculture. (Actually, the sort of stuff that the author of the piece Kevin blogged about wants to flush down the river is used for fertilizer.) That's one reason why organic agriculture has significantly less petroleum inputs than conventional.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 5:30 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist:

lots of bare assertions. now, care to provide just one simple cite....just one! please? one? just one to a peer reviewed scientific journal....just one!

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 5:34 PM | PERMALINK

conventional farming has over twice the yield of "organic" farming (an arbitrarily defined term anyway) which means that it requires less than half the farmland. I assume this isn't too abstract. there are no documented benefits from "organic" farming anyway -- no nutrient increases, positive health effects, etc. its just a status symbol for wealthy westerners and for many just as much a religion as "intelligent design"

No, Nathan. There are many benefits to organic agriculture. And your yield-per-acre thesis is by itself utterly insufficient as a criteria for global warming impact. What about hydro-carbon inputs-per-acre? Why don't you make that evaluation?

I don't have the time this evening to pursue this, but for starters, organic agriculture builds soils organic matter which in turn improves soil air & water retention and resistance to erosion. Conventional agriculture destroys topsoil by burning up the organic matter, destroying microbial life and allowing the rain to wash the soil into the rivers.

My hypothesis: You are heavily pre-disposed to believe studies funded by corporate agricultural interests, even though there may be inherent conflict-of-interest in those studies.

Posted by: obscure on January 5, 2006 at 5:57 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan the anti-organic activist:

Have you thought about calculating how much we could cut green house gases by banning coffee, chocolate, tobacco, and meat from our diet? How about if we turned golf courses and lawns into forests and put a hefty tax on obese people for utilizing too many resources? We could live in a world where everyone consumed a minimal diet of grains and beans and no one moved except for essential government sanctioned calorie burning activities.

I'm sure it would be much more effective than banning organic farming.

Posted by: nahtan on January 5, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

"And how much does the tug pushing the barges down the Mississippi use?"


Tugs, why use tugs. Just bulldoze it into the Mississippi as an open sewer, and let it collect in New Orleans for casting into concrete laden blocks. Think of the revitalization the entire Gulf Coast that would ensue.

Posted by: manowar on January 5, 2006 at 5:59 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan posted:

the following cite regarding organic farming should be considered definitive until SA comes up with some legitimate cites of his own.

Urban Myths of Organic Farming. Trewavas, Anthony. Nature, Vol 410, 22 March 2001 pp 409-410

for those of you without any sort of scientific background...the two most prestigious scientific journals are without question Nature and Science. the peer review process for both of these journals is arduous and has been mentioned above by other posters.

You are being deliberately dishonest and deceptive. Not only is that article not "definitive" but it is a "commentary", which is to say an opinion piece. It is not a peer reviewed article as you dishonestly suggest.

On the other hand, as geneticist David Suzuki noted in April 2001, an actual peer-reviewed study published in Nature that month reached conclusions which differ from the mere opinion commentary that you misrepresented as a peer-reviewed study:

A study published last week in Nature may help answer some of the critics' concerns. The six-year study, conducted at the University of Washington, found that Golden Delicious apples grown organically in an experimental plot ranked first in terms of environmental sustainability, profitability and energy efficiency, over apples grown either conventionally or using a mixed method. In a taste test, untrained observers also rated the organic apples to be the sweetest of the bunch.

This study is especially important to developing sustainable agriculture because it considers many different variables that all have an effect on natural resources, including energy use, impact on biodiversity and soil quality [...] And the organic apple plots fared very well. For example, the soil held water better and resisted degradation, and the plots required less labour and less water per apple produced, and provided similar yields.

In an August 2005 article, Suzuki cites another actual peer-reviewed study:

The Rodale Farming Systems Trial is the longest-running comparison of organic and conventional farming in the United States. For 22 years, researchers have been planting crops at the Rodale farm in Pennsylvania using conventional agriculture, as well as two organic farming systems - one based on animal manure for fertilizer and the other based on nitrogen-fixing legumes.

Recently, a review of the trial was published in the journal Biosience. Researchers measured the economic feasibility of each farming system, along with their environmental impacts, energy consumption and other indicators. They found that for some crops, like corn and soybeans, organic farming systems produced the same yields as conventional systems, but used 30 per cent less energy, less water and no pesticides.

In fact, during drought years, corn yields in the organic systems were 30 per cent higher than those in the conventional system. Researchers say that the organic systems were able to perform better in drought conditions because of their soils contained much larger amounts of carbon and organic matter. Increased organic matter also led to an increase the diversity of creatures in the organic plots, including twice the number of earthworms. In turn, increased diversity helped reduce damage from insect pests, by introducing more natural predators.

One might expect the organic systems to have many beneficial environmental effects, but the researchers also found that the organic systems could be as profitable or more profitable than conventional systems. Although the organic systems required more labour (to remove weeds, for example, rather than spray them with a herbicide), consumers were willing to pay a premium for organics, so the profit margins were often better.

The researchers argue that organic technologies such as: using off-season crops, using more extended crop rotations, increasing the amount of organic matter in the soil, and improving natural biodiversity should be more widely adopted. They conclude: "Some or all of these technologies have the potential to increase the ecological, energetic, and economic sustainability of all agricultural cropping systems, not only organic systems."

As to peer-reviewed science documenting the health benefits of organically produced foods, here are excerpts from a press release from the American Chemical Society:

Fruits and veggies grown organically show significantly higher levels of cancer-fighting antioxidants than conventionally grown foods, according to a new study of corn, strawberries and marionberries. The research suggests that pesticides and herbicides actually thwart the production of phenolics -- chemicals that act as a plant's natural defense and also happen to be good
for our health. Fertilizers, however, seem to boost the levels of anti-cancer compounds.

The findings appear in the Feb. 26 2003 print edition of the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

[...]

The investigation compared the total antioxidants found in foods grown organically (using no herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers) to foods grown sustainably (in this study fertilizers but no herbicides or pesticides were used) and conventionally (using synthetic chemicals to protect the plants and increase yield).

The results showed a significant increase in antioxidants in organic and sustainably grown foods versus conventionally grown foods. The levels of antioxidants in sustainably grown corn were 58.5 percent higher than conventionally grown corn. Organically and sustainably grown marionberries had approximately 50 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown berries. Sustainably and organically grown strawberries showed about 19 percent more antioxidants than conventionally grown strawberries.

And a peer-reviewed study conducted at the University of Washington and published in Environmental Health Perspectives in March 2003 reported:

We assessed organophosphorus (OP) pesticide exposure from diet by biological monitoring among Seattle, Washington, preschool children. Parents kept food diaries for 3 days before urine collection, and they distinguished organic and conventional foods based on label information. Children were then classified as having consumed either organic or conventional diets based on analysis of the diary data. Residential pesticide use was also recorded for each home. We collected 24-hr urine samples from 18 children with organic diets and 21 children with conventional diets and analyzed them for five OP pesticide metabolites [...] The dose estimates suggest that consumption of organic fruits, vegetables, and juice can reduce children's exposure levels from above to below the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's current guidelines, thereby shifting exposures from a range of uncertain risk to a range of negligible risk. Consumption of organic produce appears to provide a relatively simple way for parents to reduce their children's exposure to OP pesticides.

You lose.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 6:03 PM | PERMALINK

"No, Nathan. There are many benefits to organic agriculture. And your yield-per-acre thesis is by itself utterly insufficient as a criteria for global warming impact. What about hydro-carbon inputs-per-acre? Why don't you make that evaluation?"

actually, that's false. simply read the cites that I provided. have any for your assertions?

SecularAnimist: if you actually read the Nature article (or were familiar with Nature)..then you would know that it was a summary of about 25 peer-reviewed studies.

would you care to give me the actual cites for the studies you referred to? Let's see if they actually say what your website cut and paste said they said.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

Floating corn cobs down the river into the ocean --dopey for all the reasons cited above, on top of which the large rivers in the US are clammed up with lock and dam systems.

But let's not argue with tbrosz when he's right. Nuclear power is a very practical, and environmentally sound, solution if managed correctly. The major objection to it is security.

We have plenty of huge military bases --if nuclear power plants were established in the middle of these things that would be a lot of security.

Posted by: cld on January 5, 2006 at 6:08 PM | PERMALINK

fascinating, there appears to be no scientific journal known as Biosience.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:10 PM | PERMALINK

Dear Peanut,

You make a good point. If you can transfer carbon from the short term cycle to the long term cycle you will reduce atmospheric CO2. However, whether the corn stalks stay on the land (to be turned over and buried in the soil) or go down the river (decomposing on the way) to be buried in the delta (further decomposing in the mud), over any relevant time scale essentially the same fraction is decomposed. The key is still that the CO2 added to the atmosphere is from combustion of FOSSIL fuel and that is why it is accumulating in the atmosphere.

Now I have a question for you. Why do you find it necessary to insult strangers? Does it make you feel good?

Posted by: NeilS on January 5, 2006 at 6:13 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: ... then you would know that it was a summary of about 25 peer-reviewed studies.

It was a commentary, which means it expressed an opinion about the studies that it footnoted. It was not a peer-reviewed article as you dishonestly claimed.

would you care to give me the actual cites for the studies you referred to? Let's see if they actually say what your website cut and paste said they said.

The citations are stated in the excerpts that I posted, including the names of the journals where the studies were originally published and the publication dates. You are perfectly capable of looking up the original peer-reviewed articles yourself. And no, I would not care to waste any more time on a dishonest bullshit artist like you, Charlie.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 6:16 PM | PERMALINK

well, I'm going to hand it SA on the Golden Delicious Apples in Washington State. I found the actual study...they produced equivalent results between organic and conventional Golden Delicious apples in Washington State (except for a higher sugar content in the organic apples)...it's also noted that this appears to be limited to apples due to their particular characteristics.

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v410/n6831/full/410926a0.html

but before you gloat SA, see this:

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v402/n6759/full/402231a0_fs.html

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:20 PM | PERMALINK

Very interesting thread. I'm going to stay out of the debate, because I don't have the necessary post-graduate work in googling that some of you possess, but I do have a question. We have had "modern" agriculture" for several decades now. What do we know about sustainability of this kind of agriculture compared to other practices? After all, many methods of farming have worked on the same land for millenia, so that is a benchmark for any replacement process.

Posted by: marky on January 5, 2006 at 6:21 PM | PERMALINK

SA: an article won't make it into Nature if it inaccurately describes the results of the published studies it refers to.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

"Ocean levels will rise even further?"

No, the decrease in weight on land masses will cause them to rise, negating the effect.

Posted by: YetAnotherRick on January 5, 2006 at 6:22 PM | PERMALINK

"However, whether the corn stalks stay on the land (to be turned over and buried in the soil) or go down the river (decomposing on the way) to be buried in the delta (further decomposing in the mud), over any relevant time scale essentially the same fraction is decomposed."

I guess you really don't understand the short-term cycle issue. Just FYI: things that are in the short term cycle enter, leave, and re-enter the atmosphere within years. (E.g., carbon leaves the atmosphere through photosynthesis and become cornstalks, then they are buried in the ground, then they decompose and carbon re-enters the atmosphere). A longer cycle would take thousands of years. The short-term cycle has nothing to do with burning or not burning (see how nothing "burns" in the example above?) but whether the cycle takes a long time or a short time.

As for "insults" then piss-heads handle is insulting to everyone in the USA. That makes it an insult to almost 300 million people. How's that for insulting?

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 6:23 PM | PERMALINK

marky, for some crops the "sustainability" in theory may be lower...though that's a difficult value to measure (or even define)...but then that's what fertilizer's for. and traditional crop rotation provides its own harms.

what I do know is that worldwide yields for crops such as soybeans have tripled over the last 40 years without any real increase in the land utilized.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:24 PM | PERMALINK

NeilS, just so you know, the "dangerous ideas" article which Drum referred to (and which started this whole thing, remember? it has nothing to do with organic farming) advocated ferrying the stuff down the Missisippi on barges and then sinking it into the deep ocean (beyond where it would decompose and re-enter the atmosphere), thereby making this particular cycle "long"

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 6:28 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie/Nathan wrote: but before you gloat SA, see this:

So what! Another commentary expressing the uninformed opinions of Trewavas.

He makes some statements in there that are ludicrously false, for example his idiotic and ignorant and flat out wrong assertion that "For very obscure reasons, organic farmers eschew the use of most minerals." Natural mineral supplements are very commonly used in organic agriculture; I use them in my own organic garden.

He goes on to write "Instead, cow manure is used as the primary fertilizer". More ignorance. First of all, cow manure is used to add nitrogen to the soil, not minerals, so when he writes that cow manure is used "instead" of minerals he plainly doesn't know what he's talking about. Furthermore, manure is not always used -- as noted in the article I cited above, the Rodale study has separate trial organic farms, one of which uses manure, the other uses only nitrogen-fixing legumes.

Nathan, your opinions about organic agriculture are obviously ill-informed and ignorant and I'm done wasting my time with you. You can go on being ignorant and eat all the pesticide-laden crap you want, for all I care.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

Still haven't heard anyone here answer the question - what's the catch? That would actually be interesting to hear...

Anyone?

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 6:30 PM | PERMALINK

SA, care to take a stab at my question on sustainability? Charlie took his turn, now it's yours.

Posted by: marky on January 5, 2006 at 6:32 PM | PERMALINK

The catch is that it would, as mentioned above, depelte the land while actually raising CO2 levels because of the increase in freight. Maybe if we took part of the farm waste and turned into an alternative fuel we might be closer to the right track.

Posted by: drycreek on January 5, 2006 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

The crowning idiocy from the last Trewavas screed that Nathan linked to is found in its closing paragraph -- my comments are inline in bold type -- in which he describes the factors that he thinks will be important in future food production:

Farmers will have to be highly skilled at using technologies that must sustain farming for thousands of years [Of course, organic methods have sustained farming for ten thousand years; in China, farmers have been productively farming the same land for thousands of years using organic methods with no loss of soil vitality or productivity]. Increasingly, farm resources will need to be recycled; green manure and crop rotation will underpin soil fertility [these practices are cornerstones of the very organic agriculture that his article condemns; apparently he's ignorant of this fact]. Integrated pest-management systems and zero tillage will be essential to minimize losses due to pests and weeds, and to limit soil erosion [IMP and no-till techniques are also cornerstones of organic agriculture, which he condemns]. Water will become an increasingly expensive commodity, and a premium will emerge on crops that use water efficiently without loss of yield [as noted in the article I cited above, organic methods make much more efficient use of limited water resources and organic agriculture produces higher yields during droughts than conventional agriculture].

So, after citing several approaches that he states are crucial to the future of agriculture -- including sustainability, the use of green manures, crop rotation, integrated pest management, no-till techniques, and efficient use of limited water -- all of which are essential fundamentals of the organic agriculture that his article condemns, what is Trewavas's conclusion? He writes: "In all this future agriculture, genetic manipulation has a unique and intimate role. Let's have some ideas."

So he attacks organic agriculture, then cites essential elements of organic agriculture as essential to future food production, and then, in a completely irrelevant non sequitur, pronounces genetic engineering which has nothing to do with anything that he himself just cited as crucial, as having a "unique and intimate role".

He also writes this unbelievable and preposterous sentence: "We are not at war with nature, but striving towards a new dynamic equilibrium in which our unique biological characteristic, the human spirit, must take its place."

The "human spirit" must "take the place" of nature?!? The guy is a crank. It is shocking that his idiotic, ideologically-driven diatribes have been published in Nature.

It is not so shocking that Charlie/Nathan would grossly misrepresent this rubbish as peer-reviewed science.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 6:49 PM | PERMALINK

Peanut

I haven't read the article and though I am a Benford fan I probably won't. There are so many flaws in the idea its hard to know where to start. First, bury it in the Mississippi delta. Besides being closer, the sedimentation rate (and thus the carbon burial efficiency) is orders of magnitude greater there than in the deep ocean. But in either case, it is nearly impossible to stop bacteria from decomposing nearly all of organic carbon. After billions of years of evolution, they have this down pretty well and it is almost a miracle that any survives to eventually become petroleum. There is plenty of oxygen in the deep ocean and even if there weren't, bacteria can use the oxidative power of sulfate which is nearly unlimited. There are already studies and experiments looking at sequestering liquid CO2 at great dephts. Personally I think that the idea is expensive, probably ineffective and possibly dangerous. tbrosz is essentially right. We need another source of energy that does't produce CO2. I'm not sure if atomic is the answer but it might be. Of course there are tons of problems with the present technologies.

Posted by: NeilS on January 5, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

marky,

Modern agriculture is as sustainable as the cheap fossil fuels it relies on for fertilizer, pesticide, harvest, and transport. Even nuclear fuel is a limited commodity. If you want modern agriculture to be sustainable for millenia you're going to have to perfect the fusion reactor or get yourself a dilithium crystal.

Posted by: B on January 5, 2006 at 6:50 PM | PERMALINK

I'm certainly not Charlie...though I was around before he left and remember him...I've also been accused of being Don P and Al. pretty funny....

more peer-reviewed studies for you to chew on SA:


Beier, R.C. 1990. Natural Pesticides and Bioactive Components In Foods, Review of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology, 113:47-137.

Blair, Graeme and Nelly Blair. Fertilizer is Not a Dirty Word, Paper prepared at the IFA-FAO Agriculture Conference, "Global Food Security and the Role of Sustainable Fertilization," Rome, Italy, March 26-28, 2003.

Borlaug, Norman. The Green Revolution, Peace, and Humanity, Nobel Peace Prize Lecture, December 11, 1970. http://www.nobel.se/peace/laureates/1970/borlaug-lecture.html

CIMMYT. CIMMYT 1995/96 World Wheat Facts and Trends: Understanding Global Trends in the Use of Wheat Diversity and International Flows of Wheat Genetic Resources. Mexico, D.F.: CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maiz y Trigo - International Center for the Improvement of Wheat and Maize), 1996.

Cox, T.S. "Deepening the Wheat Gene Pool." Journal of Crop Protection 1 (1998):1-25.

Cox, T. S. and Dave Wood. "The Nature and Role of Crop Biodiversity." In Agrobiodiversity: Characterization, Utilization and Conservation edited by Dave Wood and Jillian M. Lenn, pp. 35-57. Wallingford, UK.: CABInternational, 1999.

Dawe, David. "The Monoculture Myth: The Green Revolution Neither Monopolized Farmers' Fields Nor Impoverished Nutrition." Rice Today (IRRI) 2(October 2003):33.

DeGregori, Thomas R. The Environment, Our Natural Resources, and Modern Technology. Ames IA: Iowa State Press: A Blackwell Scientific Publisher, 2002 & 2003.

DeGregori, Thomas R. Origins of the Organic Agriculture Debate. Ames IA: Iowa State Press: A Blackwell Scientific Publisher, 2003a.

Tabashnika, Bruce F.; Yves Carriere; Timothy J. Dennehy; Shai Morin; Mark S. Sisterson; Richard T. Roush; Anthony M. Shelton; and Jian-Zhou Zhao. "Insect Resistance To Bt Crops: Lessons from the First Seven Years." ISB News Report (Information Systems for Biotechnology), November, 2003b.
and
Fox, Jeffrey L. "Resistance to Bt Toxin Surprisingly Absent From Pests." Nature Biotechnology 21(9):958-959, September, 2003.

these showed that GM plants engineered with BT fought off pests more efficiently than the use of BT by organic farmers.

Fresco, Louise. Plant Nutrients: What We Know, Guess and Do Not Know, Paper prepared at the IFA-FAO Agriculture Conference, "Global Food Security and the Role of Sustainable Fertilization," Rome, Italy, March 26-28, 2003.

Frink, Charles R.; Paul E. Waggoner, and Jesse H. Ausubel. "Perspective Nitrogen Fertilizer: Retrospect and Prospect." PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) 96 (February 16, 1999):1175-1180.

Gardner, J.C. and T.L. Payne. A Soybean Biotechnology Outlook, 2003. AgBioForum, 6(1&2), 1-3. http://www.agbioforum.org.

Gollin, Douglas and Melinda Smale. "Valuing Genetic Diversity: Crop Plants and Agroecosystems." In Biodiversity in Agroecosystems, edited by Wanda W. Collins and Calvin O. Qualset, Chapter 13. Boca Raton: CRC Press, 1998.

Hargrove, T.R.; V.L. Cabanilla, and W.R. Coffman. "Twenty Years of Rice Breeding." BioScience 38(1988):675-681.

Haslberger, Alexander G. "Codex Guidelines for GM Foods Include the Analysis of Unintended Effects." Nature Biotechnology 21 (July 2003):739-741.

Hanumantha Rao, C. H. Agricultural Growth, Rural Poverty, and Environmental Degradation in India. Delhi and New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
ICS (International Council for Science).

Kelemu, Segenet; George Mahuku1; Martin Fregene1; Douglas Pachico; Nancy Johnson1, Lee Calvert; Idupulapati Rao; Robin Buruchara; Tilahun Amede; Paul Kimani; Roger Kirkby; Susan Kaaria; and Kwasi Ampofo. 2003. Harmonizing the Agricultural Biotechnology Debate for the Benefit of African Farmers, African Journal of Biotechnology 2(11):394-416, October.

Kirschman J.C. and R. L. Suber. "Recent Food Poisonings from Cucurbitacins in Traditionally Bred Squash." Food and Chemical Toxicology 27(1989):555-556.

Lenn, Jillian M. and Dave Wood. "Optimizing Biodiversity for Productive Agriculture." In Agrobiodiversity: Characterization, Utilization and Conservation edited by Dave Wood and Jillian M. Lenn, pp. 447-470. Wallingford, UK.: CABInternational, 1999.

Lammerts van Bueren, E.T.; M. Hulscher; J. Jongerden; G.T.P. Ruivenkamp; M. Haring, J.D. van Mansvelt; and A.M.P. den Nijs, eds. Sustainable Organic Plant Breeding. Driebergen, The Netherlands: Louis Bolk Institute, 1999.
Lammerts van Bueren, E. T.; P. C. Struik; M. Tiemens-Hulscher, and E. Jacobsen. Concepts of Intrinsic Value and Integrity of Plants in Organic Plant Breeding and Propagation, Crop Science 43(2003):1922-1929, November-December.

NAS (National Academy of Sciences). Toxicants Occurring Naturally in Foods. Washington: National Academy of Sciences, Committee on Food protection, Food and Nutrition Board, National Research Council, 1973.

NRC. (National Research Council). Committee on Comparative Toxicity of Naturally Occurring Carcinogens, Board on Environmental Studies and Toxicology, and the Commission on Life Sciences, National Research Council. Carcinogens and Anticarcinogens in the Human Diet: A Comparison of Naturally Occurring and Synthetic Substances. Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1996.

Norse, David. Fertilizer and World Food demand - Implications for Environmental Stresses, Paper prepared at the IFA-FAO Agriculture Conference, "Global Food Security and the Role of Sustainable Fertilization," Rome, Italy, March 26-28, 2003.

Pinstrup-Andersen, Per. Global Food Security: Facts, Myths and Policy Needs, Paper prepared at the IFA-FAO Agriculture Conference, "Global Food Security and the Role of Sustainable Fertilization," Rome, Italy, March 26-28, 2003.

Polaszek, A.; C. Riches and Jillian M. Lenn. "The Effects of Pest Management Strategies on Biodiversity in Agroecosystems." In Agrobiodiversity: Characterization, Utilization and Conservation edited by Dave Wood and Jillian M. Lenn, pp. 273-303. Wallingford, UK.: CABInternational, 1999.

Prakash, Channapatna S. "The Genetically Modified Crop Debate in the Context of Agricultural Evolution." Plant Physiology, 126:8-15, May, 2001.

Randhawa, Mohindar Singh. History of Agriculture in India. New Delhi: Indian Council of Agricultural Research, 1983, Vols 1-4.

Rao, I and G. Cramer. Plant Nutrition and Crop Improvement in Adverse Soil Conditions. In M. Chrispeels and D. Sadava (eds.) Plants, Genes, and Crop Biotechnology, pp 270-303. Sudbury, MA: American Society of Plant Biologists, ASPB Education Foundation, and Jones and Bartlett Publishers. 2003.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:52 PM | PERMALINK

The worst is blaming farming for the problems brought forth by huge industry. It's a laugh, the farmers are destorying the atmospere? Was he hired by the current adminastration maybe?

Posted by: drycreek on January 5, 2006 at 6:53 PM | PERMALINK

SA:

there is no way around the fact that organic agriculture can feed more than 2-3 billion people. without the Green Revolution untold millions if not billions would have starved.

the difference in crop yields for soybeans, wheat, rice, etc. is that extraordinary.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

marky wrote: We have had "modern" agriculture" for several decades now. What do we know about sustainability of this kind of agriculture compared to other practices? After all, many methods of farming have worked on the same land for millenia, so that is a benchmark for any replacement process.

We know that "modern" agriculture is not sustainable because it relies on non-renewable resources, principally massive fossil fuel inputs for the manufacture of chemical fertilizers as well as for chemical poisons that are applied to the crops, and these resources are becoming depleted (seek "peak oil"); because it causes massive erosion and loss of topsoil; because irrigation salinates the soil over time, rendering it unsuitable for sustaining plant life; and because it consumes both surface and groundwater unsustainably.

We know that organic agriculture is sustainable, for the reason you mention: we can observe its sustainability directly, in places where it has been used for thousands of years to farm the same land and over that time the quality and productivity of the organically farmed land has been improved, rather than degraded. We also know this from formal scientific studies such as those I cited above, for example the 22-year-and-counting comparison of organic and conventional methods at Rodale Institute.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 6:56 PM | PERMALINK

that should read: can't feed more than 2-3 billion people.

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:57 PM | PERMALINK

the Rodale Institute is an organic advocacy site -- here's the proof:

http://www.rodaleinstitute.org/about/who_set.html

I assume, SecularAnimist, that you will therefore accept data provided by Montsano?

Posted by: Nathan on January 5, 2006 at 6:59 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie/Nathan, you are just repeating your same baseless and false claims about comparative yields of organic vs. conventional methods. This is why it's a waste of time arguing with you -- you will ignore the facts and just keep churning out your ideologically-driven lies, and then (in a classic Charlie maneuver) post a lengthy list of irrelevant references as though that would impress somebody. Maybe that would impress somebody as stupid as you. It doesn't impress me one bit.

You are boring. I'm signing off. I hope that someone else has taken the time to read what I took the time to write so that my time won't have been totally wasted here.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 7:01 PM | PERMALINK

Jesus Christ Nathan, you're good with that copy and paste. Do you use ctrl-C / Ctrl-V or a multi-button mouse?

You still didn't answer my question . . . how much corn do you have to feed a cow to make a pound of beef? How much more land area do we utilize to make a pound of beef compared to a pound of corn? Wouldn't a crusade against meat make more sense than a crusade against organic golden delicious apples?

Posted by: B on January 5, 2006 at 7:02 PM | PERMALINK

Does anybody here even know who Gregory Benford is? I'm just curious.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on January 5, 2006 at 7:04 PM | PERMALINK

Gregory Benford is a physics prof at UC-Irvine and a well-known hard science fiction author.
I presume his academic reputation is at least decent, considering his school; I once looked up titles of some of his articles, and I think his interest is in some highly speculative cosmological questions.

Posted by: marky on January 5, 2006 at 7:06 PM | PERMALINK

By the way, I think Benford is an absolutely HORRIBLE writer---an example of the species of writers who have attended enough fiction workshops that they know where the words go in a sentence, but he has the worst tin ear for language I have encountered, and a sententious style which is overladen with the most ill-conceived and executed metaphors imaginable.

Posted by: marky on January 5, 2006 at 7:08 PM | PERMALINK

Man, this is great! Bunch of guys (and gals) sitting at their keyboards all day, opining about farming!

Posted by: not_a_farmer_either on January 5, 2006 at 7:11 PM | PERMALINK

Peanut, here is my attempt at an answer. The catch as I see it is that stover/effluent from agriculture represent too valuable a feedstock to dump into the ocean. Benford's idea seems to assume we will be able to continue to emit new carbon adjusted for growth via mostly imported hydrocarbon sources and the agricultural waste stream is an otherwise low-value offset for new carbon emissions. This I think is a critical flaw. Last year the world burned around 82 million barrels of oil a day. (Check Energy Bulletin.net for the exact amounts). It also produced about that amount. A brief survey of production numbers from the world's major fields is not encouraging. Even adding tar sands/oil shale reserves it looks like we're in for significantly higher fuel costs for the forseeable future. Changing World Technologies in the US and Choren Industries in Germany have developed methods of converting organic waste streams into usable hydrocarbon fuels. Coupled with cleaner/more efficient ways of utilizing these new fuels the amount of organic waste from agriculture, municipal sewage/landfills and industry represent a potentially carbon neutral source to offset falling oil production. It doesn't matter what energy source you favor, the fact is the world is going to have to use hydrocarbons for at least another 20 years while we transition to a hopefully more diverse and sustainable blend of energy sources. Whether you eat organic or not, lower impact agricultural processes like no till farming and limited herbicide/pesticide use are a necessity to mitigate topsoil loss/depletion and bioaccumulation of toxins. Along with a farming/storage/transport infrastructure that uses less energy for unit of return. Benford's idea might work, but it misses the larger point that our continued carbon emitting ways aren't likely to be sustained. Rather than treat our waste streams as low value liabilities, we had better start thinking about how to convert them into something we can use.

Posted by: Grim on January 5, 2006 at 7:19 PM | PERMALINK

Kevin, Kevin, Kevin, Kevin. You're reading The Edge? That home for pseudointellectuals?

Come on, Kevin, that's the same home base for The Digerati, a forum for the usual overrated do-nothing bloviaters such as Ray Kurzweil, Danny Hillis, Jaron Lanier, David Gelernter, the usual suspects.

This is the side of Kevin Drum I find so frustrating. How can someone so intelligent and well-informed in other areas take the bloviations of Ray Kurzweil seriously?

Posted by: nemo on January 5, 2006 at 7:20 PM | PERMALINK

FWIW, I was lived on a family farm until the '83 recession. Now I make video games with copious keyboard time.

Posted by: Grim on January 5, 2006 at 7:25 PM | PERMALINK

not_a_farmer_either: Man, this is great! Bunch of guys (and gals) sitting at their keyboards all day, opining about farming!

Well, it's winter, and probably a lot of real farmers spend at least some of their winter days at a computer. I am not a farmer, but I do have a 288 square foot organic vegetable garden in my suburban Maryland yard (that's twelve 4' x 6' raised beds), and come spring, I'll be spending more time there, practicing what I preach, than commenting on this blog site.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 5, 2006 at 7:30 PM | PERMALINK

SecularAnimist wrote:

"And a peer-reviewed study conducted at the University of Washington and published in Environmental Health Perspectives in March 2003 reported:

We assessed organophosphorus (OP) pesticide exposure from diet by biological monitoring among Seattle, Washington, preschool children. Parents kept food diaries for 3 days before urine collection, and they distinguished organic and conventional foods based on label information. "

Cheers SA.

One thing I'd note is that the Reference Doses used by the USEPA are very conservative (take the LOAEL from animal studies and divde by 1,000 or to the NOAEL and divide by 100), so the reported change from "uncertain" to "negligible" risk from OP pesticide may not have a health benefit you could observe using epidemilogical or clinical methods.

UrSA

Posted by: Urinated State of America on January 5, 2006 at 7:35 PM | PERMALINK

Cripes, people, just build the nuclear power plants already. - tbrosz

And do what with the waste? Dump it in the ocean and hope for giant mutant algea blooms that will consume all of the excess CO2? If we can bury all of the nuclear waste in YOUR backyard then I'm all for it. It's safe, trust me.

Posted by: Eric Paulsen on January 5, 2006 at 7:40 PM | PERMALINK

Benford's a horrible writer?? That's it. You're disqualified from further discussion.

Posted by: Alexander Wolfe on January 5, 2006 at 7:57 PM | PERMALINK

nice attempts, Neil and Grim.

But your point Grim is mostly a "peak oil" kinda analysis and has little or nothing to do with global warming. The question was whether or not this idea might work against GW.

Neil: "First, bury it in the Mississippi delta. Besides being closer, the sedimentation rate (and thus the carbon burial efficiency) is orders of magnitude greater there than in the deep ocean. But in either case, it is nearly impossible to stop bacteria from decomposing nearly all of organic carbon. After billions of years of evolution, they have this down pretty well and it is almost a miracle that any survives to eventually become petroleum."

Where to start? First, sedimentation would not cause carbon burial in any meaningful way. Sedimentation has absolutely nothing to do with it. The idea is to get it to a place far far away, where there is little organic activity (and few organisms altogether), no light, little oxygen, and where whatever tiny amounts of CO2 released would never get back to the atmosphere. The guy suggests that below a certain depth the stuff is effectively "trapped" - that's the question: is he right or not? Not whether burying it on land (or in the Missisippi) would work -- it very clearly would not.

Anyone have any idea why this wouldn't work (please remember: work to reduce GW)?

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 8:24 PM | PERMALINK

And what about the idea that this would cost only $10 billion? Anyone know if Benford has any backing for that amount?

Posted by: peanut on January 5, 2006 at 8:29 PM | PERMALINK

"Floating corn cobs down the Ms. River..."

This is not even feasible. First you have to get the waste into the deep waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Second, how's the stuff going to sink? Third, what about biological systems degrading the corn cobs, etc before they sink below the thermocline?

Sheesh. I could go on but you folks have got to realize that it wouldn't be cheap to sequester carbon this way. Dumping the corn cobs into the Ms. river would take fossil fuel to transport from croplands to the water's edge.

The last time I checked, plankton in the world's oceans sequestered about 30-40% of the annual carbon introduced into the carbon-cycle. It seems making sure the oceans do not become sterile would be far more useful in sequestering carbon (dying diatoms deliver their carbon skeletons to the ocean floors).

Adding carbon back into soil also helps. Humus anyone?
(For those of you who write off organic farming... consider the complexities of humic acids. Modern farming techniques tend to "burn" humus, releasing unneccesary amounts of carbon into the atmosphere).

Posted by: Tom Nicholson on January 5, 2006 at 8:48 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist,
Other than an undergrad degree in physics, I have no direct exposure to or deep understanding of solar and photovoltaics. I do know a bit about some emerging work in nuclear power, but only a bit. And I feel a bit sheepish about getting all credential-like, but the troll and that pseudoscientific badgering really got to me. I guess it was just a long day.

EE

Posted by: Eric E on January 5, 2006 at 8:49 PM | PERMALINK

And do what with the waste?

Reprocess as much of the high-level waste as possible into more fuel, then store the rest on guarded military-style facilities out in the desert somewhere using above-ground storage in armored bunkers with lots of testing equipment and observation systems. In other words, we guard it the same way we guard atomic warheads and missiles. It's worked for sixty years.

What we DON'T do is what they're planning to do, which is bury it in some trench under a mountain. It's too hard to keep an eye on it, and makes it more difficult to recover if another method eventually becomes feasible. For example, in fifty years it may be practical to toss it into space, or further methods of nuclear processing to reduce the radioactivity might be possible.

Ideally, you would locate both reprocessing and power plants near each other on such military-base type facilities. But practicality doesn't seem to be a big factor in these discussions.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 8:50 PM | PERMALINK

Scrolled up, and noted that cld also recommended using military bases or similar for nuclear facilities.

The catch, of course, is transmission losses over the distances to large cities, but this might have to be tolerated.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 8:56 PM | PERMALINK

I notice no one has a serious answer to the problem of floating corncobs. haha.
I also noticed that no one has bothered to consider how to solve the loss of magnesium and phosphorus that dumping green manure into the ocean would cause.

Secular Animist,
There is no organic substitute for chemical nitrogen fertilizers that can sustain current production levels. There are too many places where legumes are not an option. The world population would have to drop to the 2-3 billion level to manage a comfortable and nutricious calorie level with purely organic farming (unless you want to ban the consumption of meat, fish, eggs, and dairy products).

Pumping CO2 into the deep ocean is a short to medium term solution at best. While the deep ocean is stably isolated for the most part, it is not permanently so. Catastrophic overturns (like those that happen in lakes with hot springs which sometimes kill hundreds) have occurred in the oceans as well. Putting CO2 into the ocean is putting off the consequences not averting them.

We are past the point where (relitively) cheap economic adjustments can prevent catastrophy. And, sadly, it is clear that the political will to invest the enormous sums necessary to avert tragedy on a global scale will not arise without an in-your-face any-moron-can-see-it sudden change (like a significant portion of the Greenland ice-sheet sliding into the north Atlantic). Face it folks, the only people who have a feel for what is going on are living: above the artic circle, on pacific atolls, on the borders of rapidly shrinking tropical forests near the equator, and the specialists who study these rapid changes in the field. They are among the poorest peoples in the world (except for the scientists) and none of them have a rats ass worth of a chance at influencing world economic policy.

Libia was once the bread basket of the Roman Empire. Look at Libia today and reflect on the fate of the Roman Empire. Compare that to China and it's far less environmentally vulnerable (and domestic) rice culture. That is the price of supporting empire on the backs of others sacrifices. What was the US trade balence again?

Posted by: joe on January 5, 2006 at 9:12 PM | PERMALINK

Wow...too much stuff here now to deal with. A few more comments in passing:

SecularAnimist:

I didn't mean to imply that the wastes from photovoltaic production are on the same level as nuclear waste, but they do exist, and in large quantities. I live in Silicon Valley, and we have some serious groundwater problems we're dealing with from chip plants. That being said, the chemical waste problem has workable solutions, just like for the nuclear waste.

You are correct that photocells are dropping rapidly in cost. As I said above, I believe we are close to a "turning point" in the market for such systems, much the way cell phones suddenly absorbed the telecommunication industry. There are a few technical points left to handle.

As for organic vs. industrial farming, the real answer is not "either-or." There are places for both techniques used wisely. I have relatives who are farmers, and the appropriate use of non-chemical means for fertilizing and pest control make for cheaper operations. There's a role for genetic engineering, too, but great care has to be taken not to destroy the genetic diversity that is essential for a crop species to resist disease and other changes. The banana industry is in a crisis right now, with most bananas you buy in the store being one single variety, and there's a plant disease hard on its heels.

Spitting on organic farming techniques is silly. But those who have an almost-religious objection to "unnatural" methods are discarding a lot of useful things, too.

Bruce:

There are already economically-viable systems on the grid that handle that. Proven methods of storage include thermal, flow-batteries, underground pressurized air storage (feed the pre-pressurized air into natural gas turbines, and the efficiency is astonishingly high), and either pumped or simply deferred hydroelectric power. On the horizon technologies include superconducting energy storage and lossless long distance transmission.

Good points. The hydro method has been used for peak power usage already, but this would require specific siting of the plant to take advantage of it. Superconducting power cables would solve a LOT of problems. A lot of energy is lost this way.

Posted by: tbrosz on January 5, 2006 at 9:14 PM | PERMALINK

tbrosz: It's worked for sixty years.
practicality doesn't seem to be a big factor in these discussions

Ironic. Sixty years is a joke. I'm no nuke phobic, and believe that the short term safety issues could be handled with new technology and serious determination, but the big problem is long term waste storage. Try centuries or millenia.

Posted by: alex on January 5, 2006 at 9:16 PM | PERMALINK

Some immediate thoughts...

  1. The basic idea has potential.

    Those who say the carbon in organic waste is needed to replenish the soil are just plain ignorant - the carbon in plants comes from CO2, not from the soil. This was proved more than 100 years ago by growing a tree in a pot and demonstrating that the combined weight (less water) kept increasing.

  2. That said, other components of organic waste (ie. nitrogen) are important. This would increase the need for fertilizers.

  3. The biggest issue is what this would do to the oceans.

    I'm no tree hugger. For example, I have no objections to projects to dump nuclear waste in subduction zones. But that kind of ocean waste dumping only affects a small area of the ocean. Dumping carbon on a scale required to make a serious dent in green house gases seems like it could have a global impact.

    I know that today we do not significantly exploit the deep ocean but we may in the future. Even if we don't, the life down there is strange and bizarre and we are almost totally ignorant of it. Sort of an existential threat I would hate to destroy what is down there before we have a chance to understand it.

  4. On the other hand, maybe this could be extended a bit. For example, nuclear waste dumping proposals have included embedding the waste in concrete spears that would bury themselves hundreds of feet deep in ocean mud, essentially sequestering them for a significant fraction of Earth's likely future lifespan.

    How much would it add to the cost of this project to do the same kind of thing for carbon? Heck, a project like this could be creating oil reserves for the year 10 Million AD!

Posted by: Mike Friedman on January 5, 2006 at 9:22 PM | PERMALINK

The Aus opposition party has just started a debate on offering refugee status to the citizens of Pacific islands that are in the process of disappearing under the lovely warm waters of the Pacific Ocean.

We're talking seriously about our responsibility to offer asylum to an increasing number of Pacific Once-Islanders, within the next twenty years.

Our conservative government, of course, is pursuing the time-honoured ostrich defence. Funnily enough, the island nations aren't spending too much time arguing about the reality of global warming.

An anti-Global Warmer is just a Greenie whose house hasn't been flooded yet.

Posted by: floopmeister on January 5, 2006 at 9:38 PM | PERMALINK

Reprocess as much of the high-level waste as possible into more fuel, then store the rest on guarded military-style facilities out in the desert somewhere using above-ground storage in armored bunkers with lots of testing equipment and observation systems. In other words, we guard it the same way we guard atomic warheads and missiles. It's worked for sixty years.

This process worked just as well for the USSR too, I might add.

Posted by: floopmeister on January 5, 2006 at 9:43 PM | PERMALINK

Peanut, to suggest that declining oil production and GW are somehow unrelated betrays a limitation in your thinking. No matter what we do to mitigate carbon emissions today we've basically committed ourselves to 50 more years of warming at least and that's if we change the way we use carbon feedstocks right now. I guarantee you that the way we power our industrial society is going to be a more urgent problem sooner than GW. While it isn't certain, changes in the thermohaline conveyor, current warming reinforced by declining sea ice coverage and methane released from ongoing permafrost melting may render anything we could do in the way of mitigation irrelevant. I hope not. Our problem is that we can't just pick one global problem to solve because they're all too intimately connected to the way we allocate and consume resources. As I said before, as a carbon sequestration method, Benford's idea might work. If that's what we want to do to effect a change 50 years down the road while throwing away something we can use right now with our existing production and delivery infrastructure that is carbon neutral and addresses another major challenge we face in rising energy costs and environmental pollution from agri-waste, then we're too dumb to survive.

Posted by: Grim on January 5, 2006 at 9:51 PM | PERMALINK

Look at a Pacific island like Kiribati. A good friend of ours from NZ, currently staying at our place in Melbourne at the moment, is the NZ Aid coordinator for the Pacific, including Kiribati.

The biggest problem facing that nation? The rapidly disappearing water table due to rising sea water through the porous materials of the island.

Funnily enough, in the 60's, a bunch of well-meaning US Peace Corp volunteers decided that they had to do something to stop the natives shitting on the beaches of the island, which was the time-honoured method of watse disposal. So they dug trech toilets in various spots across the island...

Unbeknownst to them, the fragile and wafer thin water table sits between 5 and 10 feet under the sand surface of the island (the freshwater floats on top of a layer of sea water). Instant pollution of the only freshwater source on the island, which is still a problem. Meanwhile, rising sea water (a small but significant and ongoing trend) is squeezing the fresh water layer even more.

But don't worry, everyone - keep shuffling the deckchairs, and clap louder!

Posted by: floopmeister on January 5, 2006 at 9:54 PM | PERMALINK

BTW, recent research on ocean bottom zoology has found that organics that reach that level are ALL consumed with the deposited carbon transformed into CO2 where oxygen is present and methane where it is not.
Converting CO2 into limestone is the only way to get the stuff out of the cycle for the long term (where it can only be released again through vulcanism).
Without such a long term solution, the gradual loss of all polar glaciers and the rising of the sea level will be a problem humans will face for a future longer than all of human history to date. Since most of the world's population is concentrated in areas certain to be flooded eventually (in the coming centuries) if current CO2 levels remain essentially unchanged, endless wars and famines involving billions of people at a time are a certainity.

Not even the grandchildren of anyone posting on this blog will personally experience the direct consequences of today's short-sighted greed. The real horrors will develop in the second half of the 22nd century.

Stopping all emissions won't stop warming. The CO2 load in the air is already higher than that in geologic periods that had no permanent polar ice. Just as shutting off the engine won't stop an oil tanker. Simply stopping excess CO2 emissions won't solve the problem.

Posted by: joe on January 5, 2006 at 10:03 PM | PERMALINK

Bloody hell, Kevin, you must be as ignorant of science as the Republicans to even entertain this idea.

Let me count a few of the ways in which it is abysmally stupid.

The carbon in corn stooks and straw are not about to turn into CO2 or hydrocarbon gasses and fly into the atmosphere. There are a couple things in biology/chemistry called the fermentation and the respiration cycles.

US agriculture has been described as an inefficient way of turning petrochemicals into bread. If you don't plow the stooks and straw back under, where will the carbon for next year's crop come from? More petrochemicals?

If you're going to gather up all the agricultural slash in America, shouldn't you do the same for the lawn clippings and leaves and all the fallen trees in all the forests?

What mass of debris are you talking about? How will you collect it? How much will that cost? How will you transport it? How will you compress it before you dump it? How much will it cost, in dollars and gasoline?

This reminds me of the late 70's proposals to build Earth-orbiting space habitats to relieve overpopulation. No such plan could keep up with global population growth. It costs $10,000 an ounce to send anything into orbit on the space shuttle. How much per ounce would it cost to sink corn cobs in the mid-Atlantic trench? And what would be the benefit?

If you're as bad at science as you seem to be, you shouldn't go near it. Otherwise, you'll look as silly as Republicans playing up creationism or denying global warming.

John Hill

Posted by: John Hill on January 5, 2006 at 10:20 PM | PERMALINK

Those of you interested in the long-term storage of nuclear waste might be interested in this documentary that appeared on Australian television, covering the Swedish nuclear program (you can even watch it online). It looks pretty impressive to me, and it's all funded by a relatively small levy on the cost of the power.

Posted by: Robert Merkel on January 5, 2006 at 11:23 PM | PERMALINK

Robert: haven't seen the doco (yet) - does it mention that one of the major concerns with nuclear power in Australia is the fact that we are regularly touted (by our own government, no less...) as the logical repository for the world's nuclear waste.

You know, politically and geologically stable, heaps of land area, low population, etc. The argument is made that, as one of the world's biggest sources of uranium (which you might think would be a good argument in favour of going nuclear) we have a moral responsibility to receive the by-products. And we'll get a lot of money for doing so, of course...

A great deal of the Australian public's lack of enthusiasm for nuclear power is related to the issue of disposing of the waste. Especially since we are the most likely site...

Posted by: floopmeister on January 6, 2006 at 12:04 AM | PERMALINK

I just watched The Core tonight. The idea being discussed in this thread for carbon sequestration sounds like just the kind of thing that the screenwriters in that movie would have incorporated into it had the need arisen.

Posted by: Irony Man on January 6, 2006 at 12:09 AM | PERMALINK

Obscure doubts this: higher crop yields from conventional farming mean that we could use less farm land...thus reducing carbon emissions.

It's not that bad an idea: using less farm land would allow the planting of more trees along the edges of the farms, increasing CO2 sequestration and reducing water runoff.

The solutions to global warming are many, and the effective solution is to adopt all of them a little at a time over the century. Almost all plans have other benefits: reforestation and afforestation, for example, help to rejuvenate soil and reduce runoff, though the effects are actually greatest for shrubs rather than trees; trees are only best where water is plentiful. Reducing use of fossil fuels prolongs their availability and reduces their price.

The "consensus" (if it exists, hence the quotes) is that anthropogenic CO2 and methane will lead to an increase of 0.8C over the upcoming century, with slightly greater oscillations of hot and cold extremes. It won't be an immediate disaster, and the most prudent solution is to methodically introduce, in a slow and persistent manner, many technologies. the obtuseness of the people who oppose all greenhouse gas remediation is matched by the histrionics of the people who want everything done all at once.

Posted by: contentious on January 6, 2006 at 12:14 AM | PERMALINK

floopmeister: The argument is made that, as one of the world's biggest sources of uranium (which you might think would be a good argument in favour of going nuclear) we have a moral responsibility to receive the by-products. And we'll get a lot of money for doing so, of course...

I should think that Australians have to worry more about mining the ore and transporting the refined product than accepting and burying the glassified spent fuel. Pound for pound the spent fuel is less dangerous than yellowcake.

Posted by: contentious on January 6, 2006 at 12:21 AM | PERMALINK


I think we need to think in terms of strategic alliances.

We certainly need to massively expand our subsidies for environmentally-friendly energy sources, such as solar and wind, and to further explore ways of making these forms more efficient.

We certainly need to encourage people, businesses, and manufacturers, to conserve electricity, and to work with other countries to reduce emissions.

But a modern economy's appetite for energy is ravenous, and the alternative to "going nuclear" (which has real, substantive risks) is to continue down the path of burning huge amounts of coal, which (odds are) will consign the entire planet to
economic and ecological disaster.

Both choices (nuclear and coal) stink. But one choice is a heck of a lot more dangerous than the other.

Also, in political terms, we need to make some sensible concessions--if we advocated a return to nuclear energy (in addition to other goals, such as an expansion of wind, and solar power) perhaps we could draw prominent and powerful atomic-energy industrialists and pro-nuclear politicians (Pete Domeneci?) into the anti-global warming coalition. At this stage, the anti-warming coalition needs all the friends it can get.

The ecological future looks grim, and the temptation is to sink into a kind of dull apathy.

Be at least owe it to future generations to get off our butts and write letters to our newspapers and to our congresspeople calling for action against warming. So a few decades from now, when the polar cap is vanishing and when world's farmers are finding it increasingly difficult to wrest food from the earth, we can at least realize that we conducted ourselves with honor and did the right thing.

Posted by: Arthur on January 6, 2006 at 12:25 AM | PERMALINK

alex wrote this: I'm no nuke phobic, and believe that the short term safety issues could be handled with new technology and serious determination, but the big problem is long term waste storage.

The most practical solution is to bury the glassified spent fuel in the ground right near the area where it was mined in the first place. For one thing, the transportation facilities are already in place; for another thing, the pits for burial have already been dug; the spent fuel (in its glassified or ceramic forms) is less dangerous than the fuel that it replaces -- whatever future disaster releases the stuff into the biosphere is likely to release far more of the much more dangerous original uranioum ore; and lastly, the raw fuel or yellowcake are much richer targets for theft than the glassified spent fuel.

This "problem" of disposing of spent nuclear fuel is greatly exaggerated, since all of the radioactivity can be replaced where it was originally found more safely than it can be mined and used in the first place. The real danger is to the miners and refiners; alleviate those dangers, and the dangers of storage are essentially nil.

Posted by: contentious on January 6, 2006 at 12:33 AM | PERMALINK

Enough of the corn cobb already!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

In the real world, carbon sequestration deep underground and into the deep Ocean is actually being funded with our federal dollars and experimented with as we speak. But not by way of corn cobbs.

This administration takes global warming seriously and funds projects to deal with it but only thru the fossil fuel division of the Department of Energy. The administrations priority is to keep burning lots of fossil fuel but find powerplants and industries that can remove the CO2 from their fuel, put the CO2 under cold temperature and lots of pressure to make it liquify and hydrate and become heavier than water and inject it by the megatons into deep underground formations (such as the DOE funded Texas Buraeu of Economic Geology project) or deep into the ocean which is being studied thru Lawrence Livermore Labs. Companies clever enough to engage in this will be given Carbon credits that they can sell so others can put more of their CO2 into the atmosphere after purchasing these carbon credits. Thats called carbon marketing, its a way for corporations to get rich off of the global warming crisis, thats why they are warming up to the idea. Like the trading and selling of Groundwater permits, carbon marketing wont
result in overall conservation, that would not be profitable. It just means that the carbon will
be put into the atmosphere by the those who can afford to do so at the highest price and for the highest economic gain. In the end saving the life supporting capacity of the biosphere is not a priority. But if we put off having a Carbon emission cap as long as possible the biggest CO2 emmitters will profit more and have the right to more carbon credits to sell. Then they will be more than happy for the US to agree to a cap...later. But with all of our federal dollars for dealing with global warming in the fossil fuel basket, if that fails, we will not have invested enough into nonfossil fuel energy alternatives.

Lets look at how permanent man-made carbon sequestration is. The stuff underground and in the ocean might be permanently stored if it werent for such things as earthquakes and tsumais and geological movements and the fact that even under great pressure CO2 hydrates can still dissolve and dissipate and geothermal vents can pop up on the ocean floor and dissolve the CO2 hydrates.

If a huge plume of CO2 escapes it will replace the oxygen containing air and smuther to death any life thats inside the plume. yet there are no requirements for studying the consequences of that because CO2 (the stuff in your soda bottle) is not considered legally as a "dangerous substance" or a "safety hazard". If it were, then there would have to be impact studies and conditions made for its safe handling. But now things are moving forward without that.

Does anyone remember Lake Nyos in Cameroon in the late 1980's?? Someone found all of the people and animals just dead in their everday path like a real Silent Spring Scenario. But no toxins were found. It was determined that a CO2 plume that had stored up at the bottom of a density layer in the lake was sudenly geologically disturbed and escaped and the huge CO2 cloud rose out of the lake and over the village and killed everyone. Maybe we need to establish concentrated CO2 as a dangerous substance and a safety hazard immediately so the impacts and safety conditions can be determined for the process of CO2 injection. Maybe we need to find other things to do with CO2 that are less danderous
like chemically binding it up into other molecules like plants do, like certain types of rocks do instead of just inadequately and temporarily hiding it in a dangerous form.

Oh why can't we just do the energy conservation standards and require more utilization of non fossil fuel energy? I do not wish to deny the fossil fuel industry anything, I just think we live in a world in which all nonfossil fuels are important too and should not be hindered or considred such a threat.

The good news is that even if the govmnt wont do it... we all still can do it with out them. Pay attention to using energy conservation in our life styles and using alternative energy and making consumer choices that consider how much CO2 was put into the atmosphere by the manufacture, transportation and use of the products we consume.

As far as the criticism of those who get all of their info off of the internet. Well your not going to keep up with all of this without the internet, most of this is not in texts yet, and there seems to be no push to educate the public about this either so even on the internet it will take some digging around.

http://www.rigzone.com/news/article.asp?a_id=18202

http://www.beg.utexas

http://www.newhousenews.com/archive/coughlin0031105.html

http://www.hprcc.unl.edu/nebraska/gw20.html

"I think its a very dangerous idea," said Dan Lashof, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council, an advocacy group. "The environmental risks associated with large-scale ocean disposal have not been assessed really at all."
Lashof said he doesnt reject the general idea of carbon sequestration, but "ocean disposal is probably the last place Id look for it to be successful."
Carbon dioxide changes the pH of seawater, making it more acidic. Scientists say they dont yet know how the pH change from large-scale disposal would affect ocean life.

Experimentation in Hawaii
Next year, an international team of researchers plans to dangle a steel pipeline an inch or two in diameter from a barge off the Kona coast of Hawaii. They want to see what happens when they dribble liquid carbon dioxide into the ocean about a half-mile deep. Where does the carbon dioxide go? What happens to the pH in the area?
Scientists will look for an effect on ocean life, but the experiment will probably be too brief and small-scale to cause any disturbance, said Howard Herzog of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, one of the projects planners.
If large-scale injection became a reality, about one-fifth of the injected amount would eventually return to the atmosphere, Herzog said. But that would take several centuries to 1,000 years.
By then, the world will almost certainly have left fossil fuels and their carbon dioxide emissions behind. With luck, the gas seeping out of the ocean would be just a ghostly breath of history."

http://www.hprcc.unl.edu/nebraska/gw20.html
http://abcnews.go.com/sections/science/DailyNews/warming000501.html



Posted by: arago on January 6, 2006 at 1:18 AM | PERMALINK

Folks, it looks like Mother Nature has a temporary solution to anthropogenic global warming waiting just offstage. While the Bush Admin has been denying the existence of evolution, some pretty dramatic confirmation of the evolution process has been at work in the virus genomes across Eurasia.

http://www.recombinomics.com/News/01050608/H5N1_Turkey_Explosion.html

One can hope that the reports are wrong or that the virus isnt really moving human2human, despite the indications. I hope to hear from everyone on the other side of this outbreak. There could be many fewer of us a year from now.

Posted by: troglodyte on January 6, 2006 at 2:59 AM | PERMALINK

Nuclear waste disposal is a solved problem. People are scared about nuclear power because the first time it was revealed to the public was over Hiroshima. The countless deaths and pollution from coal-mining and oil-extraction over the past couple of centuries are glossed over because they've always been with us; they're grandfathered in.

The reason is costs so much to dispose of nuclear waste is because of this panic. The physics and biology involved are not the problem -- one real possible method of disposal which can never be used is to dilute high-level waste into the oceans as soluble compounds, for example. Another is to soft-land concentrated-waste capsules on the Moon in case we decide we ever need them again; there are some interesting elements involved in the decay process. Instead we are building deep repositories on Earth which will cost billions to monitor for decades or centuries because of this irrational fear.

Posted by: Robert Sneddon on January 6, 2006 at 6:48 AM | PERMALINK

Well, this has been an interesting read about farming. The facts are these: modern farming techniques do increase the crop yields of most plants by up to a factor 2 to 3. Without these, the present population of the planet could not be sustained without committing 2 to 3 times the land and 2 to 3 times many of the other resources used in agriculture.

Organic farming is a luxury for rich Westerners and, ironically, a necessity for the poorest people on the planet who cannot afford the modern fertilizers, pesiticides, and farm equipment. Organic farming will continue to fall out of favor, as a whole, unless the human population of the planet undergoes a significant decline. However, it is likely that genetic engineering of crops, insects, and bacteria will change what is considered modern farming techniques. These advances may well displace the wide use of fertilizers and pesticides.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 6, 2006 at 9:41 AM | PERMALINK

John Hill: US agriculture has been described as an inefficient way of turning petrochemicals into bread.

Exactly so. To say nothing of unsustainable and accelerating depletion of aquifers.

I read once that 2 bushels of top soil are lost for every bushel of corn produced by current methods - mostly to water/wind erosion. Those soils took millenia to form. Gone in a heartbeat.

There's this small matter, also, of the Gulf 'dead zone' caused by agricultural runoff of industrial petrochemically based fertilizers. River channelization and wholesale destruction of wet lands come into play as well, of course.

I fail to understand why the fact that organic farming methods would support 'only 2-3 billion' people is considered a bad thing. Virtually every problem we face comes down in the end to our failure to find the will to bring human population levels into some reasonable alignment with the planet's capacity to support a species as rapacious, short-sighted and destructive as ours.

As for traditional Chinese agricultural practice, well, I can just see the US adopting the 'night soil' method which the Chinese peasant has relied on all these thousands of years. Bring your own pooper scooper where ever you go. Never eat any raw vegetable material - no tradition of 'salads' there, folks.

Bravo to Secular & Co for continuing to attempt to reason with Flat Earthers.

Homer Simpson: "Facts are meaningless; you can use facts to prove anything that's even remotely true! Facts, schmacks."

Posted by: CFShep on January 6, 2006 at 10:34 AM | PERMALINK

CFShep,

So you would outlaw modern farming techniques?

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 6, 2006 at 11:12 AM | PERMALINK

I just want to know which method CFShep intends to use to reduce our population to 2-3 billion:

gas chambers? nukes?

Posted by: Nathan on January 6, 2006 at 11:51 AM | PERMALINK

Yancey Ward: The facts are these: modern farming techniques do increase the crop yields of most plants by up to a factor 2 to 3.

First of all, you are presenting a totally false dichotomy between organic agriculture and "modern" farming techniques. Organic agriculture does not mean limiting yourself to ancient farming techniques. Modern organic agriculture is, well, modern, based on modern scientific research and knowledge, and in many cases uses techniques that have been developed, or at least refined into their modern versions, only in recent decades.

Secondly, since you don't even define what you mean by "modern farming techniques" or what you are comparing those unidentified "modern" techniques with, your sweeping claim about increased yields is empty hand-waving. In fact, as I cited in a previous comment, peer-reviewed scientific studies have found that yields from organic farming are comparable to, and in adverse conditions of drought substantially greater than, those from so-called "conventional" farming.

Without these, the present population of the planet could not be sustained without committing 2 to 3 times the land and 2 to 3 times many of the other resources used in agriculture.

Again, your basic claim about yields and land use requirements is nothing but empty hand-waving. Having said that, the "present population of the planet" at over 6 billion people is probably not sustainable over the long term in any case. Professor Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, suggests in an article on the BBC News website that "scientific analysis" may indicate that an optimal, sustainable human population -- in other words, the sustainable human "carrying capacity" of the Earth's biosphere -- is about 2-3 billion people. David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural science at Cornell University, writes that "the best estimate is that Earth can support about 1 to 2 billion people with an American Standard of living, good health, nutrition, prosperity, personal dignity and freedom."

Organic farming is a luxury for rich Westerners and, ironically, a necessity for the poorest people on the planet who cannot afford the modern fertilizers, pesiticides, and farm equipment. Organic farming will continue to fall out of favor, as a whole ...

More ignorant and completely wrong dogmatic generalizations. Organic agriculture is not "continuing" to "fall out of favor", on the contrary it is growing everywhere in the world. And many activists dealing with food issues in the developing world recognize that organic agriculture, not US-style industrial agriculture, is the best, lowest-cost, most accessible, and most sustainable way for people in the developing world to produce an abundant food supply. Read these articles and educate yourself:

Organic Food Takes Seed in Asia After SARS, Bird Flu
by Richard Dobson
December 19, 2005
Reuters

Taiwan has approximately 800 organic food outlets ... serving a population of 23 million ... Taiwan's market for imported organic food -- which is free from synthetic fertilizers, pesticides and gene modified seeds -- grew around 20 percent in 2005 to about $30 million, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture Attache Report.

[...]

In South Korea, which has more than double Taiwan's population, the market is much bigger. The Korea Rural Economic Institute estimated the country's organic foods market at $578 million this year, up 22 percent from $474 million in 2004. That figure is expected to top $1.6 billion in 2010.

Hungry for an Alternative
by Sally J. Hall
Tuesday June 28, 2005
The Independent (UK)

Tewolde Berhan ... thinks organic farming could be the solution to Ethiopia's famines. The chief of the country's Environment Agency has worked his way through academia and government to become one of the world's most influential voices in the biotechnology field. Berhan believes that, properly applied, his approach could save the lives of many of the thousands of Africans who die every day as a result of hunger and poverty.

He maintains that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) remove control from local farmers. He speaks for a growing number who believe that Africa should return to natural, sustainable methods of agriculture better suited to its people and environment.

[...]

Given low yields, poor soil and drought, you'd think that industrial farming would help Ethiopia to maximize production. Not so, Berhan says. "Organic farming deviates little from the natural environment in supplying nutrients to crops. We've developed the ability to change things in a big way and, without considering the consequences, we create disasters ... Organic farming disturbs nature as little as possible and reduces those risks. Intensive farming has led to the exacerbation of pests and diseases, and loss of flavor in food."

[...]

Those who think organic farming means low yields will be surprised by Berhan's evidence. "When well managed, and as fertility builds over years, organic agriculture isn't inferior in yield. Now, farmers don't want chemical fertilizers. They say, 'Why should we pay for something we can get for free?'"

[...]

He also contests that GMOs give higher yield. "This is mainly hype. So far, there's not one GM crop that produces higher yields per acre than conventional crops. They offer an economical advantage to farmers as they can apply herbicide in large doses and not have to worry about weeds: that's all."

Organic Farms Viable Despite Lower Yields, Study Finds
by Emily Green
May 31, 2002
The Los Angeles Times

A 21-year Swiss study of organic and conventional farming systems is providing new evidence that large-scale organic farming is economically viable and environmentally sustainable over the long haul, although crop yields still fall short of conventional methods.

The study, published in today's issue of Science, reported that organic farming methods used 50% less energy, 97% less pesticide and as much as 51% less fertilizer than conventional methods.

After two decades of cultivation, the soil in the study's test plots was still rich in nutrients, resistant to erosion and readily water absorbent. Overall, organic crop yields averaged about 20% less than conventionally farmed crops, although the differences covered a wide range. Potato yields, for example, were 58% to 66% of those produced by conventional means. The production of wheat reached 90% of a conventional harvest.

[...]

In April 2001, Washington State's Reganold published a six-year study in the magazine Nature, concluding that organic apple farming was not only better for the soil and the environment than its conventional counterpart but had comparable yields, higher profits and greater energy efficiency.

Reading the Swiss study, Reganold was struck by what he called the "differentials." "Organic wheat yields were about 90% of conventional. That's incredible," he said. "To get that kind of a yield with half the fertilizer is pretty impressive."

[...]

But Bill Liebhardt, director of research and training at the Rodale Institute Research Center in Kutztown, Pa., has analyzed most of the U.S. comparative studies of the two systems and found organic yields are even higher than those found in the Swiss study--as high as 95% of conventional methods.

Organic farming can 'feed the world'
By Corinne Podger
September 14, 1999
BBC Science

Organic farming could produce enough food to feed large populations, according to British scientists at the Festival of Science in Sheffield [...] the British team say the lower yields from organic farms can still be profitable once the savings on chemical additives such as fertilisers and
machinery are taken into account. And they say organic farming could be viable even in developing countries if the political climate is favourable.

Although organic farms achieve only 60 to 80% of the yield of high intensity conventional farms, some of these losses can be offset against savings on expensive fertilisers and insecticides.

Dr Liz Stockdale, of the Institute of Arable Crop
Research in England, believes organic farms could be economically viable on a much larger scale, even in developing countries with large populations. "In less developed countries, countries where the conventional agricultural
systems aren't that intensive to start with, we can see that conventional systems and organic systems actually can match yields very closely," she said.

Dr Stockdale says this is because conventional farms in poorer countries tend to use less expensive machinery and chemicals, putting them more on a par with organic systems. But she says the lower yields of organic farms in any country could be greatly increased as scientists learn more about controlling insects and disease
without chemicals, and find the right crops to suit a particular region's pests and
climate.

AGRONOMIC AND ENVIRONMENTAL IMPLICATIONS OF ORGANIC FARMING SYSTEMS
E. A. Stockdale et al
Advances in Agrononomy, Volume 70, 261 - 327 (2001)

"In developing countries, the UNDP (1992) concluded that organic farming methods seem able to provide similar outputs, with less external resources, supplying a similar income per labor day as high input conventional approaches. Studies commonly show large increases where local farmers adopt organic farming systems, up to 400%, reaching levels similar to those of high-input systems."

Organic Farming Will Feed the World
By George Monbiot
The Guardian
24th August 2000

Last week, Nature magazine reported the results of one of the biggest agricultural experiments ever conducted. A team of Chinese scientists had tested the key principle of modern rice-growing planting a single, high-tech variety across hundreds of hectares against a much older technique: planting several breeds in one field. They found, to the astonishment of the farmers who had been drilled for years in the benefits of monoculture, that reverting to the old method resulted in spectacular increases in yield. Rice blast a devastating fungus which normally requires repeated applications of poison to control decreased by 94 per cent. The farmers planting a mixture of strains were able to stop applying their poisons altogether, while producing 18 per cent more rice per acre than they were growing before.

Two years ago, another paper published in Nature showed that yields of organic maize are identical to yields of maize grown with fertilisers and pesticides, while soil quality in the organic fields dramatically improves. In trials in Hertfordshire, wheat grown with manure has produced consistently higher yields for the past 150 years than wheat grown with artificial nutrients.

Professor Jules Pretty of Essex University has shown how farmers in India, Kenya, Brazil, Guatemala and Honduras have doubled or tripled their yields by switching to organic or semi-organic techniques. A study in the United States reveals that small farmers growing a wide range of plants can produce ten times as much money per acre as big farmers growing single crops. Cuba, forced into organic farming by the economic blockade, has now adopted it as policy, having discovered that it improves both the productivity and the quality of the crops its farmers grow.

High-tech farming, by contrast, is sowing ever graver problems. This year, food production in Punjab and Haryana, the Indian states long celebrated as the great success stories of modern, intensive cultivation has all but collapsed. The new crops the farmers there have been encouraged to grow demand far more water and nutrients than the old ones, with the result that, in many places, both the ground water and the soil have been exhausted.

We have, in other words, been deceived. Traditional farming has been stamped out all over the world not because it is less productive than monoculture, but because it is, in some respects, more productive. Organic cultivation has been characterised as an enemy of progress for the simple reason that it cannot be monopolised: it can be adopted by any farmer anywhere on earth, without the help of multinational companies. Though it is more productive to grow several species or several varieties of crops in one field, the biotech companies must reduce diversity in order to make money, leaving farmers with no choice but to purchase their most profitable seeds. This is why they have spent the last ten years buying up seed breeding institutes and lobbying governments to do what ours has done: banning the sale of any seed which has not been officially and expensively registered and approved.

All this requires an unrelenting propaganda war against the tried and tested techniques of traditional farming, as the big companies and their biddable scientists dismiss them as unproductive, unsophisticated and unsafe. The truth, so effectively suppressed that it is now almost impossible to believe, is that organic farming is the key to feeding the world.

There is a whole lot more where the above came from. Stop regurgitating the myths and disinformation cranked out by chemical-industrial agribiz and learn something about the subject.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 6, 2006 at 12:14 PM | PERMALINK

Well, Secular Animist, if you are correct that organic farming is better than "conventional", then the prices of purely organic foods should eventually drop below that of the "conventional" variety. I really don't care whether or not it happens since I just want to pay as little as possible for food while having a lot of options to choose from. As long as the organic carrots in my supermarket sell at a 35% premium (which they did as of last night), I will use the non-organically grown for my salads.

Posted by: Yancey Ward on January 6, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Secular Animist,

Kudos for your work - Tough fighting Dennis Avery and the Hudson Institute as well as the whore Trewavas, the GM industry and tobacco industry shill.

Have used the Ann Lovejoy method of mounding raised beds and green manure for some time.

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 12:27 PM | PERMALINK

Plant matter gives no net gain to CO2. It is CO2 neutral, for the most part - common lawn grass is not a great CO2 to O2 converter, for instance, it photorespires too much, consuming O2 and releasing CO2, but I digress. If you plant corn on field X every year and do NOT till (no till farming), then you not only reduce greenhouse gas release, but you neutralize what you produce by the planting and growing of a new crop the next year. You also reduce soil erosion and need for fertilizer. Furthermore, you can use the plant matter for cellulosic fermentation to produce ethanol for fuel. Plants in general produce NO net gain in CO2 or other gases. Only our extraction of coal and petroleum (naturally sequestered CO2) and then burning it releases a net gain of CO2. Plants are part of the answer, the other part is reducing the extraction of already sequestered CO2.

Sending corn husks, etc, downriver into the ocean is something an oil company would get behind because it would further retard the conversion to renewable energy - plants are naturally a part of renewable energy production. Plants are NOT the enemy (except for your goddamn lawn! What are commonly called "weeds" and similar/related plants are EXCELLENT CO2 converters that do very little photorespiration. Lawn grass SUCKS.

Posted by: Praedor Atrebates on January 6, 2006 at 12:30 PM | PERMALINK

This is exactly my point - (Thank You Secular):

"Professor Rapley, Director of the British Antarctic Survey, suggests in an article on the BBC News website that "scientific analysis" may indicate that an optimal, sustainable human population -- in other words, the sustainable human "carrying capacity" of the Earth's biosphere -- is about 2-3 billion people. David Pimentel, professor of ecology and agricultural science at Cornell University, writes that "the best estimate is that Earth can support about 1 to 2 billion people with an American Standard of living, good health, nutrition, prosperity, personal dignity and freedom."

Adding 4.5 billion in just over 50 years (I'm 54) and poised to reach 8 or 12 billion in another 50, depending upon which set of assumptions you rely on is simply insupportable.

I do not have to propose 'eliminating' anyone. I'm not Doctor Swift.

David Maltheus may not have forseen ammonia based fetrilizers but he understood the basic facts. Human populations will always tend to increase faster than the resources available to support them. The cost of this is incaluable human suffering over the long term.

Aw - no one wants to hear about the fact that the traditional Chinese methods rely on human wastes. It's managed to maintain soil productivity but I doubt we'd care to trade in our flush toilets.

Discussed at some length in "China: Alive in the Bitter Sea", Fox Butterfield, Bantam, 1982.

Posted by: CFShep on January 6, 2006 at 12:36 PM | PERMALINK

Peanut:

"First, sedimentation would not cause carbon burial in any meaningful way. Sedimentation has absolutely nothing to do with it."

High sediment rates are the main control on the burial rate of organic carbon. It seems to get the carbon away from oxidants that bacteria can use to oxidize the organic carbon (CH2O) to carbon dioxide (CO2). Ask any petroleum geologist.

"The idea is to get it to a place far far away, where there is little organic activity (and few organisms altogether)"

The only reason the deep ocean has little biologic activity is the there is little organic matter to eat. This is primarily due to the fact that there is little photosynthesis in the overlying water and also that deep areas are usually far from the coast.

"no light, little oxygen,"

There is plenty of oxygen in the deep ocean. The so-called oxygen minimum zone (the area of the ocean where O2 is lowest is between 100 and 800m water depths. Light does'nt matter because it is only needed for photosynthesis. Decomposition of organic matter only requires bacteria and an oxidant and there is a lot oxidizing power not only in hte O2 in the water but also in the sulfate (SO4). The latter is one fo the mafor salts in the ocean and is a primary oxidant used by anoxic bacteria to chew up organic matter.

"and where whatever tiny amounts of CO2 released would never get back to the atmosphere. The guy suggests that below a certain depth the stuff is effectively "trapped" - that's the question: is he right or not?"

It takes about 500 to 1000 years for the ocean to mix. This known as the residence time. The residence time for water at different places in the ocean varies. I'm not sure how long it is in a trench, but it isn't much different. Let's assume we can put the organic matter in a deep place in the ocean. As I previously argued, it will be converted to CO2 (even if there aren't bacteria there when you first put the food down there, they will find it (there everywhere) and reproduce at exponential rates. The CO2 will eventually make it to the surface. ITS TRUE THAT IT MIGHT TAKE 500 TO 700 YEARS TO ALL MAKE IT BACK TO THE ATMOSHERE, but even that is a best case scenario. Now think what legacy you have left for future mankind. A large burp, or perhaps more accurately a slow fart of CO2 coming up from the deep and it can't be stopped because it was put down there by your great, great, ......grandparents. So great you have slightly reduced the impact of the problem for the next cemtury or two, but you have set in motion a perturbation to the Earth's carbon cycle that will take between 10,000 and 100,000 years to correct. We will have high atmospheric CO2, warmer temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns, dissolution of carbonate shells of marine organisms, i.e. corals and shelled organism (that's a lot more than snails and clams) will become extinct. It does not address the problem and makes the longer term problem almost intractable.

Check out the work of Ken Caldeira at Stanford. He has worked on both deep ocean sequestration of CO2 as well as the long term consequences of burning fossil fuel.

You might say that a couple of centuries is ok, but remember that the US is about 200 years old, modern Europe is maybe 400 years old, the Holy Roman Empire was a 1000 years ago and humans have lived in agricultural communities for almost 12,000 years. Its not about making it to the next election cycle, or even through the next century; its about not causing irreversible damage to the Earth.

Posted by: NeilS on January 6, 2006 at 12:41 PM | PERMALINK

I just want to know which method CFShep intends to use to reduce our population to 2-3 billion: gas chambers? nukes?

Nathan,

Maybe you don't want to know anything if it rubs up against your prejudices and preconceptions.

For example: You didn't address the question of soil erosion that I raised. You didn't--I don't believe--address the question of hydro-carbons per acre that I raised.

Additionally, you blithely ignore points raised which undercut your biases. Here is a very plain example: B raised the question of meat production. How many acres of soybeans to produce X pounds of beef? Clearly, we could feed the entire world on a fraction of the arable land currently in production simply by limiting meat production and promoting vegetable protein based diets.

Anyway, have a nice day in your special obnoxious way.

Posted by: obscure on January 6, 2006 at 12:51 PM | PERMALINK

obscure: I'm of Mario Batali's mindset when it comes to vegetarians.

SA: want to come up with real large-scale data from real studies as opposed to far-left British newspaper stories? I posted plenty of real studies, you can go and read them for yourself.
I noticed that you didn't contest that your beloved Rodale Institute is an organic farming advocacy group and not a scientific research center (for one thing I remember my mother used the Rodale cookbook years ago).

George Monbiot? one of the looniest writers on the planet? (and no scientist). I suppose C.K. Prakash is an industry shill as well.

Posted by: Nathan on January 6, 2006 at 1:02 PM | PERMALINK

This sounds pretty obviously too good to be true. Does anybody know what the catch is?

'the catch'?

1) Gathering and transporting the crop residues to the sea
2) Removal of trace elements from the soil
3) Destroys a large part of the soil-food web. (www.soilfoodweb.com)
4) How ya gonna get the ag-wastes to sink?
5) The bacteria and critters at the bottom of the sea that eat the dead whales and other sunken objects will eat the ag wastes too.

All of the above is without me having to think for 3 mins. Actually sitting down with marine biologistes should provide even more reasons why its a bad idea.

Posted by: eric blair on January 6, 2006 at 1:54 PM | PERMALINK

Charlie posting as "Nathan" wrote: I noticed that you didn't contest that your beloved Rodale Institute is an organic farming advocacy group and not a scientific research center ...

The Rodale Institute is, in fact, a scientific research center, as well as an advocacy group, and the study of Rodale's 22-year comparison of conventional and organic farming techniques was published in the peer-reviewed journal Biosience. You asked for citations to peer-reviewed studies, and that's what I gave you.

You are an idiotic loon and I'm not going to waste any more time on you, Charlie.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 6, 2006 at 2:06 PM | PERMALINK

Wonder what the Hudson Institute and Dennis Avery pays Nathan to spew their swill?

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 2:11 PM | PERMALINK

But if the US simply used its farm waste to "hide" carbon dioxide from our air, complying with Kyoto's standard would cost about $10 billion a year, with no change whatsoever in energy use.
That is exactly the problem. Energy use has to be reduced, there is no way about it.
"Hiding" CO2 is the most dangerous of all ideas and does nothing to solve the problem. Consumption will continue at an ever increasing pace as "we have found a solution". It gives a false sense of security and will not bring about a change of attitude. Currently, 5% of the world's population, the US, is using 25% of all the oil. Fix this imbalance and we wouldn't have the problems we have, at least not to that extent.

Posted by: TimBuck2 on January 6, 2006 at 2:42 PM | PERMALINK

There is no such journal as Biosience.

thethirdPaul: if you really think that people are paid to attack organic farming in the comment section of the Washington Monthly, you are beyond paranoid.

Posted by: Nathan on January 6, 2006 at 3:14 PM | PERMALINK

nathan,

Nothing that your ilk does surprises me - The individuals, such as Trewavas, are shills - Your writing is like listening to a lecture from Dennis Avery - The right wing think tanks, such as Heritage are simply PR firms for the corporations and the right wing. And they don't infiltrate the political blogs, Right!!!

Posted by: thethirdPaul on January 6, 2006 at 3:36 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan wrote: There is no such journal as Biosience.

You are an unbelievably moronic twit.

Bioscience is the peer-reviewed publication of the American Institute of Biological Sciences:

Since 1964, BioScience has presented readers with timely and authoritative overviews of current research in biology, accompanied by essays and discussion sections on education, public policy, history, and the conceptual underpinnings of the biological sciences.

A peer-reviewed, heavily cited, monthly journal with content written and edited for accessibility to researchers, educators, and students alike, BioScience is provided to all AIBS members in print and online as a part of regular AIBS dues. BioScience includes articles about research findings and techniques, advances in biology education, professionally written feature articles about the latest frontiers in biology, discussions of professional issues, book reviews, news about AIBS, a policy column (Washington Watch), and an education column (Eye on Education). Roundtables, forums, and viewpoint articles offer the perspectives of opinion leaders and invite further commentary.

Occasional special sections in BioScience provide an in-depth look at important topics. Recent special sections have addressed ecological boundaries, protected areas, acid rain, science and public policy, the US Long Term Ecological Research network, and agricultural bioterrorism.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 6, 2006 at 3:57 PM | PERMALINK

Nathan: ... if you really think that people are paid to attack organic farming in the comment section of the Washington Monthly, you are beyond paranoid.

If anyone is paying you for what you've been posting on this thread, they are certainly not getting their money's worth.

Posted by: SecularAnimist on January 6, 2006 at 3:59 PM | PERMALINK

SA:

lol! lol! you are correct that there is a journal known as BioScience.

however, you have at least twice made reference (through your cut and paste) to a journal known as Biosience. no such journal exists. bye now.

Posted by: Nathan on January 6, 2006 at 4:07 PM | PERMALINK

How do you keep the farm wast deep under water. Decaying organic matter tends to become more bouyant as it forms methane. Ask Scott Peterson about that.

Posted by: sf on January 8, 2006 at 3:56 PM | PERMALINK




 

 

Read Jonathan Rowe remembrance and articles
Email Newsletter icon, E-mail Newsletter icon, Email List icon, E-mail List icon Sign up for Free News & Updates

Advertise in WM



buy from Amazon and
support the Monthly