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November 2007: Notes

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•  This quote from Aldo Leopold is worth remembering: “We abuse the land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see the land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.”

•  The September 4th, 2007, issue of The Christian Science Monitor carries an article which is memorable because it is a case study in narrow vision. The article is “Great global shift to service jobs” by Mark Trumbull and Andrew Downie. It points out: “For the first time in human history, more people are laboring in service trades than in food production.” It goes on to say: “Many of these newly urbanized workers aren’t employed so much as they are scraping for survival on city streets.” But it continues and includes such statements as: “But if this great job shift is wrenching, the transition, if managed properly, can be as positive as it is inexorable.” “This migration away from farm work represents a vital phase in human progress.” “Now, service jobs are growing worldwide, benefiting millions.” The final quote in the article comes from a university student in Brazil: “The only people who work in the fields today are those that don’t have the means to get to the big city.”

•  From “Beneath Booming Cities, China’s Future Is Drying Up” by Jim Yardley in the September 28, 2007, online New York Times: “Shijiazhuang, China—Hundreds of feet below ground, the primary water source for this provincial capital of more than two million people is steadily running dry. The underground water table is sinking about four feet a year. Municipal wells have already drained two-thirds of the local groundwater. Above ground, this city in the North China Plain is having a party. Economic growth topped 11 percent last year. Population is rising. A new upscale housing development is advertising waterfront property on lakes filled with pumped groundwater. … For three decades, water has been indispensable in sustaining the rollicking economic expansion that has made China a world power. … Water pollution is rampant nationwide, while water scarcity has worsened severely in north China—even as demand keeps rising everywhere. Scientists say [the aquifers] below the North China Plain may be drained within 30 years.”

•  Michael Pollan is one of the most thoughtful and outspoken writers today about our current food system. The April 22, 2007, New York Times Magazine online carries his article “You Are What You Grow” ( He tells of an obesity researcher who went into a supermarket to try to discover why “today the people with the least amount of money to spend on food are the ones most likely to be overweight?” He found that you can buy a lot more calories for the dollar with cookies, potato chips and soda than by buying fresh food or orange juice. He concluded “that if you are eating on a budget, the most rational economic strategy is to eat badly—and get fat.”
Pollan then traces this situation to the farm bill. “This resolutely unglamorous and head-hurtingly complicated piece of legislation … sets the rules for the American food system—indeed, to a considerable extent, for the world’s food system. Among other things, it determines which crops will be subsidized and which will not. … [C]orn, soybeans and wheat [are] three of the five commodity crops that the farm bill supports, to the tune of some $25 billion a year. … For the last several decades—indeed, for about as long as the American waistline has been ballooning—U.S. agricultural policy has been designed in such a way as to promote the overproduction of these five commodities, especially corn and soy.” Pollan later states: “Such is the perversity of the farm bill: the nation’s agricultural policies operate at cross-purposes with its public-health objectives.” He goes on further to describe how the farm bill also affects what our school children eat, immigration to the U.S., land use policy and environmental stewardship. He suggests that we need to start thinking of it as a food bill, rather than a farm bill, and start paying it the attention it deserves and making sure our legislators do, too.

•  An article, “The Physical Science behind Climate Change” by William Collins, et al. in the August 2007 issue of Scientific American, would be good reading for anyone wanting more details from the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, released in February of this year.




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