martes, 31 de mayo de 2016

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature.

Famine seems to be the last, the most dreadful resource of nature. The power of population is so superior to the power of the earth to produce subsistence for man, that premature death must in some shape or other visit the human race. The vices of mankind are active and able ministers of depopulation. They are the precursors in the great army of destruction, and often finish the dreadful work themselves. But should they fail in this war of extermination, sickly seasons, epidemics, pestilence, and plague advance in terrific array, and sweep off their thousands and tens of thousands. Should success be still incomplete, gigantic inevitable famine stalks in the rear, and with one mighty blow levels the population with the food of the world.

— Thomas Malthus, 1798.  An Essay on the Principle of Population. Chapter VII, p61. Oxford World's Classics reprint.

domingo, 29 de mayo de 2016

Glándulas de seda de una araña

Agriculture and the air we breathe

Agricultural emissions are responsible for about half of all manmade pollution

—Catherine Elton

There’s much handwringing over the negative environmental effects of agriculture and livestock production. But one topic that is often absent from debates on how to sustainably feed the world is the role agriculture plays in air pollution. As it turns out, it plays a starring role. According to a study published recently in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, most of the air pollution over the western world is coming from agriculture.
“It was really a surprising finding,” says co-author Kostas Tsigaridis. “Agriculture is the primary contributor of aerosol air pollutants over extensive areas where millions of people live. I was expecting it would be industry or even residential sources.”
Ammonia emissions on farms come from livestock waste and nitrogen fertilizers. However, in order to form damaging aerosols, those emissions must combine with combustion emissions. So even if we don’t decrease agricultural ammonia emissions, but continue to reduce combustion emissions, air quality will improve.
The presence of these aerosols in the atmosphere have serious implications for human health. Inorganic aerosols, which are tiny particles suspended in gas, are the main component of manmade pollution with particulate matter smaller than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, known as PM2.5. Particulate matter causes lung cancer and cardiopulmonary deaths.
For the study, researchers used a NASA Earth system model with a module that tracks aerosols. This enabled them to use both climate and emissions data to calculate aerosol pollution around the world for a pre-industrial year (1850), current day (2010), and the future (2100). In addition to a base run, the researchers considered two additional scenarios, one in which all manmade emissions were set to zero, and one in which agricultural emissions were set to zero. This way, they could isolate three sources of pollution: natural, agricultural, and manmade without agriculture.
For the US, the researchers found that agricultural emissions are responsible for about half of all manmade pollution. In other words, food production, without even taking into account processing and transportation, is responsible for the same amount of PM2.5 as all other human activities combined. In Europe, it is responsible for 55 percent of all human activity-related air pollution.
On a positive note, the researchers found that by the end of the century, PM2.5 from manmade sources is set to decline—even though agricultural ammonia emissions could double by then. The reason for this apparently contradictory finding is that ammonia needs nitric oxide emissions to form aerosols, and these latter emissions are expected to decline in the US, Europe, and eastern China. The authors say that this means that increased food production shouldn’t affect air quality—if we can control combustion emissions.
Tsigaridis, an associate research scientist at Columbia University and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies warns, however, that this is no excuse to give livestock production and fertilizers a free pass. Both contribute to climate change, deforestation, and the pollution of our waterways, he says. “Air quality is only one piece of the puzzle.

domingo, 22 de mayo de 2016

Introduction to Post-Social Anthropology by diego_griffon

Recent patterns of crop yield: Distinguishing between advances, plateaus, stagnation and collapse

In the coming decades, continued population growth, rising meat and dairy consumption and expanding biofuel use will dramatically increase the pressure on global agriculture. Even as we face these future burdens, there have been scattered reports of yield stagnation in the world’s major cereal crops, including maize, rice and wheat. Here we study data from ~2.5 million census observations across the globe extending over the period 1961–2008. We examined the trends in crop yields for four key global crops: maize, rice, wheat and soybeans. Although yields continue to increase in many areas, we find that across 24–39% of maize-, rice-, wheat- and soybean-growing areas, yields either never improve, stagnate or collapse. This result underscores the challenge of meeting increasing global agricultural demands. 

The solid filled circles in each panel are the observed crop yields from various global locations to serve as illustrative examples. Colour codes indicate the crop. The solid curves are the statistical model fits to the data and similarly colour coded according to the crop type. (a) Yields never improved. (b) Yields stagnating. (c) Yields collapsed. (d) Yields still increasing. 

At each political unit where (a) maize, (b) rice, (c) wheat and (d) soybean crop yields were tracked globally, we determined the status of their current yield trend. The trends were divided into the six categories and colour coded. We show in the maps only those areas in the political unit where the crop was harvested.


Food security and land required for food production largely depend on rate of yield gain of major cereal crops. Previous projections of food security are often more optimistic than what historical yield trends would support. Many econometric projections of future food production assume compound rates of yield gain, which are not consistent with historical yield trends. Here we provide a framework to characterize past yield trends and show that linear trajectories adequately describe past yield trends, which means the relative rate of gain decreases over time. Furthermore, there is evidence of yield plateaus or abrupt decreases in rate of yield gain, including rice in eastern Asia and wheat in northwest Europe, which account for 31% of total global rice, wheat and maize production. Estimating future food production capacity would benefit from an analysis of past crop yield trends based on a robust statistical analysis framework that evaluates historical yield trajectories and plateaus.

Staple crops include cereal, oil, sugar, pulses, fibre, tuber plus root crops. The three major cereal crops are rice, wheat and maize. Slopes of the fitted trilinear models are shown when significant (Student’s t-test; P<0 .01="" i="">n
=47 years of yield data).

Historical trend (1965–2011, n=47 years of yield data) is indicated with the solid line and yellow data points, and associated linear-regression equation, coefficient of determination (r2) and Student’s t-test P-value are shown. Trajectories reported in publications that evaluated future food production potential based on these projected yield trajectories are indicated with the dashed lines. Numbers associated with each trajectory indicate the reference in which this exponential rate was used. The trajectory based on extrapolation of the 1965–2011 linear regression is also shown.

Fitted model for each crop–region case is indicated in parenthesis. L, linear; QP, quadratic plateau; PW, piecewise with (+) increasing or (−) decreasing rate after breakpoint year; LUP or LLP, linear with upper or lower plateau; EXP, compound exponential.

viernes, 13 de mayo de 2016

domingo, 8 de mayo de 2016

What Is 'Natural' Food? A Riddle Wrapped In Notions Of Good And Evil

Americans have until May 10th to help the Food and Drug Administration with one of philosophy's greatest riddles: What is the meaning of "natural"?

Given our current attitudes, the riddle might be better described as religious. Data show that 51 percent of us shop for "all natural" food – shelling out some $40 billion a year on these products. We even choose natural over organic, market analysts have found. Natural has become the non-denominational version of kosher, and orthodoxy is on the rise.

The religiosity is apparent in the 4,863 public comments that have already been submitted to the FDA online. Natural and unnatural read like Manichean synonyms for good and evil. Some comments are explicitly theological: "Natural should be limited to those ingredients that have been created by God." Others refer to violations of Mother Nature's intentions. Behind virtually all of them pulses an intense desire for salvation from modernity's perceived sins: GMOs, pesticides, chemicals, artificiality, synthetics. We ate, greedily, from the tree of scientific knowledge. Now we are condemned to suffer outside of Eden, unless we find a natural way back in.

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