Friday, August 10, 2012

Amidst the Drought, an Environmental Rant Was Inevitable

July was the hottest month in America ever recorded. It's been in the 100s more times than I can count, the Platte river is full of fish bones, we've bad 1/3" of rain in July, and I saw a zombie downtown. Have some temp and drought maps.

What I've really been awakened to lately, especially as I research the memoir, is just how blind and stupid and stupid and stupid we are. Have it all now and suffer hard later, or get smart now while discovering new ways to live which means some amount of sacrifice. I'm thinking big agriculture, how farmers carved up 24 million acres of land (map) in the last four years--marginal lands, prairies, marshes, woods--for more money. Cash that's guaranteed to them whether the crop grows or not. Farm subsidies are killing us. The American public gives farmers twice what farmers pay in insurance premiums, so there's no risk to planting water-loving corn on the high plains where it's supposed to be dry. And we over produce corn anyway. Sure don't need it for making ethanol, which uses almost as much energy to make as it will provide in your car (switchgrass would be far more sustainable as an ethanol source).

But what about corn for feeding the world? We produce so much corn that it's cheaper for people in Africa to import it than grow it on their own. You can teach a man to fish, or send him fish via FedEx. I spent last week driving along I-80 and in farm fields to see 90% of center pivots spraying water, taking that moisture from streams, ponds, and the quickly vanishing Ogallala aquifer, the largest freshwater underground ocean in the world that's lost 200' in the last century.

We need to take better care of the Plains. We need less monoculture and more crop rotation. We need to avoid a farming bubble like that of the housing crisis. We need to preserve resources unless we truly despise our bratty little kids. Yesterday I read the perfect article outlining all of the above, and saying we won't lose anything at all by being proactive about our farming practices.

You can't count on government to look out for our best interests. I don't know how to change anything--maybe that's me feeling angry and hopeless, or even lazy. Sometimes I feel like there are so many causes I can't pick one, if I were to devote myself to one completely. Ultimately, who you vote for president doesn't matter, or into most any federal office. They are bought and paid for by big companies and their lobbyists. We aren't informed about what's really going on, about how our decisions trickle up to the highest levels, maybe because we don't care or because the a/c just feels too good right now on the couch. My neighbors water their brown lawn every morning and it isn't getting greener--should they be fined the $500 and 6 months in prison for breaking the watering ban? Should companies be taxed for CO2 emissions that are likely contributing to the drought? Should all the foam cornheads be burned?

I guess I woke up feeling "liberal." I consider myself moderate because no one has the right solutions. I'm not an activist. I don't like crowds. I'm not an extrovert so I feel limited in what I'm capable of doing. But I can write. I can scream here, because if I screamed downtown I'd be arrested or put into a straight jacket. I'm CrAzY. I could wear a corncob hat and paint "Corn is Murder" across it. Because I'm beginning to think corn is murder--it's intensive to grow, destroys habitat (new fields, unknown gmo effects, spraying), corn fattens our beef and then us, the ethanol it produces is a joke fuel, high fructose corn syrup is doing god knows what to our bodies and brain synapses and fetal development. What we really need is a $60 million dollar high school football stadium.


Les said...

Speaking as an Easterner, we rely on all the rectangular state's environmental brinksmanship to feed us. See, we have covered our best farmland here with fabulous houses, well-stocked shopping venues, and acres of convienient parking.

Benjamin Vogt said...

Well, at least someone commented on a "serious" post. Thanks, Les. Enjoy your houses--we have too much marginal farmland, high plains dryness, that's being converted to corn, then farmers whine (and still do ok with subsidies). I think each eastern house should have its own cow, hog, and chickens, along with corn as a green roof. Hmmmm.

ProfessorRoush said...

That football stadium is amazing...approved by a slight majority of voters and built by taxing all of them.

I'm been thinking about a 2nd blog titled "Unbelieveable!" and containing my rants about those foibles of modern society that astonish me daily. And I think in you, Benjamin, that I just found a supporting author.

Desert Dweller said...

We should all be better stewards, but how, when the powers that be locally, nationally, or globally can never have enough?

Climate change - the dynamics of our atmosphere are far more complex than is put out there by media, let alone by the geography-challenged masses, including most in my field who have masters' degrees. Ditto that from "experts" on either side, who like to politicize it. We lack much long-term climate data, over huge areas of land (let alone the oceans), and those who infer that data have much to learn, too - and some just lie.

But no doubt that living more lightly, growing natives, depending less on "the man" for our food, etc is much better.

When the limousine liberals and the corporate republicans (and other stripes) lose their power, and thinking people with compassion and understanding rule - who do not make the data fit the hypothesis - then we'll see change.

That is a tiny % of this ancient 46 year old's thoughts on the topics you raise up. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

We need to rethink our diet and food consumption. We don't need a cow in every backyard. We need to move towards a plant-based diet because we know that animal consumption is a BIG part of the climate change equation. Eat more plants, eat more locally (and grow and share your own), drive less and turn down the themostat. I keep our house at 78-80 degrees during heat waves (with ceiling fans) and 60-62 degrees in the coldest time of the winter. We have a 2200 square foot house and our utility bill for July (includes all utiites--gas, electric, water) was $98.00. My car gets 35 miles per gallon (Mazda 626).

maryd said...

So many people understand what you're saying, but too many have their heads in the sand.

It's really astonishing to me to hear that we can expect food prices to rise due to this drought when farming is so heavily subsidized, AND I so often hear that we have stock piles of corn and wheat. Food prices have doubled in that past 10 years! isn't that enough? My salary is still the same as 10 years ago!

This drought should be all that is needed to show that ethanol is not a reliable or sustainble energy/fuel source. But Im sure all will be ignored. Plant head firmly in sand.

Start growing yer own food -- that's my plan. I know many here in Milwaukee who are taking up the hoe. Community gardens abound. There are at least 4 that I know of within 2 miles of my house.

It's a good rant.


maryd said...

sorry about that football stadium. Is that what started it all?

A political campaign activist once came to my door and asked if I was liberal. I told her "Worse than that."


Sunnyside Dru said...

rant on!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Dr R--Well shoot, Lincoln here is building a whole new arena so we can be like Omaha, and we already have two.
D--Certainly right, we don't have enough data to really say with certainty that this drought is affected by us--droughts happen, esp on the Plains. But that will not excuse from history when people look back at what we like we look back at the Spanish Inquisition or something.
Anon--Certainly being vegetarian is one way to go, maybe the best way as far as impact, but I bet we'd still screw the planet over if we were all vegetarian. Enjoy your GMOs and pesticides and just as much land torn up for planting greens or taters or whatever. Larger issue at work, as you say. I want solar powers and wind so I can keep my thermostat at 74 in summer (that's up from 72 a year ago).
MD--Well, does gas REALLY need to be that expensive? Does a computer REALLY cost that much to make, or a car, or a pencil? :) No, the football stadium was just funny / insane.
SSD--Okay. Thanks! :)

Anonymous said...

Ben, thanks for writing this. It makes me feel better!!! I was just counting the ways this drought has highlighted the limited nature of our water sources: saltwater intrusion far up the Mississippi as the river slows down, aquifers depleted as farmers drill ever deeper to irrigate etc. And we still have to argue with HOAs over turfgrass. Ye gods. So your rant at least helped my sanity!!

Benjamin Vogt said...

Hey, I'm not here to help with sanity, I'm here to embrace the order of chaos theory. Aka sustainable everything, give it to nature, stop imposing our will / order on everything like playing pin the tail on the donkey blindfolded.

Anonymous said...

Ben, duly noted. And indeed, Nietzsche insists that chaos is necessary when giving birth to new ideas. You forgot to mention that the corn murders the cows too; it's a feat to get them fat enough before the corn implodes their systems. I hereby rescind any claims of sanity. Let me know when the "Corn is Murder" hats go on sale.