Monday, February 25, 2013

supporting material for comment on land use

I made a remark at Climate Progress that the net shift from grassland to crops had been relatively tiny in the past five years, here's the clip, followed by  a longer explanation.  I expect to update this if necessary. There's enough to make the conclusion.

  1. Joan Savage says:
    The net change is about two thousand square miles of land. That is actually a tiny shift compared to the hundreds of thousands of square miles in either crops or grassland.
    These states typically have around ninety percent of their land in farms; Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota. Iowa has 90% in crops alone.
    The danger of dust-bowlification is already enormous, just based on how much land is already in annual crops.
    • Dick Smith says:
      It’s a hard to reconcile your opinion that it’s a “tiny shift” with the author’s opinion that the 5-year-shift rates were comparable to deforestation in the Amazon, Mayalsia and Indonesia–from which I inferred, he’s saying, it’s an “alarming” rate.
      Since I respect your comments as very informed, factual and constructive, I was hoping you could elaborate a little more–perhaps with a few actual numbers.
      Your takeaway messages are quite different.

"Tiny" being about the percentages.

Here's how it goes starting with the five state chart in the article.

1.3 million acres / 640 acres = 2,031 square miles.
I compared that shift to the total farmland in the five states.

Nebraska’s farms and ranches utilize 45.5 million acres – 93% of the state’s total land area, so over 70,000 square miles in agriculture and ranching.

Iowa land area is 60% row crops, 30% ranch
Iowa has total 55,857 square miles,
so agriculture and ranching has over 50,270 square miles.

South Dakota
75,811 square miles of land
of which 90% is in crops or ranches, or approximately 68,229 square miles.
A recent report showed 16.55 million acres harvested in fall 2012, or 25,859 square miles in crops.
That number does not include the rangeland.

North Dakota
69,000 square miles of which about 90% is in farms or ranches.

79,626 square miles
20% of Minnesota's corn crop goes to ethanol.

By the time I saw just the numbers from Nebraska and Iowa, it meant that the 2,000 square mile shift in five years, spread out over the cropland and grazing land of five states was going to be well under 2%.

UPDATE: If we add up all the crop and range land together for the five states, its around 297 thousand square miles, of which a net shift within it of 2 thousand square miles over five years is 0.6% over five years. 

Meanwhile... in 2004 the Amazon rainforest shrank by 10,000 square miles
More recent report is that the Amazon rainforest shrank 93,000 square miles in the past ten years that is a loss off of the rainforest's 2.4 million square miles. That's a rate of over 3.8% over ten years.

If the rainforest loss was averaged for five years instead of ten, that would be 1.9% over five years, quite a faster loss than the  0.6% net loss of grassland in the US over five years.

As it is, I wouldn't want to overlook that it takes somewhat less time to reestablish a grassland than it does a rainforest! Neither is a trivial project, as conventional crop farming can leave pesticide and herbicide residues that preclude the regrowth of a full grass land ecosystem

What could be said more carefully (based partly on the north central US map) is that parts of Iowa and the Dakotas changed over from grassland at rates that exceeded the rate of loss of Amazon rainforest.  It is not correct to say that the whole five-state agricultural region experienced a shift at the rate of the rainforest.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Calling low carbon Moses; we need to cross the Red Sea

I believe us die-hard climate hawks urgently need to understand the political/social/economic nuts-and-bolts of transition to low-carbon. The president’s “all of the above” makes us uncomfortable not only because it allows more CO2 generation, but because he’s offering the public a view that allays some real anxieties that we have not adequately addressed.
Too many climate hawks snap back with, “They should install solar panels or wind turbines,” in a way that is just as ugly and insensitive and uninformed as, “Let them eat cake.”
There are whole communities utterly dependent on coal-fired plants for their electricity, and even though it’s like living in bondage, the community members have to be able to see a path through the proverbial Red Sea to get to something else.
We need a Moses who walks among the people.
A low carbon version of Johnny Appleseed would help.

I cross posted this at Climate Progress.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

broaching rationing

In the struggles to turn the tide of fossil fuel use, several approaches have been advanced. These approaches range from personal lifestyle decisions to cap-and-trade to carbon tax, and some have broached rationing.

Rationing has some features that most of us alive today have never experienced personally, though I heard about it from my parents' generation who lived through World War II.

One is more cooperative behavior, such as pooling coupons to make a birthday cake.

Another is legitimate barter, such as sharing a car ride with someone willing to use their gasoline coupon as partial payment.

Another was the chagrin when a commodity is not available at any price, even with careful accumulation of rationing coupons. When metal products were in short supply, my mother took a full day going from store to store in Philadelphia seeking an iron, which she really needed to dress properly for work.

To the best of my knowledge, my parents did not participate in a black market for goods, but sooner or later everyone heard about that activity.

Friday, February 1, 2013

Often and lightly, the snow I shovel

 I have shoveled snow twice today, and expect at least one more round before bedtime, I'm feeling aware of the risks of snow shoveling such as wrenched backs and heart attacks.  In my case, frequent shoveling of light two-inch layers of fresh fluffiness is much less risky for my health than waiting for a six-inch layer to form and congeal with the setting of the sun.  Besides frequent prompt visits to the drive way, I rely on a shovel with a bent handle that makes it a lot easier to push snow or lift it.

 This reminds me of Jared Diamond's essay in the New York Times in which he explores misplaced anxiety. He draws attention to "the importance of being attentive to hazards that carry a low risk each time but are encountered frequently."   Such as, falling in the shower, or a the risk of a tree toppling on one's tent.
Diamond pointed out he doesn't stop taking showers, he's just careful about how he goes about it.

Aren't there more applications?

In the Fukushima Daiichi disaster, the designers of the nuclear plant gave it a 25 year operating life, and that meant it would have been unlikely to have been damaged by a 100-year earthquake or tsunami.  But the operators of the plant keep it going for 40 years, increasing the likelihood that the plant might eventually be damaged.

Something might only happen infrequently, but give it enough time, and that event becomes nearly inevitable!!