This Is What Climate Change Adaptation Looks Like

“Sure, it sorta works. But it used to be a lot easier to walk around.”


When the river rises to cover your farm, farm on the river:

From July to October the waters can rise at least 10 feet. The trunks of trees more than 30 feet away from the dry season riverbed show watermarks waist high. When the fields flood, the village’s farmers have no work.

“There is water all around,” said Hafiza Khatun, 25, a mother of two whose family income used to vanish for six months of the year when her farm laborer husband had nothing to do. “There was no happiness.”

But three years ago, Ms. Khatun was trained by Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha, a Bangladeshi nonprofit organization, to tend an unusual source of food and income: a floating farm with a duck coop, fish enclosures and vegetable garden moored by rope to the riverbank.

One Way To Fight Hunger: Stop Wasting Food

As usual, when it comes to waste (or consumption) per capita, North America leads.

Politicians, agricultural experts, and scientists are all fretting about how to feed the 9-10 billion humans that will blanket the planet in 2050. And environmentalists are having nightmares about what it will do the earth.

Here’s one strategy that offers a big head-start on the problem:

The global population is expected to grow from about seven billion today to over nine billion by 2050. Producing enough food for this population will require a 70 percent increase in agricultural production and $83 billion per year of investments in developing country agriculture.

Yet, one third of the food produced globally—about 1.3 billion tons of food per year—is never consumed at all. This food is wasted or lost at some step of the supply chain between when it leaves a farm and when a consumer would typically eat it.

The solution to feeding a growing population is not simply to produce more food, but also to save, preserve, or recycle the food already produced. Cutting current food wastage in half, for example, would yield enough food to feed one billion people—half of the additional population expected by 2050.

Cutting back on waste is a general theme which will serve the human species well over the coming century. Cutting back food loss and waste will also fill some bellies and reduce pressure on the planet.

Now, if only I could get my kids to eat that bruised banana.


Counterarguments: Do Vegetarians Kill More Animals Than Meat-Eaters?

“Hey, all you vegetarians! What about me?”

Yes, argues an Australian professor Mike Archer:

To produce protein from grazing beef, cattle are killed. One death delivers (on average, across Australia’s grazing lands) a carcass of about 288 kilograms. This is approximately 68% boneless meat which, at 23% protein equals 45kg of protein per animal killed. This means 2.2 animals killed for each 100kg of useable animal protein produced.

Producing protein from wheat means ploughing pasture land and planting it with seed. Anyone who has sat on a ploughing tractor knows the predatory birds that follow you all day are not there because they have nothing better to do. Ploughing and harvesting kill small mammals, snakes, lizards and other animals in vast numbers. In addition, millions of mice are poisoned in grain storage facilities every year.

However, the largest and best-researched loss of sentient life is the poisoning of mice during plagues.

Each area of grain production in Australia has a mouse plague on average every four years, with 500-1000 mice per hectare. Poisoning kills at least 80% of the mice.

At least 100 mice are killed per hectare per year (500/4 × 0.8) to grow grain. Average yields are about 1.4 tonnes of wheat/hectare; 13% of the wheat is useable protein. Therefore, at least 55 sentient animals die to produce 100kg of useable plant protein: 25 times more than for the same amount of rangelands beef.

Well, it’s definitely an interesting argument. But it relies on a number of factors, which don’t always apply. For example, the numbers would be much different for grain-fed beef (i.e. the majority of beef), because the grain being produced for cattle feed will also kill lots of mice and other field species.

Also, while Australia may be rich in natural grasslands, there has been enormous clear-cutting and habitat-destruction involved in creating landscapes around the globe that are suitable for livestock production.

This argument also assumes widespread use of poisons and pesticides in the plant farming. Organic farming almost certainly kills many fewer animals.

It focuses on wheat, and wheat protein. More protein dense crops, such as soy or quinoa, would alter the balance.

In short, this article compares the least-cruel, least-destructive form of cattle farming against the most-cruel, most-destructive form of plant farming.

Still, the central point–that even a vegetarian or vegan diet is not cruelty or blood-free–is correct. I have never assumed my vegan diet somehow means my eating habits are free from murder. But I have little doubt that being vegan is much less cruel than eating the factory-farmed meat that gets slapped down on the vast majority of plates around the globe.

And while I have always understood that there are forms of livestock farming that are much less cruel than factory farming, the proportion of meat produced globally with these methods is vanishingly small. More important, while some forms of livestock farming are much less cruel than factory-farming, there is another perhaps even more compelling reason to favor plants over meat (which is not addressed by the argument Archer is making): the disproportionate impact on the climate of meat-eating.

Climate change is arguably the greatest killer of all. And that is a very powerful argument against meat-eating even if the immediate cruelty trade-off is not quite as obvious as most vegetarians and vegans might assume.

The Global Livestock Footprint

It’s pretty massive. According to National Geographic, only 55% of the world’s crop calories are consumed directly by people. Fully 36% of the world’s crop calories are used for animal feed. And since it takes 100 calories of grain to produce 12 calories of chicken, or 3 calories of beef, that’s not very efficient.

Here’s what it looks like:

With the global population expected to hit 9 billion by 2050, we have a very simple choice: we can destroy more forests and natural landscapes and put it to the plow or use it for grazing, or we can eat less meat. A lot less meat. And that doesn’t even account for the climate change impact of meat.

Our Food Supply Is Fracked

This was so frustratingly predictable. There is evidence that fracking contamination is starting to poison nearby farms and livestock:

Earlier this year, Michelle Bamberger, an Ithaca, New York, veterinarian, and Robert Oswald, a professor of molecular medicine at Cornell’s College of Veterinary Medicine, published the first and only peer-reviewed report to suggest a link between fracking and illness in food animals.

The authors compiled 24 case studies of farmers in six shale-gas states whose livestock experienced neurological, reproductive, and acute gastrointestinal problems after being exposed — either accidentally or incidentally — to fracking chemicals in the water or air. The article, published in New Solutions: A Journal of Environmental and Occupational Health Policy, describes how scores of animals died over the course of several years.

The death toll is insignificant when measured against the nation’s livestock population (some 97 million beef cattle go to market each year), but environmental advocates believe these animals constitute an early warning.

Exposed livestock “are making their way into the food system, and it’s very worrisome to us,” Bamberger says. “They live in areas that have tested positive for air, water, and soil contamination. Some of these chemicals could appear in milk and meat products made from these animals.”

In Louisiana, 17 cows died after an hour’s exposure to spilled fracking fluid, which is injected miles underground to crack open and release pockets of natural gas. The most likely cause of death: respiratory failure.

In New Mexico, hair testing of sick cattle that grazed near well pads found petroleum residues in 54 of 56 animals.

In northern central Pennsylvania, 140 cattle were exposed to fracking wastewater when an impoundment was breached. Approximately 70 cows died, and the remainder produced only 11 calves, of which three survived.

In western Pennsylvania, an overflowing wastewater pit sent fracking chemicals into a pond and a pasture where pregnant cows grazed: Half their calves were born dead. Dairy operators in shale-gas areas of Colorado, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Texas have also reported the death of goats.

Just one more reason to not eat animals. But more important, fracking, its lack of transparency, the way it is (not) being regulated, and the extraordinary rush to buy into the idea that natural gas will save the American economy, has the feel of a gold rush that fifty years from now will leave a poisonous, toxic legacy that will have everyone shaking their heads and wondering what we were thinking.