Organic food is not as “green” as you think


To Hindus, cows are sacred. Jewish dietary laws (kashrut) and Muslim dietary laws (halal) prohibit pork consumption. Traditional Catholics abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent. Religion and food have forever been intertwined. Food is deep, emotional stuff.

So it’s perhaps not surprising that devotees of organic food often embrace with quasi-religious fervor the practice of growing food without synthetic fertilizer or pesticides. [See, for example, my blogpost about Maria Rodale.] But if we want to understand impact of organic agriculture on the planet and on our health, science and not faith ought to guide us.

New scientific research points to a key drawback of organic agriculture, unfortunately: It is typically less efficient and productive than conventional growing methods. That’s a problem for fans of organic because the world has a limited supply of farmland, a billion or so undernourished people, a growing population, an expanding middle class and therefore a vast appetite for affordable and nourishing food. If, in fact, organic methods are less productive, scaling up the production of organic food at will require more land, contribute to deforestation and cost more than growing our food using conventional methods. That suggests that organic methods alone can’t feed the world in a sustainable way. [click to continue...]

Let’s talk (carefully) about climate and population

Have you heard that we’re getting new neighbors? Demographers expect that the number of people living on earth—now about 6.8 billion—will grow to between 8 and 11 billion by 2050.

Whether population tops out at the high or the low end of those projections will have a huge impact on climate change. So population control is again claiming a place on the environmental agenda.

Nairobi slums

Nairobi slums

Oops! Did I say “population control”? I should have said “addressing population growth” or “assuring reproductive rights for women” or even “securing population justice” — because some people get very nervous when environmentalists start talking about population, and for good reason.

Yet the conversation is worth having, which is why I went to a discussion today at the Center for American Progress in Washington featuring Laurie Mazur, the editor of a new book called A Pivotal Moment: Population, Justice & The Environmental Challenge (Island Press, $30).

Mazur argues that we are at a pivotal moment, not just environmentally, because of the lethal overheating of the planet, but demographically, because, as she writes,

the ultimate size of the human population will be decided in the next decade or so.

That’s because right now the largest generation of young people in human history is coming of age. Nearly half the world’s population—some 3 billion people—is under the age of twenty-five. Those young people will, quite literally, shape the future. [click to continue...]