Drought Devastates U.S. Corn Crop, Spikes Worldwide Food Prices
This summer, many parts of the U.S. are in the grips of an unrelenting record heat wave exacerbating drought conditions throughout most of the nation. Yesterday, a report by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) detailed the significant effects drought is having on corn production.
The U.S. Drought Monitor, a joint publication of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is currently reporting that large areas of the Midwest and Great Plains regions, which are substantial corn-producing areas, are experiencing significant drought conditions. Analyzing Drought Monitor data, the USDA's Agricultural Weather and Drought Update for Aug. 16 reported that 85 percent of the U.S. corn crop is located within a drought area, with nearly half of the crop area experiencing extreme or exceptional drought levels, their most severe designations. The map below illustrates the location of U.S. drought areas superimposed on major and minor corn-growing areas.
Initially, the USDA predicted this year would see the largest corn harvest in history. However, due to the extreme drought conditions in the corn belt some estimate that the actual yield of the U.S. corn crop will be as much as 30 percent lower than was initially forecast.
Though 98 percent of the U.S. corn crop is not consumed directly by humans, but is instead used for animal feed, ethanol production and other industrial uses, a huge amount of is consumed indirectly worldwide through beef, pork, poultry and dairy consumption. The U.S. corn crop accounts for 40 percent of the global harvest and an increase in the price of U.S. corn will be felt with an increase in food prices worldwide. These effects will especially be felt by poor people worldwide who subsist mostly on grain and eat little animal protein or dairy, because an upward spike in corn prices also leads to an increase in the price of the other "great grains" including rice and wheat.
Fear that higher food prices worldwide will lead to greater global political instability has led many to call for an end to U.S. government mandated policy that 40 percent of the U.S. corn crop must be diverted to ethanol production. Mandates to use corn as fuel heighten rises in food prices. The World Bank blamed expanded biofuels production as being one of the main causes of the global food crisis of 2008.
Most climate change experts predict that we are in for a future of more and more severe drought which will in turn lead to higher and higher food prices. What's more, according to a recent scientific study the severe drought conditions themselves inhibit carbon uptake, thereby worsening climate change, a vicious cycle. The five year drought from 2000 to 2004 in Western North America, the worst of its kind in 800 years, inhibited carbon uptake, contributing to global warming conditions, but scientists say that that may turn out to be among the wetter time periods compared to the climate of the recent of the 21st century.
A National Wildlife Federation report this week detailed the many ways in which climate change made its presence felt during this record hot summer. In addition to problems such as disease outbreaks and devastating wildfires, one of the main problems associated with climate change is drought. Some of the most dramatic effects of drought have been felt in the global food system.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
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Jean-Marc Neveu and Olivier Civil never expected to find themselves battling against disposable mask pollution.
When they founded their recycling start-up Plaxtil in 2017, it was textile waste they set their sights on. The project developed a process that turned fabrics into a new recyclable material they describe as "ecological plastic."
Mounting Piles of Waste<p>It is not only the streets of Chatellerault where pandemic pollution is piling-up, but also the world's beaches and oceans. Once there, they can take up to 450 years to degrade and disappear.</p><p>Esther Röling, co-organizer of the annual Adventure Clean Up Challenge held on Hong Kong Island, has seen this waste firsthand. In October the sports challenge pitted teams against one another in a competition to remove trash from 13 hard-to-reach coastal areas around the city.</p><p>They find tons of both disposable and reusable masks, said Röling. "You wonder how it ended up there. Was it just thrown on the ground? Or was it in a garbage bag that broke open?"</p><p>Almost 10,000 kilometers away in Antibes on the sunny French Riviera, it's a similar picture. For the past few months, divers and clean-up volunteers working with an ocean clean-up non-profit called Operation Mer Propre have been collecting an increasing number of masks found on land and in the sea.</p><p>"Since the beginning of the lockdown when we started to count, we've reached 800, 900, [and now in total] 1000 masks," said co-founder Joko Peltier. </p><p>According to <a href="https://unctad.org/news/growing-plastic-pollution-wake-covid-19-how-trade-policy-can-help" target="_blank">UN estimates</a>, up to 75% of all coronavirus-related plastic could end up as waste in oceans and landfills.</p>
The Limits of Recycling<p>Yet not all are convinced the recycling of this waste is possible on a global scale. </p><p>"What those citizen groups are doing is really beneficial but once they collect it, it should just go to a landfill or an incinerator. They shouldn't necessarily expect it to get recycled," said Jonathan Krones, an industrial ecologist and visiting assistant professor of environmental studies at Boston College.</p><p>That's because mask recycling programs like Plaxtil are few and far between and most don't have the benefit of a readily adaptable production process. </p><p>Even in countries with solid recycling infrastructure, he says, the system is designed to separate out specific types of waste like bottles or cardboard.</p><p>"I imagine that it would be technically feasible to develop a separation process to filter out masks, but there simply aren't enough of them to make that economical," he said.</p><p>Collection is a big hurdle, he adds. Since each mask only weighs a fraction of a gram and they're scattered on roads or mixed with other trash, it is difficult and costly. </p><p>"You need a lot of raw material of the right quality to make investing in the recycling technology and the recycling system worthwhile," he said.<span></span><br></p>
Hemp, Sugar Cane and Sustainable Alternatives<p>Some projects are instead addressing the material used to make masks.</p><p>French company Geochanvre have created a mask made primarily from hemp, while in Australia, researchers at the Queensland University of Technology are experimenting with a disposable product made from agricultural waste. </p><p>Biodegradable options are exciting alternatives to reduce the fossil fuels needed for the creation of plastic-based masks, said Krones, but they don't absolve the wearer from the responsibility of what happens afterwards. </p><p>Bio-based masks often need their own composing solutions, he explains, because in landfill they can produce high amounts of the greenhouse gas methane when anaerobic bacteria feeds on the organic material. Methane is known to be significantly more potent than carbon dioxide.</p><p>"I think as long as we have in our mind that we want to have disposability, we're going to have to wrestle with a variety of different sorts of environmental tradeoffs," he said, adding that reusable, fabric masks are the best option available to most people.</p><p>Precimask is developing a clear face covering with an optional visor made from hard plastic, designed to be long-lasting.<br></p><p>Air enters either side of the cheeks through a technology normally found in pool filters and car exhaust systems, said company spokeswoman Juliette Chambet.</p><p>"We wanted to make ceramic-based filters that would be washable and cleanable, which would allow them to be reused as many times as desired without having to buy a new consumable or produce waste," she said. </p><p>Ultimately, encouraging mask wearers to think about the entire lifecycle of a mask is key, explains Neveu. </p><p>"We want people who put on the masks to realize that they are also responsible for the waste, he said. "It's not inevitable that this [pandemic] will become an environmental catastrophe.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://www.dw.com/en/covid-19-recycling-pollution-trash-pandemic/a-55707817" target="_blank">Deutsche Welle</a>.</em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649032193#/" target="_self"></a></p>
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