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Valley of the Gods in the heart of Bears Ears National Monument. Mint Images / Getty Images

By Sharon Buccino

This week, Secretary Haaland chose a visit to Bears Ears National Monument as her first trip as Interior Secretary. She is spending three days in Bluff, Utah, a small town just outside the monument, listening to representatives of the five tribes who first proposed its designation to President Obama in 2015. This is the same town where former Secretary Sally Jewell spent several hours at a public hearing in July 2016 before recommending the monument's designation to President Obama.

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A shop owner shows a customer a live chicken for sale in the Wanchai markets of Hong Kong on December 30, 2016. ISAAC LAWRENCE / AFP / Getty Images

By Reynard Loki

The exact origin of the coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, which started the COVID-19 pandemic, is still unclear. Early reports suggested that the virus jumped from an animal to a human at Wuhan's Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market, a "wet market" that sells live animals. On March 30, the international team of scientists assembled by the World Health Organization (WHO) published a report of their recent visit to Wuhan to investigate the source of the virus and confirmed the "zoonotic source of SARS-CoV-2."

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waterlust.com / @tulasendlesssummer_sierra .

Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.

The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.

Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.

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A rusty patched bumble bee is seen during a bee survey near the Twin Cities in Minnesota. Jill Utrup / USFWS / CC by 2.0

By Daniel Raichel

While many know Chicago as the "Second City," the old stomping grounds of Michael Jordan or Al Capone, or perhaps even still as "Hog Butcher to the World," I doubt many think of it as a home for endangered wildlife.

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The Ehrenfeld Abandoned Mine Reclamation Project is the first of dozens of similar reclamation initiatives under the Abandoned Mine Lands Economic Revitalization Pilot Program. U.S. Dept. of the Interior

By Tara Lohan

Mined lands reclaimed for biking trails, office parks — even a winery. Efforts like these are already underway in Appalachia to reclaim the region's toxic history, restore blighted lands, and create economic opportunities in areas where decades-old mines haven't been properly cleaned up.

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The pandemic has spotlighted how directly housing affects people's health. Spring Creek Towers, in East New York, has been one of the housing complexes hardest hit by coronavirus. Spencer Platt / Getty Images

By Jonathan Levy

During a presidential election debate on Oct. 22, 2020, former President Donald Trump railed against Democratic proposals to retrofit homes. "They want to take buildings down because they want to make bigger windows into smaller windows," he said. "As far as they're concerned, if you had no window, it would be a lovely thing."

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De Beers Namaqualand Mine, Kleinzee. Matthew Gavin Frank

By Matthew Gavin Frank

In early 2021, De Beers — the world's biggest diamond company — achieved something of a public relations coup when it announced two new prestige jewelry lines intended to position the notoriously polluting corporation as environmentally friendly and responsible.

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A woman harvests home-grown lettuce. sanjeri / Getty Images

By Sarah Reinhardt

When it comes to healthy eating, there's a lot we already know.

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Indigenous groups and opponents of the Enbridge Energy Line 3 oil pipeline replacement project protest its construction across northern Minnesota. Michael Siluk / Education Images / Universal Images Group / Getty Images

By Tara Lohan

One of President Joe Biden's first acts in office put an end to a decade-long fight over the Keystone XL — a pipeline that would have carried climate-polluting tar sands from Alberta, Canada into the United States.

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A rewilded area in Germany, near Dresden. Rewilded tracts foster biodiversity and improve crop yields. Thomas Hertel, author provided

By Thomas Hertel

Growing food in a sustainable, environmentally friendly way – while also producing enough of it – is among the most important challenges facing the U.S. and the world today.

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that food security can't be taken for granted. Putting affordable food on the table requires both innovative producers and well-functioning markets and global supply chains. With disruptions to the system, prices rise, food is scarce – and people go hungry.

But feeding the world's 7.8 billion people sustainably – including 332 million Americans – presents significant environmental challenges. Farming uses 70% of the world's fresh water. Fertilizers pollute water with nitrates and phosphates, sparking algal blooms and creating dead zones like the one that forms every summer in the Gulf of Mexico.

Clear-cutting land for farms and ranches is the main driver of deforestation. Overall, the planet loses about 48,000 square miles (125,000 square kilometers) of forest each year. Without habitat, wildlife disappears. Farming also produces roughly one-quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions.

All of these challenges make balancing food production with environmental security a crucial issue for the Biden administration, which is working to address both a hunger crisis and an environmental crisis in the U.S.

Two Different Pathways

As an economist studying food systems, I'm keenly aware that trying to provide affordable food and a thriving agricultural sector while also preserving the environment can result in many trade-offs. Consider the different strategies that the U.S. and Northern Europe have pursued: The U.S. prioritizes increased agricultural output, while the EU emphasizes environmental services from farming.

Over the past 70 years, the U.S. has increased crop production with ever more sophisticated seed technologies and highly mechanized farming methods that employ far fewer workers. These new technologies have contributed to farm productivity growth which has, in turn, allowed U.S. farm output to rise without significant growth in the aggregate economic index of agricultural input use.

Figure shows an economic index of all agricultural inputs and outputs with 1961 as the base year. Chart: The Conversation / CC BY-ND. Source: USDA ERS. Get the data

This approach contrasts sharply with Northern Europe's strategy, which emphasizes using less land and other inputs in order to protect the environment. Nonetheless, by achieving a comparable rate of agricultural productivity growth (output growth minus the growth rate inputs), Northern Europe has been able to maintain its level of total farm output over the past three decades.

Figure shows an economic index of all agricultural inputs and outputs with 1961 as the base year. Chart: The Conversation / CC BY-ND. Source: USDA ERS. Get the data

Boosting Prices Versus Benefiting Nature

The U.S. also has a long history of setting aside agricultural land that dates back nearly a century. In response to low prices in the 1920s, farmers had flooded the market with grain, pork and other products, desperately seeking to boost revenues but only pushing prices down further.

Under the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the U.S. government paid farmers to reduce their output and limited the supply of land under cultivation to boost farm prices. This strategy is still in use today.

In 1985 the U.S. launched a new program that created real incentives to protect environmentally sensitive land. Farmers who enroll in the Conservation Reserve Program "rent" environmentally valuable tracts to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 10-15 years. Withdrawing these acres from production provides food and shelter for pollinators and wildlife, reduces erosion and improves water quality.

But this is a voluntary program, so enrollment ebbs and flows in tandem with crop prices. For example, when corn, soy and wheat prices fell in the late 1980s and early 1990s, enrollment grew. Then with the commodity price boom of 2007, farmers could make more money from cultivating the land. Protected acreage dropped more than 40% through 2019, erasing many of the environmental benefits that had been achieved.

Enrollment in the USDA Conservation Reserve Program dropped by almost 13 million acres from 2007 to 2016. U.S. Department of Agriculture

Rental rates for agricultural land in the U.S. vary widely, with the most productive lands bringing the highest rent. Current rental rates under the Conservation Reserve Program 2021 range from $243 per acre in Cuming, Nebraska to just $6 in Sutton, Texas.

The EU also began setting aside farmland to curb overproduction in 1988. Now, however, their program focuses heavily on environmental quality. Policy reforms in 2013 required farmers to allocate 5% of their land to protected ecological focus areas. The goal is to generate long-term environmental benefits by prioritizing nature.

This program supports both production and conservation. Within this mix of natural and cultivated lands, wild pollinators benefit both native plants and crops. Birds, insects and small predators offer natural bio-control of pests. In this way, "rewilded" tracts foster biodiversity while also improving crop yields.

Who Will Feed the World?

What would happen if the U.S., a major exporter of agricultural products, followed the EU model and permanently withdrew land from production to improve environmental quality? Would such action make food unaffordable for the world's poorest consumers?

In a study that I conducted in 2020 with colleagues at Purdue and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, we set up a computer model to find out. We wanted to chart what might happen to food prices across the globe through 2050 if the U.S. and other rich economies followed Northern European conservation strategies. Our analysis focused on the world's most food-insecure region, sub-Saharan Africa.

We discovered that altering food production in this way would raise food prices in that region by about 6%. However, this upward price trend could be reversed by investing in local agriculture and new technologies to increase productivity in Africa. In short, our research suggested that conserving the environment in the U.S. doesn't have to cause food insecurity in other countries.

Implications for U.S. Farm Policy

Many experts on hunger and agriculture agree that to feed a growing global population, world food output must increase substantially in the next several decades. At the same time, it's clear that agriculture's environmental impacts need to shrink in order to protect the natural environment.

In my view, meeting these twin goals will require renewed government investments in research and dissemination of new technologies. Reversing a two-decade decline in science funding will be key. Agriculture is now a knowledge-driven industry, fueled by new technologies and improved management practices. Publicly funded research laid the foundations for these advances.

To reap environmental gains, I believe the U.S. Department of Agriculture will need to revamp and stabilize the Conservation Reserve Program, so that it is economically viable and enrollment does not fluctuate with market conditions. The Trump administration reduced incentives and rental payment rates, which drove down enrollments. The Biden administration has already taken a modest step forward by extending the yearly sign-up for the program indefinitely.

As I see it, following Northern Europe's model by permanently protecting ecologically rich areas, while simultaneously investing in knowledge-driven agricultural productivity, will enable the U.S. to better preserve wildlife and its natural environment for future generations, while maintaining an affordable food supply.

Thomas Hertel is a professor of agricultural economics at Purdue University.

Disclosure statement: Thomas Hertel receives funding from the National Science Foundation, the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Reposted with permission from The Conversation.

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A 2017 study indicated that honeybees could be among the insects harmed by new RNAi pesticides. Claudio Cavalensi / Getty Images

By Kendra Klein

Biden's election has boosted hopes that scientific integrity will be restored in the federal government. To make good on that promise, the administration will need to take action to safeguard against the risks of an entirely new type of pesticide, one developed by genetic engineers rather than chemists.

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Tearing through the crowded streets of Philadelphia, an electric car and a gas-powered car sought to win a heated race. One that mimicked how cars are actually used. The cars had to stop at stoplights, wait for pedestrians to cross the street, and swerve in and out of the hundreds of horse-drawn buggies. That's right, horse-drawn buggies. Because this race took place in 1908. It wanted to settle once and for all which car was the superior urban vehicle. Although the gas-powered car was more powerful, the electric car was more versatile. As the cars passed over the finish line, the defeat was stunning. The 1908 Studebaker electric car won by 10 minutes. If in 1908, the electric car was clearly the better form of transportation, why don't we drive them now? Today, I'm going to answer that question by diving into the history of electric cars and what I discovered may surprise you.

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A car is seen driving in the snow in Dallas in Feb. 2021. Matthew Rader / CC BY-SA 4.0 / Wikimedia Commons

By Matt Casale

There were many lessons to be learned from Texas' prolonged periods of lost power during its cold snap, which saw temperatures drop into the single digits. But one many people may not recognize is that electric vehicles, or EVs, can be part of a smart resiliency plan — not only in the case of outages triggered by the cold but in other scenarios caused by extreme weather events, from fire-related blackouts in California to hurricane-hit power losses in Puerto Rico.

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