Posted By Mark November 17, 2015
(This guest blog is provided by Matt Reese who writes for Ohio’s Country Journal).
It can be really hard to know which way to feel about some issues because these days it seems everyone has their own set of “facts” that conclusively proves their point. The problem, of course, is that as soon as you conclusively prove a point, you run into someone else who has an entirely different set of facts that definitively proves their point, which happens to be the opposite view of the first point that was proven. Confused yet? I know I am.
One only has to sit and listen to a political debate on any issue between any candidates of any party to get all caught up in a muddled mess of my-facts-versus-your-facts. Then there is often a behind-the-scenes reporter who does a fact check on the aforementioned facts to clarify the situation. Unfortunately, more often than not, these fact checks often just compound the problem by providing another opportunity to spin the issue with a set of suspect facts about the facts.
Of course, in my line of work I see this all the time in great detail with the wide variety of complicated issues facing food and agriculture. This is certainly true in the current debate over the Environmental Protection Agency’s impending decision about the levels set in the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The recent story by Joel Penhorwood on this issue highlights the divergent facts in the RFS debate. Here is an excerpt:
ACCF (an anti-ethanol group) Executive Vice President Dave Banks responded strongly to the outcry by Ohio ag and pro-ethanol groups.
“I think these guys sometimes get lost in this weird, parallel universe in which they actually convince themselves that this mountain of damning, definitive science and data about corn ethanol’s environmental impact doesn’t exist, or that folks don’t actually know about it,” Banks said in a statement.
That environmental impact Banks spoke of is one of negative consequence. The ACCF points to research that they say shows the production of ethanol doubles greenhouse emissions when compared to gasoline over 30 years, making it a dirtier fuel in the end — a highly disputed claim.
“It’s just misinformation,” said Ohio grain farmer Chad Kemp about the anti-RFS ads. “The things they’re saying there is no scientific backing for. They’re trying to get the people to jump on board with it and basically, their idea is to kill renewable fuels in this country.”
The heated debate over the RFS really ramped up in recent weeks with dueling ad campaigns in Ohio and Washington, D.C. highlighting very different sets of facts pertaining to ethanol’s impact on the environment, the economy and so forth. So whose facts are right?
In the end, the complexities of these various issues generally boil down to some basic truths. The key for me is getting down to those basic truths and sorting out how I feel about those. So, here are some facts about the RFS (that are really facts) that helped me to form my opinion.
- Congress created and approved the RFS.
- Businesses planned their investment strategies based upon the RFS.
- The RFS was implemented and businesses responded as they saw fit.
While there are many more nuances to the RFS debate, for me this set of undisputable facts is reason enough to support it. The government made a deal. Regardless of whether you like the deal or not, it was made and I believe it should be upheld and seen through to fruition. Maybe this set of facts doesn’t address your primary concerns about he RFS. Here are more real facts.
- Ethanol offsets the purchase of foreign oil.
- Ethanol is made from corn produced by American farmers.
I would rather support farmers in the U.S. with my energy dollar than who knows who I am supporting when I use petroleum.
In the end, there is usually at least some kernel of truth in either side of these debates. Which facts matter to you? The way I sort through them is by identifying the key (and real) facts of the matter that really matter to me.
Either way, the RFS is a no-brainer in my book.
Posted By Cathryn October 9, 2015
Switching to an all-organic agricultural system in the United States would have serious, negative consequences according to analysis of government reports published in Forbes. With clear documentation of a yield gap between conventional and organic production indicating increased land use would be required to make such a switch, the authors detail why, amongst many other reasons, organic is not the more environmentally-friendly choice.
Noting that all-organic crop production would require the use of an area the size of “all parkland and wildland areas in the lower 48 states,” the piece examines the findings of the USDA’s recently released survey of organic farmers. The implications of such a land shift to America’s environment would be catastrophic.
Today, Americans have an incredible array of healthy, nutritious foods from which they can choose. With less than half a percent of U.S. farmland in organic production, it is still increasingly easy for consumers to choose organic options if they so desire. It does not make sense for them to do so, however, under the assumption that switching to all-organic farming would benefit the environment.
To read the full article, click here.
Posted By Cathryn June 16, 2015
When you look at the facts, conventional agriculture scores higher than organic on sustainability. What system generates these results? The new Responsibly Grown labeling system developed by Whole Foods.
According to a multitude of media reports, the system will rank produce on a variety of criteria including water use, pesticide use and sustainability. Then, the data will be used to award produce selections with a label of “good,” “better” or “best.”
For one example, from Fox News, click here.
From early reports, conventional farmers have placed much higher than the growers using organic methods.
The system reflects a shift in the industry as a whole. While organics may have grown in popularity, many advocate a more scientific approach to assessing the impact of food production. Whole Foods spent three full years developing the Responsibly Grown program. Instead of simply applying a label to market the produce, they provide information on the true impact of growing practices.
Farmers, whether conventional or organic, strive to care for their land. It has provided a livelihood for their family for many generations in most cases. In about as many, they hope it will continue to do so for many generations to come. Keeping it healthy only makes sense.
Conventional production can be more sustainable than organic. Soon, the proof will be clearly labeled at a Whole Foods near you.
Posted By Cathryn March 26, 2015
Many have heard that Mark Lynas, who once opposed GMOs, became an advocate after further exploring the science behind this technology. What motivated him? In short, climate change.
While pro-GMO climate change activists may not have gained as much press as some of their counterparts, for many like Lynas, climate change serves as an important motivation to advocate for GMOs. In an interview published in The Huffington Post, Lynas explained how his support for GMOs and biotechnology actually springs from his passion for reducing climate change.
“I strongly feel that we need biotech and GMOS are only a component — but an essential part of the bigger picture on how we can make agriculture more sustainable while we feed a growing population,” Lynas said in the interview.
“The longer-term agenda here is to make agriculture as intensive as possible on the smallest land area as possible while making that intensive agriculture environmentally friendly. So at the same time we’re sparing large acres of natural landscape from being plowed up. The ultimate goal is to allow a re-wilding across as much of the planetary surface as possible.
“I’m quite deep green about this, and that’s my real motivation for pushing the GMO case and you couldn’t abandon the climate change narrative.”
For the full article, click here.
Lynas acknowledges in the article that many farmers urge science-based consideration of GMOs and reject climate change science. He urges a greater acceptance but, in doing so, he shows how so many agricultural practices already in place actually benefit the environment.
“Precision agriculture by and large is a step forward from throwing granular fertilizers all over the place. And your productivity of labor is the most important thing. Back in the day farm laborers were doing everything by hand. Having 80 percent of the population working the land like in some African countries is much worse from a food security standpoint.
“While it is true that only 1-2 percent of Americans are directly engaged in farming, it is probably too small of a number. Because you have all sorts of issues with people are so disconnected from farming and how their food is produced and then we have this silly fight over GMOs.”
Politics can make strange bedfellows. Lynas came to support GMO through climate change. Maybe, if farming looks closely, opportunities lie in finding mutual interest with others supportive of science off the farm.
Posted By Cathryn January 29, 2015
At this week’s Soil Health Partnership Summit, attendees explored how healthy soils benefit farmers and the environment. Experts covered many areas, paying particular attention to the practice of no-till farming.
While many may not have been able to attend the summit, interested parties can find out more through a blog post published by the Environmental Defense Fund. Featuring an interview by EDF’s Karen Chapman with Barry Fisher, an agronomist and soil health expert at the National Resources Conservation Service, this article delves into the meaning of no-till, its benefits and obstacles which might prevent its adoption.
To read the full post, click here.
The mission of the Soil Health Partnership is to catalyze enhanced agricultural sustainability and productivity by demonstrating and communicating the economic and environmental benefits of improved soil health. For more information, visit soilhealthpartnership.org.
Posted By Mark January 23, 2015
Not to sound like a lunatic but it may be entirely possible, maybe even likely, the American public will be begging for a return to $3.60 gas in the near future.
I know it sounds crazy, but if you are following the public debate you can already see the discussion heating up to argue the true implications of today’s bargain basement petroleum prices. The euphoria consumers and market analysts alike were experiencing a few weeks ago is wearing off like a cheap wine hangover.
One big concern is that near term economic gains in the US related to cheaper fuel may be overstated and ultimately result in deflation and a global economic slowdown.
It is becoming increasingly evident that it could take a few years before the full ramifications of this gas guzzlers holiday are known. However, some comments by an oil industry executive this week provide a peek behind the curtain that often shields the business maneuvering and real objectives of international big oil.
The boss of oil giant BP Bob Dudley has said that oil prices could remain low for up to three years. What results next may make our previous high oil prices seem like a gift from grandma.
Once big oil has beaten oil upstarts like the domestic fracking industry to a bloody pulp, they will remerge from the ashes like a phoenix ready to spank bad little consumers for cheering the development. The paddle they will use according to some industry experts will be $200 a-barrel oil, a considerably richer prize than the $110 a barrel which preceded the $47 a barrel we are currently experiencing.
Any reasonable person would wonder why a business would take such a gamble, cut investment, cut jobs and sustain such a huge loss? The simple answer is they will do it because they can and the payoff is immense.
Sure oil countries like Norway, Russia, Venezuela, Scotland, Nigeria and Angola will take a beating but the big players in OPEC – the ones with the large expanses of beach and no water – have lower production costs and care only marginally more for their business partners than they do the consumers that they bleed every day.
People’s Bank of China governor Zhou Xiaochuan also points out low oil prices could slow down China’s development of renewable energy projects. In a wondrous masterpiece of understatement he says: “We worry a little bit that the price signal may give disincentive for new energy types to develop and could reduce investment in new non-fossil energy.”
Does anyone know how to say “duh” in Mandarin?
If we really want to throw the market manipulating overlords at OPEC a curve we should do the opposite of what they expect. Instead of grumbling and driving circus clown size cars we should immediately find ways to encourage an expansion of existing non-fossil energy development such as ethanol. Then we should back that up by launching the largest energy research and development project in history. I contend we will be forced to do this as finite oil supplies run out. Why not do it now rather than waiting until the wolf is at the door.
Besides, in the business world innovation is one of the few things that can still trump monetary muscle.
Posted By Mark October 17, 2014
As a former journalist I have a deeply ingrained sense of outrage when the public is being misled, bilked or fooled. This is especially true when misinformation is used to strip away their hard earned cash.
So I thought I would send an open letter to Jason Mraz, a singer/songwriter and niche celebrity, who also spends a lot of time and money working on causes he finds important including the environment.
If you don’t have time to read any further I have two messages for the obviously talented Mraz, who played to an appreciative crowd at the Peabody Opera House in St. Louis last night:
Scientific experts say organic foods are not healthier that food grown using conventional methods contrary to what Mraz told the audience last night.
2 – Good for you for having the conviction of your beliefs. I appreciate your willing to use your celebrity to help a cause. But please keep your personal politics off the stage unless you do it through your songs themselves, that way fans know what they signed up for going in.
Using the interlude between music to espouse lifestyle choices, support political candidates, or give advice on something as personal as food is just bad form. Most people go to concerts, movies, sporting events, etc… to get a mental break from the headlines of the day or meditating on philosophical issues. I have never been a Jason Mraz fan, in part due to lack of exposure, so didn’t know too much about him. Still, I admit to being very surprised when a photo of his personal garden popped up on the stage and he proceeded to espouse the benefits of organic food production.
My hat is off to Mraz for trying to live a health-conscious lifestyle, but I went to hear music not visit a lifestyle coach, let alone one without real credentials. You have every right to your opinion but please try being more selective in how you use your notoriety and bully pulpit.
An article in “Real Clear Science” earlier this summer points out the majority of Americans believe that organic foods are healthier than food grown through conventional methods. The majority of Americans are wrong. Science has shown that organic is neither healthier for you nor better for the environment. In fact, it’s not safer, more nutritious, not does it taste better. These are all notions promoted by organic food proponents who have a lot to gain or were just misled. Given the markedly higher prices for nearly all of these products, the public has a right to know they are being hoodwinked.
Posted By Cathryn September 19, 2014
This weekend, movie goers in select markets across the country will have a chance to find out more about America’s oil addiction and how it can be ended with cleaner, cheaper, American-made fuels as the movie PUMP hits theaters. An all-inclusive look at alternative fuels, PUMP draws consumer attention to both the problem and offers real, immediate solutions.
The documentary film aims to change attitudes about fuel forever. Narrated by Jason Bateman, PUMP tells the story of America’s addiction to oil, from its corporate conspiracy beginnings to its current monopoly today, and explains clearly how Americans can end it – and finally win real choice and competition at the pump.
To watch the PUMP trailer, click here.
The film presents the stark reality that every time consumers fill up their tank there is only one option – gasoline. Since the days of John D. Rockefeller, it has been rigged, and America has been taken for a ride. With a stranglehold on our fuel system that is absolute, most people have no idea there are alternatives.
PUMP presents a sharply focused look at all of the domestically produced, alternative paths to a very different fuel future – where multiple fuels can be used and blended, where the oil monopoly is ended, and where our nation no longer depends on foreign oil. PUMP concentrates on the specific pathway where ethanol, methanol, biofuels, gasoline, natural gas and electric all share the same platform at gas stations across the country, where there is choice and competition. The solution presented is not based on unproven future technologies or wishful thinking. PUMP presents a practical and achievable vision that could be realized in the near term – beginning now.
While the film represents many viewpoints that may not be completely in line with those advocated by groups like the National Corn Growers Association, it shines an important spotlight on the common problem all alternative fuels face. The documentary advocates for consumer choice and an end to Big Oil’s monopoly- a point which America’s farmers can certainly get behind even if they would advocate for an alternative approach.
So learn more about it. This independently-produced film has the potential to highlight an issue of vital importance to both farmers and consumers, which is certainly a step in the right direction.
Find a location playing PUMP or learn more about the movie by clicking here.
Posted By Cindy August 25, 2014
Following closely on the heels of the toxic algae bloom on Lake Erie that shut down water supplies in Toledo Ohio, Michigan’s livestock and crop producers recently announced proactive steps on water quality issues.
“Michigan agriculture is proactive and part of the solution when it comes to water quality issues in the Western Basin of Lake Erie and surrounding areas,” said Jim Byrum, president of the Michigan Agri-Business Association, who announced steps in a long-term effort to ensure Michigan’s continued leadership on water quality issues.
Jim Zook, executive director of the Michigan Corn Growers Association, says technology plays a major role in providing solutions to water issues and Michigan is a leader in the use of precision agriculture technology, which helps producers optimize fertilizer use.
“Even just a few years ago, the technology just wasn’t where it is today,” said Zook. “Growers didn’t have the precision agriculture tools that are in use across the state to pinpoint fertilizer applications. Michigan’s corn producers have embraced new technology, and they’re using it to be part of the solution on water quality issues.”
Listen to Byrum, Zook and other Michigan ag leaders talk about proactive steps they are taking on water quality issues: Michigan Agriculture Groups Discuss Water Quality
Posted By Cathryn August 14, 2014
In a media landscape that often seizes upon sensationalism, The Huffington Post took a balanced, thoughtful approach to ethanol issues today in publishing a piece written in support of E15 by researchers at Argonne National Laboratory.
The city of Chicago is considering a proposed ordinance that would require most gas stations to offer E15. The measure would help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and provide consumers a domestic, sustainable choice for fuel. In their post, the researchers provide a clear, supported argument as to why this is a step in the right direction for America.
To read the post, click here.
In offering actual information to the public, HuffPost and the scientists alike elevate the conversation. The fact that Big Oil has waged an ongoing war against biofuels for years is no secret. One invented argument after the next, the proponents of petroleum have repeatedly tried to cloud the conversation with misinformation and thus maintain a stranglehold on America’s fuel supply and Americans pocketbooks. Sadly, some of the rouses have garnered airtime and slowed the advance toward a fuel supply that offers consumers real choice.
Chicago may gain actual options. These options could both help clean the air and reduce dependence upon a finite and often foreign fuel supply. The prospects for freedom from oil’s monopoly look a bit brighter. The Drs. Michael Wang and Jennifer Dunn and The Huffington Post Blog deserve a round of applause for bringing the conversation to consumers in the clear manner worthy of such a weighty issue.
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