June 04, 2007

Lies The Economist Told Me

The Economist's latest issue, June 2nd-8th 2007, contains a 15-page special report on the business community's response to climate change. Other people may be more qualified than I to examine the articles contained within on their merits, but I can tell you for certain that as it relates to my own field of interest, their editors are clueless. Unless modern corn has figured out how to grow itself and nobody informed me.

And I quote, from page 4 of the report section, emphasis mine:

... This special report will examine how climate change is affecting business, and how business can affect climate change. It will concentrate on industrial emissions rather than on agriculture and deforestation (which produce lots of carbon dioxide without involving business much) but will leave out air travel, on which this newspaper will publish a special report in two weeks' time.

Pardon? Agriculture ... doesn't involve business much? My cranial hamster wheel wobbles on its very axis; it threatens a total derailment. Are these people stupid, lying, deranged, or merely hard toking the hash that's been flooding Europe since the US invasion of Afghanistan? Maybe they decided to write the preface to this special report during their annual editorial off-site in Amsterdam. I am not qualified to say with certainty which explanation is correct, but as you can see, my suspicions in this regard run towards the lurid.

As economists-in-theory, they might have run across agricultural related program activity news like this during some point in their careers. Emphasis mine:

... According to World Agriculture and the Environment, a global survey by Dr. Jason Clay, head of the Center for Conservation Innovation at World Wildlife Fund (WWF), agriculture contributes to serious environmental, social and economic problems, particularly in developing countries.

Clay offers detailed analysis of the issues and practices of some of the world's biggest crops, from coffee and orange juice to cocoa and tobacco. He concludes that agriculture -- the world's largest industry, employing some 1.3 billion people and producing about $1.3 trillion worth of goods annually -- uses more than half of the planetís habitable area, including land that should not be farmed, and destroys some 100,000 square miles of forests and other critical species habitat annually.

Among the findings in Clay's book: Agriculture wastes 60 per cent, or 1,500 trillion liters, of the 2.5 trillion liters of water that it uses each year. Water resources are already being used close to or beyond their limit, particularly in the Americas, North Africa, the Arabian Peninsula, China, and India. The impacts of global warming are likely to further disrupt water supplies. ...

Did these geniuses want to explain to me again how agriculture and deforestation don't have much to do with 'industry'? No, no, wait ... I get it, they've got some special definition of industry that excludes the growing of food. No, that can't be right, because here on page 12, they talk about greenhouses that produce fruits and vegetables using recycled CO2 and have a picture of pigs with the caption, "Bringing home the methane," and only the briefest allusion in the accompanying article to the biodigester technology that allows methane to be recaptured from animal waste.

Pages 12, 26 and 28 discuss ethanol, corn and cellulosic, without seeming to notice that these are inherently agricultural products, but don't mention biodiesel. Not even in their closing article, entitled, "The Final Cut: Business can do it, with governments' help." Which is hilarious, because Europe is the biggest world market for biodiesel, and Europeans are ticked off because a US subsidy for our own biodiesel producers threatens to undercut their homegrown biodiesel industry. An industry that mainly runs on imported palm oil. And speaking of this palm oil-turned-motor fuel, the entire question of biodiesel destroys their assertion that agriculture and deforestation aren't industrial issues:

... In September [2004], Friends of the Earth published a report about the impact of palm oil production. "Between 1985 and 2000," it found, "the development of oil-palm plantations was responsible for an estimated 87 per cent of deforestation in Malaysia". In Sumatra and Borneo, some 4 million hectares of forest have been converted to palm farms. Now a further 6 million hectares are scheduled for clearance in Malaysia, and 16.5 million in Indonesia.

... Before oil palms, which are small and scrubby, are planted, vast forest trees, containing a much greater store of carbon, must be felled and burnt. Having used up the drier lands, the plantations are moving into the swamp forests, which grow on peat. When they've cut the trees, the planters drain the ground. As the peat dries it oxidises, releasing even more carbon dioxide than the trees. In terms of its impact on both the local and global environments, palm biodiesel is more destructive than crude oil from Nigeria. ...

In fact, Indonesia's rainforests may be gone in 15 years due to encroachment by oil palm planting and logging, though their government denies that there are any serious threats to their remaining forests. If you substitute Malaysia in the previous sentence, it still stands, though I don't know how many years their forests will stand the assault. And I guess logging isn't industry-related, either; it must just happen on its own. Maybe the orangutans are doing it.

Posted by natasha at June 4, 2007 02:45 PM | Agriculture | Technorati links |

Yes, the Economist can make one's head hurt. They've gotten so stickily neoconservative. The house style of telling what you should think about the news before telling you the news confounds me.

Posted by: The Cunctator at June 4, 2007 04:35 PM

It seems strange to acutally type it out, but..I hate The fucking Economist. As some sort of parental counter to my attending NYU, my father bought me a subscription to The Econmist. I have read that damn magazine for years, but I don't like it. It don't trust. I must be having father issues.

Posted by: Jim DeRosa at June 5, 2007 08:35 AM