In short, I've found that in the process of emerging as the globe's manufacturing center -- the place that provides us with everything from the simplest of
brooms to the smartest of phones -- China has severely damaged its land and water resources, compromising its ability to increase food production even as its
economy thunders along, its population grows (albeit slowly), and its people gain wealth, move up the food chain, and demand ever-more meat.
Now, none of that should detract from the food miracle that China has enacted since it began its transformation into an industrial powerhouse in the late
from the United Nation's Food and Agriculture Organization and the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) brims with data on this
feat. The nation slashed its hunger rate -- from 20 percent of its population in 1990 to 12 percent today -- by quietly turbocharging its farms. China's total
farm output, a broad measure of food churned out, has tripled since 1978. The ramp-up in livestock production in particular is even more dizzying -- it rose
by a factor of five. Overall, China's food system represents a magnificent achievement: It feeds nearly a quarter of the globe's people on just 7 percent
of its arable land.
But now, 35 years since it began reforming its state-dominated economy along market lines, China's spectacular run as provider of its own food is
looking severely strained. Its citizens' appetite for meat is rising along with incomes, and mass-producing steaks and chops for 1.2 billion people
requires tremendous amounts of land and water. Meanwhile, its manufacturing miracle -- the very thing that financed its food miracle -- has largely
fouled up or just plain swallowed those very resources.
In this post from a few weeks ago, I
told the story of the dire state of China's water resources, which are being increasingly diverted to, and fouled by, the country's insatiable demand
for coal to power the manufacturing sector.
Then there's land. Here are just a few of the findings of recent investigations into the state of Chinese farms:
China's farmland is shrinking.
Despite the country's immense geographical footprint, there just isn't that much to go around. Between 1997 and 2008, China saw 6.2 percent of its
farmland engulfed by factories and sprawl.
The United States has six times the arable land per capita
Today, the FAO/OECD report states, China has just 0.22 acres of arable land per capita -- less than half of the global average and a quarter of the
average for OECD member countries.
A fifth of China's land is polluted.
The FAO/OECD report gingerly calls this problem the "declining trend in soil quality." Fully 40 percent of China's arable land has been degraded by
some combination of erosion, salinization, or acidification -- and nearly 20 percent is polluted, whether by industrial effluent, sewage, excessive
farm chemicals, or mining runoff, the FAO/OECD report found.
China considers its soil problems "state secrets."
The Chinese government conducted a national survey of soil pollution in 2006, but it has refused to release the results. But evidence is building
that soil toxicity is a major problem that's creeping into the food supply. In May 2013, food safety officials in the southern city of Guangzhou
found heightened levels of cadmium, a carcinogenic heavy metal, in 8 of 18 rice samples picked up at local restaurants, sparking a national furor.
The rice came from Hunan province -- where "expanding factories, smelters and mines jostle with paddy fields," the New York Times reported.
In 2011, Nanjing Agricultural University researchers came out with a report claiming they had
found cadmium in 10 percent of rice samples nationwide and 60 percent of samples from southern China.
China's food system is powered by coal.
It's not just industry that's degrading the water and land China relies on for food. It's also agriculture itself. China's food production miracle
has been driven by an
ever-increasing annual cascade of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer
(it now uses more than a third of global nitrogen output) -- and its nitrogen industry relies on coal for 70 percent of its energy needs. To grow its
food, in other words, China relies on an energy source that competes aggressively with farming for water.
Five of China's largest lakes have substantial dead zones caused by fertilizer runoff.
That's what a paper by Chinese and
University of California researchers found after they examined Chinese lakes in 2008. And heavy use of nitrogen fertilizer takes its toll on soil
quality, too. It causes pH levels to drop, turning soil acidic and less productive -- a problem rampant in China. Here's a 2010 Nature article on a national survey of the
The team's results show that extensive [fertilizer] overuse has caused the pH of soil across China to drop by roughly 0.5, with some soils reaching
a pH of 5.07 (nearly neutral soils of pH 6-7 are optimal for cereals, such as rice and grain, and other cash crops). By contrast, soil left to its
own devices would take at least 100 years to acidify by this amount. The acidification has already lessened crop production by 30-50 percent in some
areas, Zhang [a Chinese researcher] says. If the trend continues, some regions could eventually see the soil pH drop to as low as 3. "No crop can
grow at this level of acidification," he warns.
"If the trend continues ..." That, I guess, is the broad question here. A global economic system that relies on China as a manufacturing center, in a way
that undermines China's ability to feed itself, seems like a global economic system headed for disaster.
This story appears at The Atlantic as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.
Two recent events—the spectacle of Garry Trudeau, the Doonesbury creator, attacking a group of murdered cartoonists for offending his sensibilities, and the protest organized by a group of bien-pensant writers against the PEN American Center for planning to honor those cartoonists tonight in New York—has brought the Charlie Hebdo controversy back to public consciousness. So has the failed attack Sunday in Texas on a group of anti-Islam militants staging a Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest, though, unlike Charlie Hebdo, the organization that sponsored the Texas event is run by an actual anti-Muslim extremist who, I'm proud to say, is a personal nemesis of mine.
Much has already been written about both the Trudeau and PEN controversies. I particularly recommend David Frum on Trudeau, and Katha Pollitt and Matt Welch on PEN, as well as this fine op-ed by Andrew Solomon and Suzanne Nossel, the president and executive director, respectively, of the PEN American Center. These represent only a handful of the many dozens of writers who have risen in defense of free speech, and of Charlie Hebdo’s right to lampoon religion.
Where did it come from, and what are its intentions? The simplicity of these questions can be deceiving, and few Western leaders seem to know the answers. In December, The New York Times published confidential comments by Major General Michael K. Nagata, the Special Operations commander for the United States in the Middle East, admitting that he had hardly begun figuring out the Islamic State’s appeal. “We have not defeated the idea,” he said. “We do not even understand the idea.” In the past year, President Obama has referred to the Islamic State, variously, as “not Islamic” and as al-Qaeda’s “jayvee team,” statements that reflected confusion about the group, and may have contributed to significant strategic errors.
The Onion had a problem: It fell behind the times. The mock newspaper hadn’t printed an issue on actual paper since 2013, and in the period since, it never redesigned its website. As the media world changed—as the New York Times and the Washington Post adapted the ways they published stories online—The Onion lost a key satirical weapon. Visually, it no longer looked like many of the publications it parodied. And so, like it had done many times before, The Onion tagged along.
I recently spoke with Pugh about what this means for American workers, society, and public policy. A lightly edited transcript of our conversation follows.
Rebecca J. Rosen: A central premise of your research is that work is about more than money—it's also about identity and relationships, particularly within a family. How does work shape us beyond our bank accounts?
The man from Hope is back. Nope, not that one—the one whose wife is leading the Democratic field. The one who succeeded him as governor of Arkansas: Republican Mike Huckabee.
Huckabee is announcing Tuesday that he's a candidate for president with a kickoff in the hometown he shares with Bill Clinton. After a strong run in 2008 and a decision to take the 2012 cycle off, Huckabee is testing whether he still has the same pull he once did.
He's the third Republican candidate to announce this week alone, and the fourth in 10 days. On Monday, neurosurgeon Ben Carson and tech executive Carly Fiorina both announced campaigns, and last week Senator Bernie Sanders announced he was seeking the Democratic nomination.
Last year, as part vanity project, part science experiment, I decided to adopt a new skin-care routine, something that an aging celebrity might use on a daily basis. My goal was to determine whether, in fact, a high-tech routine can make a difference. Are beauty products worth it?
A dermatologist friend introduced me to Marie, who ran a “skin science” clinic next to his office in Calgary, Canada. This was not a medical office, but a clinic that provided cosmetic services and products aimed at helping people enhance the look and condition of their skin. “I am, really, a skin coach,” Marie told me as she showed me around the office. She had a degree in microbiology, was infectiously good-natured, and had absolutely flawless skin.
In a story about the origins of confessional apps like Whisper and the now-defunct Secret, I recently mentionedThe Athenian Mercury, a British periodical of the 1690s that is widely credited with inventing the modern advice column. "I would honestly love to read a compilation of questions & answers from the Athenian Mercury," somebody wrote in the comment section of that story. To which I say: Me too!
Perusing these inquiries feels a little bit like wading through fields of Google auto-complete. There's something satisfying (and, okay, a little voyeuristic) about knowing the questions tugging at another person's mind. And while contemporary advice columns have a reputation for being pretty narrowly self-concerned—people often ask what to do about specific, personal problems—The Athenian Mercury dealt mostly (though not exclusively) with big, existential questions. Or, as Josh Sternberg wrote to me on Twitter, "17th-century people had a different definition of 'advice;' they were a contemplative people on the cusp of enlightenment."
On Tuesday, ISIS took to its radio station to boast that the men who attackedthe Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest in Garland, Texas, on Sunday night were "two soldiers of the caliphate." The claim, which has not yet been verified by any American officials, is the first attack on American soil for which the terror group has taken responsibility, but ISIS vowed it would not be the last:
We tell America that what is coming will be even bigger and more bitter, and that you will see the soldiers of the Islamic State do terrible things.
How Credible Is the ISIS Link?
As federal investigators seek to determine if either of the men involved in the shooting had links to terrorists, Garland Mayor Douglas Athas told "Fox & Friends" on Tuesday morning that there was "no evidence" of an Islamic State connection.
Texas has the rare distinction among U.S. states of having been, for a decade in the 19th century, its own nation. That history of independence, that lingering pride of sovereignty, has never really left the state, and every so often it arouses a certain suspicion of outside forces—be it Mexicans, ISIS fighters, or most frequently, the federal government. So when the U.S. military announced plans to hold an eight-week joint exercise it called Operation Jade Helm 15 in Texas and five other western states this summer, the people of Bastrop County quickly—and with the help of radio host Alex Jones and Infowars.com—saw it for what it really was: a preparation for the military to impose martial law in the Lone Star State.