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.
The Islamic State is no mere collection of psychopaths. It is a religious group with carefully considered beliefs, among them that it is a key agent of the coming apocalypse. Here’s what that means for its strategy—and for how to stop it.
What is the Islamic State?
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.
Defining common cultural literacy for an increasingly diverse nation.
Is the culture war over?
That seems an absurd question. This is an age when Confederate monuments still stand; when white-privilege denialism is surging on social media; when legislators and educators in Arizona and Texas propose banning ethnic studies in public schools and assign textbooks euphemizing the slave trade; when fear of Hispanic and Asian immigrants remains strong enough to prevent immigration reform in Congress; when the simple assertion that #BlackLivesMatter cannot be accepted by all but is instead contested petulantly by many non-blacks as divisive, even discriminatory.
And that’s looking only at race. Add gender, guns, gays, and God to the mix and the culture war seems to be raging along quite nicely.
People labeled “smart” at a young age don’t deal well with being wrong. Life grows stagnant.
At whatever agesmart people develop the idea that they are smart, they also tend to develop vulnerability around relinquishing that label. So the difference between telling a kid “You did a great job” and “You are smart” isn’t subtle. That is, at least, according to one growing movement in education and parenting that advocates for retirement of “the S word.”
The idea is that when we praise kids for being smart, those kids think: Oh good, I'm smart. And then later, when those kids mess up, which they will, they think: Oh no, I'm not smart after all. People will think I’m not smart after all. And that’s the worst. That’s a risk to avoid, they learn.“Smart” kids stand to become especially averse to making mistakes, which are critical to learning and succeeding.
The retired general and former CIA director holds forth on the Middle East.
ASPEN, Colo.—Retired U.S. Army General David Petraeus pioneered America’s approach to counterinsurgency, led the surge in Iraq, served as director of the CIA for a year, and was sentenced to two years probation for leaking classified information to his mistress. On Wednesday at the Aspen Ideas Festival, he was interviewed by my colleague, Jeffrey Goldberg, about subjects including efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program; the civil war in Syria; ISIS and the threat it poses to the United States; and the Iraq War.
Here are several noteworthy moments from their conversation, slightly condensed:
The Risks of Attacking Iran
Jeffrey Goldberg: So you believe that, under certain circumstances, President Obama would still use military force against Iran?
David Petraeus: I think he would, actually. I know we’ve had red lines that didn’t turn out to be red lines. ... I think this is a different issue, and I clearly recognize how the administration has sought to show that this is very, very different from other sort of off-the-cuff remarks.
Goldberg: How did the Obama administration stop Israel from attacking Iran? And do you think that if this deal does go south, that Israel would be back in the picture?
Petraeus: I don’t, actually. I think Israel is very cognizant of its limitations. ... The Israelis do not have anything that can crack this deeply buried enrichment site ... and if you cannot do that, you’re not going to set the program back very much. So is it truly worth it, then?
So that’s a huge limitation. It’s also publicly known that we have a 30,000-pound projectile that no one else has, that no one else can even carry. The Massive Ordinance Penetrator was under design for almost six years. ... If necessary, we can take out all these facilities and set them back a few years, depending on your assumptions.
But that’s another roll of the iron dice, as Bismarck used to say, and you never know when those dice are rolled what the outcome is going to be. You don’t know what risks could materialize for those who are in harm’s way.
You don’t know what the response could be by Iran.
There’s always the chance that there will be salvos at Israel, but what if they decide to go at the Gulf states, where we have facilities in every single one.
This is not something to be taken lightly, clearly.
Former Senator Jim Webb is the fifth Democrat to enter the race—and by far the most conservative one.
In a different era’s Democratic Party, Jim Webb might be a serious contender for the presidential nomination. He’s a war hero and former Navy secretary, but he has been an outspoken opponent of recent military interventions. He’s a former senator from Virginia, a purple state. He has a strong populist streak, could appeal to working-class white voters, and might even have crossover appeal from his days as a member of the Reagan administration.
In today’s leftward drifting Democratic Party, however, it’s hard to see Webb—who declared his candidacy Thursday—getting very far. As surprising as Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls has been, he looks more like the Democratic base than Webb does. The Virginian is progressive on a few major issues, including the military and campaign spending, but he’s far to the center or even right on others: He's against affirmative action, supports gun rights, and is a defender of coal. During the George W. Bush administration, Democrats loved to have him as a foil to the White House. It’s hard to imagine the national electorate will cotton to him in the same way. Webb’s statement essentially saying he had no problem with the Confederate battle flag flying in places like the grounds of the South Carolina capitol may have been the final straw. (At 69, he’s also older than Hillary Clinton, whose age has been a topic of debate, though still younger than Bernie Sanders or Joe Biden.)
For centuries, experts have predicted that machines would make workers obsolete. That moment may finally be arriving. Could that be a good thing?
1. Youngstown, U.S.A.
The end of work is still just a futuristic concept for most of the United States, but it is something like a moment in history for Youngstown, Ohio, one its residents can cite with precision: September 19, 1977.
For much of the 20th century, Youngstown’s steel mills delivered such great prosperity that the city was a model of the American dream, boasting a median income and a homeownership rate that were among the nation’s highest. But as manufacturing shifted abroad after World War II, Youngstown steel suffered, and on that gray September afternoon in 1977, Youngstown Sheet and Tube announced the shuttering of its Campbell Works mill. Within five years, the city lost 50,000 jobs and $1.3 billion in manufacturing wages. The effect was so severe that a term was coined to describe the fallout: regional depression.
How a re-creation of its most famous battle helped erase the meaning of the Civil War.
"No person should die without seeing this cyclorama," declared a Boston man in 1885. "It's a duty they owe to their country." Paul Philippoteaux's lifelike depiction of the Battle of Gettysburg was much more than a painting. It re-created the battlefield with such painstaking fidelity, and created an illusion so enveloping, that many visitors felt as if they were actually there.
For all its verisimilitude, though, the painting failed to capture the deeper truths of the Civil War. It showed the two armies in lavish detail, but not the clash of ideals that impelled them onto the battlefield. Its stunning rendition of a battle utterly divorced from context appealed to a nation as eager to remember the valor of those who fought as it was to forget the purpose of their fight. Its version of the conflict proved so alluring, in fact, that it changed the way America remembered the Civil War.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, and much more.
A European heat wave, lightning over California, a building made of 8,500 beer bottles, cosplay in Paris, shrimp fishing on horseback in Belgium, the first-ever White House Campout, mine detection rats in Cambodia, a train wreck in Pakistan, an airshow over St. Petersburg, Russia, and much more.
Be kind, show understanding, do good—but, some scientists say, don’t try to feel others’ pain.
In 2006, then-senator Barack Obama gave a commencement speech offering what seemed like very sensible advice. “There’s a lot of talk in this country about the federal deficit,” he told Northwestern’s graduating class. “But I think we should talk more about our empathy deficit—the ability to put ourselves in someone else’s shoes; to see the world through those who are different from us—the child who’s hungry, the laid-off steelworker, the immigrant woman cleaning your dorm room.”
In the years since then, the country has followed Obama’s counsel, at least when it comes to talking about empathy. It’s become a buzzword, extolled by Arianna Huffington, taught to doctors and cops, and used as a test for politicians. "We are on the cusp of an epic shift,” according to Jeremy Rifkin’s 2010 book The Empathetic Civilization. “The Age of Reason is being eclipsed by the Age of Empathy."