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.
19 Kids and Counting built its reputation on preaching family values, but the mass-media platforms that made the family famous might also be their undoing.
On Thursday, news broke that Josh Duggar, the oldest son of the Duggar family's 19 children, had, as a teenager, allegedly molested five underage girls. Four of them, allegedly, were his sisters.
The information came to light because, in 2006—two years before 17 Kids and Counting first aired on TLC, and thus two years before the Duggars became reality-TV celebrities—the family recorded an appearance on TheOprah Winfrey Show. Before the taping, an anonymous source sent an email to Harpo warning the production company Josh’s alleged molestation. Harpo forwarded the email to authorities, triggering a police investigation (the Oprah appearance never aired). The news was reported this week by In Touch Weekly—after the magazine filed a Freedom of Information Act request to see the police report on the case—and then confirmed by the Duggars in a statement posted on Facebook.
New research confirms what they say about nice guys.
Smile at the customer. Bake cookies for your colleagues. Sing your subordinates’ praises. Share credit. Listen. Empathize. Don’t drive the last dollar out of a deal. Leave the last doughnut for someone else.
Sneer at the customer. Keep your colleagues on edge. Claim credit. Speak first. Put your feet on the table. Withhold approval. Instill fear. Interrupt. Ask for more. And by all means, take that last doughnut. You deserve it.
Follow one of those paths, the success literature tells us, and you’ll go far. Follow the other, and you’ll die powerless and broke. The only question is, which is which?
Of all the issues that preoccupy the modern mind—Nature or nurture? Is there life in outer space? Why can’t America field a decent soccer team?—it’s hard to think of one that has attracted so much water-cooler philosophizing yet so little scientific inquiry. Does it pay to be nice? Or is there an advantage to being a jerk?
Who is Jeb’s wife, what effect will she have on his campaign—and what effect will his campaign have on their marriage?
Now and then in an otherwise unmemorable speech, Jeb Bush will drop a mention of his wife, like a sudden pop of color. At an event in Nevada this March, one of his first speeches of this campaign season, before a crowd of what The Washington Post called “everyday Americans,” Bush opened with a husband-still-in-thrall routine. His life, he said, can be divided into two parts: “b.c. and a.c.—before Columba and after Columba,” referring to Columba Garnica de Gallo, the woman he fell madly in love with while on a high-school trip to Mexico and then married 41 years ago.
The crowd, full of seniors and some Spanish speakers, awwwed and cheered. Columba herself was not in attendance. Perhaps because he hadn’t officially declared his candidacy for the Republican presidential nomination, she felt no hurry to claim her title as candidate’s wife.
In an interview, the U.S. president ties his legacy to a pact with Tehran, argues ISIS is not winning, warns Saudi Arabia not to pursue a nuclear-weapons program, and anguishes about Israel.
On Tuesday afternoon, as President Obama was bringing an occasionally contentious but often illuminating hour-long conversation about the Middle East to an end, I brought up a persistent worry. “A majority of American Jews want to support the Iran deal,” I said, “but a lot of people are anxiety-ridden about this, as am I.” Like many Jews—and also, by the way, many non-Jews—I believe that it is prudent to keep nuclear weapons out of the hands of anti-Semitic regimes. Obama, who earlier in the discussion had explicitly labeled the supreme leader of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, an anti-Semite, responded with an argument I had not heard him make before.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he said, referring to the apparently almost-finished nuclear agreement between Iran and a group of world powers led by the United States. “I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national-security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down.”
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.
Advocates say that a guaranteed basic income can lead to more creative, fulfilling work. The question is how to fund it.
Scott Santens has been thinking a lot about fish lately. Specifically, he’s been reflecting on the aphorism, “If you give a man a fish, he eats for a day. If you teach a man to fish, he eats for life.” What Santens wants to know is this: “If you build a robot to fish, do all men starve, or do all men eat?”
Santens is 37 years old, and he’s a leader in the basic income movement—a worldwide network of thousands of advocates (26,000 on Reddit alone) who believe that governments should provide every citizen with a monthly stipend big enough to cover life’s basic necessities. The idea of a basic income has been around for decades, and it once drew support from leaders as different as Martin Luther King Jr. and Richard Nixon. But rather than waiting for governments to act, Santens has started crowdfunding his own basic income of $1,000 per month. He’s nearly halfway to his his goal.
In any case, people have probably heard the phrase in reference to something gone awry at work or in life. In either setting, when the shit does hit the fan, people will tend to look to the most competent person in the room to take over.
And too bad for that person. A new paper by a team of researchers from Duke University, University of Georgia, and University of Colorado looks at not only how extremely competent people are treated by their co-workers and peers, but how those people feel when, at crucial moments, everyone turns to them. They find that responsible employees are not terribly pleased about this dynamic either.
Why agriculture may someday take place in towers, not fields
A couple of Octobers ago, I found myself standing on a 5,000-acre cotton crop in the outskirts of Lubbock, Texas, shoulder-to-shoulder with a third-generation cotton farmer. He swept his arm across the flat, brown horizon of his field, which was at that moment being plowed by an industrial-sized picker—a toothy machine as tall as a house and operated by one man. The picker’s yields were being dropped into a giant pod to be delivered late that night to the local gin. And far beneath our feet, the Ogallala aquifer dwindled away at its frighteningly swift pace. When asked about this, the farmer spoke of reverse osmosis—the process of desalinating water—which he seemed to put his faith in, and which kept him unafraid of famine and permanent drought.
A major innovator in 1999’s money-transfer landscape was PayPal, which started its money transfer service that year (Back then, websites looked like this.) Currently, PayPal reports that it has 165 million users around the world, and that it moved $46 billion in 2014. PayPal, once a small arm of its parent company, eBay, is soon going to be spun off, after which it plans to go public on Nasdaq.