We’ve lived so long under the spell of hierarchy—from god-kings to feudal lords to party bosses—that only recently have we awakened to see not only that “regular” citizens have the capacity for self-governance, but that without their engagement our huge global crises cannot be addressed. The changes needed for human society simply to survive, let alone thrive, are so profound that the only way we will move toward them is if we ourselves, regular citizens, feel meaningful ownership of solutions through direct engagement. Our problems are too big, interrelated, and pervasive to yield to directives from on high.
—Frances Moore Lappé, excerpt from Time for Progressives to Grow Up

Friday, February 1, 2013

The Surprising Connection Between Food and Fracking

Click here to access article by Tom Philpott from Mother Jones.

It seems to me that this very interesting examination of the use of synthetic nitrogen should have been more aptly entitled "The troubling consequences of Big Ag's use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers". Here is one troubling consequence:
If Big Ag becomes hooked on cheap fracked gas to meet its fertilizer needs, then the fossil fuel industry will have gained a powerful ally in its effort to steamroll regulation and fight back opposition to fracking projects.
The evidence and arguments he provides confirms that Big Ag is, indeed, "hooked on cheap fracked gas". However, what is much worse are the consequences for climate destabilization and soil degradation. And, the latter depend on the relationship of the use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers with soil degradation. This, it turn, depends to a great extent on supporting documentation that is only provided by links. People who hastily read online reports such as this may simply skip over these links, and conclude that his thesis is only rather interesting rather than disturbing.

The most insightful and substantive link supporting the relationship was the one posted on The Grist in 2010 by the same author entitled "New research: synthetic nitrogen destroys soil carbon, undermines soil health". If you do not have the time to read this, I offer the following quotes from the article which explains this relationship.
...nitrogen fertilizer stimulates soil microbes, which feast on organic matter.
As organic matter dissipates, soil’s ability to store organic nitrogen declines. A large amount of nitrogen then leaches away, fouling ground water in the form of nitrates, and entering the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O), a greenhouse gas with some 300 times the heat-trapping power of carbon dioxide. In turn, with its ability to store organic nitrogen compromised, only one thing can help heavily fertilized farmland keep cranking out monster yields: more additions of synthetic N.

...the loss of organic matter depleted the soil’s ability to store nitrogen. The practice of year-after-year fertilization
[pushes soils] onto the chemical treadmill: unable to efficiently store nitrogen, they became reliant on the next fix.

The loss of organic matter has other ill effects, the researchers say. Injured soil becomes prone to compaction, which makes it vulnerable to runoff and erosion and limits the growth of stabilizing plant roots. Worse yet, soil has a harder time holding water, making it ever more reliant on irrigation. As water becomes scarcer, this consequence of widespread synthetic N use will become more and more challenging.