Small Is Not Always Beautiful

(p. A16) Zaid Kurdieh has so many fava beans growing at his farm in upstate New York that he could send 4,000 pounds a week to the best chefs in New York City. In Kentucky, Robert Eversole and Thomas Sargent planted enough winter greens to fill the all the salad bars at the University of Kentucky and still have enough left over to feed fans at the state’s two major spring horse races.

But the coronavirus pandemic has postponed the Kentucky Derby and shut the university. And in New York, chefs who would normally be shelling Mr. Kurdieh’s fava beans for their spring menus have closed their restaurants.

So these small farmers, like many others across the country who spent decades building a local, sustainable agricultural system, are staring at their fields and wondering what to do now that the table has been kicked out from under the modern farm-to-table movement.

. . .

Farm-to-table — the term has become a fixture in the culinary lexicon — started in the 1970s, when Chez Panisse and a handful of other restaurants hatched what then seemed like a radical notion: Build menus from food grown by nearby farmers who are thoughtful about everything from the seeds they select and the soil they grow them in to the communities they feed.

That idea grew into a pipeline connecting farmers, ranchers and chefs that in 2019 had generated $12 billion in income for small-scale producers including cheesemakers and vintners. Governments, hospitals and schools have come to see the value in buying locally grown food. No Silicon Valley tech company worth its stock price would dare to design a cafeteria without local food.

Since the pandemic hit, that conduit has shut down. The loss in sales could run as high as $689 million, with much higher costs in jobs and other businesses that make up the farm-to-table economic ecosystem, according to a report compiled in March by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

For the full story, see:

Kim Severson. “Farm-to-Table Falters, and Growers Are in Limbo.” The New York Times (Friday, April 10, 2020): A16.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 9, 2020, and has the title “The Farm-to-Table Connection Comes Undone.”)

Covid-19 Pandemic Reduces Appeal of Reusable Bags

(p. B5) An oft-cited study by researchers at the University of Arizona and Loma Linda University found that reusable plastic bags can contain bacteria, and that users don’t wash reusable bags very often.

. . .

In New York, John Flanagan, the top Republican in the State Senate, called for the state this month to suspend the plastic bag ban that went into force on March 1 [2020]. The ban’s enforcement had already been delayed pending a legal challenge unrelated to the virus.

“Now is not the time or place,” Mr. Flanagan said in an interview. “This is a state of emergency.” Moreover, “people miss the plastic bags,” he said. “They were very functional and useful. We need to reopen the discussions.”

Libertarian groups have joined the effort. In Albuquerque, the Rio Grande Foundation, which bills itself as New Mexico’s premier free-market think tank, has spearheaded opposition to a move to strengthen the city’s plastic bag ban.

. . .

“Is there a worse idea in this time of Coronavirus,” the group quipped in a recent posting on Twitter, “than a plan to ‘more fully’ ban plastic bags?’”

Some supermarket chains have moved ahead with their own ban on reusable bags. The Midwestern supermarket chain Hy-Vee has said it was no longer accepting reusable bags at their stores. Price Chopper said on Twitter that it was phasing plastic bags back into use at its stores in New York.

For the full story, see:

Hiroko Tabuchi. “Plastics Industry Sees Chance to Undo Bans on Single-Use Bags.” The New York Times (Friday, March 27, 2020): B5.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date March 26, 2020, and has the title “In Coronavirus, Industry Sees Chance to Undo Plastic Bag Bans.”)

The “oft-cited study” mentioned above, is:

Williams, David L., Charles P. Gerba, Sherri Maxwell, and Ryan G. Sinclair. “Assessment of the Potential for Cross-Contamination of Food Products by Reusable Shopping Bags.” Food Protection Trends 31, no. 8 (Aug. 2011): 508–13.

Fresh Water Great Lakes at Near-Record High Levels

Global warming activists sometimes claim that a harm of global warming is reduced fresh water supplies. As noted in the passage quoted below, the Great Lakes, the world’s greatest reserve of fresh water, are now at record or near-record levels.

(p. A3) Record and near-record water levels in all five Great Lakes are resulting in tens of millions of dollars in damage from Minnesota to New York as eroding shorelines and monster waves cause homes to plummet into the water, public piers and lakeside trails to crack and crumble, and parks and properties to flood.

The high levels come after several years of above-average rains and snowfall in the region. Last year was the wettest on record for the Great Lakes and the second wettest across the continental U.S., according to federal data. Forecasts from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers show the elevated lake levels persisting through at least July.

Lakes Huron and Michigan set record lows in early 2013—an unprecedented swing, said Drew Gronewold, an associate professor at the University of Michigan’s School for Environment and Sustainability. He said the warming climate is exacerbating both precipitation and evaporation, the two main forces affecting lake levels. “My eyes are open right now that water levels may continue to swing like that,” he said, but the question needs more study to make better predictions about what might happen next.

For the full story, see:

Erin Ailworth. “Rising Great Lakes Pose Peril.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, February 21, 2020): A3.

(Note: the online version of the story has the date February 20, 2020, and has the title “On Rising Great Lakes, Backyards Are Disappearing Overnight.”)

“Local Adaptations” Might Be a “Workable Solution” to Global Warming

(p. 5) Around the time of every new and full moon, the sea rushes soundlessly past the trash-strewn shores, up over the single road running along the spine of Batasan, population 1,400, and into people’s homes. The island, part of the Tubigon chain in the central Philippines, is waterlogged at least one-third of the year.

. . .

“People say this is because of the Arctic melting,” said Dennis Sucanto, a local resident whose job is to measure the water levels in Batasan each year. “I don’t understand but that’s what they say.”

. . .

“They wanted us to go to a hilly farming place,” said Rodrigo Cosicol, 66, shaking his head at the affront. “We are fishermen. We need fish.”

“We don’t fear the water anymore,” Mr. Cosicol added. “This is our way of living.”

This unwillingness of people on Batasan to abandon their homes — instead choosing to respond, inch by inch, to a new reality — may hold valuable lessons for residents of other vulnerable island states. Rather than uprooting an entire population, with the enormous trauma and cost that entails, the more workable solution might be local adaptations.

“The climate refugee message is more sensational but the more realistic narrative from the islanders themselves is adaptation rather than mass migration,” said Laurice Jamero, who has researched the Tubigon islands for five years and runs the climate and disaster risk assessment efforts at the Manila Observatory, a research institute.

And Batasan’s residents have adjusted. They have rolled up their hems. They have placed their houses on blocks of coral stone. They have tethered their goats to sheds on stilts. They have moved most plant life from floodable patches of land to portable pots.

There are other concessions. The Roman Catholic priest at the local church declared that parishioners no longer have to kneel for prayer when the tides are high.

“We will find a way to do things because this is our home,” said Annie Casquejo, a local health committee member who once worked off the island but has, like many others, returned to Batasan.

Nature’s constant threat has imprinted resilience on the Philippine DNA.

. . .

Children on Batasan who are lucky enough to own bikes have one option — up and down the main road, the only road.

The concrete strip runs for less than two-thirds of a mile, then peters out in a mangrove swamp near the home of Alma Rebucas, where thigh-high waters regularly infiltrate. She secures the family’s utensils lest they float away. Her dog and goats are swimmers. So is the cat.

Ms. Rebucas said she has no plans to move away.  . . .

She oversees a fishing business, plucking sea cucumbers, crabs and grouper from the shimmering sea. Life here is like a magic trick, Ms. Rebucas said, making something from nothing.

“We don’t need much land,” she said. “We have the whole sea.”

For the full story, see:

Hannah Beech. “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Life on an Island Being Devoured by the Rising Sea.” The New York Times, First Section (Sunday, February 23, 2020): 5.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 22, 2020, and has the title “PHILIPPINES DISPATCH; Adapting to Rising Seas, Schools Move to the Rafters and Cats Swim.”)

If Jeff Bezos Really Wanted to Reverse Global Warming

(p. A15) Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to fight climate change, which he announced last week, brings to mind an episode of “South Park” that aired during the financial crisis. A succession of characters put their money into the market only to see it go instantly to zero before their eyes.

. . .

There’s one way Mr. Bezos might make a real splash and possibly even a difference. With his Blue Origin venture he adopted a “just do it” attitude toward spaceflight. Mr. Bezos could adopt the same “just do it” approach to testing the hypothesis that warming could be halted by using aircraft to distribute inert aerosols in the upper atmosphere to block a small amount of sunlight reaching the earth. A highly reputable climate warrior, New York University’s Gernot Wagner, estimates that around $2 billion a year would be enough to offset the warming seen so far. Other researchers have produced similar estimates.

For the full commentary, see:

Holman W. Jenkins, Jr. “BUSINESS WORLD; How Bezos Can Influence Climate.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 26, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 25, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

Gernot Wagner’s aerosol injection research has been published in:

Smith, Wake, and Gernot Wagner. “Stratospheric Aerosol Injection Tactics and Costs in the First 15 Years of Deployment.” Environmental Research Letters 13, no. 12 (Nov. 23, 2018): 1-23.

Floating Buildings Are Resilient If Global Warming Rises

(p. B6) More developers are building waterborne structures. Floating buildings can alleviate housing shortages in major cities at a time when land is scarce and restrictive zoning makes it hard to build up, said Koen Olthuis, whose Netherlands-based architecture firm Waterstudio specializes in floating structures.

For flood-prone cities like Miami, structures that rise and sink with the sea offer an alternative to waterfront construction that looks increasingly vulnerable to rising sea levels. “Climate change has definitely helped us spread our designs and ideas,” Mr. Olthuis said.

. . .

In Rotterdam’s harbor, developer RED Company is building a 54,000-square-foot, three-story, wooden, floating office building. The project, which will serve as the new headquarters of the Global Center on Adaptation, will be energy-neutral and feature solar panels and a floating swimming pool, according to the company.

GCA helps countries, companies and organizations to adapt to climate change. The center’s CEO Patrick Verkooijen said that Rotterdam is threatened by rising sea levels and that the “completely self sufficient floating office is one of many examples of how we must adapt to the realities of climate change to ensure our infrastructure is not only resilient but future proof.”

. . .

Some hope the trend will ultimately lead to floating cities. The Seasteading Institute advocates for communities in international waters as “startup societies” that can make up their own rules. It was founded by investor Peter Thiel and Patri Friedman, the grandson of Nobel Prize-winning economist Milton Friedman.

For the full story, see:

Konrad Putzier. “Developers Float Answer to Floods.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): B6.

(Note: ellipses added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the title “Are Floating Hotels, Office Buildings the Answer to Rising Sea Levels?”)

Single-Use Plastic Bags Are the Best Environmental Choice

(p. A15) Popular misconceptions have sustained the plastic panic. Environmentalists frequently claim that 80% of plastic in the oceans comes from land-based sources, but a team of scientists from four continents reported in 2018 that more than half the plastic in the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch” came from fishing boats—mostly discarded nets and other gear. Another study, published last year by Canadian and South African researchers, found that more than 80% of the plastic bottles that had washed up on the shore of Inaccessible Island, an uninhabited extinct volcano in the South Atlantic, originated in China. They must have been tossed off boats from Asia, the greatest source of what researchers call “mismanaged waste.”

Of the plastic carried into oceans by rivers, a 2017 study in Nature Communications estimated, 86% comes from Asia and virtually all the rest from Africa and South America.

. . .

Yet single-use plastic bags aren’t the worst environmental choice at the supermarket—they’re the best. High-density polyethylene bags are a marvel of economic, engineering and environmental efficiency. They’re cheap, convenient, waterproof, strong enough to hold groceries but thin and light enough to make and transport using scant energy, water or other resources. Though they’re called single-use, most people reuse them, typically as trash-can liners. When governments ban them, consumers buy thicker substitutes with a bigger carbon footprint.

Once discarded, they take up little room in landfills. That they aren’t biodegradable is a plus, because they don’t release greenhouse gases like decomposing paper and cotton bags. The plastic bags’ tiny quantity of carbon, extracted from natural gas, goes back underground, where it can be safely sequestered from the atmosphere and ocean in a modern landfill with a sturdy lining.

For the full commentary, see:

John Tierney. “Plastic Bags Help the Environment.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, February 19, 2020): A15.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date Feb. 18, 2020, and has the same title as the print version.)

The Nature Communications study mentioned in the passages quoted above, is:

Lebreton, Laurent C. M., Joost van der Zwet, Jan-Willem Damsteeg, Boyan Slat, Anthony Andrady, and Julia Reisser. “River Plastic Emissions to the World’s Oceans.” Nature Communications 8, no. 1 (June 10, 2017): 1-10.