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Friday, June 25, 2010

Two Images

I don't remember how, but I awesomely found a pretty awesome [[**very odd typo, but I think I'll just leave it in**]] website/online magazine/perhaps real magazine called http://seedmagazine.com/, which is quickly supplanting Slate and TED as my go-to-source for time-killing media. I highly recommend their "Food Fight" series (introduction here, conclusion with index here), in which an ecologist and a political scientist write back-and-forth essays addressing the question of whether looming (or rather, currently existing) environmental and social problems can best be addressed by capital-intense industrialized farming methods (including the use of nitrogen fertilizer and genetically modified crops) or by sophisticated, synergetic/synergistic, "agroecological," organic-type methods.

I devoured the essays there as well as many of the links found within, and then despaired of not having any eco-articles to get me all incensed again for a few days. Then I found out they have another series, this time on whether overpopulation or overconsumption will cause more problems in the coming years. It promises to be equally interesting. Probably equally frustrating, confounding, and depressing as well.

Anyhow, here are two images/maps/graphs/representations/depictions/what-have-you from the opening article. I think I'd actually seen one or both of them before, but never right next to each other. The first is a world map rescaled so that population, rather than geographical area, determines the size of each country. The second is similar, except that population and geography are replaced by wealth.

The disparity between the American and European situation - high consumption relative to population - is in stark contrast with the high population to consumption ratio in most of the rest of the world, particularly in China and India. (And most of all in Africa, though for some reason I'm not so sensitive on this front.)

Actually, though, the first time I looked at the second image, I couldn't find anything shaped like Korea where I thought Korea ought to be. Then I freaked out when I (thought I) realized that Korea was the big purple blob on the right. Then I calmed down when I realized (for real) that it's actually right where it should be, between China and Japan, with just a slightly different shade of green. The consumption is monstrous! Of course, having been here for a while, having ambled through the most ridiculous, luxurious, frivolous, terrifying department stores conceivable, I knew this on some level. I hadn't imagined, though, that my little old "Land of the Morning Calm" could single-handedly (technically 100,000,000 handedly, I suppose) rival or outconsume France, India, Africa, or South America. Taking population into account, Korea still comes in far below Western Europe and the US, but even so...I need to find a farm, quick!


Laura said...

This was a fabulous post for me Mike. I am getting more and more into eating only whole foods/nothing processed/locally, but have been trying to figure out how that fits in with what I actually do for a living (trying to increase incomes of smallholder farmers in developing countries by encouraging increased production, processing, and, in the long run, exports). I genuinely believe in them both (1) that humans should be eating whole foods and that not doing so is harmful to us and the environment and (2)that the majority of poor people work in the agriculture sector and the easiest way to raise them out of poverty is to help them increase production by introducing modern farming technology. So, how do they fit?? I haven't figured it out yet, let me know if you do, but I will definitely be following the food fight debate!

Mike said...

It's kind of an impossible situation, isn't it? Of course trying to raise the living standards of the unimaginably poor is a worthwhile goal, but how can we go about it in a way that doesn't lead to environmental degradation, further social stratification, human rights abuses, and the continued immiseration of others elsewhere?

One point I think the "food fight" series makes well is that those who are advocating agroecological methods related to the "organic" label are not suggesting a method taken from the past, but rather a method that synthesises modern technology and intellectual capital while trying to reduce the amount of industrial and chemical inputs which are so damaging. It's a different kind of technology, but it's not low-tech, it's not outdated, and it's not inefficient. So they say.

I highly admire you for being in the middle of all of this. Sometimes I wonder if maybe you could get me a job?