Earlier this year, Peru passed a resolution to reduce its carbon footprint. It prescribed the use of clean energy and a stop to the illegal culling of Amazonian rainforests. Peru acted with good reason. Peru is a country that relies on its agricultural and fishing sectors as major sources of employment and food. A majority of the country’s population lives in the coastal desert, and relies on water from shrinking mountain glaciers and ever-more erratic rains in the Andes. As a result, climate change could hammer the Peruvian economy and Peruvians’ way of life.

That said, Peru produces just 0.4% of the world’s carbon emissions. Any solution to global climate change will have to come from beyond Peru’s borders, and one of the places where that change must happen is the United States of America. The U.S. produces some 18% of the world’s carbon emissions, second only to China. Nonetheless, the U.S. has failed to implement wide-ranging policies to reduce carbon emissions. How do Barack Obama and Mitt Romney see the problem of climate change, and what solutions do they offer?

ROMNEY
Mitt Romney has expressed some seemingly contradictory positions on the causes of climate change, according to a  timeline compiled by Climate Silence. In his 2010 book No Apology, Romney questioned the scientific consensus attributing climate change to human-caused greenhouse gas emissions. On the campaign trail the next year, however, he told a town hall meeting that he believed that humans were contributing to global warming, and that therefore, “…it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.”

Months later, however, Romney again began publicly questioning the idea that global warming is caused by humans. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans. … What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” he said in Lebanon, New Hampshire. This year, however, Romney told Science Debate, “I am not a scientist myself, but my best assessment of the data is that the world is getting warmer, that human activity contributes to that warming, and that policymakers should therefore consider the risk of negative consequences.”

That said, Romney’s policy recommendations on issues of energy and government regulation suggest that concerns about climate change will not weigh heavily on his decision-making. Romney is strongly advocating an increase of gas and oil drilling both on-and-off-shore in the United States. Romney opposed a tax credit for the production of wind energy.

Romney has also taken a dim view of proposals to regulate carbon emissions. He stated that he disagreed with the Environmental Protection Agency’s right to oversee carbon emissions as pollutants. While Romney voiced some support for cap and trade (in which carbon emission limits would be set, and companies could buy and sale credits for emissions) while governor of Massachusetts, the policy is not part of his 2012 platform.

OBAMA
For those concerned about climate change, Obama’s first term in office has been a mixed bag of success and disappointment. Obama has continued U.S. resistance to the Kyoto Protocol, an international treaty which prescribes cuts in carbon emissions, despite the U.S. having signed the document in 1997. While Obama pushed cap and trade legislation through the House of Representatives in 2009, the bill died in the Senate and has shown no signs of being resuscitated.

After the failure of cap and trade, however, Obama empowered the EPA to regulate carbon emissions as pollutants. His administration also toughened emissions standards for cars and trucks. His administration has sought to have subsidies for oil and gas companies lowered and eliminated, while pushing for tax credits and other incentives for renewable energy providers.

Looking ahead, Obama has made little mention of climate change in the 2012 campaign. One notable exception was his acceptance speech at the Democratic National Convention, when he said that, “Climate change is not a hoax,” and promised further carbon reduction. Nevertheless, Obama’s platform includes more oil and gas drilling the United States.

 

By Nick Rosen, October 3, 2012

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The U.S. presidential election and Peru: Immigration

In little more than a month, millions of Americans will head to the polls to select the next president of the United States. What would the election of Mitt Romney or the re-election of Barack Obama mean for Peru? This multi-part series will seek to answer that question, issue-by-issue. Today, we look at the two candidates’ positions on immigration.

Peruvians in the United States
It’s hard to track down a firm number on how many Peruvians are living in the United States. The U.S. Census finds about 600,000 people claiming Peruvian origins in the country, but that includes native-born and naturalized U.S. citizens. A press release from Peru’s representatives in the Parlamento Andino estimated that there a million Peruvians living in the U.S., with half of them undocumented. Other estimates say that two-thirds of the Peruvians resident in the U.S. are undocumented. Most estimates suggest that between 2% and 4% of Peru’s citizens live in the United States.

Peruvian immigration to the U.S. has a huge economic impact back home. The Inter-American Development Bank calculates that in 2011, Peruvians in the U.S. sent some $902 million back to their families in Peru. Whil remittances from Europe have fallen, those from the United States have grown in the past year.

Positions on undocumented immigration
As estimates suggest that at least half of the Peruvian immigrants living in the U.S. are doing so without a legal visa, the candidates’ positions on “illegal” immigration are important for the Peruvian community.

When Barack Obama ran for the presidency in 2008, one of his campaign promises was to implement comprehensive immigration reform, providing a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants. That has not happened.

A more modest bill, the DREAM Act, which would have provided a path to citizenship for undocumented young people who were brought to the United States as children and later completed high school, was voted down by the Republican majority in Congress. The president later implemented an executive order which, at least temporarily, accomplished much of what was outlined in the DREAM Act. Still, Obama recently said that the failure to implement comprehensive immigration reform was the greatest failure of his first term, and providing a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who meet certain criteria remains part of his platform in the 2012 campaign.

Under Obama’s government, deportations of undocumented immigrants increased, with some 1,100 Peruvians deported from the country in 2010 and 2011, according to El Comercio. On the other hand, the administration’s Justice Department sued to stop an Arizona state law that would have allowed local law enforcement officers to question anyone they believed to be in the United States illegally.

Mitt Romney’s position on undocumented immigration deviates sharply from Obama’s. Rather than advocating a path for citizenship, Romney has called for creating incentives for undocumented immigrants to leave the United States. Among the initiatives would be a “mandatory employment verification system that will enable employers to be sure that those they hire are eligible to work. This will discourage illegal immigrants from coming to America to seek jobs,” according to his campaign’s website. Romney says that he would  reform the temporary worker program to make it a viable alternative to illegal immigration.

Romney also believes that denying undocumented immigrants benefits, such as state drivers licenses and in-state tuition at public university, will help stop the flow of undocumented workers. The Romney campaign has repeatedly refused to state whether Romney supports the Arizona state law, though it has said that Romney believes that states should have more power to draft immigration laws. Romney has said that he would veto the DREAM Act, but does say that young people who come to the U.S. as children and later serve in the military should have a path to citizenship.

Positions on legal immigration
The two candidates’ positions are significantly closer on legal immigration. Both candidates have called for more visas for high-skilled workers and those with advanced degrees, citing the positive impact that these immigrants have on the economy. Both candidates have stated that there is a need to reform the temporary worker program so that economic sectors like agricultural and tourism can get the workers that they need.

Romney says that he would facilitate and speed up the processing of visas for the relatives of American citizens and permanent residents, and would raise the caps of high-skilled immigrants from many countries.

Barack Obama opposes the designation of English as the official language of the United States, saying that it would keep Spanish speakers from accessing government services. Mitt Romney says that he would support legislation designating English as an official language.

Food for hungry mouths, feed for animals headed to the slaughterhouse, fiber for clothing and even, in some cases, fuel for vehicles—all derive from global agriculture. As a result, in the world’s temperate climes human agriculture has supplanted 70 percent of grasslands, 50 percent of savannas and 45 percent of temperate forests. Farming is also the leading cause of deforestation in the tropics and one of thelargest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, a major contributor to the ongoing maul of species known as the “sixth extinction,” and a perennial source of nonrenewable groundwater mining and water pollution.

To restrain the environmental impact of agriculture as well as produce more wholesome foods, some farmers have turned to so-called organic techniques. This type of farming is meant to minimize environmental and human health impacts by avoiding the use of synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and hormones or antibiotic treatments for livestock, among other tactics. But the use of industrial technologies, particularly synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, has fed the swelling human population during the last century. Can organic agriculture feed a world of nine billion people?

In a bid to bring clarity to what has too often been an emotional debate, environmental scientists at McGill University in Montreal and the University of Minnesota performed an analysis of 66 studies comparing conventional and organicmethods across 34 different crop species. “We found that, overall, organic yields are considerably lower than conventional yields,” explains McGill’s Verena Seufert, lead author of the study to be published in Nature on April 26. (Scientific American is part of Nature Publishing Group.) “But, this yield difference varies across different conditions. When farmers apply best management practices, organic systems, for example, perform relatively better.”

In particular, organic agriculture delivers just 5 percent less yield in rain-watered legume crops, such as alfalfa or beans, and in perennial crops, such as fruit trees. But when it comes to major cereal crops, such as corn or wheat, and vegetables, such as broccoli, conventional methods delivered more than 25 percent more yield.

The key limit to further yield increases via organic methods appears to be nitrogen—large doses of synthetic fertilizer can keep up with high demand from crops during the growing season better than the slow release from compost, manure or nitrogen-fixing cover crops. Of course, the cost of using 171 million metric tons of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer is paid in dead zones at the mouths of many of the world’s rivers. These anoxic zones result from nitrogen-rich runoff promoting algal blooms that then die and, in decomposing, suck all the oxygen out of surrounding waters. “To address the problem of [nitrogen] limitation and to produce high yields, organic farmers should use best management practices, supply more organic fertilizers or grow legumes or perennial crops,” Seufert says.

In fact, more knowledge would be key to any effort to boost organic farming or its yields. Conventional farming requires knowledge of how to manage what farmers know as inputs—synthetic fertilizer, chemical pesticides and the like—as well as fields laid out precisely via global-positioning systems. Organic farmers, on the other hand, must learn to manage an entire ecosystem geared to producing food—controlling pests through biological means, using the waste from animals to fertilize fields and even growing one crop amidst another. “Organic farming is a very knowledge-intensive farming system,” Seufert notes. An organic farmer “needs to create a fertile soil that provides sufficient nutrients at the right time when the crops need them. The same is true for pest management.”

But the end result is a healthier soil, which may prove vital in efforts to make it more resilient in the face of climate change as well as conserve it. Organic soils, for example, retain water better than those farms that employ conventional methods. “You use a lot more water [in irrigation] because the soil doesn’t have the capacity to retrain the water you use,” noted farmer Fred Kirschenmann, president of Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture at the “Feeding the World While the Earth Cooks” event at the New America Foundation in Washington, D.C., on April 12.

At the same time, a still-growing human population requires more food, which has led some to propose further intensifying conventional methods of applying fertilizer and pesticides to specially bred crops, enabling either a second Green Revolution or improved yields from farmlands currently under cultivation. Crops genetically modified to endure drought may also play a role as well as efforts to develop perennial versions of annual staple crops, such as wheat, which could help reduce environmental impacts and improve soil. “Increasing salt, drought or heat tolerance of our existing crops can move them a little but not a lot,” said biologist Nina Fedoroff of Pennsylvania State University at the New America event. “That won’t be enough.”

And breeding new perennial versions of staple crops would require compressing millennia of crop improvements that resulted in the high-yielding wheat varieties of today, such as the dwarf wheat created by breeder Norman Borlaug and his colleagues in the 1950s, into a span of years while changing the fundamental character of wheat from an annual crop to a perennial one. Then there is the profit motive. “The private sector is not likely to embrace an idea like perennial crop seeds, which do not require the continued purchase of seeds and thus do not provide a very good source of profit,” Seufert notes.

Regardless, the world already produces 22 trillion calories annually via agriculture, enough to provide more than 3,000 calories to every person on the planet. The food problem is one of distribution and waste—whether the latter is food spoilage during harvest, in storage or even after purchase. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, in the U.S. alone, 215 meals per person go to waste annually.

“Since the world already produces more than enough food to feed everyone well, there are other important considerations” besides yield, argues ecologist Catherine Badgley of the University of Michigan, who also compared yields from organic and conventional methods in a 2006 study (pdf) that found similar results. Those range from environmental impacts of various practices to the number of people employed in farming. As it stands, conventional agriculture relies on cheap energy, cheap labor and other unsustainable practices. “Anyone who thinks we will be using Roundup [a herbicide] in eight [thousand] to 10,000 years is foolish,” argued organic evangelist Jeff Moyer, farm director the Rodale Institute, at the New America Foundation event.

But there is unlikely to be a simple solution. Instead the best farming practices will vary from crop to crop and place to place. Building healthier soils, however, will be key everywhere. “Current conventional agriculture is one of the major threats to the environment and degrades the very natural resources it depends on. We thus need to change the way we produce our food,” Seufert argues. “Given the current precarious situation of agriculture, we should assess many alternative management systems, including conventional, organic, other agro-ecological and possibly hybrid systems to identify the best options to improve the way we produce our food.”

 

By David Biello  | S.A. / April 25, 2012