General Archive

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why I Oppose Organic Food

Organics, Just Say NoOrganic food is becoming increasingly popular. The Market Analysis page of the Organic Trade Association describes how organic food sales were $39.1 billion in 2014, nearly 5% of total food sales in the U.S., and up 11.3% from the previous year. It seems that nearly every grocery store now carries organic foods. I can't even find non-organic fresh herbs in my local grocery store.

There are a lot of hyped up claims about the health benefits of organic foods without a whole lot of data to back up those claims. There's also a lot of misunderstanding about what it actually takes to get classified as 'organic' from the USDA. For example, many organic farmers till use pesticides - they're just naturally occurring chemicals as opposed to synthetic ones. You can read about a lot of these issues in a Scientific American article, Mythbusting 101: Organic Farming > Conventional Agriculture.

But most of that is just hype, and if people are willing to pay extra money for a product that doesn't live up to all its claims, I believe P.T. Barnum may have had something to say about that*. My major problem with organic foods is where they actively cause harm to the environment. A good discussion on organic and conventional crop yields can be found in the entry on the Jayson Lusk blog, Organic vs Conventional Crop Yields. As Lusk points out, most large scale literature reviews find that organic crops on average give yields around 20-25% lower than conventional techniques (there's a lot of variability in that discrepancy depending on the particular crop). And as Lusk further went on to point out, conventional farming will always have an upper hand on organic, because even if some organic techniques are found to be beneficial, conventional farming can always adopt those particular techniques while still having other options that aren't available to organic**.

So, 20-25% lower yieds means that roughly 20-25% more cropland is required. Or to put that a different way, it means 20-25% more habitat destruction. And that's a big deal. Here's an excerpt from the World Wildlife Fund page on Impact of habitat loss on species.

Habitat loss is probably the greatest threat to the variety of life on this planet today.

It is identified as a main threat to 85% of all species described in the IUCN's Red List (those species officially classified as "Threatened" and "Endangered").

Increasing food production is a major agent for the conversion of natural habitat into agricultural land.

I know global warming gets most of the attention now as far as environmental disasters, but habitat loss is arguably worse. There are 7 billion people on this planet right now, and that's likely to increase to around 10 billion in the future, if not more. All those people need food, and most of that food has to be grown on farms. We should be doing everything we can to make those farms as productive as possible, minimizing habitat destruction as much as possible. We shouldn't be pushing for farming techniques that make that production 25% worse.

Most people buy organic foods because they want to eat healthy or because they are concerned about the environment and think organics reduce environmental problems. But they've been misled. The health claims aren't backed up, and the environmental impact is far more negative than most people realize.


*Actually, I still do have a problem with it, the same way I do with all false advertising. Organic proponents are pushing claims that aren't backed up by evidence, which is pretty misleading, though they probably believe the claims themselves so it's not exactly dishonest. And the saying about a sucker born every minute wasn't actually made by PT Barnum, but I'm sure he still had something to say about making money off of suckers.

**It reminds me of the passage from Tim Minchin's poem, Storm, "You know what they call “alternative medicine” / That's been proved to work? / Medicine.”"

Friday, June 26, 2015

Supreme Court Clears the Way to Marriage Equality

Marriage Equality Logo from Human Rights CampaignThis is going to be posted all over every news site and many, many other blogs besides this one, but I just can't help but share in the good news. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in favor of marriage equality. Here's a link to the article from MSNBC, Supreme Court rules in favor of marriage equality.

There were two questions before the court, whether states had to license same-sex marriages, and whether states had to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. Happily, the court ruled yes to both questions.

The vote was closer than I would have liked to have seen. I'm not really surprised at Alito, Scalia, or Thomas, but I was hoping Roberts would have been on the right side. I know it might not have been the original intention of the 14th Amendment, but I don't see how someone from today could read that amendment and not think it mandates marriage equality. And to the people arguing that this decision overturns the will of the people - that's the whole point of this amendment and the Bill or Rights, to ensure that people's rights aren't trampled by the tyranny of the majority.

Oh well, I'll leave it to other sites to analyze and discuss the decision in more detail. I'm just happy to share the good news.

Image Source: Wikimedia Commons (Human Rights Campaign Marriage Equality Logo)

Friday, June 5, 2015

XKCD Crosses the Line

Take a look at this pathetic excuse for a comic that's the latest from Randall Munroe:

Click to embiggen and to read the mouse-over text

Sacrilege!!! Beer is the nectar of the gods. Sure, it may be an acquired taste, but a lot of the things I like now were acquired tastes. I didn't particularly like coffee when I was younger, but now I do. Same thing for Brussels sprouts and steak (though I think my adult taste for steak may have more to do with discovering 'medium rare' as opposed to cooked to the consistency of leather).

Beer is incredible, from the clean flavor of a Dallas Blonde, to a refreshing Modelo Especial, to a smooth Guinness Draught, to a complex La Fin du Monde. Even Natty Light hits the spot on a hot day.

I can not believe that Randall Munroe would go so far as to imply that beer actually tastes bad, or that people only drink it out of peer pressure. It's an insult, and in protest, I plan to boycott his site for the next 48 hours.

---

I've written about beer before, 2012 Great American Beer Festival, which reminds me that there are a few local beers I still need to try.

And even though I've already posted this before, I still like this picture, so I'm posting it again. This is from my pilgrimage to the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas.

Jeff at the Spoetzl Brewery

Friday, May 29, 2015

Wichita Falls Flood Information Resources

During this recent flood scare, one issue I had was finding good sources of information. There was no single location that linked to all the good resources - I had to find them piecemeal. So, in the event that there's another flood in the future, I want to have one location with all these resources so I don't have to go searching for them again, and so that other people can easily find them. Below is a list of the resources that I found most useful.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Wichita Falls' Historic Drought Ended by Historic Flood

The drought in Wichita Falls is over. I'd mentioned the drought on this blog twice before, in 2011 and 2013. This was the worst drought on record for the region. Our reservoirs had dropped down below 25% capacity, and it had even gotten so bad that the city was recycling treated sewer water directly back into the drinking supply (more info: NPR - Drought-Stricken Texas Town Turns To Toilets For Water).

But since weather here seems to always be a case of extremes, the drought went out with a bang, with the wettest month on record for the city, and 'Moderate' flooding that forced evacuations of a few neighborhoods and actually did flood a few houses. We did dodge a bullet, though. The original forecast for Saturday was another big storm that would have dumped a lot more water into our watershed, and would have probably caused a 'Major' flood, exceeding the record high we had back in 2007 (which I also blogged about). Luckily for us, that storm bypassed Wichita Falls, so our flood wasn't near as bad as it could have been.

But you could read about the flood anywhere. The thing that made me want to write this blog post was a small little event in our backyard. Since the last flood, we'd built a deck over the pond in the back. And as the water came up this time, a bunch of spiders and other creepy crawlies got trapped on the deck with nowhere to go, so I took a few photos and a short video. Here's a picture of two spiders facing off to see who gets to keep the high ground (the bigger spider to the right won the face off).

Spiders fighting for high ground during flood
Click to embiggen

And here's a video showing all the critters on the last high spot on the deck, a corner that was just a bit higher than the rest of the deck (I'm not too ashamed at my workmanship - it was only about 3/4" higher than the lowest corner).

But, me being the softy that I am, I couldn't just leave all those spiders to drown. Granted, it looked like they could swim decently, but since most spiders don't have good vision, and I saw a few heading off into deeper water, I wasn't sure how many of them would actually make it to shore. So I went and found a board long enough to make them a little bridge, and laid it across the water for them. It didn't take but a few seconds before the first spider had found the bridge and made its way over, and a lot of other spiders weren't too far behind. I only got a couple pictures of the bridge. Neither was great, and I probably could have gotten some better ones had I taken more, but right after I took those pictures is about the time it dawned on me that all those rescued spiders were now crawling around my bare feet, and I wasn't sure what type of gratitude they'd display.

Anyway, here's the first picture. You can see one spider fairly clearly on the side of the board close to shore, and a couple out of focus spiders on the board farther out in the water.

Spider bridge to rescue spiders trapped by rising flood waters
Click to embiggen

And here's the second picture, looking out towards the end of the bridge. You can see that the high spot's almost covered. There are two almost in focus spiders about halfway across, and a third out of focus just starting the crossing.

Spider bridge to rescue spiders trapped by rising flood waters
Click to embiggen

There was actually one more spot on the deck where I set up a bridge to rescue spiders, but the picture I took of that was no better than the pictures above, so there's no reason to post it. On the little actual bridge that connects the deck to the shore, there were a few weeds and grass sticking out above the water, and the spiders had a whole series of web bridges along those plants. I set up a board that just touched the plants, giving those spiders a thoroughfare to dry land.

All in all, the weekend turned out about as well as could have been hoped for, at least considering the forecast on Saturday morning. The rain filled up our nearly empty reservoirs, and the flood wasn't close to as bad as it could have been. And I managed to save a few little critters.

Archives

Selling Out