Tuesday, December 14, 2021

I sometimes worry that these essays are too similar to one another. But then I think about Sue Grafton, who became rich and famous by writing much the same book 25 times, and that makes me feel better. F is for Formulaic was my personal favorite. She tragically died after "Y", which is maybe something to keep in mind.

Scientists can rival Grafton, Louis L’Amour and the old pulp fiction writers of yore when it comes to formulaic. I wrote about that once a couple of years ago with Déjà vu All Over Again. Along those lines, I’m considering submitting a book proposal for the “Dummies” series to be titled “Creeping Incrementalism for Dummies” that features agriculture’s environmental performance. You know the ending.

Writing papers for submission to a scientific journal requires a review of existing literature. When you do what I do, this can be downright depressing because so much of what we know about the causes and solutions for bad water and bad air has been known for a loooooong time. You can almost sense the researchers’ frustration festering between statements of fact that are repeated year after year, paper after paper. I’m working on a soil carbon paper with some other people here, and I came across an example of this in a 2009 paper written by World Food Prize Laureate Rattan Lal: “Numerous and wide-ranging benefits of soil organic matter (SOM or organic carbon) for enhancing soil quality and influencing the underlying pedological processes were quantified by Jenny (Jenny, 1941, 1961; Jenny & Raychaudhary, 1961). Some direct benefits of the SOM pool include improvement in soil structure, retention of water and plant nutrients, increase in soil biodiversity and decrease in risks of soil erosion and the related degradation.” Jenny was esteemed soil scientist Hans Jenny, who, as you can see, had to write not one but two papers 20 years after the original as if to say, hey, dudes, did you not see this paper I wrote 20 years ago? And if alive, he would probably still be writing the same paper again and again because agriculture is a stubborn ass when it comes to change. Unless of course if it has anything to do with bushels. There are a lot of early adopters when it comes to anything bushel-related. Weird how that works.

Hans Jenny
Hans Jenny. Photo credit: Univ. of CA Berkeley

Having failed to convince farmers over the last 80 years that sequestering carbon in their soil is a good thing, the Government-Academia-NGO-Ag Industrial complex is poised to capitalize, or carbonalize, I might say, on the public’s climate change angst in ways that funnel money to farmers to do the right thing, even though the right thing is largely in the farmers' best interest. Of course, many in the complex are eager to skim a little of that money off the top, don't you know.

There’s an important lesson here and that lesson is that improvements in Ag’s environmental outcomes rarely happen unless they can be monetized. Doing it for the common or greater good? C’mon, that’s for sissies and socialists, and not the kind of socialists that are on the receiving end of farm subsidies. The bad kind.

So, speaking of monetization, there are some rich guys that also want to monetize the carbon dioxide (CO2) resulting from fuel ethanol production (1,2). The idea is to capture this CO2 and pipe it up to North Dakota because, well, climate change. Supposedly. And capitalism. A new breed of capitalism, carbonalism, that has one customer—the federal government. A system that millionaires can use to cynically exploit the damage already done to our atmosphere. I'd be shocked if these people are as worried about climate change as they are about the price of Johnny Walker. But hey, if there’s a buck to be made from the suckers that worry about the earth our grandchildren will inherit, why not? In the name of capitalism, oops, I mean carbonalism, MONETIZE EVERYTHING.

If carbon capture from ethanol production is such a good idea, you might ask, why didn’t they do it decades ago when the industry was developed and when scientists knew pretty much all of what we know now about greenhouse gases and climate? Answer (a): because the suckers weren’t worried enough then. Answer (b): Enhanced Oil Recovery (EOR). Potential windfalls exist for the pipeliners if they can sell the CO2 to North Dakota oil drillers to help scavenge recalcitrant petroleum from geological formations that are nearly exhausted—a tradeoff that hardly is much of a climate change benefit for the public. A win-lose, in other words.

So buckle up for months of pipe-aganda about how journeyman and -woman pipefitters and earthmovers and surveyors and various other rugged workers will revitalize rural Iowa by occupying hotel rooms and washing down months’ worth of pork tenderloin sandwiches with rivers of Busch Light at every Forgottenville, Iowa tavern on the NW-SE axis. We'll probably hear soon that Casey's convenience store is reserving container ship space for all the extra breakfast pizza ingredients they will need to ship in to feed this starving mob of high paid workers. This will all somehow make up for the wreckage wrought on rural Iowa by the Ag Titans over the past 50 years through consolidation and creation of the three-headed corn-soy-cafo Frankenstein monster. We’re told this is the most sustainable model for Iowa, and indeed for a present-day farmer in present-day Iowa, it may be, at least at the farm scale. But this phony sustainability rests squarely upon the backs of the taxpayer and the public’s tolerance of its externalities, namely, polluted water and air.

Also folks, be prepared for the Johnny Walker drinkers to advocate for higher nitrogen fertilizer application rates in the name of climate change. You heard it here first.

1) https://www.iowapublicradio.org/ipr-news/2021-10-13/proposed-carbon-dioxide-pipeline-draws-opposition-from-iowa-farmers-and-environmentalists-alike

2) https://www.thegazette.com/environment-nature/researchers-say-carbon-dioxide-could-be-stored-underground-in-iowa/