Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution

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9781416572220: Green Gone Wrong: How Our Economy Is Undermining the Environmental Revolution

In Green Gone Wrong environmental writer Heather Rogers blasts through the marketing buzz of big corporations and asks a simple question: Do today’s much-touted "green" products—carbon offsets, organic food, biofuels, and eco-friendly cars and homes—really work? Implicit in efforts to go green is the promise that global warming can be stopped by swapping out dirty goods for "clean" ones. But can earth-friendly products really save the planet?

This far-reaching, riveting narrative explores how the most readily available solutions to environmental crisis may be disastrously off the mark. Rogers travels the world tracking how the conversion from a "petro" to a "green" society affects the most fundamental aspects of life—food, shelter, and transportation. Reporting from some of the most remote places on earth, Rogers uncovers shocking results that include massive clear-cutting, destruction of native ecosystems, and grinding poverty. Relying simply on market forces, people with good intentions wanting to just "do something" to help the planet are left feeling confused and powerless.

Green Gone Wrong
reveals a fuller story, taking the reader into forests, fields, factories, and boardrooms around the world to draw out the unintended consequences, inherent obstacles, and successes of eco-friendly consumption. What do the labels "USDA Certified Organic" and "Fair Trade" really mean on a vast South American export-driven organic farm? A superlow-energy "eco-village" in Germany’s Black Forest demonstrates that green homes dramatically shrink energy use, so why aren’t we using this technology in America? The decisions made in Detroit’s executive suites have kept Americans driving gas-guzzling automobiles for decades, even as U.S. automakers have European models that clock twice the mpg. Why won’t they sell these cars domestically? And what does carbon offsetting really mean when projects can so easily fail? In one case thousands of trees planted in drought-plagued Southern India withered and died, releasing any CO2 they were meant to neutralize.

Expertly reported, this gripping exposé pieces together a global picture of what’s happening in the name of today’s environmentalism. Green Gone Wrong speaks to anyone interested in climate change and the future of the natural world, as well as those who want to act but are caught not knowing who, or what, to believe to protect the planet. Rogers casts a sober eye on what’s working and what’s not, fearlessly pushing ahead the debate over how to protect the planet.

"synopsis" may belong to another edition of this title.

About the Author:

Heather Rogers is a journalist and author. She has written for the New York Times MagazineMother Jones, and The Nation. Her first book, Gone Tomorrow: The Hidden Life of Garbage, traces the history and politics of household garbage in the United States.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

CHAPTER ONE
Close to Home:
Local Organic


Just as the summer sun rises, dozens of independent growers from the surrounding region unpack their trucks and vans and set up stalls to sell fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, cheese, bread, honey, and flowers. They’re at the Union Square Greenmarket in New York City, the gem in the crown of the city’s more than one hundred farmers’ markets, one of the biggest such networks in the United States. Some farm stands take up more space than others; some resemble lean-tos, with weathered sunshades pitched against box trucks lettered with names such as evolutionary organics . Other stands are sleeker, sheltered by new white canopies that cast an even, dispersed light onto the piles of fruits and vegetables on tables below: frilly squash blossoms, bright radishes, wild spinach, and heirloom tomatoes with their full flesh folding in on itself. This produce bears little resemblance to the standardized, homogenous grocery store fare. The variegated farm stalls line the western edge of this bustling urban plaza—the type of place where, in the years before agribusiness and processed foods, farmers and shoppers would have come for exactly the same purpose.

Farmers’ markets such as the one in Union Square seem to summon a feeling of ethical alignment, important amid today’s global-warming-conscious environmentalism: buying here means doing the right thing. At the market it’s possible to meet the people who grow the food, ask what methods they use, and directly support their efforts. Purchasing this produce then becomes a means of defending nature by supporting an agricultural system that’s more ecologically sustainable, one that rejects toxic agrochemicals, uses less energy, is less polluting, and promotes long-term soil health. Short of growing it oneself, the greenmarket is as virtuous as it gets.

In recent years, farmers’ markets have surged in popularity in the United States, up by more than 150 percent, from just under two thousand in 1994 to well over five thousand last year. In 2005 revenues from farmers’ markets topped $1 billion, while the following year overall U.S. sales of natural and organic products exceeded $17 billion. As of 2007 the global organic market was worth $48 billion. Greater public awareness of “food miles,” the distance groceries travel from field to dinner plate, and the greenhouse-gas-emitting transport this requires, has triggered an urgent call to eat locally. Surging interest in healthy food grown close to home coupled with fear over ecological disaster has brought down a cascade of criticism of industrial agriculture, or what is oddly referred to as “conventional farming.” Emerging from the storm are local organic growers, now cast as heroes who have the power to overturn the environmental catastrophe that is conventional agriculture.

Over the past half century the dominant food system in the West has based itself on a toxic model. Crops are grown on landscapes remade as flat expanses of biological minimalism, swept clean of most life-forms by use of petrochemical pesticides. These swaths are made to fruit at the behest not of natural cycles but synthetic fertilizers and profligate irrigation. (According to the Economist magazine, “Farming accounts for roughly 70% of human water consumption.”) Similarly, industrial farming has transformed animal husbandry into a practice more akin to mass assembly-line production. It is saturated with chemically engineered antibiotics and growth hormones that render animals so malformed—to bulk up quickly for higher profits—that the sheer weight of their musculature can make them lame.

The fallout from conventional agriculture can be devastating. Synthetic fertilizers typically contain high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus, much of which eventually washes into coastal waters where it fuels rampant algae growth. Algal blooms colonize these aquatic systems, sapping them of oxygen, thereby suffocating fish and most other marine life. These mass underwater “dead zones” now plague large areas in the Gulf of Mexico, up and down the U.S. East Coast, the Baltic and Black seas, and are beginning to choke the waters off Australia, South America, China, and Japan.

In addition to flowing into rivers, lakes, and oceans, pesticides also linger as residues on food. A U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) survey found that out of eight fruit and twelve vegetable crops assessed, 73–90 percent were contaminated by pesticides. And almost half of the items tested had residues from multiple chemicals, compounding toxicity. A 2009 study on whether organic food is more nutritious, and therefore healthier, than conventional edibles showed no significant difference between the two. However, according to a report in the Guardian (UK), the researchers perplexingly did not factor fertilizer and pesticide residues that persist on conventionally grown food into their calculations. The most commonly used agricultural pesticides wreak havoc on human health, affecting the nervous system, harming the skin, eyes, and lungs, causing a variety of cancers as well as genetic damage, and impairing reproductive organs and normal hormone functions. Rejecting the food establishment that aims to conquer ecosystems, today’s small farmers are building an agriculture that’s fundamentally compatible with nature.

But this change doesn’t come cheap. It’s no mystery that food raised locally and without chemicals, hormones, or antibiotics costs more, sometimes a lot more. Among the chemical-free growers at Union Square, one sells milk for $20 a gallon and eggs for $14 a dozen; another offers tomatoes for $5 a pound, and still another marks leafy greens at almost $20 per pound (in winter, the same vegetables raised in greenhouses can ring in at over double that). As for meat, one Union Square farm sells its naturally raised Italian pork sausage for $12.50 per pound. Compared to meat and vegetables at the conventional grocery store, the difference is staggering. A recent circular from the supermarket near my house advertises twelve eggs for $1.50, vine-ripened tomatoes at $1.99 per pound, and Italian pork sausage for just $1.99 a pound. The organic premium can start at 10 percent above conventional prices, but, as the comparison above demonstrates, the discrepancy can easily hit 500 percent or higher. While advocates and shoppers often believe that a revolution in food will be led by local farmers, many of these revered husbandmen and women don’t earn a living wage. Because their prices can be exorbitant, it’s easy to assume that unconventional farmers have healthy incomes; in reality, many of them couldn’t afford to buy the very food they grow.

Part of why organically raised goods are so expensive is that caretaking natural systems is more labor-intensive than industrial agriculture, which engineers its way to productivity. Richard Pirog, associate director at the Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, an Iowa State University research institution, explains, “Conventional farming is cheaper because it externalizes its true costs onto the environment and public health. Unconventional cultivation internalizes those costs so it carries a higher price tag.” Many organic farmers must rely on hand labor to bring in crops and keep fields free of weeds and bugs instead of using sprays; more workers and the time needed to manage them drive up costs. In raising meat, pastured animals can take considerably longer to fatten than those finished on grain. The average grass-fed head achieves its “kill weight” at around thirty months, whereas conventionally raised cattle can be slaughtered as young as twelve months. The more time it takes until slaughter, the more expensive each cut of meat becomes. On top of that, meat processing is substantially more expensive for the small farmer sending through a few head a week than it is for the big industrial packers, who kill hundreds or thousands a day.

Once the produce is ready to go, unconventional farmers must cope with a marketing and distribution system that’s woefully inadequate, creating inefficiencies that drive up costs. What’s more, these growers are typically located in areas near urban markets, where real estate values are higher, and so are mortgages and property taxes, thus contributing to heftier prices. All of this on top of the normal risks farmers endure: bad weather, pests, disease, and the more general vagaries of the market. So, despite the steep premium their products can garner, many small unconventional farmers face a myriad of economic pressures that can make for a seriously unstable situation.

Local, seasonal agriculture is firing up a new generation of food activists amid a flurry of enthusiastic press coverage from the New Yorker to Mother Jones, the New York Times, and an expanding slate of books. But what isn’t being talked about is that many of the small organic producers who are expected to lead the reinvention of the food system can barely make ends meet. How able are these frontline farmers to withstand, indeed transform, the industrial food juggernaut? Why would small organic family farms be able to hold their own against the agribusiness establishment when their conventional forebears could not? Even though it’s clear that alternative, organic farming is environmentally sustainable, it’s not certain that this type of cultivation is economically sustainable. While local organic growers are hailed as leaders of ecological salvation, they face a plethora of difficulties that make their existence startlingly precarious.

WINDFALL

I meet Morse Pitts at Union Square on Wednesday, July 4, 2007, around 7 p.m. His farm stand is whittled down to just four card tables, each piled high with baby greens, arugula, squash, purple carrots, and Sungold tomatoes. Unusually, the market feels deserted—it’s a holiday and a gloomy rain has been falling all afternoon. Pitts stayed late because he’s hoping to make up for the day’s slow traffic, one of the risks of doing direct sales. His workers have been at it for almost thirteen hours, and now they’re ready to deal. “Buy one, get one free!” Kevin shouts, smiling. “That’s two for five dollars,” booms Tim, his coworker. “No pesticides!” announces Kevin. “No herbicides!” says Tim. “No homicides!” they chime together. They’ve done this routine before.

Some people approach the produce-laden stall with caution, or a tinge of suspicion. “How do I cook these? What are they?” one man asks holding a bag of snap peas tentatively aloft. Another woman wants to know what to do with the delicate nasturtium blossoms. The different types of leafy greens are more trustworthy, but many potential buyers still aren’t sure just what they’re looking at. I quickly realize that much of the work at the farm stand involves rather extensive public education.

A woman in office garb holds up a bag of young dandelion greens and asks Tim if they’re organic.

“It’s better than organic,” he quips.

“If they’re not certified organic, then I’m not buying them,” she says.

Organic doesn’t mean anything anymore,” Tim says as he embarks on another series of lines he’s recited before. “There are no chemicals whatsoever used to grow these vegetables. But they’re not organic.” He begins to lay out the somewhat complex argument that, ever since the U.S. Department of Agriculture took over certification, organic standards have been watered down to such an extent they’ve become meaningless. Pitts is not officially certified as organic and has chosen not to be, as have between two thousand and thirty-five hundred other organic farms in New York State alone. But, as I will find out at his farm, he grows food in a way that is markedly more ecologically responsible and sustainable than is required by current USDA regulations.

Before Tim can finish his rap the woman’s attention falters and she walks away.

Eventually, Pitts and his helpers pack up the truck and we drive north out of town. As we cross the Hudson River, distant Independence Day fireworks decorate the gray night sky.

Windfall Farms is located on the edge of the small town of Montgomery in Orange County, New York, sixty-five miles from the city. Pitts has been planting its soil for twenty-seven years, all of it as an organic farmer. His family inherited the property unexpectedly when Pitts was a child. An uncle who’d passed away willed a neighbor the right to use this farm until he died, at which point ownership reverted back to the family. Pitts’s father, an engineer, hadn’t thought about the place in decades, so did not anticipate the turn of events and was surprised again when his son wanted to become a farmer. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to grow things,” Pitts tells me. “I transplanted mint in an empty lot when I was three years old, and it took!”

Pitts is in his fifties, isn’t married, and has no kids, but constantly surrounds himself with friends. He’s tall with gray hair and eyes that remain serious even when everyone’s joking around; although Pitts rarely acts silly himself, he deftly draws that quality out in others. Well respected in farming and culinary circles, Pitts has received a stream of good press over the years and is praised by the likes of Alice Waters, the Bay Area, California, chef who is widely regarded as the doyenne of the locally grown organic movement.

The bedroom I’ve been assigned is on the second floor of the rambling farmhouse. In the morning I wander down to the basement, where there’s a second kitchen, an office, and the refrigerated storage and processing facilities for the produce. It’s 9:30 a.m. and Pitts appears just as I walk outside to see what he and the workers are up to. We go back in for breakfast. I ask what they’re doing in the fields, and he says they haven’t started yet. The place is nonstop on Tuesdays and Fridays when they’re preparing for market the following morning. But it’s Thursday so things are relatively quiet.

Over the years Pitts has cleared a path for his business, one that would be hard to duplicate. Before he got into the farmers’ market, he sold produce to restaurants. At first it seemed like a good idea because it meant guaranteed customers. But, as he explains over eggs from his henhouse and toast made with bread and butter he swaps for vegetables at the market, this was not tenable. “Selling to restaurants is basically like making an unsecured loan to a shaky business—no interest—that maybe will be paid someday,” he tells me. After several years Pitts was owed $40,000 by twenty-five different establishments, so he decided to get out. He then managed, after years of wrangling, to secure one of the highly coveted spots at the Union Square market. Centrally located and at a major subway hub in Manhattan, it is the busiest, most profitable farmers’ market in the region. Now Pitts only sells at Union Square, and mostly to regular shoppers; he maintains just a few commercial clients, including the New York Museum of Modern Art (for its restaurants), and chefs who buy from his farm stand. No one ever gets more than a week to pay up.

To grow Windfall’s produce Pitts cultivates only 15 of the 140 acres he inherited. Just after breakfast he takes me to see the 12 acres planted across the road from the house. The air is heavy, sunlight still burning off the morning haze. The field is luxuriant with snap peas, fennel, basil, and Swiss chard. The vegetables grow in distinct parallels at some points, then in other parts of the field they interlace and overlap. Weeds are here, too, blurring the lines between rows; a reminder that the order cultivation asserts is only temporary.

As we walk deeper into the ...

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Book Description Scribner Book Company, United States, 2016. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In Green Gone Wrong environmental writer Heather Rogers blasts through the marketing buzz of big corporations and asks a simple question: Do today s much-touted green products--carbon offsets, organic food, biofuels, and eco-friendly cars and homes--really work? Implicit in efforts to go green is the promise that global warming can be stopped by swapping out dirty goods for clean ones. But can earth-friendly products really save the planet? This far-reaching, riveting narrative explores how the most readily available solutions to environmental crisis may be disastrously off the mark. Rogers travels the world tracking how the conversion from a petro to a green society affects the most fundamental aspects of life--food, shelter, and transportation. Reporting from some of the most remote places on earth, Rogers uncovers shocking results that include massive clear-cutting, destruction of native ecosystems, and grinding poverty. Relying simply on market forces, people with good intentions wanting to just do something to help the planet are left feeling confused and powerless. Green Gone Wrong reveals a fuller story, taking the reader into forests, fields, factories, and boardrooms around the world to draw out the unintended consequences, inherent obstacles, and successes of eco-friendly consumption. What do the labels USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade really mean on a vast South American export-driven organic farm? A superlow-energy eco-village in Germany s Black Forest demonstrates that green homes dramatically shrink energy use, so why aren t we using this technology in America? The decisions made in Detroit s executive suites have kept Americans driving gas-guzzling automobiles for decades, even as U.S. automakers have European models that clock twice the mpg. Why won t they sell these cars domestically? And what does carbon offsetting really mean when projects can so easily fail? In one case thousands of trees planted in drought-plagued Southern India withered and died, releasing any CO2 they were meant to neutralize. Expertly reported, this gripping expose pieces together a global picture of what s happening in the name of today s environmentalism. Green Gone Wrong speaks to anyone interested in climate change and the future of the natural world, as well as those who want to act but are caught not knowing who, or what, to believe to protect the planet. Rogers casts a sober eye on what s working and what s not, fearlessly pushing ahead the debate over how to protect the planet. Bookseller Inventory # FLT9781416572220

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Book Description Scribner Book Company, United States, 2016. Hardback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. In Green Gone Wrong environmental writer Heather Rogers blasts through the marketing buzz of big corporations and asks a simple question: Do today s much-touted green products--carbon offsets, organic food, biofuels, and eco-friendly cars and homes--really work? Implicit in efforts to go green is the promise that global warming can be stopped by swapping out dirty goods for clean ones. But can earth-friendly products really save the planet? This far-reaching, riveting narrative explores how the most readily available solutions to environmental crisis may be disastrously off the mark. Rogers travels the world tracking how the conversion from a petro to a green society affects the most fundamental aspects of life--food, shelter, and transportation. Reporting from some of the most remote places on earth, Rogers uncovers shocking results that include massive clear-cutting, destruction of native ecosystems, and grinding poverty. Relying simply on market forces, people with good intentions wanting to just do something to help the planet are left feeling confused and powerless. Green Gone Wrong reveals a fuller story, taking the reader into forests, fields, factories, and boardrooms around the world to draw out the unintended consequences, inherent obstacles, and successes of eco-friendly consumption. What do the labels USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade really mean on a vast South American export-driven organic farm? A superlow-energy eco-village in Germany s Black Forest demonstrates that green homes dramatically shrink energy use, so why aren t we using this technology in America? The decisions made in Detroit s executive suites have kept Americans driving gas-guzzling automobiles for decades, even as U.S. automakers have European models that clock twice the mpg. Why won t they sell these cars domestically? And what does carbon offsetting really mean when projects can so easily fail? In one case thousands of trees planted in drought-plagued Southern India withered and died, releasing any CO2 they were meant to neutralize. Expertly reported, this gripping expose pieces together a global picture of what s happening in the name of today s environmentalism. Green Gone Wrong speaks to anyone interested in climate change and the future of the natural world, as well as those who want to act but are caught not knowing who, or what, to believe to protect the planet. Rogers casts a sober eye on what s working and what s not, fearlessly pushing ahead the debate over how to protect the planet. Bookseller Inventory # FLT9781416572220

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Book Description Scribner. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Hardcover. 272 pages. Dimensions: 8.9in. x 5.9in. x 0.3in.In Green Gone Wrong environmental writer Heather Rogers blasts through the marketing buzz of big corporations and asks a simple question: Do todays much-touted green productscarbon offsets, organic food, biofuels, and eco-friendly cars and homesreally work Implicit in efforts to go green is the promise that global warming can be stopped by swapping out dirty goods for clean ones. But can earth-friendly products really save the planet This far-reaching, riveting narrative explores how the most readily available solutions to environmental crisis may be disastrously off the mark. Rogers travels the world tracking how the conversion from a petro to a green society affects the most fundamental aspects of lifefood, shelter, and transportation. Reporting from some of the most remote places on earth, Rogers uncovers shocking results that include massive clear-cutting, destruction of native ecosystems, and grinding poverty. Relying simply on market forces, people with good intentions wanting to just do something to help the planet are left feeling confused and powerless. Green Gone Wrong reveals a fuller story, taking the reader into forests, fields, factories, and boardrooms around the world to draw out the unintended consequences, inherent obstacles, and successes of eco-friendly consumption. What do the labels USDA Certified Organic and Fair Trade really mean on a vast South American export-driven organic farm A superlow-energy eco-village in Germanys Black Forest demonstrates that green homes dramatically shrink energy use, so why arent we using this technology in America The decisions made in Detroits executive suites have kept Americans driving gas-guzzling automobiles for decades, even as U. S. automakers have European models that clock twice the mpg. Why wont they sell these cars domestically And what does carbon offsetting really mean when projects can so easily fail In one case thousands of trees planted in drought-plagued Southern India withered and died, releasing any CO2 they were meant to neutralize. Expertly reported, this gripping expos pieces together a global picture of whats happening in the name of todays environmentalism. Green Gone Wrong speaks to anyone interested in climate change and the future of the natural world, as well as those who want to act but are caught not knowing who, or what, to believe to protect the planet. Rogers casts a sober eye on whats working and whats not, fearlessly pushing ahead the debate over how to protect the planet. This item ships from multiple locations. Your book may arrive from Roseburg,OR, La Vergne,TN. Hardcover. Bookseller Inventory # 9781416572220

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