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High-tech farming: The Light Fantastic (1)

For this post, I am drawing on an article in the Economist titled: “High-tech farming; The light fantastic. Indoor farming may be taking root”.

According to the article, leafy crops can now be grown locally in urban settings, as technology is harnessed to grow crops 22/365 (22 hours a day, 365 days in a year). In this article, it raised the idea of abandoning the sun’s light for the artificial one, and this is not new or radical idea. Artificial light offers plenty of advantages: sheltered from the volatility of seasons or weather, and growing around the clock. But as Grace mentions in her blog post “Ecological Light Pollution #6: Damage to Trees”, night lights can affect the growth cycle of plants, making them grow more than necessary, and more than optimally.

From The Economist

But in this case, artificial and night light is more of a benefit than a problem. If crops can grow more, isn’t it better? Crops can grow faster, producing food more readily and efficiently! Of course, the 2 hour deficit (from an all-day long lighting) is necessary, for the plant’s equivalent of sleep.

Work cited: 

The Economist, (2014). The light fantastic. [online] Available at: http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21602194-indoor-farming-may-be-taking-root-light-fantastic [Accessed 27 Mar. 2015].

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Dietary revolution to save the Earth from global warming? (3)

As promised, this post will discuss why green technologies like the biogas digester cannot fully ensure that animal farming will be totally unpollutive, and I argue that a dietary revolution is a complete overkill. Slight modifications to the diet and preferences for meat will suffice. The content used in this post is really a mix from what I have gathered from the different modules I have taken in this semester.

PAVE poster. The production of dairy milk, to satisfy man's dietary preference, demands a disproportionately high amounts of water

PAVE poster. The production of dairy milk, to satisfy man’s dietary preference, demands a disproportionately high amounts of water

Which livestock takes more ecological footprints to raise?

Which livestock takes more ecological footprints to raise? A picture taken in another geography class tutorial.

With this 2 posters, I wish to posit that the ecological footprint, environmental pollution and degradation effects like Greenhouse effects and global warming caused by animal farming have to be measured at different sources and stages of creation, production, transport and consumption.

Creation of land for grazing and feeds

For livestock like chickens, hogs and cows, the amount of feed needed to raise these livestock necessitates the deforestation of vegetation for the cropping of the feed. Such deforestation reduces the potential of the vegetation to function as carbon sinks. This can thus result in the emission of CO2. Similarly, the creation of pasture and grazing land also demands deforestation (Mohr, 2005). (For more specific details, please refer to my “Monoculture Farming Part 2: Air Pollution (3)

Production of food produce 

As suggested in the PAVE poster, the production of a unit of milk requires an input of 2000 units of water. The production of milk is thus water-inefficient. While this is not directly related to environmental pollution, looking back at the example of the hog carcasses disposal incident in China, the production and management of the food produce, and their waste can become a water pollution problem if regulations are lax and not adhered to.

Transport of Food produce

Many cities import their food produce. A city is built such that it is not self-sufficient. It has to rely on its surrounding regions for many materials and resources because a city has outsourced many of its activities such as food production and etc. This propels cities to import, or get food from over long distances. In the case of Singapore, a city-state, the import of food is a necessity. Food can be flown in from long distances or driven in via the courseway. Nonetheless, the point I want to make is that food, regardless of meat, poultry or even vegetables, travel over long distances and this translate to a high carbon emission of food transport.

Consumption of food

While vegetarians can be equally guilty of contributing to Greenhouse effect, I think the worst culprits are the red-meat lovers. In Smil (2002) paper, he clearly shows that cows are the most inefficient meat to produce. Every 1kg of beef produce requires a more than proportionate 10 kg worth of feed. So a single dairy farm, as compared to a poultry farm, contributes to more carbon emission (through the consumption of feed grown on deforested land).

So red-meat lovers, beware!

Stay Tuned 😀

Work cited:

Mohr, N. (2005). A New Global Warming Strategy How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes. [online] Earthsave.org. Available at:http://www.earthsave.org/news/earthsave_global_warming_report.pdf [Accessed 21 Mar. 2015].

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Dietary revolution to save the Earth from global warming? (2)

Today, I will continue with animal farming and how the release of methane and other GHGs like Nitrous oxide can cause global warming.

What is Methane and why is it important?

Methane (CH4)  can emitted by natural sources such as wetlands, as well as human activities such as leakage from natural gas systems and through animal farms. Natural processes in soil and chemical reactions in the atmosphere help remove CH4 from the atmosphere. Methane’s lifetime in the atmosphere (12 years) is much shorter than carbon dioxide (CO2), but it is more efficient at trapping radiation than CO2. In other words, as CH4 is released into the atmosphere, its efficiency at absorbing radiation contributes to the warming of the Earth. As sunlight (both radiation and insolation) reaches Earth’s surface, it can either be reflected back into space or trapped by the Earth. GHGs like CO2, and CH4 absorb energy, slowing or preventing the loss of heat to space. This process is commonly known as the “greenhouse effect”.Pound for pound, the comparative impact of CH4 on climate change is over 20 times greater than CO2 in a time scale of a 100-year (Epa.gov, 2014).

For an interactive experience as to how Greenhouse effect and warming is caused by GHGs, please try this: http://epa.gov/climatechange/science/causes.html#

Management of Methane emission from animal agriculture

Since animal agriculture is the no.1 contributor to anthropogenic emission of methane, what can we do about it?

One of the proposed manner is the recycling of the manure (which produces 85% of the methane), creating a close-looped economy, where waste is reused. Watch the following Youtube Video.

In summary, the video explains how a cow farm has managed to convert the cow manure into electricity power through the biogas disgester technology. Keeping the manure heated at 110 degrees Celsius for 21 days, the manure releases methane gas, which is then used to generate the electricity. The farm is fully powered by the electricity generated from the farm’s manure, and extra electricity generated is sold to the local power utility station to power residential buildings.

As the biogas digester ensures that animal farming can be unpollutive, is there a need for a dietary revolution?

I will answer this  question in my next post.

Stay Tuned 😀

Work cited:

Epa.gov, (2014). Methane Emissions | Climate Change | US EPA. [online] Available at: http://epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/ch4.html [Accessed 22 Mar. 2015].

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Dietary revolution to save the Earth from global warming? (1)

This post is inspired by a poster in the dormitory lift as seen below. It is done up by a student interest group called PAVE (Practice and Awareness of Vegetarian Ethos), which aims to raise the awareness of the environmental impact of meat consumption. In their poster, they claim that animal commercial farms produce more Greenhouse gases (GHGs) than all the transport combined. And thus this blog post.

PAVE poster

Poster by PAVE

Greenhouse gases include carbon dioxide, nitrogen and fluoride gases, and methane.

Breakdown of the GHG composition. While methane makes up only 9% of the total composition, it is 21 times more powerful than carbon dioxide as a GHG.

Seen above, the most important non-CO2 greenhouse gas is methane, and the number one source of methane worldwide is animal agriculture. Methane is responsible for nearly as much global warming as all other non-CO2 greenhouse gases put together as it is extremely potent to the ozone layer. Methane is 21 times more powerful a greenhouse gas than CO2. While atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have risen by about 31% since pre-industrial times, methane concentrations have more than doubled (Mohr, 2005).

Animal agriculture produces more than 100 million tons of methane a year, and methane emissions will continue to rise as global meat consumption has increased fivefold in the past fifty years (Mohr, 2005; Epa.gov, 2015) . About 85% of this methane is produced in the digestive processes of livestock. While a single cow releases a relatively small amount of methane, the collective effect on the environment of the livestock animals worldwide is enormous(Epa.gov, 2015).

Not to mention, animal farming is also a major source of nitrous oxide (NO2) emissions, another GHG. It is a staggering 310 times more powerful than CO2. 73% of U.S. emissions of nitrous oxide come from animal grazing, manure management, and crop growing practices—with half of U.S. crops grown for livestock feed.

In the next post, I will be looking at the properties of Methane and how does changing the diet affects global warming.

Stay Tuned 😀

Work Cited:

Mohr, N. (2005). A New Global Warming Strategy How Environmentalists are Overlooking Vegetarianism as the Most Effective Tool Against Climate Change in Our Lifetimes. [online] Earthsave.org. Available at: http://www.earthsave.org/news/earthsave_global_warming_report.pdf [Accessed 21 Mar. 2015].

Epa.gov, (2014). Sources | Climate Change | US EPA. [online] Available at: http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/sources.html [Accessed 21 Mar. 2015].

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Dairy Farming and nitrate pollution

Hey guys, today’s post will focus on dairy farming and its impacts on water pollution. I’ll like to rehash my previous post (on fertiliser use and nitrate pollution), because the biological activities of dairy animals like cows and goats can also cause nitrate contamination of groundwater, which is problematic because unlike in Singapore, groundwater is a ‘tap’ for other nation’s drinking waters.

My case study here will be Canterbury, NewZealand. Farming is the largest contributor to Canterbury’s economy and studies has shown that intensive dairy farming in the past 10 years has led to elevated nitrate levels in groundwater aquifers by 30% (Young, 2013). This increase is caused by the application of synthetic fertilizer such as Urea (contains 46% nitrogen) to animal pastures(Baskaran, Cullen and Colombo, 2009).

The high nitrogen content on the pasture, when consumed by the dairy animals such as cows, cannot be fully converted into protein and be stored in the cow’s milk. The animals will excrete these excessive nitrogen into their defecation and their wastes. 80% of the nitrogen consumed by the cow is then returned to the soil (Bgs.ac.uk, 2004).

When leaching and surface runoff occurs (from either rain or irrigation), the nitrogen in the pasture and in the excrement is leached into the soil layers as nitrate. As percolation happens, these nitrate is transported into the groundwater aquifers, contaminating the waters. As such, when the Canterbury people drink the nitrate-contaminated ground waters, they can develop a range of health effects including the Blue-Baby Syndrome, which I have discussed in my previous posts. Fortunately, only 11% of the wells in Canterbury have nitrate concentration exceed the Maximum Acceptable Value of 50 mg/L according to the New Zealand Water Drinking Standards (Environment Canterbury, 2013; Radio New Zealand News, 2013). Nonetheless, actions have to be taken.

Presentation1

From Group Project. This diagram shows the process of nitrate contamination caused by dairy farming; from its point and diffused sources, to the transport mechanisms, to the groundwater contamination, and finally to the health impacts on consumers of contaminated water. Pardon the poor resolution; this is the best i could do.

That’s all from me now.

My next blog post will be on dairy farming, the release of GHGs and its alleged Global Warming effects. So stay tune! 😀

Work Cited: 

Baskaran, R., Cullen, R. and Colombo, S. (2009). Estimating values of environmental impacts of dairy farming in New Zealand. New Zealand Journal of Agricultural Research, 52(4), 377-389.

Bgs.ac.uk. (2004). Water Quality Fact Sheet: Nitrate. [online] Available at: https://www.bgs.ac.uk/downloads/start.cfm?id=1276 [Accessed 4 Mar. 2015].

Environment Council. (2009). Drinking Water. Available at: http://ecan.govt.nz/publications/Plans/cw-regional-context-part6.pdf. [Accessed 4 Mar. 2015].

Environment Council. (2013). Risk maps of nitrate in Canterbury groundwater. Available at: http://ecan.govt.nz/publications/Reports/risk-maps-nitrate-canterbury-gw-r13-44.pdf. [Accessed 4 Mar. 2015].

Radio New Zealand News. (2013). High nitrate levels found in Canterbury wells. Available at: http://www.radionz.co.nz/news/regional/225364/high-nitrate-levels-found-in-canterbury-wells. [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

Young, R. (2013). Drinking water under watch. Available at: http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/news/canterbury/9357735/Drinking-water-under-watch. [Accessed 6 Mar. 2015].

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Poultry Farming and its health impacts: A case study of China

Okay, as a continuation of the previous post, this post will focus on the potential impacts the pig carcasses in the Chinese rivers can have on human health.

Mentioned in the previous post, lab samples of the dead pigs showed evidence of porcine circovirus (PCV), a virus that causes wasting and mortality in piglets, but is not dangerous to humans. But rumour has it that the pigs dumped into the river were fed with arsenic, to make their skin glossier and thus to be sold at a better price (Schwan, 2013). The viral outbreak of PCV has caused the farm to dispose most of the pigs, but some are circulated into the market. Assuming that a consumer does happen to eat this arsenic-fed pig, then he is consuming this cancer-causing toxic chemical that is fatal in high doses(Collective-Evolution, 2013). This can be worrying, especially since the Chinese consumption of pork is very high, with pork taking up 60% of the market share for meat (Schwan, 2013).

On a more optimistic note, there is no good evidence that PCV is harmful to humans. In the United States, porcine circovirus sequences can be detected in human feces, and it is most likely to have originated from consumption of pork products, most of which also contain porcine circoviruses. In other words, even the usual consumption of pork will cause the human excretion to contain PCV, suggesting it as a normal phenomena. But,  infected pigs may contain various diseases including postweaning multisystemic wasting syndrome, and porcine dermatitis and nephropathy syndrome (Virology.ws, 2013). So if we consume these infected pigs (which is rumoured to be sold in the market), there can be cross-species pathogens, which impacts has yet to be studied. Similarly, the co-infection of PCV and other viral strain (which has yet to be studied as well) may be problematic.

Nonetheless, the authorities have to step up their game in enforcing disposal practices. Apart from fining 8 farms and then jailing 46 people for the carcasses disposal, more important is marrying these methods with monitoring and strict regular checks, such that the disposal will not happen in the first place.

That’s all for today.

Stay tuned:D

Work Cited:

Collective-Evolution, (2013). FDA Finally Admits Chicken Meat Contains Cancer-Causing Arsenic. [online] Available at: http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/08/16/fda-finally-admits-chicken-meat-contains-cancer-causing-arsenic/ [Accessed 12 Mar. 2015].

Schwan, K. (2013). Thousands of Dead Pigs Dumped into Huangpu River, Shanghai | HealthMap. [online] Healthmap.org. Available at: http://www.healthmap.org/site/diseasedaily/article/thousands-dead-pigs-dumped-huangpu-river-shanghai-32013 [Accessed 12 Mar. 2015].

Virology.ws, (2013). Circovirus in Shanghai. [online] Available at: http://www.virology.ws/2013/03/19/circovirus-in-shanghai/ [Accessed 12 Mar. 2015].