Year 4, Month 3, Day 27: Who’s That Knocking At My Door?

From the Davidson County Dispatch (NC), more on the Somalia famine story:

Scientists with Britain’s weather service studied weather patterns in East Africa in 2010 and 2011 and found that yearly precipitation known as the short rains failed in late 2010 because of the natural effects of the weather pattern La Nina.

But the lack of the long rains in early 2011 was an effect of “the systematic warming due to influence on greenhouse gas concentrations,” said Peter Stott of Britain’s Met Office, speaking to The Associated Press in a phone interview.

The British government estimates that between 50,000 and 100,000 people died from the famine. But the new research doesn’t mean global warming directly caused those deaths.

Ethiopia and Kenya were also affected by the lack of rains in 2011, but aid agencies were able to work more easily in those countries than in war-ravaged Somalia, where the al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremist group al-Shabab refused to allow food aid into the wide areas under its control.

One-worlders unite! March 15 (making up for not doing a letter yesterday due to massive gig commitments):

As the evidence substantiating the existence of human-caused planetary warming has accumulated to the point where it’s absolutely incontrovertible, former climate-change denialists have gradually changed their tune. The new line is either that addressing a global crisis is somehow too expensive, or that the consequences of a runaway greenhouse effect will be felt only by people somewhere else.

The news that climate change has been fingered as the primary cause of the 2011 famine in Somalia probably won’t change any minds. After all, Somalians are nothing if not “people somewhere else.” But aside from exemplifying a grotesque moral irresponsibility, such an attitude is simply incorrect. As the ramifications of industrial civilization’s fossil-fuel binge become apparent in floods of climate refugees and increasing numbers of deaths, national boundaries are going to become less and less relevant.

We — all of humanity — live on a single planet. There is no “somewhere else.”

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 27: Even A Blind Pig…

The New York Times reports on the threatened truffle:

PARIS — Just about everything in Eduardo Manzanares’s shop, Truffes Folies, is made with truffles. Sausage, cheese, spaghetti — even popcorn.

But during the year-end holidays, the main order of business is fresh truffles, especially the black or Périgord truffle, Tuber melanosporum. The prized mushrooms are used to stuff Christmas turkeys, chickens or capons, Mr. Manzanares said, making Dec. 24 typically the biggest truffle-eating night of the year in France.

But it is also becoming an increasingly expensive tradition. Black truffles and other types of truffles are becoming scarcer, and some scientists say it is because of the effects of global climate change on the fungus’s Mediterranean habitat. One wholesaler says prices have risen tenfold over the last dozen years.

Poor things. I’ve tasted truffles twice and they were/are wonderful. But not at $1200/pound. Sent December 21:

One of the perquisites of wealth is an added layer of protection from natural disasters. Downed power lines don’t hurt if you’ve got your own generator; cracked and crumbling roads mean nothing if you travel by helicopter; disrupted agriculture’s just a blip on the radar if you’ve got two years’ food supply laid up in a private storage facility.

This insulation has allowed many of the world’s richest individuals to ignore the effects of global climate change — unlike the world’s poorest, who daily live with the consequences of others’ consumption of fossil fuels. It’s only when a luxury item is endangered that the threat suddenly seems real to those who’ve used their power to keep climatic reality outside the gates. How ironic that while forecasts of megadeaths and surging sea levels elicit only yawning dismissals, the prospect of disappearing truffles could finally motivate the planet’s most privileged to action.

Warren Senders

Loaves Of Truth…From My Brother, The Baker

This is not an article about bread. But bread is central to what I want you to read. So just nibble briefly at the first few paragraphs, and plunge downward to find words that taste of truth.

A few years ago, my brother left his career in academia. Weary of endless tenure battles and internecine squabbles between departmental factions, he sought another path.

And in Wide Awake Bakery, he found it.

We live and bake in Mecklenburg, just a few miles from Ithaca, Trumansburg, and Watkins Glen. We love the place and we love the people–and that’s what this bakery is about. We work with local flours, grown just a few miles away in Newfield, Lansing, and Brooktondale, and we work with our local flour mill, Farmer Ground Flour.

Here’s a little snippet from their F.A.Q.:

Why should I care if my bread is made by hand?

Most of the bread, even “artisan bread,” sold nowadays is untouched by human hands. Mixed, shaped, and baked by machines, the bread is flash-frozen and warehoused before being shipped to distribution points where it is eventually warmed (“baked”) in display ovens. Modern bread factories are consistent and they produce a pretty good product, but they require huge quantities of standardized ingredients. Bread factories simply don’t have the flexibility to bake with small crop runs and local grains. Big factories, big farming.

Small local bakeries where bread is made by hand offer something else entirely. We can vary our baking quickly in response to our flours and our customers. When a farmer comes to us with a batch of fruit, for example, we can quickly make it part of your share. We can keep a close watch on the fermentation process and give it the care it requires. We can change our baking to make more of the breads that you particularly like. Hand made bread generally tastes better, and is better for our communities, than factory made bread.

There are other reasons to care about how your bread is made. We bake our bread as if we were going to eat it ourselves, and feed it to our friends and family—because that’s exactly what we do. Baking bread, good bread, is one way we try to take care of our community. It’s a great feeling to know that the pile of flour we start with in the early morning has turned into shining loaves of bread that are nourishing and pleasing our neighbors. Every week we read about another food crisis, and it’s clear that we’ve got to start making food differently. That’s what we’re trying to do.

But I didn’t invite you here to tell you about my brother’s right livelihood, wondrous though it is. Or about his bread, which is mindbendingly delicious. Or even about the fact that those fabulous loaves fed the Occupiers in Zucotti Park.

Commendable though these things are, they’re not what prompts this post, or what’s brought me to tears of pride.

I want to share what he said to the assembled crowd at Monday’s day of action against hydrofracking in Albany, NY.

After handing out over 200 loaves of bread to the assembled crowd, my brother spoke. (I am reproducing his words in full. We’re family; it’s cool.)

My name is Stefan Senders, and I am a baker. Beside me are Thor Oechsner, an organic farmer, and Neal Johnston, a miller. We work together.

Today we bring bread to Albany to intervene in the self-destruction of the great State of New York. We come, Farmers, Bakers, and Millers, to remind our state and our Governor, Andrew Cuomo, that despite the promises of industry lobbyists, the exploitation of Shale Gas in New York is bad and broken economy of the worst kind.

This bread is the product of our community and our farms. The wheat, grown, tended, and harvested by our local organic farmers, is fresh from the soil of New York. The flour, ground in our local flour mill, is as fine as concerned and caring hands can make it.

To resurrect a term long since emptied by advertisers, the wheat, the flour, and the bread are wholesome: they bring our communities together, give us work, nourish us, please our senses, and make our bodies and our land more healthy.

This is good economy. It is wise economy. It is a steady economy that nourishes the State of New York.

We know that for many New Yorkers, Fracking sounds like a good idea. We have all heard the fantastic tales: Fracking, it is said, will save our state from financial ruin, release us from our dependence on “foreign oil,” and revive our rural economy by bringing cash, if not fertility, to our once vibrant farmland.

For politicians, these stories of money and growth are hard to resist: the numbers are large, deficits are unnerving, and elections are expensive.

For many farmers and land-owners, the promises of cash are dizzying, and to risk the land’s fertility to extract gas is only one step removed from risking the land’s fertility to extract a few more bushels of corn or soybeans.

But farmers might know better.

Farming has not always been, and need not be, an extractive industry. There was a time when farmers worked with a longer view, keeping in mind their role as stewards and caretakers of the land. That long view is the farmer’s wisdom, and it is as good and wise today as it ever was.

The promises of the gas industry are demonstrably false, and they miss what farmers know well: There is no independence that does not demand care and responsibility. There is no quantity of cash that can restore fertility to a poisoned field. There is no adequate monetary “compensation” for poisoned water. There is no payment, no dollar, no loan, that can restore life and community to a broken world.

Our work and the work we provide others—on the farm, at the mill, and at the bakery—depends on fertile soil, pure water, and a viable community. All of these are put at risk by Fracking.

What happens to our land in an economy bloated by gas exploitation? Prices rise, rents rise, and good arable land becomes scarce as acres once leased to farmers are set to quick development schemes—flimsy housing, storage barns, parking lots, and man-camps.

And what happens to our water when gas exploitation takes over? Storage pools, as safe as the Titanic was unsinkable, overflow, contaminating the soil; inevitable leaks in well-casings allow gasses and Frack-fluids to pass into our aquifers, into our bodies, and into the bodies of our children.

And what happens to communities held in thrall to gas exploitation? As we have seen in other parts of the country, the boom-bust cycle of the petroleum economy fractures communities, undermining our capacity to act wisely and civilly.

With every boom, a few get rich, a few do better, but all are impoverished. For every hastily built motel there are dozens of apartments with rising rents; for every newly minted millionaire there are many dozens who see nothing but the pain of rising costs and receding resources. For every short-term dollar there are hundreds in long-term losses that can never be recouped. To go for gas is to go for broke.

With this bread we are here to remind you that there is another economy, one that works.

This bread symbolizes a commitment to the health of New York State. It embodies the knowledge that good work, not a gambler’s dream, is the basis of a sound and sustainable economy.

This bread symbolizes the farmer’s simple truth that without fertile soil, without pure water, and without strong community, we go hungry.

This bread reminds us all that the promises of gas exploitation are empty: What are we to grow in fields broken by the drill and tilled with poison? What are we to feed our children when our water and wheat are unfit? Shall we grind money to make our bread?

We do have a choice. We need not poison our land to live. We need not taint our water to drink. We need not sell our future to finance our present. These are choices, not inevitabilities.

With this bread we say: take the long view; pay attention to the health of the soil and nourish it; treasure pure water; remember the value of your community and keep it whole.

If something must be broken, let it be this bread, not shale. Break bread, not shale!

I can’t add anything more to his words. Beautifully spoken, bro. I love you. And your bread.

Year 2, Month 3, Day 26: Luckily We’ll Have GMO HFCS Instead.

The Danbury, CT News-Times runs a piece by Robert Miller on the future of maple syrup in a climatically reconfigured New England:

It’s not that there will no longer be maple syrup. It’s just that it won’t be made here. It will have to be shipped south for Connecticut pancakes.

it’s not as if the maples in the state will move en masse and quickly.


But if we do lose them, it will matter.

The native Americans in New England were making maple sugar before the Europeans arrived.

People have been walking in the winter woods, tasting the sweetness they have to offer, for a very long time.

Sent on March 25:

It’s saddening to think of New England’s maples slowly giving way to other species, and of the small farmers whose trees produce syrup for the region’s pancakes and waffles — and who’ll be shutting down their operations. Seen in isolation, this is a minor historical blip: there’s nothing unusual about a local food becoming harder to find. But the culinary consequences of climate change are hardly limited to America’s Northeastern states. The extreme weather conditions of anthropogenic global warming will have a huge agricultural effect. Considering the vulnerabilities of our staple crops is a sobering experience: a single day’s anomalous high temperatures can devastate corn harvests; monsoon failures can wreak havoc on rice production; wheat is likewise extremely vulnerable — hardly a single product of human agriculture won’t be adversely impacted. Climate change denialists need to wake up and smell the coffee — before that’s gone, too.

Warren Senders