World Watch Magazine July/August 2003


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Thursday, June 19, 2003
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World Watch Magazine

July/August 2003




KICKING THE HABIT: TOBACCO FARMERS SWITCH TO ORGANIC VEGETABLES

Washington, D.C.– A few adventurous tobacco farmers are foregoing tradition and making a lucrative jump into organic vegetable farming, according to “This Old Barn, This New Money,” in the July/August 2003 edition of World Watch magazine. Farmers hammered by falling tobacco prices and the effects of heavy pesticide use on their own health and the local landscape are switching to organic produce, which is growing in consumer popularity.

The 58 growers in Virginia and North Carolina featured in the article may work only a tiny fraction of land in the tobacco belt but they demonstrate how even so-called “old dogs” can embrace farming practices that better serve society and the environment, writes Worldwatch senior researcher Brian Halweil.

“Since whole communities were built around tobacco farming, change is sometimes a slow process,” says Halweil. “But tobacco farmers have lost their financial security so the impetus is there to find new opportunities. Growers who kick the habit of tobacco farming also escape side effects like nicotine poisoning from handling the ripe tobacco plant and illness from the chemicals used on the plants.”

The financial return from organic farming is attractive: one of the farmers interviewed for the article made only $2,500 from his best acre of tobacco but cleared roughly $20,000 from a nearby acre of organic grape tomatoes.


RED PAST. GREEN FUTURE?
A SHOT AT SUSTAINABILITY FOR THE POST-COMMUNIST WORLD


Post-communist nations struggling to overcome a legacy of corruption, economic rot, colossal environmental devastation, and widespread public apathy still have the chance to develop along a sustainable track, according to Victor Vovk and Thomas Prugh in “Red Past. Green Future?” from the May/June 2003 edition of World Watch.

Exploring the example of Ukraine, Vovk and Prugh detail how peoples’ hopes that democracy and a market economy would create better lives and solutions to environmental problems were crushed by widespread failure to establish democratic institutions or to foster public trust in governance and respect for the rule of law.

“While much of the West is built on unsustainable systems that to most people appear to work well, in countries like Ukraine the system is only working for a small ruling elite. The general public feels limited loyalty to this system, so there is a window for alternative approaches,” says Prugh.

For Ukraine to avoid the economic, social, and environmental disasters that appear to lie ahead, sustainable development must be integral to future policies. A system of incentives needs to emphasize ecological taxation, economic diversification, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. The international community could help by refraining from punishing nations in transition for protecting domestic industries and imposing environmental tariffs.


OTHER WORLD WATCH FEATURES

NOTE FROM A WORLDWATCHER: WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION

The Bush administration’s consistent use of “weapons of mass destruction,” an intentionally nonspecific phrase rarely heard before 9-11, successfully instilled widespread fear among Americans while diverting attention from a plethora of other specific and real threats to our wellbeing. As “weapons of mass destruction” gained free media exposure during the months of run-up to Iraq, public interest groups would have had to pay hundreds of millions of dollars to get equal exposure for topics such as climate change, small arms control, and disease from contaminated meat—all ways in which mass destruction is already being perpetrated.

MATTERS OF SCALE: CHEMICAL WARFARE

The number of people killed by pesticides during the six-year period preceding the 2003 U.S. war on Iraq is estimated by the WHO to exceed one million. In the same six-year period, no one has been killed by Iraqi chemical weapons. World Watch magazine compares the threat posed by Iraqi chemical weapons to the daily risk posed by such pedestrian dangers as pesticides, air pollution, and rocket and missile fuel.


ENVIRONMENTAL INTELLIGENCE

Water scarcity could overwhelm the next generation
Up to 7 billion people in 60 countries—more than the present world population—will face water scarcity within the next half-century. This scarcity, as well as water pollution, threatens rich and poor alike, reports Janet Sawin.

Organic produce found to be higher in health-promoting compounds
Foods grown without pesticides contain higher concentrations of antioxidants and other health-promoting compounds than crops produced with pesticides, reports Brian Halweil. According to the findings of researchers at the University of California at Davis, some of these compounds are produced by the plants to protect themselves against pests. A plant protected against pests by pesticides does not spend energy to produce these natural defenses.

World’s largest wind farm planned for Iowa
Iowa may soon host the world’s largest wind farm, if the MidAmerican Energy company goes ahead with plans to build a 310 megawatt wind farm on 200 acres of the state’s farm land, reports Anand Rao. Because wind is not subject to the same price fluctuations common for gas and oil, the company expects wind energy to help it meet its commitment to Iowans of no electricity rate increase until 2010. However, this arrangement is controversial in that it may also deflect public attention away from the governor’s plans to build more fossil fuel-based power plants.

WHO reaffirms: it’s not dirty needles, it’s unsafe sex
A recent controversy surrounding the claim that AIDS infections were mainly related to unsanitary medical practices has now been resolved, according to Rhadika Sarin. A report commissioned by the WHO found significant flaws in the claim that practices such as reuse of needles, contaminated blood transfusions, and the use of unclean surgical tools were linked to the majority of HIV infections. Instead, the highest risk remains with unsafe sex.

Additional Environmental Intelligence:

  • China’s desertification growing worse
  • Patagonians say no to an invasive gold mine
  • Roundup-resistant weeds embarrass Monsanto

BETWEEN THE LINES

Age pyramids can tell a vivid story if examined closely. Demographer Valentyna Steshenko of the Institute of Economy in Ukraine reads between the lines of age pyramids from 1989 and 2000, showing how events such as the World Wars, Stalin’s reign of terror, and the post-Communist period of transition can explain irregularities in population distribution.

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