Rural America

Monday, May 22, 2017, 6:00 am  ·  By The Conversation

Four Academics from Texas Give us the Lowdown on Energy Markets

A double exposure taken in Nicola Tesla's Colorado Springs, Colo. laboratory around 1900. Tesla (among many other scientific achievements) developed the alternating current— a system of electrical transmission the world still uses today. The man sitting in the chair wasn't present when the electricity was discharged.   (Image: Bettmann / Corbis / NPR)

(Ed. Note: The following analysis focuses on industry trends, electricity prices and grid reliability, but not on the ecological consequences of increased natural gas production. Without getting into the man made earthquakes, flammable faucets or routine poisoning of local water supplies, the article does a good job of explaining how the United States is keeping its lights on these days and the degree to which wind and solar are helping. The authors, and each of their financial disclosures, are listed at the end.) 

 

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry in April requested a study to assess the effect of renewable energy policies on nuclear and coal-fired power plants. 

Some energy analysts responded with confusion, as the subject has been extensively studied by grid operators and the Department of Energy’s own national labs. Others were more critical, saying the intent of the review is to favor the use of nuclear and coal over renewable sources. 

So, are wind and solar killing coal and nuclear? Yes, but not by themselves and not for the reasons most people think. Are wind and solar killing grid reliability? No, not where the grid’s technology and regulations have been modernized. In those places, overall grid operation has improved, not worsened.

To understand why, we need to trace the path of electrons from the wall socket back to power generators and the markets and policies that dictate that flow. As energy scholars based in Texas—the national leader in wind—we’ve seen these dynamics play out over the past decade, including when Perry was governor.

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Thursday, May 18, 2017, 2:00 pm  ·  By John Ikerd

6 Reasons Local Food Systems Will Replace our Industrial Model

September 28, 1958—A Sunday comic strip by Gene Fawcett envisions a future of farming in which “fat plants” and “meat beets” are used to cut down on the amount of farmland devoted to cattle pasture.   (Image: nextnature.net)

A local, community-based food system certainly is not a new idea. It’s simply an idea that is being reassessed in response to growing public concerns about the current global food system. When I was growing up in south Missouri in the 1940s and early 1950s, our family’s food system was essentially local. I would guess close to 90 percent of our food either came from our farm or was produced and processed within less than 50 miles of our home. There were local canneries, meat packers, and flour mills to supply grocery stores and restaurants with locally grown food products. Over the years, the local canneries, meat packers and flour mills were consolidated into the giant agribusiness operations that dominate today’s global food system. Supermarkets and fast-food chains replaced the mom-and-pop grocery stores and restaurants.

Today, I doubt there are many communities in the United States who get more than 10 percent of their foods from local sources, as official estimates put local foods at well less than 5 percent of total food sales. Estimates of the average distance that food travels from production to consumption within the United States range from 1200 to 1700 miles. More than 15 percent of the food sold in the United States is imported, with more than 50 percent of fruits and 20 percent of vegetables coming from other countries. More than 30 percent of U.S. farm income is derived from agricultural exports to other countries. The local food system of my childhood has been transformed into the global food system of today. Most of these changes took place during a 40-year period, between the late 1950s and the late 1990s.

Today, we are in the midst of another transformation.

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Monday, May 15, 2017, 9:00 am  ·  By National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition

NSAC: New USDA Plan Abandons Rural Development Priorities in Favor of International Trade

A barge loads agricultural products for export on the banks of the Ohio River in Cincinnati.   (Photo: usda.gov)

According to a plan released last week by Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, in its first reorganization in over two decades, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) stands to lose one of its core Mission Areas: Rural Development.

The Department’s restructuring is the result of a congressional directive included in the 2014 Farm Bill, which instructed USDA to create a new Undersecretary of Trade. In addition to creating the new undersecretary position, USDA has also elected to demote the Rural Development Mission Area to the status of “office,” and shift the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), Farm Services Agency (FSA), and Risk Management Agency (RMA) from two unique Mission Areas (each with their own undersecretary) to a single “Farm Production and Conservation” Mission Area.

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Wednesday, May 10, 2017, 9:00 am  ·  By John Collins

Wendell Berry Defends Rural America Against an Attack by New York Review of Books Writer

An early photograph of Wendell Berry featured in the 2016 documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry.   (Photo: indiegrits.com)

In the following letter to the editor, Wendell Berry—the 82-year-old Kentucky farmer, novelist, poet, humanitarian, environmentalist and all around agrarian icon—responds to a New York Review of Books essay that, in his view, exemplifies what big city liberals continue to get wrong about rural people, culture, politics and the economy.   

The story that prompted Berry’s well-mannered but caustic response was written by Nathaniel Rich, the 35-year-old son of former New York Times columnist Frank Rich, and originally published as the foreword to a new book by Joan Didion titled South and West—a collection of notes, interviews and observations spanning the legendary 83-year-old writer’s early travels and career.

Not concerned with the book itself, Berry’s critique takes issue with Rich’s parroting of the now ubiquitous mainstream narrative: That the election of Donald Trump was primarily the result of a nostalgic, racist and sexist subculture that resides in a still-reeling-from-the-Civil-War, socially-backward and monochromatic “rural America.”  

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Friday, May 5, 2017, 3:00 pm  ·  By Wallace Hopp

Corporations Know Income Inequality Will Sink Us All. Here’s Why They Just Can’t Help It.

An 1847 illustration of "The Scorpion and the Turtle" from the Kalilah wa-Dimna—an ancient Indian fable that inspired "The Scorpion and the Frog."   (Image / Caption: Wikipedia)

Scorpion met Frog on a river bank and asked him for a ride to the other side. “How do I know you won’t sting me?” asked Frog. “Because,” replied Scorpion, “if I do, I will drown.” Satisfied, Frog set out across the water with Scorpion on his back. Halfway across, Scorpion stung Frog. “Why did you do that?” gasped Frog as he started to sink. “Now we’ll both die.” “I can’t help it,” replied Scorpion. “It’s my nature.”

This centuries-old parable, which has been retold by Orson Welles and many others and sometimes refers to a turtle rather than a frog, is usually meant to show how a bad nature cannot be changed—even if self-interest and preservation demand it.

It’s also an apt metaphor for the growing scourge of income inequality, one of the defining issues of our age. 

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Tuesday, May 2, 2017, 10:00 pm  ·  By Reana Kovalcik

10 Things Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue Should Do Right Away

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue sits next to President Trump for a "Farmers Roundtable” at the White House on April 25, his first day on the job.   (Photo: U.S. Department of Agriculture)

On his first day on the job as the long-awaited new secretary of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), Sonny Perdue, a former two-term governor of Georgia, addressed two very different audiences. First, in his formal introduction to USDA staff, Perdue laid out his general vision for the department’s next four years. Perdue said:

“The only legacy I seek is the one that any grandparent seeks—that is to hand off our nation … our fields and our farms to the next generation in better shape than we found it.”

His second engagement was a meeting with President Trump and 15 agricultural producers from around the country. The roundtable featured mostly large-scale meat, dairy, grain and specialty crop producers, as well as the current North Carolina Commissioner of Agriculture, Iowa Secretary of Agriculture, and former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture.

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Monday, May 1, 2017, 10:00 pm  ·  By Stephanie Woodard

Building on Standing Rock, Native Americans Lead the Way at the People’s Climate March in D.C.

Indigenous demonstrators from numerous tribes step out at the head of the People’s Climate March on Saturday, April 29, 2017, in Washington, D.C.   (Photo: Stephanie Woodard)

“We are at a major movement moment,” says Judith LeBlanc, a member of the Caddo Nation of Oklahoma and director of the Native Organizers Alliance (NOA), which helps indigenous advocacy groups build their organizations and capacity. As LeBlanc watched tribal members from around the country gather near the U.S. Capitol to lead the April 29 People’s Climate March, she credited the past year’s Standing Rock demonstrations against the Dakota Access Pipeline for bringing awareness to indigenous struggles and the continued threats to land and water by a range of industries.

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Friday, Apr 28, 2017, 1:30 pm  ·  By Jim Hightower

Hey Corporate Media, Quit Talking S#&* About the U.S. Postal Service

A post office in Westfall, Ore. The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) is one of the few government agencies explicitly authorized by the United States Constitution.   (Photo: pelhamplus.com)

Journalism, which is supposed to help make sense of our turbulent world, can't seem to make sense of itself. In addition to “news” (which involves reporting on stuff that's real) we're now getting "fake news" (stuff that's completely made up). But wait—the barons of corporate news are adding to today's tumultuous state of journalism by putting out feeds of “BS news” (stuff they know is untrue but reported as fact, because it advances their political agenda).

For example, the mighty Washington Post (owned by Jeff Bezos) keeps publishing a load of BS to denigrate our U.S. Post Office. The paper's latest pot shot was in an alarmist editorial declaring, “The U.S. Postal Service continues to hemorrhage red ink.” Embracing their owner's anti-government ideology, the editors grumped that postal unions have made our mail service outmoded and insolvent, running up “a net loss of $5.6 billion last year.”

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Thursday, Apr 27, 2017, 5:00 am  ·  By Jim Goodman

The View from a Wisconsin Farm: NAFTA Should be Repealed and Replaced

Wildweed Holsteins and Jerseys in Randolph, Wisc., has 60 cows and supplies Grassland Dairy Products Inc. with nearly 4,000 pounds of milk.   (Photo: Mara Budde / madison.com)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) must be replaced with a transparent trade agreement that ensures three things: farmers receive fair prices for their production; consumers are guaranteed the right to know the content and origin of their food; and strong environmental protections are put in place to protect the sustainability of rural communities.

Though NAFTA has increased trade between Canada, Mexico and the United States, farm profit margins did not increase. Multi-national grain traders made huge profits dumping subsidized U.S. corn on Mexico, crushing much of Mexico’s farm economy to the point that Mexican Catholic Bishops said that NAFTA was leading to the “cultural death” of their nation. Trade agreements should promote fair trade that supports farmers of all countries, not just the financial interests of multi-national agribusiness corporations.

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Tuesday, Apr 25, 2017, 2:44 pm  ·  By Rural America In These Times

Winona LaDuke at Union Theological Seminary: Watch it Live

(Photo: Denkmal Films)

On Wednesday, April 26 at 6:30 p.m. (EST), Winona LaDuke—a rural development economist, author and Native activist working on issues of sustainable development and food systems—will give the seventh annual Judith Davidson Moyers Women of Spirit Lecture at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Rural America In These Times will livestream the event below.

The author of six books, including Recovering the Sacred, LaDuke is widely recognized for her work on environmental and human rights issues, as well as her international advocacy for indigenous peoples. She lives and works on the White Earth reservation in northern Minnesota, where she is the founder of the White Earth Land Recovery Project, a reservation-based non-profit.

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