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Here are two examples of environmental science issues relating to government and energy as "currency" from the Freakonomics article collection. The first is "How Shale Gas Can Benefit the Environment" (11/14/2011) and the second is "The Inefficiency of Local Food" (09/28/2012); both articles are written by Steve Sexton.
In the argument regarding shale gas, Sexton compares the boon to our economy to sales of the latest iPhone release. While the latter is heralded for being more advanced than its predecessors, the new technology that enables the extraction and production of shale gas is not only not met with the same kind of enthusiasm and accolades, shale production is frequently vociferously castigated.
This puzzles Sexton. Shale, he argues, is cleaner than any current means of energy production, "30-50% cleaner than coal." As if this weren't enough, shale extraction and production, Sexton claims, is "cheaper than coal. And cheaper than wind. And cheaper than solar. Even if shale production were to assume the cost of the risks associated with it, "the IEA predicts that mitigating such risks and safely exploiting shale gas would only raise production costs about 7%. Even then, shale gas is still 17% cheaper than the cheapest renewable fuel," Sexton argues. The government, therefore, should be pursuing this resource.
The second article makes a case against the push for "locavore farming," that is, eschewing large scale farms who export their fruits, vegetables, and grains across the country in favor of small, local farms. The government, Sexton points out, has already created the "Local Farms, Foods, and Jobs Act," which includes a "federal rule" that gives preference to local farms in contract bidding for school lunches." While perhaps well-meaning, Sexton says, these actions are not only misguided but detrimental.
First, it should be understood that the need for food in the very near future is tremendous. "In the next 50 years," he writes, "the global food system likely need to produced as much food as it did in the previous 10,000 years combined." Small farms simply cannot produce enough food. These farms are not streamlined, and therefore, efficient, as modern farming. Moreover, small farms cannot grow crops that are not indigenous to their region. California's climate is suited to fields of strawberries, grapes, and almonds while Idaho produces "30 percent of the country's russet potatoes." In order to come close to the kind of native production, small farms in non-indigenous regions would need to increase the use of fertilizer "by 30 percent for corn and 54% for soybeans...fuel use would increase 23 percent and 54 percent for corn and soybeans respectively. Chemical demands would grow... [as would] carbon emissions from transportation."
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