07.31.08

Demand Begets Recreational Supply

Posted in Conservation, Fun and Games at 11:44 pm by justakim

Have you been to REI lately?

It is amazing how quickly markets for the outdoor enthusiast are being developed. I’m sure many of you can think back to the days of the frame pack and ye olde hiking stick. Nowadays the equipment available, of things you need and things you wouldn’t have known you needed until you saw it, might have the gloss and flair of the electronics aisles. Some say it’s good. Some say it’s bad. I say it’s fascinating.

The growth in the outdoor gear market has sparked a lot of competition in improving and inventing products. The more money there is in it, the more business can be supported, the more companies wish to enter, the more they compete with each other… the better the consumer is in the end. More products, higher quality products, and cheaper products. There have been some great improvements and inventions in the recent past that would not have come about and been made available if there were no incentive to do so.

I think back to my first tent and comparing it to my current one, it reminds me of the difference between steel and aluminum bikes. Or carbon fiber.

When did this non-stick cookware show up? Ever want a titanium spork? Wicking fabrics? Gore-tex?

Can you say “personal locator beacon”?

Two things that seem to be ubiquitous on the trails these days are hydration systems and trekking poles. I never thought I could drink so much water, but how can you say no when the straw is right on your shoulder? And who would have thought that no good hike is complete without taking a pair of sticks with you. My knees have never had it so good, and it’s hard to imagine going back.

I honestly believe that there are some places that would have been inaccessible to me without trekking poles. I hear economists think at the margin. Well, I am the margin.

To the extent that I have personally gained from the quantity and quality of gear that I have used, I gladly welcome my fellow consumers. I welcome the technical-gear geeks that are always pushing for the next thing.

And to an extent, the equipment can lower the playing field in cost of entry, and sometimes in accessibility. A hardcore person might appreciate but scoff at the difference a few pounds makes, but if you’re starting out, any help you can get means you can go a little further, see a little more, and possibly enjoy your experience just a bit more. And make the next trip out easier, until suddenly you have another enthusiast.

Popularity breeds popularity. It piques the interest of the curious, it encourages the timid, it provides a topic of commonality.

I know that some worry that there are just too many people out there, loving nature to death. But there is a big difference between those who appreciate something they know, and those who will not miss the passing of something they never knew was there.

To those who enjoy the gear, go for it; you and I will benefit from each others’ business. To those who can do without, you have gained more opportunities to exercise restraint.

07.02.08

Food Fiascoes

Posted in Climate Change, Conservation, Economic Development at 11:09 am by justakim

This little blurb from the Economist suggests that increasing organic farming will be detrimental to the poor because organic farming is more expensive, less productive, and uses more land. Combine that with sensationalist titles such as “Some 1.5 bln people may starve due to land erosion” and you have a disaster in the making, right?

That’s a very simplistic view of the situation.

One would think that by definition, intensive agricultural production would be more detrimental to the land than less-intensive practices. Perhaps you may have lower yield, or require more work to harvest, but in the long run it is better to preserve the land being used. Add to this the costs of seeds and rising cost of fertilizer (which is tied to the energy market, and monocultural practices that necessitate shipping food around while strangling local farmers, and one must wonder how the poor can afford to live with conventional industrial agriculture.

Distribution prices are going up. And who knows about distribution better than Wal-Mart? Over the last two years, Wal-Mart has been sourcing more produce locally. Not only are they in on the game, they’ve been anticipating it. The forward-thinking is brilliant and profitable.

Wal-Mart said that in the United States, produce travels an average 1,500 miles from farms to consumers’ homes, and it should be able to save millions of “food miles” — the distance food travels from farm to plate — through local sourcing, better packing of its trucks and improved logistics.

In an example, Wal-Mart said that by sourcing peaches in 18 states instead of just two, as it did before, it saves 672,000 food miles and 112,000 gallons of diesel fuel — or more than $1.4 million dollars in transportation costs per season.

Meanwhile, our available fish stocks are changing due to climate change and overfishing. Lobster, crab, and squid are increasing while bottom fish are decreasing. Bad news for some perhaps, but that just means more squid for me!

But Nils Stolpe, communications manager for the Garden State Seafood Association in New Jersey, argues that people’s seafood diets change for reasons apart from availability.

“The reason we’re getting more calamari is because we’re getting more sophisticated as seafood eaters,” he said.

“Ten, fifteen years ago nobody ate salmon, because we weren’t in tune with eating salmon. Now everyone’s growing it, and we’re a lot more familiar with it.”

…say what? All my Northwest brethren understand the inferiority of farmed Atlantic salmon. Where was this guy ten years ago, in a shack? Everyone growing salmon would indicate it has to do with availability. Whatever. It doesn’t matter to me if people eat squid because it’s the popular food, the price, or because they are inspired to diversity. Squid is good. Lobster is good. Crab is real good. Changes are not so good, but tasty.

Onto more bad food news… I picked up some ice cream. I accidentally picked up the wrong kind (cinnamon dulce de leche != chocolate) and in my disappointment, I was pondering the Haagen-Dazs lid and discover they are out to save the bees. They are donating funding to reserach into the mysterious disappearance of the bees.

In case you’ve missed their disapperaance,

Bustling colonies, tens of thousands strong, were emptying in a matter of days. Systematic searches for dead bees around the colonies mostly drew a blank… “Imagine waking one morning to find 80 per cent of the people in your community are just gone,” says May Berenbaum of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign.

There is no shortage of potential culprits; European honeybees make up the vast majority of commercial stocks in the US and they are susceptible to myriad viral and fungal blights and two forms of parasitic mites, one of which wiped out about half of the American honeybee population in the 1980s. Yet, in this instance, the precise cause of the sudden decline, dubbed “colony collapse disorder”, remains elusive. The pattern of disappearance offers few clues, since CCD appears to be widespread and plagues non-migrating colonies as well as those that are moved from place to place to pollinate crops.

Diversity loss could be catching up to us as well. A larger diversity in pollinators leads to more successful pollination. Researchers found that diversity in time of day, and pollination height of pollnators leads to more effective pollination. Different pollinators come by at different times of day, and prefer a different height off the ground to pollinate, so they hit a certain band. Similar groups share similar body types. Some plants specialize and work with a specific pollinator and their success is linked with that one species. Others attract a diversity and benefit from diversity.

The aforementioned European honeybees have threatened many native bee species in the US, including (probably especially) kinds that don’t sting. Great choice, folks.