Nature's resources

Clouds, climate change, crop insurance, and the fall of civilizations

I write today, as I usually do, from my couch. The apartment is dark and warm. There was a rain shower earlier, but the cool, humid air outside has not yet dispersed the thick air inside. It doesn’t help that earlier I blanched some root vegetables, sending plumes of steam into the apartment. But the rain has at least watered my tomato and pepper plants.

The indoor plants are suffering, as they always seem to in August. The dragon tree is dropping leaves every day, and the corn plant that has been dying since we rescued it from the street two years ago is on its last leg.

The house is especially quiet because my mom and brother left this morning after a short visit. While I had to work part of the time they were here, I sent them on a couple outdoorsy adventures: to the beach at Coney Island, and to bike around Governors Island. Together, we walked the High Line on Friday afternoon. The plant life in the park is really lovely, but the crowds inching along rivaled the crowds pushing through Times Square.

Now that they’ve left, I’m feeling droopy like the plants, a summertime slump of sorts — perhaps also a post-birthday slump. I’ve had several articles published in the past few weeks. Those deadlines kept me from keeping up with the usual once-a-week Pinch of Dirt schedule, and from working out and other habits that keep me sane and happy. I’m looking forward to improving on those front in the coming weeks, while also squeezing in a couple weekend trips before August is over and the rigor of September sets in.


Read me

For The New Food Economy, I wrote about a task force trying to hack the crop insurance program to introduce products that reward conservation practices. If Monsanto can do it for GMO seeds, why not a product for regenerative ag? I loved learning about practical ways we can tweak the food system and have large scale environmental impacts (the good kind). I also loved learning about the origins of the crop insurance program, which started with the Dust Bowl. FDR’s words at the time give me chills, they’re still so relevant:

“[The] recurring dust storms and rivers yellow with silt are a warning that Nature’s resources will not indefinitely withstand exploitation or negligence. The only permanent protection which can be given consumers must come from conservation practiced by farmers.”

Read the story here.

Left: Arthur Rothstein; right: Dorothea Lange

Also for The New Food Economy, I wrote about the growing scientific consensus that many UTIs can be traced back to contaminated food sources, and yet the government fails to monitor or regulate the type of bacteria causing serious, often drug-resistant infections the way it monitors other food-borne pathogens. Read all about it here.

Then, for new vegan publication Tenderly, I went on a quest to make vegan soup dumplings. I’ve wanted to try making veg soup dumplings for AGES and when I saw this site had launched I pitched it. It was my first recipe-testing/recipe-writing assignment, and a lot of fun! Read (and get the recipe) here.


More to read

Please excuse my fast and dirty curation; I have so many links in my inbox to share that I don’t have time to do each justice with a thoughtful response.

Photographs of the alpine ski resorts that climate change has left high and dry (but look ripe for repurposing into hiking lodges?) [Emily Atkin and Tomaso Clavarino for New Republic]

A really cool data visualization of overnight visitor numbers at national parks, and the preferred types of lodging. [Jordan Vincent, h/t Ethan Davison]

Will types of clouds disappear under climate change? [Mari Saito and Phil Noble for Reuters]

“I will not say that wilderness is a tonic, balm, or medicine for the troubled soul; that most everyone has a troubled soul in need of moss’s healing touch and birdsong’s rejuvenating cheeriness; that this common soul-ache is just a little human-sized sliver of despair situated within the broader soul of the natural world; that I have walked for weeks among meadows and outcrops and waterfalls, blisters on my toes, a grin spreading from ear to ear and beyond.” [Leath Tonino for Orion]

“We humans are not passively dragged along by temperatures and rainfall patterns. Climate change did not cause the fall of Cahokia any more than it forced northern Europeans to eat their pets and abandon their children. But the adversity brought by climate change caused societies to break apart, magnified pre-existing divisions, and made desperate people easy prey for dangerous people.” [Kate Marvel for Scientific American]

“The waterwheel lives a double life: facing extinction in its native habitat even as it creeps into places where it doesn’t belong.” [Marion Renault for New York Times]


Thanks for reading! As always, Pinch of Dirt is brought to you by Jessica McKenzie. If you like what you read here, please consider recommending this newsletter to your friends, and clicking the heart button below, which gives me “internet points” and helps strangers find this newsletter.