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February 23, 2019

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The US may have reached peak cropland acreage. Ethanol production would be slowing any decline. Urban and forest acreage will continue to increase.

only about 20% of crop land is used to grow stuff that humans actually eat

It would be less misleading to include the ~30% of cropland used to grow livestock feed. After all, humans end up eating the output there, too -- just indirectly. As opposed to ethanol, exports, and non-food crops, where we (specifically Americans) don't eat the results.

A staggering amount of water in the West is used to feed the cows and ethanol factories. In California, alfalfa for harvest is the number one water consumer. Pasture comes in third.

The map overstates the pasture/range category in the West somewhat. Big chunks of the Great Plains and Mountain West aren't suitable even for that (about one third of the Great Plains are suitable for farming, about one third for grazing, and one third isn't even good enough for the cows). Should be more miscellaneous, or even better, "nothing".

Before tractors, about a third of cropland was used to grow draft animal feed.

Feedlots are wrong. Agricultural subsidies are a mess.

It would be less misleading to include the ~30% of cropland used to grow livestock feed. After all, humans end up eating the output there, too
Yes, but it’s an incredibly inefficient way to feed humans, so it’s right it should be categorised separately from crop land.

Subsidies, in general, are a mess.

We've come full circle. About a hundred years ago, we were competing with our draft animals for food. Now we're competing with our SUVs.

More solar farms would be a good thing.
I read somewhere a recent study which showed that placing them on arid pastue land actually increased the amount of biomass that could be grown there, as the shade they throw significantly reduces evaporation...

Agricultural subsidies are a mess.

We're all going to find it a challenge to top this for Understatement of the Thread.

More solar farms would be a good thing.

But haven't you heard that solar farms, by drawing sunlight away from the surrounding area, make agriculture essentially impossible wherever they get installed?
(no, that's not THE ONION but a RW talking point from a few years ago).

As large parts of the US are arid semi-desert it’s not exactly a convincing argument.
Probably the easiest way for the US to cut its carbon emissions would be to cut the amount of beef in its diet by three quarters. Would be rather positive o the health front, too.

Frankly, I have often wondered at how much the Americans eat beef. It is surprisingly cheap there. Bread, on the other hand, is quite expensive and often tasteless. In Europe, the most common meats are pork and chicken, which require much less feed per kilogram flesh. Beef is roughly twice more expensive. (And worse quality, because most beef is from ten-year-old dairy cows.)

However, the amount of cattle grown in the US makes sort of sense. You have a lot of land that is quite unproductive for anything else but pasture, and growing cattle for slaughter is an easy way to utilise this. However, growing cattle for slaughter in areas suitable for growing crops is unethical.

And worse quality, because most beef is from ten-year-old dairy cows.

Contrary to what I take to be the implication of this remark, it has been the fashion in the last few years in very expensive gourmet-foodie restaurants to serve beef from old (in some cases as much as 18-year old) dairy cows, carefully dry-aged. I believe this may have started in Spain. The consensus seems to be that when properly cooked (not overcooked) the taste and texture of the beef is highly superior. The only time I have actually tried it, at a restaurant in London called Kitty Fisher's, cooked as a rare cote-de-boeuf, my friend and I thought it good but not remarkable.

Proper aging can make an enormous difference no matter what sort of beef animal the meat came from. It's a shame I'm not a better cook, since I live where I can get grass-finished dry-aged beef that's grown and processed locally at a "reasonable" price.

I guess this is the current open thread:

I would be very grateful to know if it is true, as a young friend of mine has just told me, that when in the US companies are asked to give references on employees who are applying for new jobs elsewhere, it is illegal for them to say anything other than that they would, or would not, re-employ them. If this is true, is it different in different states? My young friend (an ex-ward - I'm swimming in them) is intelligent but idiotic, in a difficult situation, and in his first proper job....

If this is true, is it different in different states?

State laws vary, but I've never heard that an employer is restricted in the way you've stated. (I'm not an employment lawyer, but most jurisdictions require only that the former employer be truthful, and some states even immunize a former employer against claims of defamation.)

@GftNC: Varies by state, from very restricted to (as in my state) there's simply no laws specifically about it. At the large companies where I typically worked, handling reference letters was always done by HR, not by the line people.

Thank you, sapient and Michael Cain. The state in question is Utah. Do either of you (or anybody else) happen to know about that specifically?

It's the internet, so who knows. But.....

https://www.blr.com/HR-Employment/Staffing-Training-/References-in-Utah

https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/free-books/employee-rights-book/chapter9-6.html

The 2nd one has this:

Utah

Utah Code Ann. § 34-42-1

Information that may be disclosed:

• job performance

Who may request or receive information:

• prospective employer

• former or current employee

Employer immune from liability unless:

• There is clear and convincing evidence that employer disclosed information with the intent to mislead, knowing it was false, or not caring if it was true or false.


JanieM, as always you are a star! Thank you - I barely knew what to search, this is so helpful.

p.s. I was just thinking this morning of my call some time ago for the grammar police, and your immediate reply with "You rang?" And lj did the same thing as the linguistics police, as I recall. It made me smile....

Here's the actual law:

https://le.utah.gov/xcode/Title34/Chapter42/34-42-S1.html?v=C34-42-S1_1800010118000101

The Utah Code contains this provision:

"34-42-1 Employer references -- Civil liability -- Rebuttable presumption -- Common law.
(1) An employer who in good faith provides information about the job performance, professional conduct, or evaluation of a former or current employee to a prospective employer of that employee, at the request of the prospective employer of that employee, may not be held civilly liable for the disclosure or the consequences of providing the information.

(2) There is a rebuttable presumption that an employer is acting in good faith when the employer provides information about the job performance, professional conduct, or evaluation of a former or current employee to a prospective employer of that employee, at the request of the prospective employer of that employee.

(3) The presumption of good faith is rebuttable only upon showing by clear and convincing evidence that the employer disclosed the information with actual malice or with intent to mislead.

(4) For purposes of this section "actual malice" means knowledge that the information was false or reckless disregard of whether the information was false.
(5) This section does not alter any privileges that exist under common law."

I don't have any information at hand regarding judicial interpretation of that law, but it appears that an employer can discuss the performance of a former employee as long as good faith is shown.

Every company where I have been in management for the last ten years has the official policy that they only confirm start and end date. Personal references could include job related info.

sapient, Marty, JanieM: thank you so much that's very helpful.

Inadvisable conduct by ex-ward based on false information averted, I think!
Thanks again!

After all, humans end up eating the output there, too -- just indirectly. As opposed to ethanol, exports, and non-food crops,

This reminds me of the incredibly hilarious but utterly unappreciated joke I made at work last week about fossil fuels being solar energy.

I'm not in management but my experience is the same as Martys.

Requests for employment information go to HR. They will confirm start and end date of employment. Maybe confirm salary, but I'm not sure about that.

Employers will also do a standard vetting to confirm basic biographical information - did you actually graduate from XYZ University - and do you have a criminal record or a particularly egregious credit history.

these days, employers routinely do full credit and background checks. last time i was in the job market, i was contacted by a third party agency to confirm that i in fact was employed by the company i owned. they wouldn't take my word for it, of course.

i've also been looked up on the internet (hence no more real name)

Interesting article regarding employers' duty (or lack thereof) to report misconduct when asked by a subsequent potential employer.

Last year, before health problems laid me low, I tried to walk a mile or so every day around our neighborhood in Durham, NC, a city of some 200,000, and thus definitely "urban."

What was very clear on foot - and is equally clear driving, if one is looking for it - is that this whole neighborhood is basically slightly-converted forest (mostly loblolly pines) with roads and houses almost forming an interruption or intrusion rather than being the dominant material form. This came as a surprise to me, who had somehow developed a rather more man-made view of "cities." ("Somehow" may have to do with living the previous 18 years in Hong Kong.)

This probably doesn't affect the larger discussion here over land use; I merely mention it as an example of my own shifting perceptions.

So long as this is an open thread, I feel I must mention a comment I heard repeated more than once before the Duke-Syracuse basketball game yesterday, responding to the tragic killing (in a highway accident) of a Hispanic worker by the coach of Syracuse:

They will observe a moment of silence in English and Spanish.

I can understand why they did not include Cantonese, in which it seems to be impossible to be silent, but otherwise: WTF?

Standard practice in the City of London is for HR to confirm employment dates and job title only. If you want to know more you have to talk to people, off the record.

What was very clear on foot - and is equally clear driving, if one is looking for it - is that this whole neighborhood is basically slightly-converted forest...

I live in what I semi-jokingly call "the west metro Denver urban forest." The whole area is natively the last of the almost-tree-free high plains (short-grass prairie), just before the quite abrupt foothills of the Rocky Mountains. Planted and tended trees are now mature. In the couple of places where you come out of the mountains/foothills from the west in the summer and the view opens up, you only see an occasional taller building sticking up through the trees. It looks like a forest. Not when you actually get into it, of course.

"They will observe a moment of silence in English and Spanish."

Brilliant!

I had a high school English teacher who would have us read aloud from say "Paradise Lost", and then say "Now, can you tell us ... in YOUR OWN WORDS .. what Milton is saying in this passage?".

For years, I thought "abyss" was my very own private word.

Then George Carlin set me straight.

When the Peter O'Toole character, recently away from the asylum and who thought he was Jesus risen in the movie "The Ruling Class", was asked: "How do you know you are Jesus Christ?", he skipped nary a beat and answered "Because when I pray, I find that I am talking to myself."

Cantonese is the perfect language for ordering dim sum during a moment of silence.

this whole neighborhood is basically slightly-converted forest (mostly loblolly pines) with roads and houses almost forming an interruption or intrusion rather than being the dominant material form.

My impression, from the far side of the continent, is that pretty much everything east of the Mississippi is "slightly-converted forest." Every city and town, every farm and orchard, being manmade intrusions on the natural ecology: forest/woods. Doubtless oversimplified from reality. But as a general rule, perhaps correct.

In contrast, southern California and Arizona are basically desert, with occasional scrub. Driving over the pass to LA, one passes thru the Angeles National Forest. A friend and I used to joke, when returning from such a trip, "the tree [singluar!] is fine." But I suppose there isn't provision in the law for a National Scrubland. Comes of having too many Congressmen from forested parts of the country.

Much of the US has more trees than it did before Columbus.

much of New England has more trees than it did in the 19th C.

I'd like to see a cite on the comparison with pre-Columbus, like comparative satellite imagery, haha.

Yes, I know there are other methods of making this determination.

https://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/09/earth-home-3-trillion-trees-half-many-when-human-civilization-arose

However, wildfires were not controlled at the time, so there is that, though there are good and bad effects resulting from that practice vis a vis tree growth and forest health.

Native Americans, who operated from a more libertarian perspective, then magnified by settler and corporate clear cutting later, also cleared forests.

You can witness the same phenomenon across the globe, the Amazon, New Guinea, the Philippines, Borneo, until the government, if you'll pardon my French, perhaps urged on by radical environmentalists, if you'll pardon my Bolshevik, butts in and mandates replanting and/or set asides.

I know we have more trees west of the Mississippi since the 19th century, because humans used the tree cover for charcoal to devastating effect. A good example can be witnessed at the Civil War battlefields around Harper's Ferry as you cast your eyes across the surrounding now heavily-wooded hillsides and then see the photograph of the same forests, before and after, completely denuded after both armies were encamped there for months and months.

Not a tree standing within sight, except on the steepest slopes.

The original forests were more tree species-diverse, I expect, as what replacement took place was largely monoculture in practice.

https://www.tentree.com/blogs/posts/fact-check-are-there-really-more-trees-today-than-100-years-ago

Much, not all, of the increase in forest cover was the result of collective, many times government (if you'll pardon my French) action.

There were more bison in North America than when Columbus arrived as well.

The subsequent shortage was not a tragedy of the commons, but rather the tragedy of common shitheads deciding it should be so.

"east of the Mississippi" it should read.

There were more bison in North America WHEN Columbus arrived.

I'm from Pittburgh. We don't proofread.

"Pre-Columbian savannas once existed across North America. These were created by both natural lightning fires and by Native Americans. The arrival of European settlers caused the death of most Native Americans in the 16th century. Surviving natives continued using fire to clear savanna until European colonists began colonizing the eastern seaboard two hundred years later. Many colonists continued the practice of burning to clear underbrush, reinforced by their similar experience in Europe, but some land reverted to forest."
Pre-Columbian savannas of North America

Thanks to russell and paul barden for their input on references as well. I would just add, after this little incident, that I'm bloody glad I've never had children. The insistence by idiotic youth on the correctness of their preconceived ideas (in this case informed I believe by RW talking points) until conclusively proved wrong is enough to drive one up the wall.

I'm enjoying all the regional accent stuff by the way: I don't expect it happens anymore, but a girlfriend and I were given a free meal in a diner in NYC in the 70s because of our accents....

Sorry, that second half is in the wrong thread!

My impression, from the far side of the continent, is that pretty much everything east of the Mississippi is "slightly-converted forest."

Excluding much of Illinois. I have always been an (ignored) advocate for converting a couple million acres of Illinois back to tall-grass prairie, complete with bison, wolves, mountain lions, and the occasional really big grass wildfire.

"The world is literally a greener place than it was twenty years ago, and data from NASA satellites has revealed a counterintuitive source for much of this new foliage. A new study shows that China and India—the world’s most populous countries—are leading the increase in greening on land. The effect comes mostly from ambitious tree-planting programs in China and intensive agriculture in both countries."
China and India Lead the Way in Greening

Of all British actors, I thought Lawrence Olivier's one glaring weakness was his American accent.

Especially when he tried it on the wrong thread.

I can confirm that the large (U.S.) corporate entity that sends me paychecks adheres to the "only provide dates of employment" reference policy. My understanding is it a CYA maneuver to avoid getting sued by former employees.

Didn't see it mentioned in any of the charts in the link, so I guess it's just coincidence that Atrios has a post up that if the land in the lower 48 were divided up among the population that would be a 6.5 acre homestead per person. Haven't looked up figures to see if the math is anywhere near correct on that. Some of those 6.5 acres would be a lot more desirable than others. . .

I'm pretty sure that the reason New England's forest cover has rebounded is that all the farmers got sick of breaking their plows on rocks and moved west.

all the farmers got sick of breaking their plows on rocks and moved west.

I heard an interesting radio snippet a few years ago about how a lot of Mainers who fought in the Civil War and survived settled elsewhere afterwards. They had seen places with all that gorgeous topsoil....

On the other hand, Maine now has a thriving small farm / local food movement, so go figure.

Haven't looked up figures to see if the math is anywhere near correct on that.

Seems to be roughly right. Google says the land area of the lower 48 is 3,119,884.69 square miles and the US population is 325.7 million (including AK and HI). At 640 acres per square mile, that's 6.13 acres per person.

You can bet there'd be a thriving black market (or hey, in this era, it would be out and proud) handing the choicest parcels to the greediest bastards in exchange for some palm-greasing. Then there would be range wars.........

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