eyes on the U.S.

Mobility Nation - On The Unfinished American Experiment

How the always changing 'work-in-progress' that is the United States of America looks to a European, where the past still holds everything in place.

See you down the highway...
See you down the highway...
Henryk M. Broder

What does an American need to be happy? A house, a car, a family to care about, and a wallet full of plastic. And, of course, a job -- sometimes two or three of them -- so he or she can pay off what they owe on the house and car, and feed that family.

So this, in theory, could lead you to think that Americans are like you and me. Yet, first impressions are misleading. There’s more than just the Atlantic between Europe and the U.S. -- there’s a huge cultural gap too.

Europe is like a house that generation after generation inherits: down in the basement are the remains of Emperor Charlemagne, Martin Luther, Napoleon, and Kaiser Wilhelm and upstairs, on display, are paintings by the Dutch masters or German Expressionists.

The things that nobody wants to deal with on a daily basis are stored away: the First and Second World Wars, the Herero genocide, and the Holocaust. Joining them soon will be the Lisbon Treaty, which narrowly missed becoming the European Constitution.

Meanwhile, in the States, anything that's been around more than 30 years is considered an “antique” or “vintage”: furniture, tableware, cars, clothes, books. American’s may not sort their garbage, but they recycle everything through Thrift Shops, like those run by the Salvation Army, or at yard and garage sales where entire families, including Grandma and Grandpa, sell what they don’t want anymore.

If you’re not used to this, you might wonder: have these people just moved in and haven’t quite gotten settled yet? Or are they moving out and don’t have enough boxes to pack all of their stuff? This is the impression you get in many small towns, which look like an unfinished Lego landscape that the kids lost interest in.

There are, however, some exceptions to this rule: In Chattanooga, Tennessee, a citizens’ initiative rescued an old train station from demolition and has since converted it into a hotel and conference facility.

The old railroad cars now serve as apartments for tourists who’d like something a little quainter than a Holiday Inn, although the area around the station is as dead as downtown Dessau after midnight.

Visitors from Europe -- whether from Amsterdam, Bern, or Krakow -- can only marvel at why real estate at the most desirable inner city locations are used as parking lots instead of being built on. Why aren’t the historic buildings restored instead of being left to rot? Why has the railroad, which was once the country’s capillary system, become little more than cause for nostalgia?

They will wonder these things until it finally hits home that America is a work-in-progress, a research and development department for applied mobility, a clock that sometimes runs too fast and sometimes too slow, but never stands still. Americans don’t wait until work comes to them: they move to places where there are jobs.

Five days a week, Howard, 63, is up before dawn to drive 50 kilometers to work and then 50 back again in the early afternoon. He works as a baker -- a trade he has no qualifications for.

After 35 years in the military, he could get by on his pension but sitting at home and mowing the lawn is not his thing. So, every month he drives almost 2,000 kilometers in his pick-up truck to get to his job and back – an expense he can’t even deduct from his taxes, as there is no flat commuter deductible in the States like there is in Germany.

Patriotic car wash - SusanNYC

And it’s not only people who are mobile, the real estate is too -- getting passed from hand to hand.

Until recently, it was easier to buy a house than to rent one. A roof over your head is there to protect you from the vagaries of weather; it doesn’t mean you have to live your life in one place. In this regard, Americans are completely unsentimental.

Still, there is a symbiotic connection between a house and its residents, a car and its users, and the house and the car. They complement each other and add up to an organic unit.

If you could drive the house to work and live in the car, Americans would do it. In fact, they do do it: they just hook a trailer onto the pick-up and head off to wherever the next job might be.

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Feed The Future

COP26 Should Mark A Turning Point In Solving The Climate Crisis

Slow Food calls for an action plan to significantly reduce and improve the production and consumption of meat, dairy, and eggs by 2050.

A new dawn?

If, as the saying goes, we are what we eat, the same also goes for the animals that end up on our plate. How we feed our own food can have knock-on effects, not just for our own health but also for the planet. We are now aware of the meat and dairy industry's significant carbon footprint, responsible for more than a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Large-scale cattle productions that favor pure profit over more sustainable practices also add to environmental woes through biodiversity loss, deforestation and pesticide use — with some of the world's richest countries contributing disproportionately: The five biggest meat and milk producers emit the same amount of greenhouse gases as the oil giant Exxon.

The good news is that we could meet — if we would — some of these challenges with an array of innovative solutions, as the fields of farming, breeding and nutrition look at ways to shift from centralized intensive agro industry toward a more localized, smaller-scale and more organic approach to production.

Cows fed corn and grain-based diets may grow larger and are ready to be processed at a younger age — but this requires significant energy, as well as land and water resources; in contrast, grass and hay-fed cows support a regenerative farming model in which grazing can contribute to restoring the health of soil through increased microbial diversity. Compared to highly processed GM crops, natural-grass diets with minimal cereals also lead to more nutrient-rich livestock, producing better quality meat, milk and cheese. Farmers have started focusing on breeding native animal species that are best adapted to local environmental contexts.

This new approach to agricultural practices is closely linked to the concept of agroecology, where farming works in tandem with the environment instead of exploiting it. If mowed a few times a year, for instance, natural meadows produce hay that is rich in grasses, legumes and flowers of the sunflower family, like daisies, dandelions, thistles and cornflowers. These biomes become reservoirs of biodiversity for our countryside, hosting countless species of vegetables, insects and birds, many of which are at risk of extinction. Until recently, these were common habitats in meadows that were not plugged or tilled and only required light fertilization. Today, however, they are becoming increasingly threatened: in the plains, where the terrain is used for monocultures like corn; or in hills and mountains, where fields are facing gradual abandonment.

It is worth noting that extensive agriculture, which requires smaller amounts of capital and labor in relation to the size of farmed land, can actually help curb climate change effects through carbon dioxide absorption. Researchers at the University of California, Davis determined that in their state, grasslands and rangelands have actually acted as more resilient carbon sinks than forests in recent years. Through a system of carbon uptake, these lands provide a form of natural compensation, going as far as canceling the farms' impact on the planet, rendering them carbon "creditors."

In the meantime, grasslands and pastures allow animals to live in accordance with their natural behavioral needs, spending most of the year outside being raised by bonafide farmers who care about animal welfare. A recent study by Nature found that allowing cows to graze out of doors has both psychological and physical health benefits, as they seem to enjoy the open space and ability to lie on the soft ground.

Some might worry about the economic losses that come with this slower and smaller business model, but there are also opportunities for creativity in diversifying activities, like agro-tourism and direct sales that can actually increase a farm's profit margin. This form of sustainable production goes hand-in-hand with the Slow Meat campaign, which encourages people to reduce their meat consumption while buying better quality, sustainable meat.

Others may assume that the only environmentally-conscious diet is entirely plant-based. That is indeed a valuable and viable option, but there are also thoughtful ways to consume meat in moderation — and more sustainably. It also should be noted that many fruits and vegetables have surprisingly large carbon footprints: The industrial-scale cultivation of avocados, for example, requires massive amounts of water and causes great hardship to farming communities in Latin America.

But forging a broad shift toward more "biodiversity-friendly" pastoralism requires action by both those producing and eating meat, and those with the legislative power to enact industry-wide change. It is urgent that policies be put into place to support a return to long-established agricultural practices that can sustainably feed future generations. Although no country in the world today has a defined strategy to decrease consumption while transforming production, governments are bound to play a key role in the green transition, present and future.

In Europe, Slow Food recommends that the Fit for 55 package include reducing emissions from agriculture activities by 65% (based on 2005 levels) by 2050. Agriculture-related land use emissions should also reach net-zero by 2040 and become a sink of -150 Mt CO2eq by 2050. But these targets can only be met if the EU farming sector adopts agroecological practices at a regional scale, and if consumers shift to more sustainable diets. If we are indeed what we eat, we should also care deeply about how the choices we make impact the planet that feeds us.

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