Peer-reviewed publications

Conflicting outcomes of alternative energies: agricultural methane emissions and hydroelectricity, 1975-2015

Published in Environmental Research: Climate, 2022

Abstract Mitigating emissions from methane, a potent greenhouse gas, is a critical task of fossil fuel alternatives in energy generation as well as in other sectors with large environmental impacts such as agriculture. Agricultural methane emissions have not been given sufficient attention in social science approaches to the human dynamics of greenhouse gas emissions. Given the importance of methane emissions, the need for renewable energy development, and the relationship between hydropower and agricultural systems, we ask: Does hydroelectricity development influence agricultural methane emissions? If so, under what socioeconomic conditions? Using the World Bank’s World Development Indicators and FAO data, we present fixed-effects models with robust standard errors to predict agricultural methane emissions from 1975-2015. Our results show that in low middle income nations and across all nations, increased hydroelectricity generation was associated with increased agricultural methane emissions during this period. We suggest hydroelectricity generation and affluence are associated with a suite of agricultural techniques, including the organization of agricultural waterbodies and animal feed, which may contribute to higher levels of agricultural methane emissions. Given the pressing need for alternatives to fossil fuels, we recommend further examination of the economic conditions for implementing alternative fuels to avoid unintended environmental harms, including those which directly counteract the intended emissions-reduction purpose of these alternatives.

Recommended citation: Sikirica, Amanda, Nick Theis, and Mauricio Betancourt. 2022. "Conflicting outcomes of alternative energies: agricultural methane emissions and hydroelectricity, 1975-2015. " Environmental Research: CLimate.

Chinese Contract Labor, the Corporeal Rift, and Ecological Imperialism in Peru’s Nineteenth-Century Guano Boom

Published in Journal of Peasant Studies, 2021

Abstract Building on the theory of ecological imperialism in the context of the Peruvian guano boom, this analysis explores the metabolic rift in the human relation to external nature and the corresponding corporeal rift in the destruction of human bodily existence. Guano capitalists robbed Peru of the manure deposited by seabirds, while British imperialism introduced a system of racialized expropriation (the ‘coolie trade’), referred to by Karl Marx as ‘worse than slavery.’ Previous failures to understand this historical tragedy were due to the legal forms adopted, which categorized as semi-free labor what was in fact the social murder of the workers.

Recommended citation: Loustaunau, Lola, Mauricio Betancourt, Brett Clark, and John Bellamy Foster. 2021. "Chinese Contract Labor, the Corporeal Rift, and Ecological Imperialism in Peru's Nineteenth-Century Guano Boom." Journal of Peasant Studies .

The Effect of Cuban Agroecology in Mitigating the Metabolic Rift: A Quantitative Approach to Latin American Food Production

Published in Global Environmental Change, 2020

Abstract The historical development of capitalism created what Karl Marx called a rift in the social metabolism with nature, whereby soil nutrients were systematically siphoned into cities where they were discarded as waste and thus did not return to the land. An alternative mode of food production known as agroecology was developed by different scientists and activists partly to transcend this contradiction. Drawing on data from the United Nations and the World Bank, this work analyzes whether agroecology has contributed to mitigate the metabolic rift in agriculture in Cuba, the country where this approach to food production, adopted after the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, is more widely developed. By means of a panel model, both an internal comparison through time within Cuba and a cross-national comparison of Cuba with the rest of Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC), were developed to determine whether the post-Soviet transition to agroecology in Cuba successfully decoupled industrial agricultural practices from productivity in comparison to other countries in LAC. Decoupling is understood as the removal of the positive correlation between fertilizer use and yield. Synthetic fertilizer use is utilized as an indicator of industrialized agriculture, and productivity of maize and beans as a proxy measure of soil improvement. The model shows a reversal of the fertilizer use and productivity positive correlation in Cuba, where crop productivity has increased while the use of inputs has diminished, which suggests that agroecology has indeed mitigated the metabolic rift produced by industrialized agriculture.

Recommended citation: Betancourt, Mauricio. 2020. "The Effect of Cuban Agroecology in Mitigating the Metabolic Rift: A Quantitative Approach to Latin American Food Production. " Global Environmental Change. 63:102075.