Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

News & Supplemental  

EU Buys Bees A Breather With Neonicotinoid Ban. Bees’ Goose Still Cookin’

In the quest to prevent a collapse in the global bee population, few approaches look more promising than simply banning the use of neonicotinoids in agriculture. To the EU’s credit, that’s exactly what was done last May when the EU passed a two-year ban on nicotinoid usage. For life on earth it was the bee’s knees, although the Life Sciences industry wasn’t entirely pleased:

World On a Plate
Hosted By The Guardian
London bee summit: pesticides or no pesticides?
The decision to frame the argument over neonicotinoids as pro- or anti-pesticide ignores the myriad options

Posted by Emma Bryce
Tuesday 28 January 2014 05.38 EST

In London last Friday, research scientists, chemical industry representatives, and journalists gathered for an open discussion session that concluded a three-day summit about the impact of neonicotinoid pesticides on honeybees. The result was a rich debate about the future use of these chemicals in agriculture, and implications for food production. But the efforts by some industry representatives to oversimplify the issue gave an otherwise intricate discussion the aura of a highly polarised one.

Neonicotinoids, which are widely used in Europe and America, are applied as a coating on seeds of crops like oilseed rape, maize, and sunflowers before they are planted, in this way protecting the plant from the start. But since this class of chemicals was linked with a decline in honey- and bumblebee health in 2012, followed by The European Commission’s imposed restrictions on specific uses of neonicontinoids soon after, they have been recognised more for the controversy they are associated with than anything else.

The science cannot definitively link neonicotinoid impact on individual pollinators to the widespread, overall decline of honeybee populations going on in Europe and America—the phenomenon labelled Colony Collapse Disorder. But a growing body of research on the subject is helping to cement the concerns of conservationists and scientists alike. Friday’s open discussion helped air those concerns, and yet, these were foregrounded against a controversial industry suggestion that if we stop using neonicotinoids, we essentially commit to a future of environmental ruin.

Speaking during his presentation on behalf of Bayer CropSciencethe company that makes imidacloprid, a neonicotinoid-based pesticide—environmental safety manager Richard Schmuck concluded his talk by stating that not only will food production dip dramatically if we stop using neonicotinoids, but that in an effort to make up for lowered production, countries will have to convert untouched wild land into crops and ‘import’ land from developing world countries. That will result in decreased biodiversity in Europe, America, and abroad, he said.

This rather extreme argument gives us just two options: a world with pesticides, or one without. But it misrepresents the approach of scientists and several conservation groups, and also contradicts what the chemical industries themselves say.

“I think it’s just an oversimplification by the industry to suit their message,” says Sandra Bell, nature campaigner at Friends of the Earth UK who was present at Friday’s meeting. “We’re not necessarily talking about banning every pesticide. We’re talking about minimising the use.” A speaker at the conference, University of Sussex Professor David Goulson, leader of one of the research groups that found neonicotinoid impacts on pollinators in 2012, agreed, adding that in order to grow enough food to feed an increasing world population, he recognised that chemicals would inevitably be part of the mix.

But the binary pesticide/no pesticide scenario overwrites a third option: using pesticides together with other controls. This is one aspect of integrated pest management (IPM), touted as a ‘common sense‘ approach to farming. “IPM is not a system that doesn’t use pesticides at all,” says Goulson, “but you try and minimise the pesticides and only ever use them responsibly, and as a last resort.” This ideal contrasts starkly with the current reality of crops that receive up to 22 pesticides at a time.

Rotation-cropping, organic farming, production of pest-resistant crops, and the use of state-funded agronomists to evaluate land and apply tailored pest control, were all raised as alternative management options during the open debate. Matthias Schott, a PhD student at the University of Giessen in Germany, who was there to present a poster about whether bees can sense neonicotinoids, suggested that in an ideal future, farmers would be given financial incentives for avoiding unnecessary pesticide use. Currently, he says, “there is no possibility for farmers to get pesticide-undressed seeds from the big companies. Therefore most agricultural land is exposed to insecticides.”

Bayer CropScience notes that alternatives are part of its portfolio, too. “We are very open to finding the right synthesis between integrated pest management and pesticides,” said Bayer’s global pollinator safety manager, Dr. Christian Maus, adding that it is necessary to establish a pesticide’s compatibility with IPM before it goes on the market. (He spoke on behalf of Richard Schmuck who was traveling and not available for an interview.)

The reality, of course, is that the pesticide/no pesticide split exists because there is no financial incentive right now to mould things differently. Alternative methods of pest control get little funding, and less research. “There’s no profit to be made for anyone who develops anything like that,” says Goulson. “So really, most research into how to farm is focused on high-tech solutions that can be sold by the people that manufacture them.”

The UK government’s seemingly tight-knit relationship with major chemical company Syngenta has only intensified the frustrations felt by those seeking alternatives. Industry-funded studies that find no neonicotinoid impact are a target for critics, and researchers highlight the general scarcity of peer-reviewed science on the subject.

Indeed, the confident conclusion in Schmuck’s presentation that a future without pesticides will amount to a loss of virgin land and biodiversity comes from an industry document that he cited in his talk. “It was a report by the agrochemical industry,” says Goulson. “I would strongly imagine it has no credibility whatsoever.” Yet, says Maus, everything Bayer CropScience publishes is independently regulated, whether it appears in a journal or not. “Our data are scrutinised,” he states.

The binary argument over neonicotinoids, no matter how superficial, denies the role that creativity has to play in finding other solutions. It perpetuates a threatening rhetoric in which the obvious pressure exists to stick with the status quo. “It’s about a lack of investment in the right kind of research,” says Bell. “If several years ago more money had been directed towards [alternatives] we might not be in this situation now.”

The two-year EU ban on neonicotinoids is going to be a critical story to watch but it’s also a difficult story. As the attendees to the London Bee Summit often pointed out, bee colony collapse is an incredibly complicated phenomena and nicotinoids are just one piece of the puzzle.

Another piece of the puzzle that adds uncertainty to the future of the neonicotinoid ban is the fact that Ettore Capri, the director of the Italy based OPERA Research Center – a pesticide industry-friendly think tank with a history of lobbying the EU for laxer neonicotinoid regulationsis also sitting on the EU’s pesticide panel. But it’s a big panel so we’ll see soon how the EU’s two year moratorium works out. Major nicotinoid manufacturers like Bayer and Syngenta may not like bans on neonicotinoids but the bees do. And in two years we’ll see who wins, Big Pesticide or the bees. Hint: It’s looking like it’s going to be a cliff-hanger/catastrophe sort of experience.

It Isn’t Easy Being a Bee
Neonicotinoids and lobbyists arent’t the only threats complicating the fate of the bees. If your a bee, mites might make for a really bad day. Or a new farm where your delicious prairie flowers used to be. Or both. It isn’t being a bee, and its getting harder:

International Business Times
How Can We Save Bees? 3 Possible Solutions To Combat Honeybee Decline

By Roxanne Palmer
on January 22 2014 11:38 PM

The pleasant buzz of the honeybee is going silent across the nation, and the globe. But not everyone is planning on letting bees bumble gently into that good night.

Since 2006, U.S. beekeepers have been seeing colony losses of an average of 33 percent a year, with a third of that attributed to colony collapse disorder, or CCD, the abrupt disappearance of worker bees from the hive.

Since no one can quite pin down a singular cause for the drop in bee populations across the globe, a nest of different approaches to saving the honeybee is springing up. Here are just a few of the measures that are being taken to try and save the bees:

Europe’s pesticide ban

Last April, the European Union voted to ban a certain class of pesticides called neonicotinoids….

Nevertheless, the EU ban went into effect this past December and will last for two years. Some scientists fear that European farmers may turn to more toxic pesticides in the wake of the ban, while others fear that crop pests may seize their advantage in the coming years. Only time will tell what the ban has wrought.

Combating the varroa mite

One of the other prime suspects in CCD is the varroa mite, a tiny arachnid that can hitch a ride back to beehives on the backs of foraging worker bees. Once it invades the hive, the mite lays its eggs in honeycombs alongside young bees. The mite brings its own hitchhikers into the colony as well: bacteria, viruses and other pathogens that can sweep through the bees.

Bayer scientists and bee researchers from Frankfurt University have come up with a way to nip the varroa mite right at the entrance of the hive, using a specially designed entryway for commercial hives. When bees pass through this varroa gate through small entry holes, they brush up against a coating of poison that targets the mite (it’s based on the same principle as a flea collar for dogs or cats).

In Australia, where the mite has yet to gain a foothold, scientist Denis Anderson has been searching for a chemical switch that would allow him to turn off the mite’s breeding cycle. But, Anderson says his work has been hampered by a lack of funds, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.

Filling empty bee bellies

Any hungry creature is vulnerable to illness and calamity, and bees are no exception. And the spread of modern agriculture, coupled with skyrocketing demand for biofuels, may be chewing up the bees’ sources of food.

American grasslands are rich in wildflowers, which provide food for a host of pollinating insects, including honeybees. But these grasslands are being destroyed as a study published last year in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found. The study found that 1.3 million acres of grassland and wetland were converted to cropland in the Dakotas, Nebraska and parts of Minnesota and Iowa between 2006 and 2011, at a rate not seen since before the Dust Bowl.

So even when neonicotinoids are banned, the farmers might just use something even worse, mites might infest your colony with bacteria and viruses, and, in the US, native bee habitat loss from 2006-2011 was at a rate not seen since the Dust Bowl! It’s sure not easy being bee, neonicotinoids or not.

Climate Change Is A Pest For The Bees Too. Technology Change Is More Of An Open Question.
And then there’s climate change. Climate change directly impacts bees by causing flowers to blossom when bees aren’t ready but it’s also the perfect storm for exacerbating virtually all of the other other bee-life stresses. For exaple, the loss of native bee habitats from the changing climate is going to be compounded by the increased demand for new farm land as climate change destroys arable land. And then there are the pests. As the climate changes, pests change too. Not only the types of pests but also the sheer volume of them. And when new pests arrive, and the old ones increase in number, the pest control strategies have to increase too.

Since there’s quite possibly going to be a lot more pests to control in the warming climates of the future, we should probably hope that the new pest control strategies required for that warmer future are easier on the bees that what we’re currently doing. Especially the pesticides use for major crops that attract bees. Crops like corn. High Fructose Corn Syrup isn’t the only corn-relate threat to the bees. +90% of corn grown in the US is covered with Bayer’s neonicotinoid products, along with a growing number of other crops. Quite simply, as the demand for pest control strategies grows with the changing climate, it’s going to be very hard to see how an outright ban on the use of neonicotinoids going to be possible without either a very big shift in how humanity feeds itself or the development of some new, effective pest-control technologies that can be used for staple foods.

All of these growing threats are a reminder that the challenges bees faced in the 20th century (the emergence of industrial agriculture) might be multiply in the 21st century. And since it’s looking increasingly like bee colonies are collapsing from the ‘death of a thousand cuts’ of many different environmental insults simultaneously it’s important to keep in mind that even a complete banning of nicotinoids still might not save the bees. A ban will be helpful, sure. But if we simply replace nicotinoids with other forms of bee-harming pest control strategies the bees and the rest of us might still be screwed.

And, sure, if humanity gets a lot better at sharing and not wasting food we could potentially shift to a organic farming strategies and minimize pesticide use around the world and still feed ourselves, but is that realistic? If not, that means a key challenge for the future of bee-friendly pest-control is going to ever-increasing specificity: you want tools that eliminate only the pest on the crop of interest and nothing else. Or at least nothing beneficial like bees.

So, for example, let’s say Monsanto was to develop a new form of GMO technology designed to ward off major pests that have developed immunity to Monsanto’s widely-used GMO-based corn with the BT Toxin and Monsanto’s Roundup weed-killer. That might be helpful, at least for a while. But new technology that kill newly resistant pests aren’t going to help humanity feed itself if those new technologies keep killing our six-legged friends:

Mother Jones
Is Monsanto Giving Up on GMOs?

—By Tom Philpott
| Wed Jan. 29, 2014 3:00 AM GMT

Is genetically modified seed giant Monsanto doing the unthinkable and moving away from genetically modified seeds?

It sounds crazy, but hear me out. Let’s start with Monsanto’s vegetable division, Seminis, which boasts it is the “largest developer and grower of vegetable seeds in the world.” Monsanto acknowledges Seminis has no new GM vegetables in development. According to a recent Wired piece, Seminis has has reverted instead to “good old-fashioned crossbreeding, the same technology that farmers have been using to optimize crops for millennia.”

Why? The article points to people’s growing avoidance of genetically modified foods. So far, consumers have shown no appetite to gobble up GM vegetables. (But that doesn’t mean people aren’t eating GMOs: Nearly all GMOs currently on the market are big commodity crops like corn and soy, which, besides being used as livestock feed, are regularly used as ingredients in processed food—think high-fructose corn syrup and soy oil.)

But the Wired piece also suggests a factor that doesn’t get nearly enough attention: GM technology doesn’t seem to be very good at generating complex traits like better flavor or more nutrients, the very attributes Monsanto was hoping to engineer into veggies. Here’s Wired:

Furthermore, genetically modifying consumer crops proved to be inefficient and expensive. [Monsanto exec David] Stark estimates that adding a new gene takes roughly 10 years and $100 million to go from a product concept to regulatory approval. And inserting genes one at a time doesn’t necessarily produce the kinds of traits that rely on the inter­actions of several genes. Well before their veggie business went kaput, Monsanto knew it couldn’t just genetically modify its way to better produce; it had to breed great vegetables to begin with. As Stark phrases a company mantra: “The best gene in the world doesn’t fix dogshit germplasm.” [Emphasis added.]

Okay, that’s vegetables. What about Monsanto’s core business, selling seeds for big industrial commodity crops like corn, soybeans, cotton, and alfalfa? Monsanto has come to dominate these markets with its Roundup Ready products, which are designed to withstand Monsanto’s flagship herbicide, and, for corn and cotton, its “Bt” products, which are engineered to produce a toxin found in Bacillus thuringiensis, an insect-killing bacteria. Does the company have lots of novel GM products in mind for this vast, lucrative sector?

Monsanto’s latest Annual R&D Pipeline Review, a document released earlier this month that showcases the company’s research into new product lines, foretells all kinds of impressive-sounding stuff. But a surprising amount of the company’s new research, even for its most lucrative crops like corn and soy, promise either new iterations of herbicide tolerance and Bt, or rely on classical breeding—not biotechnology.

The one major exception is a corn seed relying on a new kind of GMO: RNA interference (RNAi) technology, a recently discovered way to turn off certain genes, which Monsanto plans to engineer into crops to kill certain insects. According to Monsanto’s pipeline review, RNAi corn remains in the early “proof of concept” phase. In a recent piece, the New York Times’ Andrew Pollack reports that the technology is showing promise—Monsanto hopes to have it on the market “late this decade.” But it’s also generating controversy even in normally Monsanto-friendly regulatory circles because researchers have suggested it may kill beneficial insects like ladybugs along with targeted pests. Pollack points to this 2013 paper by Environmental Protection Agency scientists, which warned that the unfamiliar technology presented “unique challenges for ecological risk assessment that have not yet been encountered in assessments for traditional chemical pesticides.”

So RNAi corn may be coming—and could bring public relations and regulatory complications for Monsanto, not to mention unpredictable ecological consequences for the rest of us. But how much other GMO-based stuff does Monsanto have up its sleeve? According to the US Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, the agency that oversees the rollout of new GM crops, not much. Of the 13 new GMOs APHIS is tracking, only 2 are from Monsanto: an alfalfa engineered to be more easily digestible as animal feed, and a soybean designed to withstand a harsh old herbicide called dicamba (a variation on the familiar Roundup Ready herbicide-tolerance theme).

Are you excited for Extra-Super-Corn with RNAi technology that kills ladybugs but not necessarily bees? Yes? No? Regardless, the super-pests like BT-Toxin-resistant corn rootworms and Roundup-resistant superweeds are already here munching away on super-corn’s roots so we probably shouldn’t be surprised if extra-super-corn featuring RNAi technology makes its way onto the farm sooner rather than later (and then proceed to wander around the ecosystem from there). The ladybugs probably aren’t very excited. They might prefer the smart-breeding strategy.

The bees, interestingly, might actually have reason to be excited by the development of this extra-super-corn, although not for the reason you might suspect: Nearly all corn grown in the US and Canada (and much of the world) is Monsanto’s BT toxin GMO corn (our present day super-corn). But that BT toxin only protects against key pests like the corn rootworm. Or at least it used to against them. So, barring a neonicotinoid ban in the US and Canada, even if this new RNAi technology temporarily thwarts the emergence of BT Toxin-resistant corn rootworms neonicotinoid products are still going to be used on corn and a growing number of other crops. No, the reason the bees might be breathing a bit of a sigh of relief is because RNAi technology might make mites a little less of pest for bees:

The New York Times
Genetic Weapon Against Insects Raises Hope and Fear in Farming

By ANDREW POLLACKJAN. 27, 2014

Scientists and biotechnology companies are developing what could become the next powerful weapon in the war on pests — one that harnesses a Nobel Prize-winning discovery to kill insects and pathogens by disabling their genes.

By zeroing in on a genetic sequence unique to one species, the technique has the potential to kill a pest without harming beneficial insects. That would be a big advance over chemical pesticides.

“If you use a neuro-poison, it kills everything,” said Subba Reddy Palli, an entomologist at the University of Kentucky who is researching the technology, which is called RNA interference. “But this one is very target-specific.”

But some specialists fear that releasing gene-silencing agents into fields could harm beneficial insects, especially among organisms that have a common genetic makeup, and possibly even human health. The controversy echoes the larger debate over genetic modification of crops that has been raging for years. The Environmental Protection Agency, which regulates pesticides, will hold a meeting of scientific advisers on Tuesday to discuss the potential risks of RNA interference.

“To attempt to use this technology at this current stage of understanding would be more naïve than our use of DDT in the 1950s,” the National Honey Bee Advisory Board said in comments submitted to the E.P.A. before the meeting, at the agency’s conference center in Arlington, Va.

RNA interference is of interest to beekeepers because one possible use, under development by Monsanto, is to kill a mite that is believed to be at least partly responsible for the mass die-offs of honeybees in recent years.

Monsanto has applied for regulatory approval of corn that is genetically engineered to use RNAi, as the approach is called for short, to kill the western corn rootworm, one of the costliest of agricultural pests. In another project it is trying to develop a spray that would restore the ability of its Roundup herbicide to kill weeds that have grown impervious to it.

Some bee specialists submitted comments saying they would welcome attempts to use RNAi to save honeybees. Groups representing corn, soybean and cotton farmers also support the technology.

“Commercial RNAi technology brings U.S. agriculture into an entirely new generation of tools holding great promise,” the National Corn Growers Association said.

Corn growers need a new tool. For a decade they have been combating the rootworm by planting so-called BT crops, which are genetically engineered to produce a toxin that kills the insects when they eat the crop.

Or at least the toxin is supposed to kill them. But rootworms are now evolving resistance to at least one BT toxin.

RNA interference is a natural phenomenon that is set off by double-stranded RNA.

DNA, which is what genes are made of, is usually double stranded, the famous double helix. But RNA, which is a messenger in cells, usually consists of a single strand of chemical units representing the letters of the genetic code.

So when a cell senses a double-stranded RNA, it acts as if it has encountered a virus. It activates a mechanism that silences any gene with a sequence corresponding to that in the double-stranded RNA.

Scientists quickly learned that they could deactivate virtually any gene by synthesizing a snippet of double-stranded RNA with a matching sequence.

Using RNAi in insects, at least for beetles, should be easier than in people. Beetles, including the corn rootworm, can simply eat the double-stranded RNA to set off the effect.

One way to get insects to do that is to genetically engineer crops to produce double-stranded RNA corresponding to an essential gene of the pest.

Various genetically engineered crops already harness RNAi to silence genes in the crop itself. These include soybeans with more healthful oil and a nonbrowning apple that appears close to federal approval. The technique has also been used to genetically engineer virus resistance into crops like papaya.

But generally those crops had been developed using methods to modify DNA that were known to work but were not understood at the time to involve RNAi. Monsanto’s new rootworm-killing corn is one of the first in which the crop has been engineered specifically to produce a double-stranded RNA, in this case to inactivate a gene called Snf7 that is essential for moving proteins around in the rootworm. Monsanto, which is based in St. Louis, hopes to have the corn, which it calls SmartStax Pro, on the market late this decade.

The double-stranded RNA could also be incorporated in sprays.

Monsanto is developing a spray that would shore up one of its biggest product lines — crops resistant to its Roundup herbicide. Farmers have grown them widely because they can spray Roundup to kill weeds without hurting the crop.

Roundup, known generically as glyphosate, works by inhibiting the action of a protein plants need to survive. But many weeds have evolved resistance to Roundup. Some of these weeds make so much of the protein that Roundup cannot inhibit it all.

Monsanto’s spray would use RNAi to silence the gene for that protein, reducing production of the protein and restoring the ability of Roundup to kill the weed.

Monsanto is also looking at putting RNA into sugar water fed to honeybees to protect them from the varroa mite. The way to fight the mite now is to spray pesticides that can also harm bees.

“We were trying to kill a little bug on a big bug,” said Jerry Hayes, the head of bee health at Monsanto.

Take a moment and note that this new double-stranded RNA technology can potentially be used in sprays or added to water. And that’s in addition to the ability to actually incorporate it into the genomes of living systems. It’s a reminder that there’s going to be a lot more potential uses for this new RNAi technology than just pest control.

Continuing…


If the RNAi is directed at a genetic sequence unique to the mite, the bees would not be harmed by ingesting it, while the mites would be killed once they attacked the bees. One field trial showed that this technique could help protect bees from a virus. Monsanto acquired Beeologics, a company developing the RNAi technology for bees. It bought at least two other companies pursuing agricultural applications of the technology. And it has paid tens of millions of dollars for patent rights and technology from medical RNAi companies like Alnylam Pharmaceuticals and Tekmira Pharmaceuticals.

But Monsanto is not alone. In 2012, Syngenta signed an agreement to work on RNAi sprays with Devgen, a Belgian biotech company, and later said that it had acquired all of Devgen for around $500 million.

Some scientists are calling for caution, however, In a paper published last year, two entomologists at the Department of Agriculture warned that because genes are common to various organisms, RNAi pesticides might hurt unintended insects.

One laboratory study by scientists at the University of Kentucky and the University of Nebraska, for instance, found that a double-stranded RNA intended to silence a rootworm gene also affected a gene in the ladybug, killing that beneficial insect.

Well that’s certainly an exciting maelstrom of technological possibilites. To summarize, almost all corn grown in the US and Canada is Monsanto’s “Bt corn” with the Bt toxin gene artificially added to kill the corn rootworms munching on the plants’ roots. But Bt corn might becoming somewhat irrelevant because the corn rootworm is already developing resistance to the Bt toxin. And the weeds that were under control using Roundup herbicide are now growing resistant to that too. But now Monsanto has a new trick that might save the Bt corn from both the corn rootworm and the super-weeds: The newly resistant corn rootworms and super-weeds are resistant because they have a new genes so if Monsanto can prevent the expression of those new genes both the Bt toxin and the Roundup can begin to work again. And this can be accomplished adding a new double-stranded RNA gene to the Bt corn that will silence the new gene in the corn rootworm beetle and then spraying the weeds with new double-stranded RNA targetting the new gene in the super-weeds. And this new RNAi technology can also be added to sprays or even water! So many possibilities…

And one of those possibilities includes feeding bees RNAi-laced sugar water so then the RNAi gets passed from the bee to the mite, allowing for less anti-mite pesticide use. This is actually a pretty big deal if this technology works! Although, as the above article pointed out, one of those big deals might be the disappearance of the ladybug due to the non-specific interactions between the RNA that was chosen to target a gene in the corn rootworm but also impacted one of the ladybug’s genes (a rather important gene for the ladybug, apparently).

So while it appears that this new RNAi technology has the possibility to provide new levels of specificity when targeting pests it’s still doesn’t appear to be specific enough to avoid collateral damage to the broader ecosystem. Which raises the question: what new unintended biological surprises are in store for the bees as RNAi technology flourishes and the number of different dsRNA strands getting added to plants, sprayed on the fields, or thrown into the water supply grows? The answer appears to be the standard answer to these types of questions: we don’t wnok what hos unintended surprises are going to be, but we’re going to find out! Yes, humanity is going to find out what surprises are in store for a species that casually dabbles in GMO technology because:
1. We can’t help ourselves.

2. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to feed the world without advanced farming methods and pest control strategies unless we significantly change how food resources are used (see reason 1).

3. We aren’t the neo-Luddites we need to be. And no, not the studid smashyburny kind of Luddite. The anti-thoughtless-implementation-of-technology Luddite:

Smithsonian Magazine
What the Luddites Really Fought Against
The label now has many meanings, but when the group protested 200 years ago, technology wasn’t really the enemy

By Richard Conniff

March 2011

n an essay in 1984—at the dawn of the personal computer era—the novelist Thomas Pynchon wondered if it was “O.K. to be a Luddite,” meaning someone who opposes technological progress. A better question today is whether it’s even possible. Technology is everywhere, and a recent headline at an Internet hu-mor site perfectly captured how difficult it is to resist: “Luddite invents machine to destroy technology quicker.”

Like all good satire, the mock headline comes perilously close to the truth. Modern Luddites do indeed invent “machines”—in the form of computer viruses, cyberworms and other malware—to disrupt the technologies that trouble them. (Recent targets of suspected sabotage include the London Stock Exchange and a nuclear power plant in Iran.) Even off-the-grid extremists find technology irresistible. The Unabomber, Ted Kaczynski, attacked what he called the “industrial-technological system” with increasingly sophisticated mail bombs. Likewise, the cave-dwelling terrorist sometimes derided as “Osama bin Luddite” hijacked aviation technology to bring down skyscrapers.

For the rest of us, our uneasy protests against technology almost inevitably take technological form. We worry about whether violent computer games are warping our children, then decry them by tweet, text or Facebook post. We try to simplify our lives by shopping at the local farmers market—then haul our organic arugula home in a Prius. College students take out their earbuds to discuss how technology dominates their lives. But when a class ends, Loyola University of Chicago professor Steven E. Jones notes, their cellphones all come to life, screens glowing in front of their faces, “and they migrate across the lawns like giant schools of cyborg jellyfish.”

That’s when he turns on his phone, too.

The word “Luddite,” handed down from a British industrial protest that began 200 years ago this month, turns up in our daily language in ways that suggest we’re confused not just about technology, but also about who the original Luddites were and what being a modern one actually means.

The word “Luddite” is simultaneously a declaration of ineptitude and a badge of honor. So you can hurl Luddite curses at your cellphone or your spouse, but you can also sip a wine named Luddite (which has its own Web site: www.luddite.co.za). You can buy a guitar named the Super Luddite, which is electric and costs $7,400. Meanwhile, back at Twitter, SupermanHotMale Tim is understandably puzzled; he grunts to ninatypewriter, “What is Luddite?”

Almost certainly not what you think, Tim.

Despite their modern reputation, the original Luddites were neither opposed to technology nor inept at using it. Many were highly skilled machine operators in the textile industry. Nor was the technology they attacked particularly new. Moreover, the idea of smashing machines as a form of industrial protest did not begin or end with them. In truth, the secret of their enduring reputation depends less on what they did than on the name under which they did it. You could say they were good at branding.

The Luddite disturbances started in circumstances at least superficially similar to our own. British working families at the start of the 19th century were enduring economic upheaval and widespread unemployment. A seemingly endless war against Napoleon’s France had brought “the hard pinch of poverty,” wrote Yorkshire historian Frank Peel, to homes “where it had hitherto been a stranger.” Food was scarce and rapidly becoming more costly. Then, on March 11, 1811, in Nottingham, a textile manufacturing center, British troops broke up a crowd of protesters demanding more work and better wages.

As the Industrial Revolution began, workers naturally worried about being displaced by increasingly efficient machines. But the Luddites themselves “were totally fine with machines,” says Kevin Binfield, editor of the 2004 collection Writings of the Luddites. They confined their attacks to manufacturers who used machines in what they called “a fraudulent and deceitful manner” to get around standard labor practices. “They just wanted machines that made high-quality goods,” says Binfield, “and they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns.”

So if the Luddites weren’t attacking the technological foundations of industry, what made them so frightening to manufacturers? And what makes them so memorable even now? Credit on both counts goes largely to a phantom.

People of the time recognized all the astonishing new benefits the Industrial Revolution conferred, but they also worried, as Carlyle put it in 1829, that technology was causing a “mighty change” in their “modes of thought and feeling. Men are grown mechanical in head and in heart, as well as in hand.” Over time, worry about that kind of change led people to transform the original Luddites into the heroic defenders of a pretechnological way of life. “The indignation of nineteenth-century producers,” the historian Edward Tenner has written, “has yielded to “the irritation of late-twentieth-century consumers.”

The original Luddites lived in an era of “reassuringly clear-cut targets—machines one could still destroy with a sledgehammer,” Loyola’s Jones writes in his 2006 book Against Technology, making them easy to romanticize. By contrast, our technology is as nebulous as “the cloud,” that Web-based limbo where our digital thoughts increasingly go to spend eternity. It’s as liquid as the chemical contaminants our infants suck down with their mothers’ milk and as ubiquitous as the genetically modified crops in our gas tanks and on our dinner plates. Technology is everywhere, knows all our thoughts and, in the words of the technology utopian Kevin Kelly, is even “a divine phenomenon that is a reflection of God.” Who are we to resist?

The original Luddites would answer that we are human. Getting past the myth and seeing their protest more clearly is a reminder that it’s possible to live well with technology—but only if we continually question the ways it shapes our lives. It’s about small things, like now and then cutting the cord, shutting down the smartphone and going out for a walk. But it needs to be about big things, too, like standing up against technologies that put money or convenience above other human values. If we don’t want to become, as Carlyle warned, “mechanical in head and in heart,” it may help, every now and then, to ask which of our modern machines General and Eliza Ludd would choose to break. And which they would use to break them.

As the above article points out, contrary to their anti-technology reputation, the Luddites “just wanted machines that made high-quality goods… they wanted these machines to be run by workers who had gone through an apprenticeship and got paid decent wages. Those were their only concerns”. Technological progress is fine. But make it ethical. When you put aside the “smashing and burning” part of their history there’s a lot we can learn from the Luddites.

And as the above article also points out, technology during the time of the Luddite protests (1811-1817) was largely limited to the new machines of the Industrial Revolution. Today, we’re sort of like the Borg with just with one planet to assimilate. Our future is going to include a robust implementation of technology. And demand is going to be growing for any technology that can increase food and energy supplies in a world with shrinking resources, a changing climate, and an ever growing human demand. So when we’re looking for answers to the twin questions of “how do we protect the key species needed to feed ourselves protected from the practices of modern agriculture?” and “how do we feed ourselves?” the answer is most likely going to involve coming up with less damaging yet more powerful modern agricultural solutions. And that means better biotech. Maybe that will involve things like Bt corn and RNAi sprays, and Roundup. Hopefully not because it’s very unclear why we would want to introduce more stresses into the environment at this point if we can get by without it.

In The Future, Food Will Come Pre-Cooked. And Diseased.
But it’s hard to rule out biotech tools when we’re talking about future threats to the global food supply. And who knows, maybe the most environmentally efficacious solutions in the future really will involve utilizing a Rube Goldberg Machine of GMO tech combined with a concoction of other carefully selected pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers. Hopefully all of that won’t be necessary and organics farming methods really will be adequate of the rest of the century, but we can’t really rule out the Rube Goldberg approach indefinitely. For starters, GMO technoloy is still pretty new and there’s no reason future generations of GMO technology have to carry with the same risks and dangers seen today.

For example, as the following article points out, future GMO technology may not involve introducing new genes into an organism at all but instead tweak existing genes. Also, depending on how climate change plays out, doing everything we possibly can to increase crop yields using traditional farming methods may not be an option in our warmer, more populated future with with extreme temperature spikes. Many plants can handle higher average temperatures but not when those higher averages are arrived at through a series of extreme temperature spikes. And that’s the future climate we’re looking at in many parts of the globe: one with a lot more extremely hot days that physiologically shock plants. Bees aren’t the only species humanity needs to survive that can die a death of a thousand environmental cuts. Our food in the future just might need all the help it can get:

MIT Technology Review
Why We Will Need Genetically Modified Foods
Biotech crops will have an essential role in ensuring that there’s enough to eat.

By David Rotman on December 17, 2013

Signs of late blight appear suddenly but predictably in Ireland as soon as the summer weather turns humid, spores of the funguslike plant pathogen wafting across the open green fields and landing on the wet leaves of the potato plants. This year it began to rain in early August. Within several weeks, late blight had attacked a small plot of potatoes in the corner of the neat grid of test plantings at the headquarters of Teagasc, Ireland’s agricultural agency, in Carlow.

It’s the second year of what are scheduled to be three-year field trials. But even if the results from next year are similarly encouraging, Teagasc has no intention of giving farmers access to the plant, which was developed by researchers at Wageningen University in the Netherlands. Such genetically engineered crops remain controversial in Europe, and only two are approved for planting in the EU. Though Mullins and his colleagues are eager to learn how blight affects the GM potatoes and whether the plants will affect soil microbes, distributing the modified plant in Ireland is, at least for now, a nonstarter.

Nevertheless, the fields of Carlow present a tantalizing picture of how genetically modified crops could help protect the world’s food supply. Blight-resistant potatoes would be one of the first major foods genetically engineered to incorporate defenses against plant diseases, which annually destroy some 15 percent of the world’s agricultural harvest. Despite the heavy use of fungicides, late blight and other plant diseases ruin an estimated fifth of the world’s potatoes, a food increasingly grown in China and India. Stem rust, a fungal disease of wheat, has spread through much of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula and is now threatening the vast growing regions of central and south Asia, which produce some 20 percent of the world’s wheat. Bananas, which are a primary source of food in countries such as Uganda, are often destroyed by wilt disease. In all these cases, genetic engineering has the potential to create varieties that are far better able to withstand the onslaught.

GM potatoes could also lead to a new generation of biotech foods sold directly to consumers. Though transgenic corn, soybeans, and cotton—mostly engineered to resist insects and herbicides—have been widely planted since the late 1990s in the United States and in a smattering of other large agricultural countries, including Brazil and Canada, the corn and soybean crops go mainly into animal feed, biofuels, and cooking oils. No genetically modified varieties of rice, wheat, or potatoes are widely grown, because opposition to such foods has discouraged investment in developing them and because seed companies haven’t found ways to make the kind of money on those crops that they do from genetically modified corn and soybeans.

With the global population expected to reach more than nine billion by 2050, however, the world might soon be hungry for such varieties. Although agricultural productivity has improved dramatically over the past 50 years, economists fear that these improvements have begun to wane at a time when food demand, driven by the larger number of people and the growing appetites of wealthier populations, is expected to rise between 70 and 100 percent by midcentury. In particular, the rapid increases in rice and wheat yields that helped feed the world for decades are showing signs of slowing down, and production of cereals will need to more than double by 2050 to keep up. If the trend continues, production might be insufficient to meet demand unless we start using significantly more land, fertilizer, and water.

Climate change is likely to make the problem far worse, bringing higher temperatures and, in many regions, wetter conditions that spread infestations of disease and insects into new areas. Drought, damaging storms, and very hot days are already taking a toll on crop yields, and the frequency of these events is expected to increase sharply as the climate warms. For farmers, the effects of climate change can be simply put: the weather has become far more unpredictable, and extreme weather has become far more common.

One advantage of using genetic engineering to help crops adapt to these sudden changes is that new varieties can be created quickly. Creating a potato variety through conventional breeding, for example, takes at least 15 years; producing a genetically modified one takes less than six months. Genetic modification also allows plant breeders to make more precise changes and draw from a far greater variety of genes, gleaned from the plants’ wild relatives or from different types of organisms. Plant scientists are careful to note that no magical gene can be inserted into a crop to make it drought tolerant or to increase its yield—even resistance to a disease typically requires multiple genetic changes. But many of them say genetic engineering is a versatile and essential technique.

“It’s an overwhelmingly logical thing to do,” says Jonathan Jones, a scientist at the Sainsbury Laboratory in the U.K. and one of the world’s leading experts on plant diseases. The upcoming pressures on agricultural production, he says, “[are] real and will affect millions of people in poor countries.” He adds that it would be “perverse to spurn using genetic modification as a tool.”

It’s a view that is widely shared by those responsible for developing tomorrow’s crop varieties. At the current level of agricultural production, there’s enough food to feed the world, says Eduardo Blumwald, a plant scientist at the University of California, Davis. But “when the population reaches nine billion?” he says. “No way, José.”

Failed promises

The promise that genetically modified crops could help feed the world is at least as old as the commercialization of the first transgenic seeds in the mid-1990s. The corporations that helped turn genetically engineered crops into a multibillion-dollar business, including the large chemical companies Monsanto, Bayer, and DuPont, promoted the technology as part of a life science revolution that would greatly increase food production. So far it’s turned out, for a number of reasons, to have been a somewhat empty promise.

To be sure, bioengineered crops are a huge commercial success in some countries. The idea is simple but compelling: by inserting a foreign gene derived from, say, bacteria into corn, you can give the plant a trait it wouldn’t otherwise possess. Surveys estimate that more than 170 million hectares of such transgenic crops are grown worldwide. In the United States, the majority of corn, soybeans, and cotton planted have been engineered with a gene from the soil bacterium Bacillus thuringensis—Bt—to ward off insects or with another bacterial gene to withstand herbicides. Worldwide, 81 percent of the soybeans and 35 percent of the corn grown are biotech varieties. In India, Bt cotton was approved more than a decade ago and now represents 96 percent of the cotton grown in the country.

Yet it’s not clear whether that boom in transgenic crops has led to increased food production or lower prices for consumers. Take corn, for example. In the United States, 76 percent of the crop is genetically modified to resist insects, and 85 percent can tolerate being sprayed with a weed killer. Such corn has, arguably, been a boon to farmers, reducing pesticide use and boosting yields. But little of U.S. corn production is used directly for human food; about 4 percent goes into high–fructose corn syrup and 1.8 percent to cereal and other foods. Genetically modified corn and soybeans are so profitable that U.S. farmers have begun substituting them for wheat: around 56 million acres of wheat were planted in 2012, down from 62 million in 2000. As supply fell, the price of a bushel of wheat rose to nearly $8 in 2012, from $2.50 in 2000.

So far, the short list of transgenic crops used directly for food includes virus-resistant papaya grown in Hawaii, Bt sweet corn recently commercialized in the United States by Monsanto, and a few varieties of squash that resist plant viruses. That list could be about to grow, however. The Indonesian agricultural agency expects to approve a blight-resistant potato soon, and J.?R. Simplot, an agricultural supplier based in Boise, Idaho, is hoping to commercialize its own version by 2017. Monsanto, which abandoned an attempt to develop GM wheat in 2004, bought a wheat-seed company in 2009 and is now trying again. And Cornell researchers are working with collaborators in India, Bangladesh, and the Philippines, countries where eggplant is a staple, to make an insect-resistant form of the vegetable available to farmers.

These bioengineered versions of some of the world’s most important food crops could help fulfill initial hopes for genetically modified organisms, or GMOs. But they will also almost certainly heat up the debate over the technology. Opponents worry that inserting foreign genes into crops could make food dangerous or allergenic, though more than 15 years of experience with transgenic crops have revealed no health dangers, and neither have a series of scientific studies. More credibly, detractors suggest that the technology is a ploy by giant corporations, particularly Monsanto, to peddle more herbicides, dominate the agricultural supply chain, and leave farmers dependent on high-priced transgenic seeds. The most persuasive criticism, however, may simply be that existing transgenic crops have done little to guarantee the future of the world’s food supply in the face of climate change and a growing population.

The first generation of insect-resistant and herbicide-tolerant crops offer few new traits, such as drought tolerance and disease resistance, that could help the plants adapt to changes in weather and disease patterns, acknowledges Margaret Smith, a professor of plant breeding and genetics at Cornell University. Nonetheless, she says there is no valid reason to dismiss the technology as plant scientists race to increase crop productivity. Scientists are “facing a daunting breeding challenge,” Smith says. “We will need a second generation of transgenic crops. It would be a mistake to rule out this tool because the first products didn’t address the big issues.”

Developing crops that are better able to withstand climate change won’t be easy. It will require plant scientists to engineer complex traits involving multiple genes. Durable disease resistance typically requires a series of genetic changes and detailed knowledge of how pathogens attack the plant. Traits such as tolerance to drought and heat are even harder, since they can require basic changes to the plant’s physiology.

Is genetic engineering up to the task? No one knows. But recent genomic breakthroughs are encouraging. Scientists have sequenced the genomes of crops such as rice, potatoes, bananas, and wheat. At the same time, advances in molecular biology mean that genes can be deleted, modified, and inserted with far greater precision. In particular, new genome engineering tools known as Talens and Crispr allow geneticists to “edit” plant DNA, changing chromosomes exactly where they want.

Exact Edits

The workshop adjacent to the rows of greenhouses at the edge of Cornell’s campus in Ithaca, New York, smells musty and damp from the crates of potatoes. It is less than a mile from the university’s molecular biology labs, but what you see are wooden conveyer belts, wire screens, and water hoses. Walter De Jong is sorting and sizing harvested potatoes as part of a multiyear effort to come up with yet a better variety for the region’s growers. Boxes are filled with potatoes—some small and round, others large and misshapen. Asked what traits are important to consumers, he smiles slyly and says, “Looks, looks, looks.”

The question of how he feels about efforts to develop transgenic potatoes is not as easily answered. It’s not that De Jong is opposed to genetic engineering. As a potato breeder, he’s well versed in conventional methods of introducing new traits, but he also has a PhD in plant pathology and has done considerable research in molecular biology; he knows the opportunities that advanced genetics opens up. In the northeastern United States, a variety of potato is optimized for about a 500-mile radius, taking into account the length of the growing season and the type of weather in the area. Climate change means these growing zones are shifting, making crop breeding like solving a puzzle in which the pieces are moving around. The speed offered by genetic modification would help. But, De Jong says dismissively, “I don’t expect to use [transgenic] technology. I can’t afford it.”

“It’s a curious situation,” he says. Scientists at public and academic research institutions have done much of the work to identify genes and understand how they can affect traits in plants. But the lengthy testing and regulatory processes for genetically modified crops, and the danger that consumers will reject them, mean that only “a handful of large companies” can afford the expense and risk of developing them, he says.

But De Jong suddenly becomes animated when he’s asked about the newest genome engineering tools. “This is what I have been waiting my whole career for,” he says, throwing his hands up. “As long as I have been a potato scientist, I’ve wanted two things: a sequenced potato genome and the ability to modify the genome at will.” Across campus, De Jong also runs a molecular biology lab, where he has identified the DNA sequence responsible for red pigment in potato tubers. Soon, it could be possible to precisely alter that sequence in a potato cell that can then be grown into a plant: “If I had a white potato I wanted to turn red, I could just edit one or two nucleotides and get the color I want.” Plant breeding “is not the art of shuffling genes around,” De Jong explains. “Basically, all potatoes have the same genes; what they have is different versions of the genes—alleles. And alleles differ from one another in a few nucleotides. If I can edit the few nucleotides, why breed for [a trait]? It’s been the holy grail in plant genetics for a long time.”

One implication of the new tools is that plants can be genetically modified without the addition of foreign genes. Though it’s too early to tell whether that will change the public debate over GMOs, regulatory agencies—at least in the United States—indicate that crops modified without foreign genes won’t have to be scrutinized as thoroughly as transgenic crops. That could greatly reduce the time and expense it takes to commercialize new varieties of genetically engineered foods. And it’s possible that critics of biotechnology could draw a similar distinction, tolerating genetically modified crops so long as they are not transgenic.

Dan Voytas, director of the genome engineering center at the University of Minnesota and one of Talens’s inventors, says one of his main motivations is the need to feed another two billion people by the middle of the century. In one of his most ambitious efforts, centered at the International Rice Research Institute in Los Baños, the Philippines, he is collaborating with a worldwide network of researchers to rewrite the physiology of rice. Rice and wheat, like other grains, have what botanists call C3 photosynthesis, rather than the more complex C4 version that corn and sugarcane have. The C4 version of photosynthesis uses water and carbon dioxide far more efficiently. If the project is successful, both rice and wheat yields could be increased in regions that are becoming hotter and drier as a result of climate change.

Rewriting the core workings of a plant is not a trivial task. But Voytas says Talens could be a valuable tool—both to identify the genetic pathways that might be tweaked and to make the many necessary genetic changes.

The pressure to help feed the growing population at a time when climate change is making more land marginal for agriculture is “the burden that plant biologists bear,” Voytas says. But he’s optimistic. Over much of the last 50 years, he points out, crop productivity has made repeated gains, attributable first to the use of hybrid seeds, then to the new plant varieties introduced during the so-called Green Revolution, and “even to the first GM plants.” The introduction of the new genome engineering tools, he says, “will be another inflection point.”

If he’s right, it might be just in time.

Heat Wave

For agronomists, plant breeders, and farmers, it’s all about yield—the amount a crop produces in a hectare. The remarkable increases in crop yields beginning in the middle of the 20th century are the main reason that we have enough food to go from feeding three billion people in 1960 to feeding seven billion in 2011 with only a slight increase in the amount of land under cultivation. Perhaps most famously, the Green Revolution spearheaded by the Iowa-born plant pathologist and geneticist Norman Borlaug substantially increased yields of wheat, corn, and rice in many parts of the world. It did so, in part, by introducing more productive crop varieties, starting in Mexico and then in Pakistan, India, and other countries. But for at least the past decade, increases in the yields of wheat and rice seem to have slowed. Yields of wheat, for example, are growing at roughly 1 percent annually; they need to increase nearly 2 percent annually to keep up with food demand over the long term. Agricultural experts warn that yields will have to improve for other crops as well if we are to feed a rapidly growing population—and yet rising temperatures and other effects of global climate change will make this tougher to achieve.

David Lobell, a professor of environmental earth system science at Stanford University, has a calm demeanor that belies his bleak message about how global warming is already affecting crops. The effects of climate change on agriculture have been widely debated, but recently Lobell and his collaborators have clarified the projections by combing through historical records of weather and agricultural production. They found that from 1980 to 2008, climate change depressed yields of wheat and corn; yields still rose during that time, but overall production was 2 to 3 percent less than it would have been if not for global warming. This has held true across most of the regions where corn and wheat are grown.

The finding is startling because it suggests that global warming has already had a significant impact on food production and will make an even bigger difference as climate change intensifies. “Anything that causes yield [growth] to flatten out is a concern,” says Lobell. And while overall yields of wheat and corn are still increasing, he says, “climate change becomes a concern long before you have negative yield trends.”

Even more disturbing, Lobell and his collaborator Wolfram Schlenker, an economist at Columbia University, have found evidence that in the case of several important crops, the negative effect of global warming is more strongly tied to the number of extremely hot days than to the rise in average temperatures over a season. If that’s true, earlier research might have severely underestimated the impact of climate change by looking only at average temperatures.

Schlenker’s calculations show steady increases in corn and soybean yields as the temperature rises from 10 °C into the 20s—but at around 29 °C for corn and 30 °C for soybeans, the crops are “hit hard” and yields drop dramatically. In subsequent work, Lobell showed that hot days were doing far more damage to wheat in northern India than previously thought.

A surprising and troubling detail of the research, says Schlenker, is that crops and farmers don’t seem to have adapted to the increased frequency of hot days. What surprised me most and should inform us going forward,” he says, “is that there has been tremendous progress in agricultural breeding—average yields have gone up more than threefold since the 1950s—but if you look at sensitivity to extreme heat, it seems to be just as bad as it was in the 1950s. We need to have crops that are better at dealing with hot climates.” During the heat wave that hit much of the United States in 2012, he says, yields of corn were down 20 percent, and “2012 is not that unusual a year compared to what the climate models predict will be a new normal pretty soon.”

It’s possible that plants are simply hardwired to shut down at temperatures above 30 °C. Indeed, Schlenker says he’s not convinced that crops can be engineered to adapt to the increased frequency of hot days, though he hopes he’s wrong. Likewise, Lobell wants his work to better define which aspects of climate change are damaging crops and thus help target the needed genetic changes. But, like Schlenker, he is unsure whether genetics can provide much of an answer.

In California’s Central Valley, one of the world’s most productive agricultural areas, UC Davis’s Blumwald acknowledges that scientists have “never bred for stresses” like drought and heat. But he aims to change that. Inserting a combination of genes for tolerance to heat, drought, and high soil salinity into rice and other plants, Blumwald is creating crops that have at least some advantages during extreme weather conditions, particularly during key times in their growth cycle.

The challenge is to avoid reducing yields under good growing conditions. So Blumwald has identified a protein that activates the inserted genes only under adverse conditions. “There’s no cure for drought. If there’s no water, the plant dies. I’m not a magician,” he says. “We just want to delay the stress response as long as possible in order to maintain yields until the water comes.”

Note that the California farm belt is experiencing its driest season on record.

Continuing…


Daily Bread

Wheat is also emblematic of the struggles facing agriculture as it attempts to keep up with a growing population and a changing climate. Not only have the gains in yield begun to slow, but wheat is particularly sensitive to rising temperatures and is grown in many regions, such as Australia, that are prone to severe droughts. What’s more, wheat is vulnerable to one of the world’s most dreaded plant diseases: stem rust, which is threatening the fertile swath of Pakistan and northern India known as the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Conventional breeding techniques have made remarkable progress against these problems, producing varieties that are increasingly drought tolerant and disease resistant. But biotechnology offers advantages that shouldn’t be ignored.

“Climate change doesn’t change [the challenge for plant breeders], but it makes it much more urgent,” says Walter Falcon, deputy director of the Center on Food Security and the Environment at Stanford. Falcon was one of the foot soldiers of the Green Revolution, working in the wheat-growing regions of Pakistan and in Mexico’s Yaqui Valley. But he says the remarkable increases in productivity achieved between 1970 and 1995 have largely “played out,” and he worries about whether the technology–intensive farming in those regions can be sustained. He says the Yaqui Valley remains highly productive—recent yields of seven tons of wheat per hectare “blow your mind”—but the heavy use of fertilizers and water is “pushing the limits” of current practices. Likewise, Falcon says he is worried about how climate change will affect agriculture in the Indo-Gangetic Plain, the home of nearly a billion people.

Asked whether transgenic technology will solve any of these problems, he answers, “I’m not holding my breath,” citing both scientific reasons and opposition to GM crops. But he does expect advances in genetic technologies over the next decade to create wheat varieties that are better equipped to withstand pests, higher temperatures, and drought.

It is quite possible that the first and most dramatic of the advances will come in adapting crops to the shifting patterns of disease. And as Teagasc’s Ewen Mullins puts it, “if you want to study plant diseases, you come to Ireland.”

A hundred kilometers from the idyllic fields in Carlow, Fiona Doohan, a plant pathologist at University College Dublin, is developing wheat varieties that stand up to local diseases and trying to understand how plant pathogens might evolve with climate change. At the school’s agricultural experiment station, she uses growing chambers in which the concentration of carbon dioxide can be adjusted to mimic the higher levels expected in 2050. The experiments have yielded a nasty surprise. When wheat and the pathogens that commonly afflict it are put in the chamber with the increased levels of carbon dioxide, the plant remains resistant to the fungus. But when both are separately grown through several generations under 2050 conditions and then placed together, Doohan says, the plants “crash.” This suggests, ominously, that plant pathogens might be far better and faster than wheat at adapting to increased carbon dioxide.

What a wonderful surprise: So are researchers finding that heat shocks are going to be particularly damaging to staple crops like wheat. But on top of that, when they studied the impact of a 2050 climate on wheat they found that the wheat could adapt to the higher CO2 levels but wheat’s pathogens adapted faster and better to the new conditions. And when the two were allowed to adapt separately and then combined, the plants were overwhelmed by their more-rapidly-adapting pest. It’s a nasty surprise that highlights the grim reality that today’s pests can effectively become tomorrow’s super-pests simply by adapting more rapidly to the oncoming stresses climate change. And since pests almost always adapt more rapidly than the their more complex target organisms to changing conditions and since pests are bound to move into new regions as the climate warms, it sounds like we could be in for a global tidal wave of super-pests preying on some very stressed out plants.

That’s not a very fun sounding scenario but it is what it is. It’s also our future. Or might be. And as the above author points out, if the impact of climate change on crop yields really is worse then we’ve been led to believe, committing to a GMO-free future may be a hard sell decades from if when crops are dying at greater-than-expected rates. And if the situation is looking so dire that global hunger could be looming over the horizon, why, as one of the researchers in the article pointed out, do we have this situation?

“It’s a curious situation,” he says. Scientists at public and academic research institutions have done much of the work to identify genes and understand how they can affect traits in plants. But the lengthy testing and regulatory processes for genetically modified crops, and the danger that consumers will reject them, mean that only “a handful of large companies” can afford the expense and risk of developing them, he says.

Leaving the development of GMO tools that could be needed to avoid a mass calamity over the next century in the hands of a handful of large corporations like Monsanto and Bayer with long track-record of prioritizing profit-maximization is, well, strange. And it’s especially strange when the future biotech tools that we all might need in the future could, if misused, also lead to mass calamity. As the above article pointed out, existing GMO crops have been quite profitable, but they haven’t really done much to increase the food supply. It raises the question of whether or not the profit-motive is going to be at all adequate to incentivize the development of tools we’re going to need when that development is conducted by a handful of profit-maxizing giants. And if not, are there other options?:

Slate
Let’s Make Genetically Modified Food Open-Source
It will help fight climate change and stick one in Monsanto’s eye.
By Frederick Kaufman

Not too long ago, popular wisdom ran that molecular biologists were going to save billions of people from starvation by genetically engineering crops resistant to flood, freeze, and drought; crops that could blossom from desiccated soil and bloom in salty sand; crops that could flourish despite an atmosphere saturated with carbon dioxide and rays of sunshine riddled with radiation. A waterless seed was the next killer app.

But despite the hopes of Borlaug and the hype of Enright, genetically modified crops as we know them have as a general rule increased agriculture’s reliance on a system of expensive “inputs”—agro-speak for the proprietary seeds and herbicides that have brought untold profits to multinationals such as Monsanto and Dow. The reputation of transgenic crops has tanked, as what was once a harbinger of green technology is now commonly perceived as a source of genetic pollution and has thus become anathema for many environmentalists.

The GMO story has become mired in the eco-wrecking narrative of industrial agriculture, and that is too bad for those who understand the real risks of climate change and discern our desperate need for innovation. And while the blue-sky hype of a genetically secured food supply has not become a reality, there have been a few breakthroughs. Even as climate change has increased the prevalence of many plant diseases, the new science can take credit for genetic inoculations that saved Hawaii’s papaya business. It’s also led to flood-resistant rice, created by Pamela Ronald of the University of California–Davis.

Of course, the party-line foodie dare not say anything positive about GMOs, at risk of being labeled a stooge of the foodopolists. And it’s true: Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, and Pioneer are not interested in GMO innovations that might help the bottom billion—molecular ramp-ups of crops like cassava, millet, or teff. They are not interested in low-insecticide eggplants that would help clean urban water supplies in South Asia. There’s not enough money in it for them.

But the truth is that GM products aren’t just necessary to help create an agriculture system that can survive in a post–climate-change world—they may actually help ameliorate global warming. As David Zilbermans, professor of agriculture and resource economics at the University of California–Berkeley has noted, “Adoption of herbicide tolerant varieties enabled transition to minimal tillage techniques, which reduced the greenhouse gas effect of agriculture equivalent to hundreds of thousands of cars annually. GMOs make it possible to produce food on less land, reducing the incentive of converting wild land into agricultural land.”

So the question looms: How can we harness the possible positives of GMOs without lining the pockets of the pharmers?

GMO agriculture relies on the relatively new science of bioinformatics (a mixture of bio- and information science), which means that DNA sequences look a lot more like software code than a vegetable garden. And if Monsanto is the Microsoft of food supply—raking in the rent on bites instead of bytes—perhaps the time has come for the agricultural equivalent of Linux, the open-source operating system that made computer programming a communal effort.

Open-source GMO is a new idea for food justice activists, who have been concentrating their efforts on depleting Monsanto’s market share through consumer advocacy and political reform. Labeling laws for genetically modified organisms in the retail foodstream are about to land in statehouses across the country. But genetic modification does not equal Monsanto and Pioneer. The time has come to separate the dancer from the dance and admit that it is possible to be against big-agriculture and for scientific advancement.

Open-source is the quickest way to undermine proprietary rights to food molecules, those rights that guarantee profit streams for transnationals while condemning the earth to a monocultural future of agriculture with no regard for agroecology. For the surest way to sabotage Monsanto is not to label but to sap its income. Already, a number of biotech pioneers have followed the open-source examples of Apache and Wikipedia. The database of the human genome mapping project has been free since it was published in 2003. The genetic map of rice has been made available at no charge to researchers worldwide. And the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has made its “Access to Global Online Research in Agriculture” a transnational paradigm of free-flowing information. Agricultural researchers in developing countries need not pay a penny to review all the latest life science research published in more than 3,000 academic journals.

Everyone interested in global food knows that agriculture has had a largely negative impact on global warming, but few have recognized that legal reform of food-related intellectual property laws can help ensure a path to a more ecologically secure future. No doubt, biological “input” is far more complex than computer “input,” but the idea of a swarm of bio-hackers bringing down Monsanto and Dow is too delightful to dismiss. Throw climate change into the picture, and the stakes are simply too high for continuing the status quo of patented food. Neither information nor lunch may want to be free, but eventually we will need to get around to the business of sequencing proteins that have less to do with quarterly profits and more to do with centuries of ecological abuse. And those will be the only inputs that matter when the big heat hits.

Excited for your open source GMO future? Monsanto, Dow, and Bayer probably aren’t very excited by the idea. The bees might be if it leads to faster development of bee-friendly pest control technologies. But at the end of the day, if we want to ensure that resources are invested into developing the kinds of biotech tools that humanity needs – as opposed to the biotech tools that corporations find most profitable – something new is going to have to be tried if humanity wants to avoid having its golden goose cooked in the coming decades.

But when we’re swimming in a sea of confusing biotech-speculation and calamitous prognostications, let’s keep in mind that there are some very simple solutions to ensuring global food supplies in the future and they mostly revolve around needed less of it. For instance, we could go a long way towards saving the bees (and a lot of hungry people) if we could just stop eating the birds and their four-legged friends. Not interested yet? Just wait. Or we could cut down on the total farmland needed by no longer throwing so much food away for no good reason . Or we could maybe just stop throwing substances like neonicotinoids on so many crops and use them only as a last resort. Or all of the above.

And yet, as we’ve seen, seemingly simple solutions like banning neonicotinoids to save something as crucial as bees can be a surprisingly complicated process. Part of this complication is due to the fact that answering questions like “how much are neonicotinoids contributing bee deaths” is a really hard question to answer. But another part of this complication is due to the fact that saving the bees often involve helping the pests and harming crops. And in the case of Bt corn, it’s a particularly profitable crop that’s mostly used for cattle and fuel making it an awful win-lose situation with a lot of money involved. When it comes to saving the bees, Big Ag potentially has to make major shifts in how it does what it does and giants like Bayer and Monsanto stand to lose billions if sustainable farming becomes the norm. From a financial standpoint there are heavy prices to be paid by many powerful private entities if we achieve the bee-friendly future too soon. And yet, from a profit standpoint, the last decade has been when Big Ag can most afford to change its ways. And from a biological/ecological standpoint, there might never be a be a better chance than right now to clean up our food supply and put the planet on a sustainable, bee-friendly food future – yes, even nowbecause it’s only getting worse from here. For the moment, we can still afford to shift to a sustainable, bee-friendly world and ditch whatever GMO tech or any other industrial agriculture practices that are just not going to be viable going forward (no matter how profitable they may be). We can still do all that feed ourselves because so much of what we grow is used for things other than food and so much food is wasted (which also happens to be much of what gets sprayed with neonicotinoids).

But in the future, as populations grow and the climate changes, the food-supply flexibility of today may no longer exist. Just keeping the world fed when using next-generation high-yield GMO foods could become a problem if climate change is significantly worse than expected (or about as bad as expected). The short-term costs of ditching Franken-corn and its GMO-food-friends may be significantly higher under many feasible future scenarios so when we’re pondering “what do we do about the bees?” we should keep in mind that this is one of this situations where waiting and hoping for technical advances to fix the problem in the future might be a really bad, and expensive approach.

So from a profit standpoint, there’s a corporate profit vs bees dynamic at the moment. In the long-term, however, it’s either the choice of both the bees and humanity living together in harmony of sorts or waaaaaaaaay fewer flowering species and a big loss of biodiversity. Life could go on, and the patented domestic super-bees would probably survive through human intervention, but a big swathe of life would disappear if the native bees go. The longer we put off shifting to a bee-friendly agricultural paradigm, the more costly and dire those short-term costs are going to be when we do finally make the bee-friendly shift.

At present, the current best technological hope for the bees seems to be the ant-mite RNAi sugar-water. That’s kind of scary. While we may not want to ban the use of GMO technology outright (because we may not have that option decades from now), it’s a pretty big sign of civilizational failure if we have to rely on a set of tools that perpetually create super-pests just to feed ourselves. That’s insane. It would be like pointlessly pumping cattle full of antibiotics just to create super-bugs for us to eat. Only a crazy species would do that. So it’s doesn’t bode well or us that RNAi sprays are the new hot thing to fix that problems with the previous new hot things. At least there’s the neonicotinoid ban in the EU now but we’ll see how long it lasts. The ban is certainly one of the best signs we’ve seen in while. And maybe the neonicotinoids really are innocent, or at least not as culpable for the bee colony collapses as presumed. As we’ve seen, there are plenty of other culprits. But regardless of which combination of factors is killing the bees, the disappearance of the bees is something to prepare for if this trend continues because the bee is the super-canary in the coal mine: if it dies, a whole bunch of other things die too. Forever.

While this may sound grim, keep in mind that there do exist more controversial solutions that ensure our demands for food don’t take collapse parts of the biosphere but, while simple and elegant, may not be for everyone: For instance, instead of genetically modifying the rest of the biosphere to suit our needs, how about we make a few small tweaks to ourselves? Specifically, we need to make our hair much more moth and algae-friendly. That’s it. No other changes and…dinner is served! Maybe there’s a nice RNAi shampoo that can do the trick. No? How about a lovely hat that feeds you. Still no? Luddite. Hmmm… there’s a certain advanced technique that could feed the world and help control pests simultaneously and everyone can play a role in implementing this technique. But, really, most of you will probably prefer the hat. Still no?! Well, there always the meatlover’s option.

Discussion

66 comments for “EU Buys Bees A Breather With Neonicotinoid Ban. Bees’ Goose Still Cookin’”

  1. @Pterrafractyl–

    Note that both Bayer and BASF are evolved from I.G. Farben and are both integral, foundational elements of the Bormann capital network.

    http://spitfirelist.com/for-the-record/ftr-411-the-bayer-facts-ig-farben-and-the-politics-of-murder/

    Best,

    Dave

    Posted by Dave Emory | May 19, 2016, 9:02 pm
  2. Housekeeping note: Comments 1-50 available here

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 20, 2016, 5:53 pm
  3. @Dave: Here’s another interesting twist to Bayer’s bid for Monsanto: On the same day Monsanto made that bid, the EU was scheduled to vote on whether or not glyphosate, the key ingredient to Monsanto’s wildly used Roundup pesticide that Monsanto’s GMO seeds are designed to be withstand, should be banned in the EU or be relicensed for another nine years. And as the article below points out, while Germany’s agriculture minister was in favor or relicensing the pesticide, the SPD reversed course and called for a ban due to both environmental and possible health concerns. So at the same time Bayer and BASF are poised to gobble up Monsanto and its spun off pieces, one of the crown jewels of Monsanto could get banned in the EU:

    Deutsche Welle

    Glyphosate: Will Europe ban controversial weed killer?

    The EU is about to vote on whether to relicense the world’s most used pesticide, as debate continues to rage over whether it poses a risk of cancer.

    Date 18.05.2016
    Author Ruby Russell

    European Union member states are expected to vote Thursday on whether to relicense glyphosate, as protestors gathered in Brussels on Wednesday calling for the weed killer to be banned.

    Glyphosate is the world’s most heavily used herbicide and a major tool for modern industrial farming. But it is also suspected of causing cancer in humans.

    Glyphosate’s current license for use in the EU expires in June. If granted, a new license would sanction its continued use in Europe for another nine years.

    While there are strong arguments that the weed killer poses a serious risk to biodiversity, the big question hanging over the extension is whether it is safe for humans who eat the crops that have been treated with the herbicide.

    Mixed findings on cancer risk

    In March last year, the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released a study finding that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

    But just days ahead of the EU vote this week, United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Meeting on Pesticide Residues (JMPR) concluded that “glyphosate is unlikely to pose a carcinogenic risk to humans from exposure through the diet.”

    The IARC’s scientific study looks at how hazardous the chemical compound is, while the JMPR conclusion is based on a review of available literature and assesses the actual risk posed by ingesting the low quantities of glyphosate that make it onto consumers’ plates.

    The European Glyphosate Task Force (GTF), a consortium of companies backing the continued use of the herbicide welcomed the JMPR conclusion.

    “As the GTF we welcome the constant reviews of glyphosate and reiterate that a high level scrutiny only contributes to higher protection for consumers and operators,” said GTF chair Richard Garnett.

    Conflict of interest?

    But environmentalists have questioned the JMPR’s independence. Greenpeace said this week that two of the scientists involved in JMPR conclusions had close ties to the International Life Sciences Institute, which receives funding from companies including Monsanto and Dow, which manufacture glyphosate.

    Glyphosate was developed by Monsanto, which has also developed genetically modified crops that are resistant to the herbicide.

    Greenpeace added that scientists involved in the assessment by the European Food Standards Authority in November last year that said glyphosate was probably not carcinogenic, had refused to be named.

    “The agencies contradicting the WHO cancer warning seem to either rely on officials who prefer not to be named, or lack a watertight policy to protect their impartiality,” Greenpeace EU food policy director Franziska Achterberg said in a press release.

    German government split

    Which way Thursday’s vote will go may depend on Germany’s position – which remains unclear.

    Germany had been expected to vote in favor to the extension. But last week, the Social Democratic Party (SPD), the junior partner in Germany’s coalition government, said it was against relicensing the herbicide.

    “That glyphosate has negative environmental impacts is proven… whether or not glyphosate also has health concerns is controversial,” German environment minister Barbara Hendricks, (of the SPD) said, adding: “For good reason, in Germany and in Europe we follow a precautionary principal.”

    Agriculture minister Christian Schmidt reacted with irritation, saying he had “absolutely no sympathy for the backwards roll on the extended authorization of glyphosate.”

    If the German government cannot agree, it will have to abstain from Thursday’s vote, making a majority vote in favor of the extension unlikely. That could leave the decision in the hands of the European Commission.

    A YouGov poll published in April this year found that 70 percent of Germans were against the reapproval of glyphosate.

    Room for compromise?

    France, Italy and the Netherlands have expressed opposition to the use of glyphosate, with the UK expected to be among those voting in favor of its extension.

    In the US, Monsanto faces lawsuits from agricultural workers who claim to have developed non-Hodgkin lymphoma as a result of long-term exposure to Roundup, Monsanto’s glyphosate-based weed killer.

    “If the German government cannot agree, it will have to abstain from Thursday’s vote, making a majority vote in favor of the extension unlikely. That could leave the decision in the hands of the European Commission.”
    Yes, Germany’s government found itself unable to arrive at a conclusion and abstained from the vote. So what happened with the vote? It didn’t happen:

    Reuters

    UPDATE 1-EU delays vote on weed-killer glyphosate licence amid cancer row

    * Glyphosate widely used in farming pesticides

    * If no deal by June 30, product to be phased out of market

    * Debate focuses on scientific evidence over health risks (Adds reactions from industry, green groups)

    By Alissa de Carbonnel
    Thu May 19, 2016 12:10pm EDT

    BRUSSELS, May 19 The European Union on Thursday delayed a vote on renewing sales approval for the pesticide glyphosate, used in Monsanto’s weed-killer Roundup, amid a transatlantic row over whether it may cause cancer.

    Experts from the EU’s 28 nations had been due to vote on a proposal to extend by nine years licensing of the herbicide, widely used by farmers and gardeners.

    EU sources said the delay was due to opposition in France and Germany, which have big farming and chemicals industries.

    Without their support, the European Commission lacks the majority it needs for a binding vote: “Since it was obvious that no qualified majority would have been reached, a vote was not held,” a Commission spokeswoman said.

    The EU executive had hoped for a decision to stop the clock ticking on a six-month phase-out period for glyphosate products when the existing authorisation lapses at the end of June.

    In response to opposition, it had already postponed a vote in March and shortened the licence to nine years from 15. The new proposal would ban some products because of the substances they combine with glyphosate, which could add to risks.

    The banned list of so-called co-formulants includes POE-tallowamine, which is no longer sold in glyphosate-containing pesticides in Germany.

    Germany had planned to abstain from voting because ministries run by different parties in the ruling coalition remain at odds, a government spokesman told Reuters.

    Last month, the European Parliament recommended that glyphosate should only be approved for another seven years, and should not be used by the general public.

    As the debates were continuing in Brussels, German chemicals group Bayer made an unsolicited takeover bid for U.S. seeds company Monsanto, for which the regulatory controversy over glyphosate has been one of a number of recent problems.

    “This delay undermines the credibility of the European regulatory process and threatens to put European farmers … and chemical industries at a competitive disadvantage,” Monsanto’s vice president of global regulatory and governmental affairs, Philip Miller, said.

    If no decision is reached to extend the licence, a spokesman said the company could not rule out seeking legal remedy.

    “If no decision is reached to extend the license, a spokesman said the company could not rule out seeking legal remedy.”
    So on the same day the EU was scheduled to vote on whether or not to ban glyphosate, the vote gets called off in large part due to conflicting German government opinion and Bayer makes a surprise, unsolicited bid for Monsanto. And the current license expires June 30. And all that means there’s going to be quite a flurry of lobbying and negotiating over the next month, along with threats of lawsuits like Monsanto made. On top of all that, France’s powerful agriculture industry appears to want to see glyphosate banned.

    So it’s going to be pretty interesting to see how this plays out. With over two thirds of Europeans and 70 percent of Germans wanting to see glyphosate banned, companies like Bayer are going to have quite a public relations problem on their hands. And a lobbying problem it would seem. And while it doesn’t seem like announcing a desire to buy Monsanto is going to help Bayer’s public image, it sure could help with the government lobbying! Or maybe not. We’ll see. It’s not like Bayer and BASF are new to the PR game.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 20, 2016, 5:55 pm
  4. Posted by Pixxare | May 20, 2016, 9:26 pm
  5. With the US celebrating Independence Day by blowing up a large volume time explosives, it’s probably as good a day as any to note that the very first US patent (Patent X000001), was a patent for refining potash, the potassium-containing compound that serves as a key natural resource for making everything from fertilizer to gunpowder. Neat.

    It’s also worth noting that the potash is only found a relative handful of locations around the globe, which means it’s basically a global oligopoly, like oil, but with a smaller number of suppliers. So small that when Russia’s Uralkali broke away from a partnership with Belaruskali in 2103, it was seen as a global potash game changer that was going to bring on a global price war. Which is what happened.

    So as Americans celebrate Independence Day with a potash-fueled food and fireworks, it’s worth noting that our ability to blow things up and eat fertilizer-grown food while doing it is tied to a resource that’s controlled by a global oligopoly in them midst of a price war with itself. Could be worse:

    Reuters

    Potash output cuts seen hindering industry’s long-term recovery

    WINNIPEG, Manitoba | By Rod Nickel
    Thu Jun 2, 2016 6:13am EDT

    North America’s big potash miners have doubled down on a production cut strategy they hope will lift the fertilizer’s price from a near decade low, even as some investors warn this threatens their long-term profitability and props up weaker rivals.

    Shares of Potash Corp of Saskatchewan and Mosaic Co, major players who have trimmed output when prices weakened, are down nearly 50 percent from a year earlier following their most recent production cuts.

    Some suggest they should take a page from Saudi Arabia’s oil strategy, boosting production to drive out higher-cost competitors, with the goal of maximizing profit over time.

    “Lower prices would keep the new capacity out. That’s more sustainable than trying to artificially maintain the price by closing (low-cost) facilities,” said Bryan Agbabian, head of agricultural equities at Allianz Global Investors, which has avoided potash company shares for three years.

    While this new approach would hurt share values in the near term, it would also begin a healthy industry transition, he added.

    Potash Corp, which confirmed it is sticking with its tighter supply strategy, surprised many in January by closing its eastern Canadian mine about a year after opening it.

    “The reason it works well is the resources in potash are more concentrated than any other commodity,” Chief Executive Jochen Tilk said in an interview, noting that a few players in the industry have access to the majority of resources.

    Mosaic CEO Joc O’Rourke told analysts last month that the company will continue to cut production when markets soften. Mosaic spokesman Ben Pratt said there has been no change in strategy since then and executives were unavailable for further comment.

    Canpotex Ltd, the export potash sales agency for Potash, Mosaic and Agrium Inc, earlier this year reduced first-half export plans by 1.5 million tonnes, representing nearly 8 percent of its estimated 2015 sales.

    But industry watchers noted this controlled-supply strategy helps European mines operated by K&S AG and ICL Israel Chemicals continue to produce potash at some of the highest costs in the business.

    ICL is cutting operating costs in Spain, and plans to convert its United Kingdom facility to a specialty form of potash within two years. Those mines serve Europe’s niche markets that sometimes yield premiums, said ICL Chief Executive Stefan Borgas.

    “We don’t lose any money anywhere,” Borgas said.

    DIFFERENT APPROACH FOR OIL, IRON ORE

    Commodity producers in other sectors, notably the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), have embraced short-term price pain in a bid to close down higher-cost rivals, though competitors such as U.S. shale producers have proved more resilient than expected.

    Still, Brent crude is up one-third in 2016 after bottoming out in January at its lowest price since 2003.

    Likewise, spot iron ore has gained 15 percent in 2016, helped partly by a war of attrition waged by the biggest suppliers that has driven out some higher-cost competitors.

    Wholesale U.S. Midwest potash prices, however, have fallen this year by one-quarter to their lowest since mid-2007, according to industry data compiled by NPK Fertilizer Advisory Service.

    To be sure, some think high-cost potash mines are too small, even if closed, to cure low prices by themselves, as seen by Intrepid Potash Inc’s plan to idle its largest mine in July.

    The 2013 breakup of a marketing alliance between Uralkali and Belaruskali increased competition, but didn’t significantly weed out competitors.

    Belaruskali, the second-biggest potash miner, does not feel pressured to cut output just because higher-cost producers are hanging on, said the company’s director general, Ivan Golovaty.

    Andrey Ilyin, chief financial officer of EuroChem, said the company is still planning on adding to global capacity by building two Russian potash mines by 2018.

    “We have no ready answer as to which marketing strategy is best,” he said. “Thankfully we do not have to decide on it today.”

    “Some suggest they should take a page from Saudi Arabia’s oil strategy, boosting production to drive out higher-cost competitors, with the goal of maximizing profit over time.”

    It sure sounds like the potash market’s biggest players are considering an OPEC-style potash price war designed to drive higher-cost competition out of business. The more prices implode, the more Big Potash’s appetite to cannibalize itself grows.

    So that should hold down prices for things like fertilizer and fireworks, although don’t be surprised if your fireworks still get pricier. Most of the US’s fireworks are made in China and there’s a firework industry labor shortage and not just in China. There’s a glut of potash due to a small cartel’s global civil-war, but not enough people to take the assemble the fireworks because it’s done by hand to avoid accidents, although robots will eventually take over.

    So while you’re lighting that fuse, take a moment to keep in mind that someone working in a factory probably made your explosive toy by hand. Probably for too little pay. If there’s an appropriate way to enhance the spirit of America’s Independence Day, it would be to push for a global campaign to ensure fireworks are made by well-paid people working in safe conditions. You can’t truly celebrate an Independence Day without the spirit of Labor Day.

    Yes, it might increase the price of the fireworks, but if we’re going to have a potash cartel price war, isn’t this one of the best times to push for global firework worker protections and rights? It’s always a good time to push for firework worker rights, but a potash price war just makes it a better time. And what’s a better way for the US to celebrate its national sovereignty than a global campaign for pyrotechnical worker rights and protections? Shouldn’t that be part of Independence Day? It isn’t just in the spirit of Independence Day but enhances it because it’s something we’re free to do and it’s the right thing to do. Let’s do that.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 4, 2016, 3:12 pm
  6. Here’s some good news/bad news for the bees. First, the good news: after seven species of Hawaiian bees were added to the endangered species list back in September, the first bee species ever added to the list, the rusty patch bumblebee was placed on the Fish and Wildlife Service’s endangered species list in the few weeks of the Obama administration, making it the first bee in the continental US to make it onto the list.

    The bad news, as you probably guessed, is, of course, the Trump administration:

    Mother Jones

    Now Trump’s Going After the Bumblebees
    The administration just delayed endangered status for a bumblebee species that’s on the brink of extinction.

    Tom Philpott
    Feb. 10, 2017 5:54 PM

    First, it was puppies. Now Trump is going after bees.

    Just weeks before leaving office, the Obama administration’s Fish and Wildlife Service placed the rusty patched bumblebee on the endangered species list—the first bee species to gain that status in the continental United States. Just weeks after taking office, the Trump administration temporarily reversed that decision. (See great pictures of this charismatic pollinator here..)

    The official announcement of the delay cites a White House memo, released just after Trump’s inauguration, instructing federal agencies to freeze all new regulations that had been announced but not yet taken effect, for the purpose of “reviewing questions of fact, law, and policy they raise.” The Fish and Wildlife Service, which oversees the endangered species list, acted just in the nick of time in delaying the bumble bee’s endangered status—it was scheduled to make its debut on the list on February 10.

    Rebecca Riley, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, told me the move may not be a mere procedural delay. “We don’t think this is just a freeze—it’s an opportunity for the administration to reconsider and perhaps revoke the rule entirely,” she said.

    Why would the Trump administration want to reverse Endangered Species Act protections for this pollinating insect? After all, the rusty patched bumble bee has “experienced a swift and dramatic decline since the late 1990s,” with its abundance having “plummeted by 87 percent, leaving small, scattered populations in 13 states,” according to a December Fish and Wildlife Service notice. And it’s not just pretty to look at—the Fish and Wildlide Services notes that like other bees, rusty patched bumblebees “pollinate many plants, including economically important crops such as tomatoes, cranberries and peppers,” adding that bumblebees are “especially good pollinators; even plants that can self-pollinate produce more and bigger fruit when pollinated by bumble bees.”

    The answer may lie in the Fish and Wildlife Service’s blunt discussion of pesticides as a threat to this bumblebee species. Like commercial honeybees, bumblebees face a variety of threats: exposure to pesticides, disease, climate change, and loss of forage. FWS cited all of those, noting that “no one single factor is likely responsible, but these threats working together have likely caused the decline.” But it didn’t mince any words about neonicotinoids, a class of insecticides widely used on US farm fields.

    Neonics, as they’re known, are a highly contentious topic. They make up the globe’s most widely used insecticide class, with annual global sales of $2.6 billion, dominated by agrichemical giants Syngenta and Bayer (which is currently in the process of merging with Monsanto). They have been substantially implicated in the declining health of honeybees and other pollinators, birds, and waterborne animals. The European Union maintains a moratorium on most neonic use in farming, based on their threat to bees. The US Environmental Protection Agency is currently in the middle of a yearslong reassessment of the risk they pose to bees and other critters.

    Here is what the Fish and Wildlife Service wrote about neonics in the context of the rusty patched bumblebee:

    Neonicotinoids have been strongly implicated as the cause of the decline of bees, in general, and for rusty patched bumble bees, specifically. The introduction of neonicotinoid use and the precipitous decline of this bumble bee occurred during the same time. Neonicotinoids are of particular concern because they are systemic chemicals, meaning that the plant takes up the chemical and incorporates it throughout, including in leaf tissue, nectar and pollen. The use of neonicotinoids rapidly increased when suppliers began selling pre-treated seeds. The chemical remains in pre-treated seeds and is taken up by the developing plants and becomes present throughout the plant. Pollinators foraging on treated plants are exposed to the chemicals directly. This type of insecticide use marked a shift to using systemic insecticides for large-scale, preemptive treatment.

    Note also that of the 13 states that still harbor scattered rusty patched bumblebee populations, four—Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, and Ohio—are in the US Corn Belt, where corn and soybean crops from neonic-treated seeds are common.

    The NRDC’s Riley noted that as the EPA reassess neonics, it is obligated to consider the insecticides’ impact on endangered species. If the rusty patched bumblebee makes it onto the list, that would place an endangered species that’s clearly harmed by neonics directly into the region where the lucrative chemicals are most widely used—possibly forcing it to restrict neonic use in those areas. It’s worth noting that the man Trump chose to lead the EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, works for the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, which runs a website, SafeChemicalPolicy.org, that exists to downplay the health and ecological impacts of chemicals. More on that here.

    The NRDC’s Riley noted that as the EPA reassess neonics, it is obligated to consider the insecticides’ impact on endangered species. If the rusty patched bumblebee makes it onto the list, that would place an endangered species that’s clearly harmed by neonics directly into the region where the lucrative chemicals are most widely used—possibly forcing it to restrict neonic use in those areas. It’s worth noting that the man Trump chose to lead the EPA transition team, Myron Ebell, works for the industry-funded Competitive Enterprise Institute, which runs a website, SafeChemicalPolicy.org, that exists to downplay the health and ecological impacts of chemicals. More on that here.”

    Yep, since the EPA is obligated to consider the impact of insecticides’ on endangered species, the the impact of neonicotinoids on at least one species of bee will have to be considered when the EPA reassesses neonicotinoids. Which is exactly why we should probably expect the Trump administration’s “freeze” of the rusty patched bumblebee’s endangered status to turn into a revocation. Well, maybe not exactly why we should expect it. The Trump administration’s endless desire to kiss corporate asses and general disdain for life on earth might also have something to do with it. Regardless of the reason, it’s hard to see how first bee in the continental US to make it onto the endangered species list is going to stay on that list in an era when the GOP controls all branches of the federal government and four of the states where the rusty patched bumblebee is still found are in the “US Corn Belt”. Especially given the endangered status of the endangered species list:

    Salon

    Republicans are creating legislation that would weaken Endangered Species Act
    Republicans want to significantly weaken the Endangered Species Act in the name of business profits

    Matthew Rozsa
    Friday, Feb 17, 2017 11:30 AM CST

    The Republican Party’s war on nature rolls on.

    The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on Wednesday to discuss legislation that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, according to The Washington Post. These hearings occurred even as the House Natural Resources Committee is considering an outright repeal the bill, with Committee Chairman Rob Bishop claiming that its main reason for existing is “to control the land.” Senate Republicans argue that the bill violates states’ rights and property rights, as well as limits economic growth in drilling, mining, and agriculture.

    The Endangered Species Act, which was passed in 1973 as a way of protecting animals and plants in danger of extinction, was described in congressional testimony by Defenders of Wildlife CEO Jamie Rappaport Clark as very successful. “For more than 40 years, the ESA has been successful, bringing the bald eagle, the American alligator, the Stellar sea lion, the peregrine falcon, and numerous other species back from the brink of extinction,” Clark said. “Based on data from the (Fish and Wildlife Service), the ESA has saved 99 percent of listed species from extinction.”

    Since taking office, the Trump administration attempted (then aborted) a “witch hunt” against climate change staffers in the energy department, removed climate change information from the White House website, halted grants and contracts from the Environmental Protection Agency and appointed a climate change denier to lead the EPA.

    “The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held hearings on Wednesday to discuss legislation that would weaken the Endangered Species Act, according to The Washington Post. These hearings occurred even as the House Natural Resources Committee is considering an outright repeal the bill, with Committee Chairman Rob Bishop claiming that its main reason for existing is “to control the land.” Senate Republicans argue that the bill violates states’ rights and property rights, as well as limits economic growth in drilling, mining, and agriculture.”

    Well, so long rusty patched bumblebee. And everyone else on the list.

    Presumably they all had it coming. Or maybe that’s us.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 17, 2017, 4:45 pm
  7. Here’s something to keep in mind as climate change increasingly threatens global food supplies while simultaneously increasing the prevalence of diseases that will require health immune systems to fight off: while it’s often thought that one of the benefits of having more CO2 in the atmosphere is that at least plants will have more carbon to grow, there’s a potentially significant downside to that enhanced growth. According to researchers looking into the largely unexamined relationship between atmospheric CO2 levels and plant nutrition, that extra CO2 appears to be screwing up plant metabolism and slowing turning plants into low-nutrient junk food:

    Politico

    The great nutrient collapse

    The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.

    By HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH
    09/13/2017 05:03 AM EDT

    Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass containers glowing with bright green algae, a biologist told Loladze and a half-dozen other graduate students that scientists had discovered something mysterious about zooplankton.

    Zooplankton are microscopic animals that float in the world’s oceans and lakes, and for food they rely on algae, which are essentially tiny plants. Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn’t work out that way. When the researchers shined more light on the algae, the algae grew faster, and the tiny animals had lots and lots to eat—but at a certain point they started struggling to survive. This was a paradox. More food should lead to more growth. How could more algae be a problem?

    Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn’t stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

    Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic. He and his colleagues devised a model that captured the relationship between a food source and a grazer that depends on the food. They published that first paper in 2000. But Loladze was also captivated by a much larger question raised by the experiment: Just how far this problem might extend.

    “What struck me is that its application is wider,” Loladze recalled in an interview. Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? “It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition,” he said.

    In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

    What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history?[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

    He published those findings just a few years ago, adding to the concerns of a small but increasingly worried group of researchers who are raising unsettling questions about the future of our food supply. Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes—and along the way, it has steered Loladze and other scientists, directly into some of the thorniest questions in their profession, including just how hard it is to do research in a field that doesn’t quite exist yet.

    IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, it’s been understood for some time that many of our most important foods have been getting less nutritious. Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years. Researchers have generally assumed the reason is fairly straightforward: We’ve been breeding and choosing crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition, and higher-yielding crops—whether broccoli, tomatoes, or wheat—tend to be less nutrient-packed.

    In 2004, a landmark study of fruits and vegetables found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops since 1950. The researchers concluded this could mostly be explained by the varieties we were choosing to grow.

    Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that’s not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live like humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn’t up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth’s atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century—essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

    If you’re someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn’t be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it’s good for plants, and what’s good for plants is good for us.

    But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

    In 2002, while a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Loladze published a seminal research paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, a leading journal, arguing that rising CO2 and human nutrition were inextricably linked through a global shift in the quality of plants. In the paper, Loladze complained about the dearth of data: Among thousands of publications he had reviewed on plants and rising CO2, he found only one that looked specifically at how it affected the balance of nutrients in rice, a crop that billions of people rely on. (The paper, published in 1997, found a drop in zinc and iron.)

    Loladze’s paper was first to tie the impact of CO2 on plant quality to human nutrition. But he also raised more questions than he answered, arguing that there were fundamental holes in the research. If these nutritional shifts were happening up and down the food chain, the phenomenon needed to be measured and understood.

    Part of the problem, Loladze was finding, lay in the research world itself. Answering the question required an understanding of plant physiology, agriculture and nutrition-as well as a healthy dollop of math. He could do the math, but he was a young academic trying to establish himself, and math departments weren’t especially interested in solving problems in farming and human health. Loladze struggled to get funding to generate new data and continued to obsessively collect published data from researchers across the globe. He headed to the heartland to take an assistant professor position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was a major agricultural school, which seemed like a good sign, but Loladze was still a math professor. He was told he could pursue his research interests as long as he brought in funding, but he struggled. Biology grant makers said his proposals were too math-heavy; math grant makers said his proposals contained too much biology.

    “It was year after year, rejection after rejection,” he said. “It was so frustrating. I don’t think people grasp the scale of this.”

    It’s not just in the fields of math and biology that this issue has fallen through the cracks. To say that it’s little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement. It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health or nutrition communities. At all.

    When POLITICO contacted top nutrition experts about the growing body of research on the topic, they were almost universally perplexed and asked to see the research. One leading nutrition scientist at Johns Hopkins University said it was interesting, but admitted he didn’t know anything about it. He referred me to another expert. She said they didn’t know about the subject, either. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an association representing an army of nutrition experts across the country, connected me with Robin Foroutan, an integrative medicine nutritionist who was also not familiar with the research.

    “It’s really interesting, and you’re right, it’s not on many people’s radar,” wrote Foroutan, in an email, after being sent some papers on the topic. Foroutan said she would like to see a whole lot more data, particularly on how a subtle shift toward more carbohydrates in plants could affect public health.

    “We don’t know what a minor shift in the carbohydrate ratio in the diet is ultimately going to do,” she said, noting that the overall trend toward more starch and carbohydrate consumption has been associated with an increase in diet-related disease like obesity and diabetes. “To what degree would a shift in the food system contribute to that? We can’t really say.”

    Asked to comment for this story, Marion Nestle, a nutrition policy professor at New York University who’s one of the best-known nutrition experts in the country, initially expressed skepticism about the whole concept but offered to dig into a file she keeps on climate issues.

    After reviewing the evidence, she changed her tune. “I’m convinced,” she said, in an email, while also urging caution: It wasn’t clear whether CO2-driven nutrient depletion would have a meaningful impact on public health. We need to know a whole lot more, she said.

    Kristie Ebi, a researcher at the University of Washington who’s studied the intersection of climate change and global health for two decades, is one of a handful of scientists in the U.S. who is keyed into the potentially sweeping consequences of the CO2-nutrition dynamic, and brings it up in every talk she gives.

    “It’s a hidden issue,” Ebi said. “The fact that my bread doesn’t have the micronutrients it did 20 years ago-how would you know?”

    As Ebi sees it, the CO2-nutrition link has been slow to break through, much as it took the academic community a long time to start seriously looking at the intersection of climate and human health in general. “This is before the change,” she said. “This is what it looks like before the change.”

    LOLADZE’S EARLY PAPER raised some big questions that are difficult, but not impossible, to answer. How does rising atmospheric CO2 change how plants grow? How much of the long-term nutrient drop is caused by the atmosphere, and how much by other factors, like breeding?

    It’s also difficult, but not impossible, to run farm-scale experiments on how CO2 affects plants. Researchers use a technique that essentially turns an entire field into a lab. The current gold standard for this type of research is called a FACE experiment (for “free-air carbon dioxide enrichment”), in which researchers create large open-air structures that blow CO2 onto the plants in a given area. Small sensors keep track of the CO2 levels. When too much CO2 escapes the perimeter, the contraption puffs more into the air to keep the levels stable. Scientists can then compare those plants directly to others growing in normal air nearby.

    These experiments and others like them have shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they’re grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as “C3”-which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes-elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

    Earlier this summer, a group of researchers published the first studies attempting to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

    There aren’t any projections for the United States, where we for the most part enjoy a diverse diet with no shortage of protein, but some researchers look at the growing proportion of sugars in plants and hypothesize that a systemic shift in plants could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

    Another new and important strain of research on CO2 and plant nutrition is now coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, is drilling down on some of the questions that Loladze first raised 15 years ago with a number of new studies that focus on nutrition.

    Ziska devised an experiment that eliminated the complicating factor of plant breeding: He decided to look at bee food.

    Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time..

    They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

    “We’re falling behind in our ability to intercede and begin to use the traditional agricultural tools, like breeding, to compensate,” he said. “Right now it can take 15 to 20 years before we get from the laboratory to the field.”

    AS LOLADZE AND others have found, tackling globe-spanning new questions that cross the boundaries of scientific fields can be difficult. There are plenty of plant physiologists researching crops, but most are dedicated to studying factors like yield and pest resistance—qualities that have nothing to do with nutrition. Math departments, as Loladze discovered, don’t exactly prioritize food research. And studying living things can be costly and slow: It takes several years and huge sums of money to get a FACE experiment to generate enough data to draw any conclusions.

    Despite these challenges, researchers are increasingly studying these questions, which means we may have more answers in the coming years. Ziska and Loladze, who now teaches math at Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Nebraska, are collaborating with a coalition of researchers in China, Japan, Australia and elsewhere in the U.S. on a large study looking at rising CO2 and the nutritional profile of rice, one of humankind’s most important crops. Their study also includes vitamins, an important nutritional component, that to date has almost not been studied at all.

    USDA researchers also recently dug up varieties of rice, wheat and soy that USDA had saved from the 1950s and 1960s and planted them in plots around the U.S. where previous researchers had grown the same cultivars decades ago, with the aim of better understanding how today’s higher levels of CO2 affect them.

    In a USDA research field in Maryland, researchers are running experiments on bell peppers to measure how vitamin C changes under elevated CO2. They’re also looking at coffee to see whether caffeine declines. “There are lots of questions,” Ziska said as he showed me around his research campus in Beltsville. “We’re just putting our toe in the water.”

    Ziska is part of a small band of researchers now trying to measure these changes and figure out what it means for humans. Another key figure studying this nexus is Samuel Myers, a doctor turned climate researcher at Harvard University who leads the Planetary Health Alliance, a new global effort to connect the dots between climate science and human health.

    Myers is also concerned that the research community is not more focused on understanding the CO2-nutrition dynamic, since it’s a crucial piece of a much larger picture of how such changes might ripple through ecosystems. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” said Myers. “It’s been hard for us to get people to understand how many questions they should have.”

    In 2014, Myers and a team of other scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States that also found rising CO2 led to a drop in protein, iron and zinc. It was the first time the issue had attracted any real media attention.

    “The public health implications of global climate change are difficult to predict, and we expect many surprises,” the researchers wrote. “The finding that raising atmospheric CO2 lowers the nutritional value of C3 crops is one such surprise that we can now better predict and prepare for.”

    The same year-in fact, on the same day-Loladze, then teaching math at the The Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea, published his own paper, the result of more than 15 years of gathering data on the same subject. It was the largest study in the world on rising CO2 and its impact on plant nutrients. Loladze likes to describe plant science as ““noisy”-research-speak for cluttered with complicating data, through which it can be difficult to detect the signal you’re looking for. His new data set was finally big enough to see the signal through the noise, to detect the “hidden shift,” as he put it.

    What he found is that his 2002 theory—or, rather, the strong suspicion he had articulated back then—appeared to be borne out. Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

    What that means for humans-whose main food intake is plants-is only just starting to be investigated. Researchers who dive into it will have to surmount obstacles like its low profile and slow pace, and a political environment where the word “climate” is enough to derail a funding conversation. It will also require entirely new bridges to be built in the world of science-a problem that Loladze himself wryly acknowledges in his own research. When his paper was finally published in 2014, Loladze listed his grant rejections in the acknowledgements.

    ———-

    “The great nutrient collapse” by HELENA BOTTEMILLER EVICH; Politico; 09/13/2017

    “These experiments and others like them have shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they’re grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as “C3”-which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes-elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

    Less vitamins, minerals and protein. That’s what we should expect as CO2 levels continue to rise. And amazingly, only a handful of people appear to have actually been looking into this phenomena over the past couple of decades. And what they are finding is that, ““Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising…We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history?[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply”:


    Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn’t stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

    Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic. He and his colleagues devised a model that captured the relationship between a food source and a grazer that depends on the food. They published that first paper in 2000. But Loladze was also captivated by a much larger question raised by the experiment: Just how far this problem might extend.

    “What struck me is that its application is wider,” Loladze recalled in an interview. Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? “It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition,” he said.

    In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

    What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history?[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

    “Fortified”, low-carb foods are probably going to be a growth industry. Along with food grown in greenhouses with controlled CO2 levels. Which will of course be a luxury most people won’t be able to afford:


    Earlier this summer, a group of researchers published the first studies attempting to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

    There aren’t any projections for the United States, where we for the most part enjoy a diverse diet with no shortage of protein, but some researchers look at the growing proportion of sugars in plants and hypothesize that a systemic shift in plants could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

    And look who is already getting impacted: the bees. Of course:

    Ziska devised an experiment that eliminated the complicating factor of plant breeding: He decided to look at bee food.

    Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time..

    They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

    “They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2.”

    So that’s all something to considering when speculating about the various stresses climate change is going to impose on life on Earth: our CO2 habit is sapping the nutrition out of nature.

    And in related dire news, check out the latest climate change-related positive feedback loop researchers have uncovered: as land warms, it undergoes a period of increased CO2 emissions as the bacteria in the soil use the warmth to speed of the breakdown of organic compounds still trapped in the soil until the extra organic material is broken down and a new equilibrium is reached, at which point the CO2 emissions slow. In other words, the warming up period of climate changes includes an extra CO2 burst from the soil. Periodic pulses of CO2 as part of the process of reach that new equilibrium. And we have yet to really experience that massive soil CO2 pulse during this period of warming and the amount of CO2 the expect to be released from this phenomena over the next century could be the equivalent of the last 20 years of CO2 emissions from fossil fuels:

    Bloomberg

    There’s a Climate Bomb Under Your Feet
    Soil locks away carbon just as the oceans do. But that lock is getting picked as the atmosphere warms and development accelerates.

    By Eric Roston
    October 6, 2017, 9:08 AM CDT

    Long before most people ever heard of climate change, scientists divided a patch of Harvard University-owned forest in central Massachusetts into 18 identical 6-meter by 6-meter squares. A canopy of red maple and black oak trees hangs there, looming above the same stony soil tilled by colonial farmers. Rich in organic material, it was exactly what the researchers were looking for.

    They broke the land up into six blocks of three squares each. In every block, one square was left alone, one was threaded with heating cables that elevated its temperature 9 degrees Fahrenheit (5 degrees Celsius) above the surrounding area. The third square was threaded with cables but never turned on, as a control.

    That was 26 years ago. The purpose was to measure how carbon dioxide may escape from the earth as the atmosphere warms. What they found, published yesterday in the journal Science, may mean the accelerating catastrophe of global warming has been fueled in part by warm dirt. As the Earth heats up, microbes in the soil accelerate the breakdown of organic materials and move on to others that may have once been ignored, each time releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Extrapolating from their forest study, the researchers estimate that over this century the warming induced from global soil loss, at the rate they monitored, will be “equivalent to the past two decades of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and is comparable in magnitude to the cumulative carbon losses to the atmosphere due to human-driven land use change during the past two centuries.”

    The good news, however, is that the research community is now fully on the case. Over the past week, at least four high-profile papers largely funded by the U.S. government have contributed new evidence, observations, and insight into the role of soil and forests in the global carbon cycle—the flow of material in and out of land, air, life, and sea that’s currently broken and getting worse.

    From a technical perspective, what they’re talking about here is plain old dirt. Ground. Loam. Land. Trees and leaves. From a practical perspective, it’s something different entirely. Soil is also cotton, corn, soybean, wheat, oranges, cattle, and the rest of humanity’s food and fiber. When it’s healthy, it grows most everything we need. It absorbs and retains moisture that might otherwise flood valleys where people live. It also absorbs and retains carbon that might otherwise be heating up the atmosphere.

    The atmosphere gets all the attention in climate change, mostly because that’s where the warming happens. Even the oceans draw more concern than soil, especially when their warming temperatures help fuel massive storms and floods that kill humans and destroy communities. The seas hold 60 times more carbon than the atmosphere and absorb more than 90 percent of the heat that industrial pollution generates.

    The soil, meanwhile, has been mostly ignored until lately. It’s both hugely influential on global warming and something humanity has a good deal of control over. The top 3 meters or so of earth store more carbon than the entire atmosphere and all plants combined. Taking care of the planet’s soil is “critical for stabilizing atmospheric CO2 concentrations,” according to a synthesis by Stanford University’s Robert Jackson and five colleagues, published Thursday in Annual Review of Ecology, Evolution & Systematics.

    Scientists aren’t going to resolve the global carbon cycle down to the last atom soon. What the Annual Review authors do point out, though, is that land use and agricultural practices can simultaneously trap carbon in soil—helping the fight against warming—and improving yields for all the things humanity’s swelling population will need in coming decades. Reducing tillage and fallow time, managing grazing better, planting more legumes, and other practices all help keep more carbon in the ground.

    Back when the soil researchers were setting up their Harvard forest plots in 1991, Earth-system science and soil-health science were completely different fields. That’s been changing in ways that should be encouraged, according to another report, in Global Change Biology, also published Thursday. Binding scientists, policymakers, and land-owners together in conversation could have a significant effect on reducing global CO2, perhaps offsetting projected emissions from thawing permafrost in the rapidly melting, high-latitude Northern Hemisphere.

    The authors tout as a hopeful example the International Soil Carbon Network, a scientific initiative designed to pool data and identify gaps in monitoring and knowledge. “Soils have entered an ‘anthropogenic state,’ with most of the global surface area either directly managed by humans or indirectly influenced by human activities,” they write.

    Late last month, scientists from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University published in Science an analysis of satellite data showing one of the most dramatic turnabouts in recent memory. Long thought of as sponges that suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, tropical forests may actually be a source of emissions. Deforestation is obviously an enemy of forests; what the authors found was that forest degradation—losing healthy patches here or there to human or natural causes—is more damaging to carbon-soaking capacity than previously believed.

    The Harvard forest study leaves readers on a similarly thought-provoking note. The research itself found that soil loses its carbon in pulses of microbial activity. Microbes feast away on organic matter in elevated temperatures, chewing it down to carbon dioxide and emitting it. Then the soil settles down to emission rates seen in unheated areas, the microbes having exhausted their food source. After a time, new microbes move into the heated patches and eat up harder-to-digest material, such as lignin, the stuff that makes wood hard. Then they, too, get sated and die off or move on, reducing emission rates with them.

    Scientists have long been concerned that once humans kicked off warming of the atmosphere and seas, other parts of nature will take what we’ve begun and run with it. Some things are in our control—land use, pollution from fossil-fuel combustion. A global pulse in microbial carbon-munching, however, they write, “could be very difficult, if not impossible, to halt.”

    ———-

    “There’s a Climate Bomb Under Your Feet” by Eric Roston; Bloomberg; 10/06/2017

    “Scientists have long been concerned that once humans kicked off warming of the atmosphere and seas, other parts of nature will take what we’ve begun and run with it. Some things are in our control—land use, pollution from fossil-fuel combustion. A global pulse in microbial carbon-munching, however, they write, “could be very difficult, if not impossible, to halt.””

    An unstoppable global pulse in microbial carbon-munching caused by warming soil. Move over cow farts. And this just might be “equivalent to the past two decades of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and is comparable in magnitude to the cumulative carbon losses to the atmosphere due to human-driven land use change during the past two centuries”:


    That was 26 years ago. The purpose was to measure how carbon dioxide may escape from the earth as the atmosphere warms. What they found, published yesterday in the journal Science, may mean the accelerating catastrophe of global warming has been fueled in part by warm dirt. As the Earth heats up, microbes in the soil accelerate the breakdown of organic materials and move on to others that may have once been ignored, each time releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

    Extrapolating from their forest study, the researchers estimate that over this century the warming induced from global soil loss, at the rate they monitored, will be “equivalent to the past two decades of carbon emissions from fossil fuel burning and is comparable in magnitude to the cumulative carbon losses to the atmosphere due to human-driven land use change during the past two centuries.”

    That’s a lot of carbon. Extra carbon for extra-junk-foody plants everywhere.

    And if humanity ends up clear cutting even more forest to grow more food in order to deal with growing populations and collapsing nutrition, that’s going to mean extra carbon pulses:


    The hopeful calls for collaboration laid out in the Annual Review and Global Change Biology must nevertheless be tempered by the steady drumbeat of off-putting news from other parts of the Earth science research community.

    Late last month, scientists from Woods Hole Research Center and Boston University published in Science an analysis of satellite data showing one of the most dramatic turnabouts in recent memory. Long thought of as sponges that suck in carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, tropical forests may actually be a source of emissions. Deforestation is obviously an enemy of forests; what the authors found was that forest degradation—losing healthy patches here or there to human or natural causes—is more damaging to carbon-soaking capacity than previously believed.

    The Harvard forest study leaves readers on a similarly thought-provoking note. The research itself found that soil loses its carbon in pulses of microbial activity. Microbes feast away on organic matter in elevated temperatures, chewing it down to carbon dioxide and emitting it. Then the soil settles down to emission rates seen in unheated areas, the microbes having exhausted their food source. After a time, new microbes move into the heated patches and eat up harder-to-digest material, such as lignin, the stuff that makes wood hard. Then they, too, get sated and die off or move on, reducing emission rates with them.

    “Deforestation is obviously an enemy of forests; what the authors found was that forest degradation—losing healthy patches here or there to human or natural causes—is more damaging to carbon-soaking capacity than previously believed.”

    It’s the latest reminder that the solution to trashing the ecosystem and turning it into junk food isn’t going to be to simply clear cut more forests and make more farms. Although that’s probably what we’ll end up doing anyway.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 9, 2017, 2:31 pm
  8. Here’s the latest news about the bees: According to a study out of Germany that’s been tracking the levels of flying insects in nature reserves, the number of flying insects have dropped by 76 percent over the past 27 years on average. And it’s an 82 percent drop during the peak summer season. As the authors of the put it, we’re looking at ecological Armageddon. The bees have company. A lot of flying dying company which can’t mean good news to the rest of the ecosystem either. If you’re an animal that eats flying insects, dinner has almost died off.

    And it’s not just in Germany. Because as the following article notes, while it’s a mystery as to what exactly caused the ecological Armageddon observed in German nature reserves over the past 27 years, it’s not a complete mystery. Industrial agricultural practices are obvious a major factor and that means the observed declines in Germany are probably applicable to the rest of world where similar agriculture practices are in place. Which is almost everywhere to some extent nowadays:

    The Guardian

    Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers

    Three-quarters of flying insects in nature reserves across Germany have vanished in 25 years, with serious implications for all life on Earth, scientists say

    Damian Carrington Environment editor

    Wednesday 18 October 2017 14.00 EDT
    Last modified on Thursday 19 October 2017 04.52 EDT

    The abundance of flying insects has plunged by three-quarters over the past 25 years, according to a new study that has shocked scientists.

    Insects are an integral part of life on Earth as both pollinators and prey for other wildlife and it was known that some species such as butterflies were declining. But the newly revealed scale of the losses to all insects has prompted warnings that the world is “on course for ecological Armageddon”, with profound impacts on human society.

    The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

    The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

    “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

    The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

    When the total weight of the insects in each sample was measured a startling decline was revealed. The annual average fell by 76% over the 27 year period, but the fall was even higher – 82% – in summer, when insect numbers reach their peak.

    Previous reports of insect declines have been limited to particular insects, such European grassland butterflies, which have fallen by 50% in recent decades. But the new research captured all flying insects, including wasps and flies which are rarely studied, making it a much stronger indicator of decline.

    The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.”

    The amateur entomologists also collected detailed weather measurements and recorded changes to the landscape or plant species in the reserves, but this could not explain the loss of the insects. “The weather might explain many of the fluctuations within the season and between the years, but it doesn’t explain the rapid downward trend,” said Martin Sorg from the Krefeld Entomological Society in Germany, who led the amateur entomologists.

    Goulson said a likely explanation could be that the flying insects perish when they leave the nature reserves. “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature,” he said. “But exactly what is causing their death is open to debate. It could be simply that there is no food for them or it could be, more specifically, exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

    In September, a chief scientific adviser to the UK government warned that regulators around the world have falsely assumed that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes and that the “effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored”.

    The scientists said further work is urgently needed to corroborate the new findings in other regions and to explore the issue in more detail. While most insects do fly, it may be that those that don’t, leave nature reserves less often and are faring better. It is also possible that smaller and larger insects are affected differently, and the German samples have all been preserved and will be further analysed.

    In the meantime, said De Kroon: “We need to do less of the things that we know have a negative impact, such as the use of pesticides and the disappearance of farmland borders full of flowers.”

    Lynn Dicks at the University of East Anglia, UK, and not involved in the new research said the work was convincing. “It provides important new evidence for an alarming decline that many entomologists have suspected is occurring for some time.”

    “If total flying insect biomass is genuinely declining at this rate – about 6% per year – it is extremely concerning,” she said. “Flying insects have really important ecological functions, for which their numbers matter a lot. They pollinate flowers: flies, moths and butterflies are as important as bees for many flowering plants, including some crops. They provide food for many animals – birds, bats, some mammals, fish, reptiles and amphibians. Flies, beetles and wasps are also predators and decomposers, controlling pests and cleaning up the place generally.”

    Another way of sampling insects – car windscreens – has often been anecdotally used to suggest a major decline, with people remembering many more bugs squashed on their windscreens in the past.

    “I think that is real,” said Goulson. “I drove right across France and back this summer – just when you’d expect your windscreen to be splattered all over – and I literally never had to stop to clean the windscreen.”

    ———-

    “Warning of ‘ecological Armageddon’ after dramatic plunge in insect numbers” by Damian Carrington; The Guardian; 10/18/2017

    “The fact that the samples were taken in protected areas makes the findings even more worrying, said Caspar Hallmann at Radboud University, also part of the research team: “All these areas are protected and most of them are well-managed nature reserves. Yet, this dramatic decline has occurred.””

    Yes, we’re not talking about flying insect Armageddon in the cities and next to farms. This was in nature reserves. Might there be some agricultural pollution making its way the crop fields and into these reserves? Perhaps, and it sounds like widespread heavy pesticide use is considered the likeliest factor. But data like pesticide levels in reserves hasn’t been collected yet because the data on insect levels in reserves over the last 27 years was collected by amateurs (who were doing it in strictly standardized ways so it’s reliable data). This amateur data set is basically the first big look at this phenomena. Because governments everywhere appear to have decided to ignore the impact of Big Ag on Big Dying Nature:


    The new data was gathered in nature reserves across Germany but has implications for all landscapes dominated by agriculture, the researchers said.

    The cause of the huge decline is as yet unclear, although the destruction of wild areas and widespread use of pesticides are the most likely factors and climate change may play a role. The scientists were able to rule out weather and changes to landscape in the reserves as causes, but data on pesticide levels has not been collected.

    “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline,” said Prof Dave Goulson of Sussex University, UK, and part of the team behind the new study. “We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.”

    The research, published in the journal Plos One, is based on the work of dozens of amateur entomologists across Germany who began using strictly standardised ways of collecting insects in 1989. Special tents called malaise traps were used to capture more than 1,500 samples of all flying insects at 63 different nature reserves.

    “Insects make up about two-thirds of all life on Earth [but] there has been some kind of horrific decline…We appear to be making vast tracts of land inhospitable to most forms of life, and are currently on course for ecological Armageddon. If we lose the insects then everything is going to collapse.

    FYI, those are nightmare words. And at this point we very little data from other parts of the world to see if this really is taking place elsewhere. Because as the following article notes, it’s just been assumed industrial agriculture isn’t poisoning more remote ecosystem. Apparently everywhere. So we might have been collapsing insect populations in the wild for decades and no one has been measuring it. Again, these are nightmare words:

    The Guardian

    Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist

    Damning assessment by one of the UK’s chief scientific advisers says global regulations have ignored the impacts of ‘dosing whole landscapes’ and must change

    Damian Carrington Environment editor

    Friday 22 September 2017 07.23 EDT
    First published on Thursday 21 September 2017 14.00 EDT

    The assumption by regulators around the world that it is safe to use pesticides at industrial scales across landscapes is false, according to a chief scientific adviser to the UK government.

    The lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring of their effects in the environment means it can take years for the impacts to become apparent, say Prof Ian Boyd and his colleague Alice Milner in a new article.

    The damning assessment of pesticide regulations that are meant to protect the global environment follows a growing number of highly critical reports including research showing farmers could slash their pesticide use without losses and a UN report that denounced the “myth” that pesticides are necessary to feed the world.

    “The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,” state the scientists in their article published in the journal Science. Boyd is chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where Milner also works on secondment, but their criticism reflects their own views.

    “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems,” the scientists said. “This can and should be changed.” They contrast this situation with pharmaceuticals, for which there is a system of rigorous global monitoring after a drug is approved in case adverse effects emerge.

    “Vigilance on the scale that is required for medicines does not exist to assess the effects of pesticides in the environment,” they said. They cite the UK as an example of one of the most developed regulatory systems: “Yet it has no systematic monitoring of pesticide residues in the environment. There is no consideration of safe pesticide limits at landscape scales.”

    The scientists’ article also criticises the widespread use of pesticides as preventive treatments, rather than being used sparingly and only when needed.

    Milner told the Guardian: “We want to start a discussion about how we can introduce a global monitoring programme for pesticides, similar to pharmaceuticals. It can take years to fully understand the environmental impact.”

    “Any chemical you put into the environment has the potential to be widely distributed,” she said. “We’ve known this for decades, particularly through the early work in the 1960s – the Silent Spring, DDT and so on – and you can find chemicals in places that have not been treated because of the connectivity of ecosystems. There are often quite unexpected effects [and] you often don’t see them until the pesticide is used at more industrial scales.”

    Matt Shardlow of the conservation group Buglife said: “Pesticides have got big on society – the thin veil of science around the approvals process has been exposed and the marketing strategies are stronger than the products they tout.

    “If you think the biggest governments in the world are wrapped around the pesticide industry’s fingers, that’s nothing compared to the 35% of countries that have no regulation at all. It looks as if only an international convention can get pesticides back into a box that helps rather than harms us. It can’t come soon enough.”

    The UK government has repeatedly opposed increased European restrictions on widely used insecticides that are linked to serious harm in bees, but a partial ban was backed by other nations and introduced in 2013.

    However, the environment secretary, Michael Gove, said in July that changes to pesticide regulation were being considered: “Certainly, it is the case that anyone who has seen the [recent] scientific evidence must inevitably contemplate the need for further restrictions on their use.” After Brexit, he said: “Informed by rigorous scientific analysis, we can develop global gold-standard policies on pesticides and chemicals.”

    Keith Tyrell, at Pesticide Action Network, said the current pesticide management system was not fit for purpose: “We don’t know how a pesticide will really impact the environment until it is too late. It can take years before enough scientific evidence is collected to persuade regulators to take action, and they will be fought every step of the way by pesticide manufacturers who make millions from these products.”

    The UN report in March was severely critical of the global corporations that manufacture pesticides, accusing them of the “systematic denial of harms”, “aggressive, unethical marketing tactics” and heavy lobbying of governments which has “obstructed reforms and paralysed global pesticide restrictions”.

    Sarah Mukherjee, chief executive of an industry group called the Crop Protection Association, said: “As [Boyd and Milner] themselves acknowledge, crop-protection products are a fundamental component of a sustainable, productive agricultural sector which seek to strike the right balance between protecting the environment and providing a reliable supply of safe, healthy, affordable food.

    “Pesticides are amongst the most heavily regulated products in the world. It takes up to 12 years and costs over £200m to bring a new product to market. This process, involving rigorous scrutiny by independent scientific experts, ensures plant protection products are safe before they reach the market.”

    ———-

    “Assumed safety of pesticide use is false, says top government scientist” Damian Carrington; The Guardian; 09/22/2017

    “Any chemical you put into the environment has the potential to be widely distributed,” she said. “We’ve known this for decades, particularly through the early work in the 1960sthe Silent Spring, DDT and so on – and you can find chemicals in places that have not been treated because of the connectivity of ecosystems. There are often quite unexpected effects [and] you often don’t see them until the pesticide is used at more industrial scales.”

    We’ve known about the ability of agricultural chemicals to get into the deeper ecosystem since the 1960’s. And yet it’s apparently just been assumed pesticides have no effect on remote ecosystems so no one bothered to test this. Almost everywhere:


    The lack of any limit on the total amount of pesticides used and the virtual absence of monitoring of their effects in the environment means it can take years for the impacts to become apparent, say Prof Ian Boyd and his colleague Alice Milner in a new article.

    “The current assumption underlying pesticide regulation – that chemicals that pass a battery of tests in the laboratory or in field trials are environmentally benign when they are used at industrial scales – is false,” state the scientists in their article published in the journal Science. Boyd is chief scientific adviser to the UK’s Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, where Milner also works on secondment, but their criticism reflects their own views.

    “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems,” the scientists said. “This can and should be changed.” They contrast this situation with pharmaceuticals, for which there is a system of rigorous global monitoring after a drug is approved in case adverse effects emerge.

    “The effects of dosing whole landscapes with chemicals have been largely ignored by regulatory systems.”l

    Just let those nightmare words sink in.

    So what was Big Ag’s response to this report? Well, the following article that interviews the chief executive of the Crop Protection Association – a branch of the CropLife International lobby that includes Bayer/Monsanto – gives us an idea of what the pesticide industry’s response would be. It’s what which is what we should probably expect: many factors could be contributing, more research is needed, and pesticides can actually help contribute to biodiversity by maximizing yields and requiring less farm land. And while all of those statements are true to some extent, it’s still a rather grim answer to hear from a pesticide lobby when pesticides are the lead suspect in a recently discovered mass insect die off. Because it means Big Pesticide is unfazed and probably getting ready to do everything it can to ensure we continue not knowing about the bug die off that might kill us all:

    Farmers Guardian

    Pesticides may not be cause of 76 per cent drop in flying insect numbers, says CPA

    The Crop Protection Association has warned further research is needed to establish the cause of a 76 per cent drop in flying insect numbers in Germany.

    Abi Kay
    News 21 Oct 2017

    The massive decline was recorded by a study published in scientific journal Plos One, which built on the work of amateur entomologists.

    All kinds of flying insects, including wasps and flies, had been collected for 27 years at 63 nature reserves across the country.

    Looking at the average weight of the insect samples, researchers found a huge drop of 76 per cent since 1989, as well as a mid-summer decline of 82 per cent.

    Death

    Professor Dave Goulson, who co-authored the paper, said: “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature, but exactly what is causing their death is open to debate.

    “It could simply be there is no food for them, or it could be exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

    A previous paper Prof Goulson worked on suggested farmland birds were being killed by neonicotinoids, a claim hotly disputed by the NFU.

    Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said: “While these findings are clearly concerning and further research is needed to establish whether these declines are more widespread, we should not rush to blame the nearest chemical.

    Complex

    “The causes of these issues are complex and multifactorial and include issues such as habitat loss, availability of food and agricultural practices.

    “We believe productive farming can exist hand-in-hand with the promotion of biodiversity, and there are a number of organisations, such as LEAF and Conservation Grade which demonstrate this reality.

    “Some of the best examples of conservation farming in the UK take a conventional approach which includes pesticides, and by maximising yields from land already under cultivation, more wild spaces are preserved for biodiversity.”

    ———-

    “Pesticides may not be cause of 76 per cent drop in flying insect numbers, says CPA” by Abi Kay; Farmers Guardian; 10/21/2017

    “Crop Protection Association chief executive Sarah Mukherjee said: “While these findings are clearly concerning and further research is needed to establish whether these declines are more widespread, we should not rush to blame the nearest chemical.”

    Yes, let’s not rush to blame the nearest chemical after we spend the last 60 years dumping massive amounts of pesticides in the environment and suddenly discover a mass insect die off. More studies are surely needed. Fast. So we can rush to judgement and stop the insect die off that could collapse the ecosystem.

    And you have to love how crop maximization from pesticides promotes biodiversity by requiring less farm land and increasing wild spaces is used as a retort to serious concerns that pesticides might be poisoning remote wild spaces:


    “Some of the best examples of conservation farming in the UK take a conventional approach which includes pesticides, and by maximising yields from land already under cultivation, more wild spaces are preserved for biodiversity.”

    Those were the soothing words from the chief executive of the Crop Protection Association.

    But we do have to acknowledge that even Big Pesticide can have a valid point, and when they suggest that we view the insect collaspe as as a multi-dimensional factor that probably includes more than just pesticides it’s hard to disagree. And when they say more research is needed, it’s hard to disagree with that too. Much, much more research needs to happen in this area soon.

    And regarding the comments from the study author about how it’s possible that it’s not pesticides but instead something like a lack of food for flying insects, note how this same researcher previously found that neonicotinoids might be killing farmland birds. Yes, our food production methods are killing off the birds and the bees. It’s not the best symbolism:


    Professor Dave Goulson, who co-authored the paper, said: “Farmland has very little to offer for any wild creature, but exactly what is causing their death is open to debate.

    It could simply be there is no food for them, or it could be exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

    A previous paper Prof Goulson worked on suggested farmland birds were being killed by neonicotinoids, a claim hotly disputed by the NFU.

    “It could simply be there is no food for them, or it could be exposure to chemical pesticides, or a combination of the two.”

    Also keep in mind that one reason there might not be adequate levels of food to feed the flying insects is because the neonicotinoids (and other man-made environmental insults) are killing off the pollinators which means fewer flowering plants to feed pollinators and non-pollinators alike. It’s an extra vicious cycle. While the collapse of the bees is typically seen as a catastrophe for human food supplies, the collapse of wild pollinators is going to starve the food supply for almost everything else too, directly or indirectly. Maybe. Perhaps we should study that. Like, with government money so amateur volunteers don’t have to do it alone.

    And Big Pesticide is correct, we can’t just blame the nearest chemical. Not exclusively. Because we’re dump all sorts of chemicals in the environment. On an industrial scale, with almost no oversight, which probably isn’t good for the insects either (or anything else):

    CNBC

    Pollution linked to one in six deaths worldwide — and threatens ‘survival of human societies’

    * In 2015, almost one in six deaths – an estimated 9 million globally – were found to relate to pollution in some form.
    * Air pollution was found to have had the biggest impact on people across the world, with dirty air accounting for around 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015.
    * “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies,” the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health research said in the report.

    Sam Meredith
    Published 3:44 AM ET Fri, 20 Oct 2017 Updated 10:53 AM ET Fri, 20 Oct 2017

    Pollution kills at least 9 million people every year and “threatens the continuing survival of human societies,” according to research from a new landmark study.

    In 2015, almost one in six deaths – an estimated 9 million globally – were found to relate to pollution in some form.

    The research, published Thursday in The Lancet medical journal, found that the overwhelming majority of pollution-related casualties – around 92 percent – were found in poor or middle-income nations. And in countries looking to industrialize rapidly, such as China, India, Pakistan, Madagascar and Bangladesh, pollution was connected to as many as a quarter of all deaths, the report said.

    The study is the first attempt to collate data on disease and death caused by all forms of pollution combined.

    ‘Pollution has been neglected’

    Philip Landrigan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, who jointly led the international research, said: “Pollution is much more than an environmental challenge — it is a profound and pervasive threat that affects many aspects of human health and wellbeing.”

    “It deserves the full attention of international leaders, civil society, health professionals, and people around the world. Despite its far-reaching effects on health, the economy and the environment, pollution has been neglected in the international assistance and the global health agendas, and some control strategies have been deeply underfunded.

    Air pollution was found to have had the biggest impact on people across the world, with dirty air accounting for around 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015. Meantime, water pollution was responsible for 1.8 million fatalities, while work-related pollution — which caused 800,000 deaths two years ago — posed the next largest risk, the report said.

    While Brunei and Sweden had the lowest numbers of pollution-related fatalities, the report found Somalia and Bangladesh were the worst affected.

    ‘Great existential challenge’

    “Pollution endangers the stability of the Earth’s support systems and threatens the continuing survival of human societies,” the authors of the Commission on Pollution and Health research said in the report.

    They also concluded that pollution represented one of the “great existential challenges” of the human-dominated era.

    “These figures are a stark reminder of the deadly toll air pollution is having worldwide. Globally, we know an estimated 80 percent of premature deaths from air pollution are caused by heart disease and stroke,” Simon Gillespie, chief executive at the British Heart Foundation (BHF) and president of the European Heart Network, said in a statement.

    ———-

    “Pollution linked to one in six deaths worldwide — and threatens ‘survival of human societies'” by Sam Meredith; CNBC; 10/20/2017

    “They also concluded that pollution represented one of the “great existential challenges” of the human-dominated era.”

    Pollution as an existential challenge for humanity. It seems like a reasonable assessment given the real possibility that we are current polluting ourselves into ecological oblivion. And killing lots of lots of people, and insects presumably, in the process. But we sadly have say we are presumably killing insects with all our pollution because we don’t know because we don’t study it:


    Philip Landrigan, a professor at the Icahn School of Medicine in New York City, who jointly led the international research, said: “Pollution is much more than an environmental challenge — it is a profound and pervasive threat that affects many aspects of human health and wellbeing.”

    “It deserves the full attention of international leaders, civil society, health professionals, and people around the world. Despite its far-reaching effects on health, the economy and the environment, pollution has been neglected in the international assistance and the global health agendas, and some control strategies have been deeply underfunded.

    And because we don’t study pollution, we have no idea how things like, say, air pollution might be impacting flying insect health, despite the fact that air pollution is the biggest sources of human deaths:


    Air pollution was found to have had the biggest impact on people across the world, with dirty air accounting for around 6.5 million premature deaths in 2015. Meantime, water pollution was responsible for 1.8 million fatalities, while work-related pollution — which caused 800,000 deaths two years ago — posed the next largest risk, the report said.

    So at this point know a few key points:

    1. There appears to be a mass insect die off.

    2. We don’t know its extent because we don’t study it.

    3. If we did study the impact of pollution we’d probably realize that human civilization urgently needs to radically overhaul itself in order to avoid eco-collapse.

    4. The industries that would need to be radically overhauled would rather that not happen. They’d prefer radically overhauling the biosphere instead. By poisoning it.

    5. The inability of humanity to even address this issue is part of a larger existential crisis of our inability to address almost any existential crisis.

    So we know we need to know a lot more, but already know enough to know we’re probably screwed unless we act on the information we already have, and act soon. The reason all of this isn’t obviously an existential threat to everyone and a global unifying issue that prompts humanity, especially policymakers around the globe, to snap out of its daze and clean up its act remains a mystery. Perhaps we should study that too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 22, 2017, 2:13 am
  9. It looks like the recent revelations about George Papadopoulos’s hapless spy games for the Trump campaign already took their first victim: right-wing talk radio host Sam Clovis, one of the Trump campaign members who communicated with Papadopoulos about the attempt to set up meetings with the Russian government, just withdrew from the nomination process for his government position.

    And what position did this right-wing talk radio host get nominated for by the Trump administration? Head of the Department of Agriculture. So was Clovis a right-wing talk radio host who also happened to have some sort scientific background in agriculture? Nope. He has basically no scientific background at all. But he is a fervent booster of right-wing junk science which presumably acts as a qualified and requirement for the Trump administration:

    Vanity Fair

    Russia Probe Finally Forces “Comically Bad” Trump Nominee to Withdraw
    Sam Clovis backed down from his nomination as the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s chief scientist.

    by Maya Kosoff
    November 2, 2017 4:44 pm

    When Iowa conservative talk-radio host and former flight pilot Sam Clovis was tapped by Donald Trump to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s chief scientist, the choice raised more than a few eyebrows—by law, those who serve in the position must reportedly be “among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” Clovis, on the other hand, has a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama, but zero experience in science. “In my judgment, I don’t see how in the world he meets the requirements of the law,” Senator Debbie Stabenow said when Clovis was nominated. “I think this is certainly something we’re exploring.”

    On Monday, Clovis withdrew his name from consideration, but not because he is woefully underqualified. Instead, he decided to withdraw due to his role supervising Trump campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos,, who earlier this month pleaded guilty to lying to F.B.I. investigators about his communications with Russian contacts. “The political climate inside Washington has made it impossible for me to receive balanced and fair consideration for this position,” Clovis, who is currently serving as the U.S.D.A.‘s senior White House adviser, said in a letter to Trump. “The relentless assaults on you and your team seem to be a blood sport that only increases in intensity each day.”

    Clovis was dragged into the Russia probe‘s line of fire when The Washington Post reported earlier this week that he was one of the Trump campaign officials with whom Papadopoulos corresponded. By way of explanation for Clovis‘s apparent encouragement of Papadopoulos‘s outreach efforts to Russians, Clovis‘s attorney, Victoria Toensing, said in a statement that as a ”polite gentleman from Iowa, [he] would have expressed courtesy and appreciation“ for any suggestion made by a campaign volunteer.

    Clovis’s nomination had been contentious for other reasons; besides having no academic background in either science or agriculture, he previously suggested that same-sex marriage could lead to the legalization of pedophilia. He also publicly wondered whether Barack Obama was born in the United States and has questioned the roundly accepted scientific view that human-produced greenhouse gas emissions contribute to and cause global warming.

    In his withdrawal letter to Trump, Clovis suggested that he keep his current post, which doesn’t require Senate confirmation. “[I] will continue to serve at the pleasure of you and the Secretary of Agriculture,” he told the president.

    ———-

    “Russia Probe Finally Forces “Comically Bad” Trump Nominee to Withdraw” by Maya Kosoff; Vanity Fair; 11/02/2017

    “When Iowa conservative talk-radio host and former flight pilot Sam Clovis was tapped by Donald Trump to be the U.S. Department of Agriculture‘s chief scientist, the choice raised more than a few eyebrows—by law, those who serve in the position must reportedly be “among distinguished scientists with specialized training or significant experience in agricultural research, education, and economics.” Clovis, on the other hand, has a doctorate in public administration from the University of Alabama, but zero experience in science. “In my judgment, I don’t see how in the world he meets the requirements of the law,” Senator Debbie Stabenow said when Clovis was nominated. “I think this is certainly something we’re exploring.””

    Yep, Sam Clovis was so grossly unqualified for this position that his nomination may have actually violated the law. And yet that wasn’t what derailed his nomination. Because that’s how the US rolls these days.

    Still, it’s nice to see someone so unqualified that their nomination would probably be illegal not actually get confirmed. Who knows, maybe the next nominee will be someone with an actual background in the science of agriculture.

    Although as the following article about the Environmental Protection Agency’s new rules reminds us, even if Clovis’s replacement nominee is an actual scientist, that doesn’t mean they won’t be an industry shill scientist. In fact, that’s basically the EPA’s new rule: industry shill scientists are now the only scientists allowed to sit on the EPA’s advisory boards. Yep. According to the EPA’s new rule, academic researchers who accepted a government grant to study a topic will not be allowed to serve on the agency’s advisory boards due to supposed concerns of “conflicts of interest.” Conflict of interest concerns that don’t appear to apply to industry representatives:

    Vanity Fair

    Scott Pruitt Primes the E.P.A. for a Fossil-Fuel Takeover
    The E.P.A. chief just cleared the way for industry representatives to flood the agency.
    by

    Maya Kosoff
    November 1, 2017 10:31 am

    In an unprecedented move, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt announced a new, far-reaching directive barring scientists who receive E.P.A. grants from serving on the agency’s advisory boards. Though he pitched the directive as a means to stamp out conflicts of interest—“When we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rule-making, that is not good and that’s not right,” he said at an E.P.A. event on Tuesday—the move will effectively purge the boards of top academic researchers, including experts on environmental science, clearing the way for industry representatives to take their place.

    With the same stroke, Pruitt appointed new chairs to three of the agency’s boards: Michael Honeycutt, the head of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s toxicology division, will serve as the head of the Science Advisory Board. Honeycutt has downplayed concerns over ozone standards as “alarmism,” adding that “most people are indoors for 90 percent of the time.” Tony Cox, who produces research for major industry groups and leads private consultancy Cox Associates, will lead the Clean Air Scientific Advisory Committee; Cox has worked on behalf of the oil industry’s main lobbying group, the American Petroleum Institute, and once suggested that rising global temperatures would prevent the death of the elderly. To run the Board of Scientific Counselors, Pruitt appointed Paul Gilman, an executive at waste incinerator company Covanta. New board members are expected to be announced next week.

    Though it alarmed the scientific community, the directive was par for the course for Pruitt, who has suggested that climate-change science is a debatable matter. So far under his leadership, the agency’s Web site has been scrubbed of all references to climate change, scientists have been shunned in favor of industry insiders, and conference talks addressing climate change have been abruptly canceled.

    Pruitt did not say whether restrictions will be put in place to prevent industry representatives from providing advice on regulations that could help their businesses, a fact Democrats were quick to point out. “Scott Pruitt’s latest move to reject qualified scientists to make room for industry-sponsored individuals isn’t fooling anyone,” said Sen. Tom Carper, the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. “Since he arrived at the agency, Mr. Pruitt has repeatedly worked to silence E.P.A. scientists, deny the facts, and discredit science inconvenient to his agenda; now he’s trying to get rid of the scientists altogether.” Rush Holt, the chief executive officer of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, was even more skeptical. Given the new directive, Holt said in a statement that the association “question[s] whether the E.P.A. can continue to pursue its core mission to protect human health and the environment.”

    ———-

    “Scott Pruitt Primes the E.P.A. for a Fossil-Fuel Takeover” by Maya Kosoff; Vanity Fair; 11/01/2017

    “In an unprecedented move, Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt announced a new, far-reaching directive barring scientists who receive E.P.A. grants from serving on the agency’s advisory boards. Though he pitched the directive as a means to stamp out conflicts of interest—“When we have members of those committees that have received tens of millions of dollars in grants at the same time that they’re advising this agency on rule-making, that is not good and that’s not right,” he said at an E.P.A. event on Tuesday—the move will effectively purge the boards of top academic researchers, including experts on environmental science, clearing the way for industry representatives to take their place.”

    If the government gave you a grant to study a topic the EPA doesn’t want to talk to you. That’s the unprecedented move EPA administration Scott Pruitt just made, and it’s merely the latest move in Pruitt’s quest to give the most polluting industries in the country the ability to pollute with impunity.


    Though it alarmed the scientific community, the directive was par for the course for Pruitt, who has suggested that climate-change science is a debatable matter. So far under his leadership, the agency’s Web site has been scrubbed of all references to climate change, scientists have been shunned in favor of industry insiders, and conference talks addressing climate change have been abruptly canceled.

    Oh, and it probably goes without saying at this point, but it’s worth noting that Scott Pruitt doesn’t actually have a background in science. Although he does have an extensive anti-science resume which presumably makes him extra qualified for the job.

    All in all, it’s pretty apparent that once this Trumpian nightmare ends there’s going to be a massive need for high quality scientists to go work for the EPA…to assess and hopefully reverse the damage to the world and future the EPA is currently accelerating. It’s one of the grand ironies of our age: the non-stop assault on the environment more or less guarantees that environmental science is going to be one of the most important future fields of study on the planet. So while the current news might make the career prospects of environmental science research seem bleak, keep in mind that we’re going to need A LOT of environmental researchers as the collapse of the biosphere progresses.

    Some high quality science in the area of political ponerology would also be quite useful.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 2, 2017, 7:48 pm
  10. Another day, another GOP call for the casual sowing of the seeds of our own destruction. This time it’s the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt, sowing the destructive seeds: Scott Pruitt just reached the next level of climate change denialism. He’s now suggesting that there isn’t enough consideration of the possibility that climate change will help humans flourish and therefore we should all stop acting like climate change is going to be a bad thing. Again, this is the head of the EPA:

    The Guardian

    EPA head Scott Pruitt says global warming may help ‘humans flourish’

    EPA administrator says ‘There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing’

    Oliver Milman in New York
    @olliemilman

    Wed 7 Feb 2018 13.28 EST

    Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, has suggested that global warming may be beneficial to humans, in his latest departure from mainstream climate science.

    Pruitt, who has previously erred by denying that carbon dioxide is a key driver of climate change, has again caused consternation among scientists by suggesting that warming temperatures could benefit civilization.

    The EPA administrator said that humans are contributing to climate “to a certain degree”, but added: “We know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing.

    “Do we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100 or year 2018?” he told a TV station in Nevada. “It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

    Pruitt said he wanted an “honest, transparent debate about what we do know and what we don’t know, so the American people can be informed and make decisions on their own”.

    Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA is mulling whether to stage a televised “red team blue team” debate between climate scientists and those who deny the established science that human activity is warming the planet.

    The EPA itself is unequivocal that warming temperatures, and resulting environmental changes, are a danger to human health via heatwaves, smoke from increased wildfires, worsening smog, extreme weather events, spread of diseases, water-borne illnesses and food insecurity.

    This array of health-related challenges has prompted the medical journal the Lancet to state that tackling climate change will be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.

    National security experts, including those at the Pentagon, have also warned that climate change is set to create a sprawling humanitarian challenge, as millions of people look to escape failing crops, inundated land, drought and conflict.

    Research has pointed to some potential benefits in certain areas of the world, such as areas of the Arctic opening up to agriculture and shipping as frozen soils thaw and sea ice recedes. Deaths from severe cold are also expected to drop, albeit offset by rising mortality from heatwaves.

    Human civilization has, until now, developed in a relatively stable climate. Rising temperatures, of around 1C since the industrial revolution, are pushing humanity into an environment it has never previously experienced. The last time sea surface temperatures were as high as now was around 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were up to 9m higher than today’s average.

    “As the evidence becomes ever more compelling that climate change is real and human-caused, the forces of denial turn to other specious arguments, like ‘it will be good for us’,” said Michael Mann, a climate scientist at Penn State University.

    “There is no consistency at all to their various arguments other than that we should continue to burn fossil fuels.”

    Since being installed by Trump to lead the EPA, Pruitt has overseen the repeal or delay of dozens of environmental rules, including the Obama administration’s clean power plan, which sought to curb greenhouse gas emissions from coal-fired power plants.

    “There was a declared war on coal, a war on fossil fuels,” Pruitt said in his Nevada interview. “The EPA was weaponized against certain sectors of our economy and that’s not the role of a regulator. Renewables need to be part of our energy mix, but to think that will be the dominant fuel is simply fanciful.”

    ———-

    “EPA head Scott Pruitt says global warming may help ‘humans flourish'” by Oliver Milman; The Guardian; 02/07/2018

    Human civilization has, until now, developed in a relatively stable climate. Rising temperatures, of around 1C since the industrial revolution, are pushing humanity into an environment it has never previously experienced. The last time sea surface temperatures were as high as now was around 120,000 years ago, when sea levels were up to 9m higher than today’s average.”

    Yep, as the projected climate change plays out, humanity is going to be entering an environment that is unprecedented in human history. A much warmer Earth might be precedented for, say, alligators. But not humans. And that unprecedented climate is the climate EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt thinks has a good chance of leading to human flourishing. And he makes this prediction over the unequivocal views of the EPA’s scientists that climate change will have a net overall negative impact and the Pentagon’s assessment that it’s a national security risk:


    The EPA itself is unequivocal that warming temperatures, and resulting environmental changes, are a danger to human health via heatwaves, smoke from increased wildfires, worsening smog, extreme weather events, spread of diseases, water-borne illnesses and food insecurity.

    This array of health-related challenges has prompted the medical journal the Lancet to state that tackling climate change will be “the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century”.

    National security experts, including those at the Pentagon, have also warned that climate change is set to create a sprawling humanitarian challenge, as millions of people look to escape failing crops, inundated land, drought and conflict.

    Yes, the head of the EPA is in a league of his own when it comes to his reckless optimism. Ok, he’s not alone in that reckless optimism. Lots of people on the payroll of climate denialism lobby share Pruitt’s optimism. And the far-right around the world generally wants to see some sort of global environmental cataclysm. But within the community of public professionals tasked with responsibly dealing with issues like climate change, Scott Pruitt, the head of the EPA, is in a league of his own. A catastrophically irresponsible league of his own:


    The EPA administrator said that humans are contributing to climate “to a certain degree”, but added: “We know humans have most flourished during times of warming trends. There are assumptions made that because the climate is warming that necessarily is a bad thing.

    “Do we know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100 or year 2018?” he told a TV station in Nevada. “It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

    “It’s fairly arrogant for us to think we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”

    It’s the people who take the perils of rapid climate change seriously who are the arrogant ones. He seriously said that.

    And in a move that is simultaneously intriguing and ominous, Pruitt has been pushing for some sort of public debate between the climate change deniers like himself and the rest of the climate science community. It’s intriguing because one of the plagues of our times is the compartmentalization of information exacerbated by the internet and modern media, where people can live in ideological bubbles and remain walled off from outside information. So a public debate of this nature presents an opportunity to expose the segments of the American public – specifically the Fox New/Breitbart crowd – to a potentially educating experience. But it’s an ominous idea because it could easily be a miseducational experience for the public and filled with lies and faulty reasoning. And Scott Pruitt probably wouldn’t propose such an idea unless he was confident it could further his agenda. It’s kind of tragic that proposals for public debates have to be recognized as potential traps designed to further Big Lie agendas, but that’s where we are. The age of the Bizarro Enlightenment:


    Pruitt said he wanted an “honest, transparent debate about what we do know and what we don’t know, so the American people can be informed and make decisions on their own”.

    Under Pruitt’s leadership, the EPA is mulling whether to stage a televised “red team blue team” debate between climate scientists and those who deny the established science that human activity is warming the planet.

    And this debate proposal raises a question: since the climate denialism lobby uses a variety of mutually incompatible argues in its denialism, which one will they take in Scott Pruitt’s debate? Will they argue that there’s no actual warming going on? That it’s actually cooling? That there is warming but it’s all primarily caused by the sun and/or water vapor and carbon emissions don’t matter? All of the above?

    We’ll see. Since the general of idea of climate denialists like Pruitt is to sow enough doubt about climate science to get the public to not take it seriously. odds are we’ll see a bit of all of those arguments and a whole bunch of other ones. And one argument we’ll likely here is an extension of the argument Pruitt was just making, which is that some parts of the world will net-benefit from warming. Specifically, cold parts of the world:


    Research has pointed to some potential benefits in certain areas of the world, such as areas of the Arctic opening up to agriculture and shipping as frozen soils thaw and sea ice recedes. Deaths from severe cold are also expected to drop, albeit offset by rising mortality from heatwaves.

    So, since Scott Pruitt is signalling that the ‘benefits of climate change’ will be one of the arguments we can expect to hear more of in the future, here’s an article about an example of exactly that. Specifically, the agricultural benefits of climate change to Canada. As the article points out, there’s an estimated 26-40 percent growth in the amount of arable land in the now-frozen plains of Candad thaw and that makes Candada one of the biggest expected beneficiaries of climate change in the world. The article notes how it’s largely expected that countries like Canada are going to have to export even more food as its yields increase because so much of the rest of the world is going to see their food sources shrink. So Canada really might benefit pretty significantly from climate change. It will have more land to grow food, and demand for food will be up globally as arable land and other food sources are lost elsewhere.

    So, yes, if you ignore living in a world in chaos, Canada might end up being one of the biggest beneficiaries of a warming planet. Because it’s going to be able to grow more food while the rest of the world goes increasingly hungry. In other words, it’s an example of a country benefiting from climate change that includes the implicit assumption that climate change is a disaster for the rest of the world.

    And as the article also points out, climate change could still end up being a disaster for Canada too. Because the warmer it gets, the more likely Canada will experience a repeat of the ‘dust bowl’ conditions that ravaged Canada in the 1930’s along with the US. So if warming is worse that Scott Pruitt is optimistically assuming it’s going to be, even Canada might shrivel under the heat. And then there’s all the other extreme weather events that are only going to get more and more extreme the warming it gets. Like flooding.

    And as the article grimly notes at the end, as bad as these risks are for Canada’s agricultural future, they’re not as bad as the risks farther south in the US. So, yes, the is some good news with climate change. For Canada and pretty much only Canada. And presumably the US with Alaska. There might be farming up there. And countries liek Russia and Finland. And that will pretty much be it in terms of the countries that might economically benefit. Because the rest of the world will be aflame as civilization buckles under the heat. So Canada’s climate-change ‘good news’ is only relatively good because it’s so bad for almost everyone else:

    Reuters

    In Canada, climate change could open new farmland to the plow

    Chris Arsenault
    September 24, 2017 / 3:02 AM

    TORONTO (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – As global warming intensifies droughts and floods, causing crop failures in many parts of the world, Canada may see something different: a farming expansion.

    Rising temperatures could open millions of once frigid acres to the plow, officials, farmers and scientists predict.

    “Canada is one of the few countries where climate change may create some opportunities for growing crops in northern latitudes,” said Rod Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a lobby group representing 200,000 farmers.

    But determining just how much land in the world’s second largest country could become suitable for farming as a result of climate change is not easy, said Ian Jarvis, a senior official with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a government department.

    In the country’s three prairie provinces alone – vast swaths of flat land in central Canada covering an area more than twice the size of France – the amount of arable land could rise between 26 and 40 percent by 2040, Jarvis said.

    “Most of the improvements are happening in fringe areas of agricultural regions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Canada is in a better situation than much of the rest of the world.”

    HUNGRY MOUTHS

    Canada is the world’s largest exporter of canola, flaxseed, and pulses, government figures show, and is one of the top wheat producers.

    Farmers hope the country of 35 million will be able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by warmer conditions – including by exporting more food to other regions hard-hit by increasing heat and crop failure.

    World agricultural production will need to rise about 50 percent by 2050 to keep pace with population growth, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    As rising heat and more extreme weather cut harvests in some southern regions, hungry mouths across the developing world may turn to northern nations like Canada for help, experts predict.

    “We are seen as one of the few countries that can provide food for a growing global population,” said Bonnett of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

    ‘DUST BOWL’ RISK

    One main obstacle stands in the way of Canada expanding its farmland, farmers and officials say: a potential lack of water.

    “Canada could benefit more than most from climate change, but it hinges on its ability to manage its water resources,” said Hank Venema, a researcher with the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

    Canada’s prairies, home to about 80 percent of its farmland, were devastated by the same long-term “Dust Bowl” drought that hit the United States in the 1930s, leading to farm failures and huge losses of topsoil.

    It’s a problem that could repeat itself as temperatures warm, leading to faster water losses, Venema warned.

    In response to the 1930s drought, Canada’s government at that time launched an ambitious effort to plant trees, store more water in the region, and rehabilitate farmland.

    Similar public works may be key to capitalizing on today’s shifting climate, Venema said.

    WILD WEATHER

    Alongside fears about water shortages, rising temperatures present other big risks for Canada’s farmers, including more frequent crop-damaging storms and other wild weather.

    “While there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of Canada’s agriculture industry, one thing is clear: we are likely to see more extreme weather events, soil erosion and higher average temperatures,” noted Federated Insurance, a Canadian firm that evaluates risks for farmers.

    But Canada is unlikely to face problems as severe as those south of the border.

    Without adaptation to the new conditions, some U.S. Midwestern and southern counties could see yields decline by more than 10 percent over the next 25 years, according to Risky Business, a research initiative chaired by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

    “I do not think you are going to see places in the deep south where agriculture is going to be obliterated. But it may have to adapt to different crop varieties,” said Mark Robson, a professor of plant biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

    Northern sections of the United States, including along the Atlantic coast, will see longer growing seasons as a result of climate change, added Robson. That should allow them to plant new crops, like their Canadian counterparts.

    But insect pests and plant diseases will also move north, and farmers will need new strategies to deal with them, he said.

    ‘NOT A HAPPY PICTURE’

    For Canada, most analysts and farmers believe the potential rewards of climate change will outweigh the risks – at least over the next 30 years.

    But if heat keeps on rising and causes greater water shortages and crop failures, Canada could see a decrease in farm productivity by the end of the century, said agriculture official Jarvis.

    For now, improvements in farm technology, drought-resistant crops and new harvesting methods mean farmers should be poised to ramp up production as temperatures warm.

    “Canada could be playing a bigger role providing the food for the world as heat rises,” Jarvis said.

    “Other countries are going to be affected (by climate change) much worse than we are,” he said. “It’s not a really happy picture overall.”

    ———-

    “In Canada, climate change could open new farmland to the plow” by Chris Arsenault; Reuters; 09/24/2017

    “Other countries are going to be affected (by climate change) much worse than we are…It’s not a really happy picture overall.”

    It’s not a really happy picture overall. Sage advice from the Canadian agriculture official. And that sage advice includes all the extra food Canada gets to grow as its arable land increases:


    “Canada is one of the few countries where climate change may create some opportunities for growing crops in northern latitudes,” said Rod Bonnett, president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, a lobby group representing 200,000 farmers.

    But determining just how much land in the world’s second largest country could become suitable for farming as a result of climate change is not easy, said Ian Jarvis, a senior official with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, a government department.

    In the country’s three prairie provinces alone – vast swaths of flat land in central Canada covering an area more than twice the size of France – the amount of arable land could rise between 26 and 40 percent by 2040, Jarvis said.

    “Most of the improvements are happening in fringe areas of agricultural regions,” he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “Canada is in a better situation than much of the rest of the world.”

    Canada. One of the few lucky ones. Everyone celebrate.

    But it could be worse. There might not be any lucky countries at all when it comes to climate change and then who would feed the world? Because someone is going to have to thanks to all the damage climate change is going to do to almost all the places in the world that aren’t Canada:


    HUNGRY MOUTHS

    Canada is the world’s largest exporter of canola, flaxseed, and pulses, government figures show, and is one of the top wheat producers.

    Farmers hope the country of 35 million will be able to capitalize on the opportunities presented by warmer conditions – including by exporting more food to other regions hard-hit by increasing heat and crop failure.

    World agricultural production will need to rise about 50 percent by 2050 to keep pace with population growth, according to the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

    As rising heat and more extreme weather cut harvests in some southern regions, hungry mouths across the developing world may turn to northern nations like Canada for help, experts predict.

    “We are seen as one of the few countries that can provide food for a growing global population,” said Bonnett of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.

    And these estimates that Canada’s agriculture will benefit from a warming planet also include the very real possibility that climate change will deliver Canada a giant dust dowl instead:


    ‘DUST BOWL’ RISK

    One main obstacle stands in the way of Canada expanding its farmland, farmers and officials say: a potential lack of water.

    “Canada could benefit more than most from climate change, but it hinges on its ability to manage its water resources,” said Hank Venema, a researcher with the Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development.

    Canada’s prairies, home to about 80 percent of its farmland, were devastated by the same long-term “Dust Bowl” drought that hit the United States in the 1930s, leading to farm failures and huge losses of topsoil.

    It’s a problem that could repeat itself as temperatures warm, leading to faster water losses, Venema warned.

    In response to the 1930s drought, Canada’s government at that time launched an ambitious effort to plant trees, store more water in the region, and rehabilitate farmland.

    Similar public works may be key to capitalizing on today’s shifting climate, Venema said.

    “Canada’s prairies, home to about 80 percent of its farmland, were devastated by the same long-term “Dust Bowl” drought that hit the United States in the 1930s, leading to farm failures and huge losses of topsoil.”

    Too much warming and it’s giant dust bowl time for Canada’s agricultural heartland. A heartland that’s going to be needed to feed the world. Behold the future flourishing.

    And if the dust bowl doesn’t hit the thawed out Canada of the future, rest of the extreme weather will. And maybe the extreme weather will hit with the dust bowl too:


    WILD WEATHER

    Alongside fears about water shortages, rising temperatures present other big risks for Canada’s farmers, including more frequent crop-damaging storms and other wild weather.

    “While there’s a lot of uncertainty surrounding the future of Canada’s agriculture industry, one thing is clear: we are likely to see more extreme weather events, soil erosion and higher average temperatures,” noted Federated Insurance, a Canadian firm that evaluates risks for farmers.

    And as ominous as the ‘good news’ is for Canada, it only gets worse the closer you get to the equator:


    But Canada is unlikely to face problems as severe as those south of the border.

    Without adaptation to the new conditions, some U.S. Midwestern and southern counties could see yields decline by more than 10 percent over the next 25 years, according to Risky Business, a research initiative chaired by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson.

    “I do not think you are going to see places in the deep south where agriculture is going to be obliterated. But it may have to adapt to different crop varieties,” said Mark Robson, a professor of plant biology at Rutgers University in New Jersey.

    Northern sections of the United States, including along the Atlantic coast, will see longer growing seasons as a result of climate change, added Robson. That should allow them to plant new crops, like their Canadian counterparts.

    But insect pests and plant diseases will also move north, and farmers will need new strategies to deal with them, he said.

    And that’s all why the ‘good news’ for Canada is actually catastrophically bad news. It’s like finding out you won the lottery, but you might end up losing bigger later and the winnings come at the future cost of global stability. It’s a lottery you really don’t want to win:


    ‘NOT A HAPPY PICTURE’

    For Canada, most analysts and farmers believe the potential rewards of climate change will outweigh the risks – at least over the next 30 years.

    But if heat keeps on rising and causes greater water shortages and crop failures, Canada could see a decrease in farm productivity by the end of the century, said agriculture official Jarvis.

    And, of course, it gets worse. That’s pretty much how climate science works in our context: the more we learn, the worse it gets. Because rapid climate change is actually really bad, despite Scott Pruitt’s optimism. So what did researchers just learn that makes this bad situation worse? Well, it’s the kind of finding that might not bode well for Canada’s agricultural future. Or Canada’s public health: It turns out the permafrost around the Arctic holds more mercury than the rest of the world’s land and oceans combined. And as that permafrost melts, which is happening in places like Canada and Alaska, all that mercury is going to be released. Into the soil first and eventually into the oceans. And eventually into fish. So it’s the kind of new bad news that’s especially for for Canada and the rest of the cold places but still quite bad for everyone else:

    Quartz

    The rapidly-thawing permafrost is full of mercury

    Written by Zoë Schlanger
    February 09, 2018

    As the Frozen North becomes, well, less-frozen, plenty of ancient and unsettling things could emerge from the great permafrost thaw, like giant viruses and vast stores of greenhouse gases. Apparently we need to add the neurotoxin mercury to that list.

    The biggest continual human source of airborne mercury emissions is from small-scale gold mining, followed closely by coal-burning in power plants. After spending some time in the air, that mercury falls to earth, contaminating soil and water, and ending up in our food chain. Mercury is a neurotoxin known to cause cognitive dysfunction and other ailments. Even small amounts can affect a developing fetus in utero.

    But mercury is also naturally occurring, like the kind that’s been locked away for millennia in the ancient frozen soils of Arctic permafrost. And there’s a lot more of it there than we realized.

    According to a study published Monday (Feb. 5) in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the Arctic permafrost, which, combined with permafrost in the Antarctic covers roughly 20% of the Earth’s surface, holds an estimated 15 million gallons of naturally-occurring mercury. That’s roughly 10 times more mercury there than all the mercury humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 30 years, according to National Geographic. It’s also almost twice as much mercury contained by all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined, according to the paper, which is the first to quantify how much mercury is trapped in the permafrost.

    Right now, the permafrost mercury is mostly locked alongside all the other ancient material in the frozen ground. But it is thawing at a rapid clip, thanks to climate change. The Arctic, home to plenty of permafrost, is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world.

    Already, researchers are worried about all the methane the permafrost is set to release (and is already releasing) as previously frozen organic material from the last ice ages thaws and begins to decompose. The release of all this methane—a potent greenhouse gas—could hypothetically accelerate global warming in ways not yet accounted for in our global climate models.

    The implications of significant additions of mercury into the environment are very different than those associated with methane. Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey who led the study, told Chemical & Engineering News he predicts the mercury will eventually end up in oceans, where it could potentially contaminate fisheries stocks. Fish is already the biggest source of human mercury exposure, and the permafrost could cause the baseline level of mercury present in fish to rise.

    The new research doesn’t answer questions about how, when, and how much mercury could be released as the permafrost thaws. The thawing rate is dependent on the rate of global warming, as well as other feedback loops, like the fact that as permafrost thaws, it creates lakes of meltwater called “thermokarst lakes.” The accumulating meltwater—which is warmer than the deeper permafrost beneath it—causes the permafrost to melt further.

    ———-

    “The rapidly-thawing permafrost is full of mercury” by Zoë Schlanger; Quartz; 02/09/2018

    “According to a study published Monday (Feb. 5) in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, the Arctic permafrost, which, combined with permafrost in the Antarctic covers roughly 20% of the Earth’s surface, holds an estimated 15 million gallons of naturally-occurring mercury. That’s roughly 10 times more mercury there than all the mercury humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 30 years, according to National Geographic. It’s also almost twice as much mercury contained by all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined, according to the paper, which is the first to quantify how much mercury is trapped in the permafrost.”

    Roughly 10 times more mercury is trapped in that permafrost we’re melting than all the mercury humans have pumped into the atmosphere over the last 30 years. And it’s also almost twice as much mercury contained by all other soils, the ocean, and the atmosphere combined. That’s a lot of mercury. And we’re all about to start consuming it. Because don’t forget, all that land that’s about to get extra hefty doses of new Mercury are the places that are going to have to feed the world. It’s the same soil. And as this permafrost melts, that’s already known to release large amounts of methane, a potent greenhouse gas. So the release of the mercury is tied to a self-reinforcing dynamic that’s going to release more and more mercury. Along with more and more of all the other bad stuff that’s going to happen:


    Right now, the permafrost mercury is mostly locked alongside all the other ancient material in the frozen ground. But it is thawing at a rapid clip, thanks to climate change. The Arctic, home to plenty of permafrost, is warming twice as quickly as the rest of the world.

    Already, researchers are worried about all the methane the permafrost is set to release (and is already releasing) as previously frozen organic material from the last ice ages thaws and begins to decompose. The release of all this methane—a potent greenhouse gas—could hypothetically accelerate global warming in ways not yet accounted for in our global climate models.

    The implications of significant additions of mercury into the environment are very different than those associated with methane. Paul Schuster, a hydrologist at the US Geological Survey who led the study, told Chemical & Engineering News he predicts the mercury will eventually end up in oceans, where it could potentially contaminate fisheries stocks. Fish is already the biggest source of human mercury exposure, and the permafrost could cause the baseline level of mercury present in fish to rise.

    And, of course, more research is needed. In part because all the feed-back loops that could make things worse make the climate models extra complicated:


    The new research doesn’t answer questions about how, when, and how much mercury could be released as the permafrost thaws. The thawing rate is dependent on the rate of global warming, as well as other feedback loops, like the fact that as permafrost thaws, it creates lakes of meltwater called “thermokarst lakes.” The accumulating meltwater—which is warmer than the deeper permafrost beneath it—causes the permafrost to melt further.

    And don’t forget that the future research that’s needed to investigate issues like the release of mercury from melting permafrost is exactly the kind of research Scott Pruitt is trying to shut down as head of the EPA.

    So we have a growing number of reasons for concern about calamitous consequences of rapid climate change, even for countries like Canada, paired with a climate denialist EPA administrator who feels that people aren’t paying more attention to the possibility that humanity might flourish under a warming climate. It’s one of those situations that raises the question of whether or not the far-right is trying to instigate a global climate catastrophe that kills off a massive number of people.

    And that’s why it’s worth recall one of the more disturbing stories about the forces behind climate denialism: In 2010, Jane Mayer wrote a story about the Koch brothers and their role as lead funders of the climate denialism complex. And it included a description of one of the most disturbing-sounding exhibits at the Smithsonian Museums that’s ever been created. The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History. It was a “multimedia exploration of the theory that mankind evolved in response to climate change”. The exhibit barely mentioned fossil fuels and other man-made sources of contemporary climate change, and it includes an interactive game that suggests that humans will continue to adapt to climate change in the future. People may build “underground cities,” developing “short, compact bodies” or “curved spines,” so that “moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.”

    And don’t forget that the Koch brothers are major financial backers of Scott Pruitt. So the backers of the current head of the EPA bought themselves a Smithsonian Museum exhibit back in 2010 with a big donation. And this exhibit is dedicated to climate change and human evolution and peddling a meme of humans physically evolving in response to climate change. So if you’re wonder what the billionaires pushing the pro-climate change agenda have in mind the future, it’s apparently the evolution of humanity at some point in the future to deal with the climate change:

    The New Yorker

    The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.

    By Jane Mayer
    August 30, 2010 Issue
    Covert Operations

    On May 17th, a black-tie audience at the Metropolitan Opera House applauded as a tall, jovial-looking billionaire took the stage. It was the seventieth annual spring gala of American Ballet Theatre, and David H. Koch was being celebrated for his generosity as a member of the board of trustees; he had recently donated $2.5 million toward the company’s upcoming season, and had given many millions before that. Koch received an award while flanked by two of the gala’s co-chairs, Blaine Trump, in a peach-colored gown, and Caroline Kennedy Schlossberg, in emerald green. Kennedy’s mother, Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, had been a patron of the ballet and, coincidentally, the previous owner of a Fifth Avenue apartment that Koch had bought, in 1995, and then sold, eleven years later, for thirty-two million dollars, having found it too small.

    The gala marked the social ascent of Koch, who, at the age of seventy, has become one of the city’s most prominent philanthropists. In 2008, he donated a hundred million dollars to modernize Lincoln Center’s New York State Theatre building, which now bears his name. He has given twenty million to the American Museum of Natural History, whose dinosaur wing is named for him. This spring, after noticing the decrepit state of the fountains outside the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Koch pledged at least ten million dollars for their renovation. He is a trustee of the museum, perhaps the most coveted social prize in the city, and serves on the board of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, where, after he donated more than forty million dollars, an endowed chair and a research center were named for him.

    The Kochs are longtime libertarians who believe in drastically lower personal and corporate taxes, minimal social services for the needy, and much less oversight of industry—especially environmental regulation. These views dovetail with the brothers’ corporate interests. In a study released this spring, the University of Massachusetts at Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute named Koch Industries one of the top ten air polluters in the United States. And Greenpeace issued a report identifying the company as a “kingpin of climate science denial.” The report showed that, from 2005 to 2008, the Kochs vastly outdid ExxonMobil in giving money to organizations fighting legislation related to climate change, underwriting a huge network of foundations, think tanks, and political front groups. Indeed, the brothers have funded opposition campaigns against so many Obama Administration policies—from health-care reform to the economic-stimulus program—that, in political circles, their ideological network is known as the Kochtopus.

    The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is a multimedia exploration of the theory that mankind evolved in response to climate change. At the main entrance, viewers are confronted with a giant graph charting the Earth’s temperature over the past ten million years, which notes that it is far cooler now than it was ten thousand years ago. Overhead, the text reads, “HUMANS EVOLVED IN RESPONSE TO A CHANGING WORLD.” The message, as amplified by the exhibit’s Web site, is that “key human adaptations evolved in response to environmental instability.” Only at the end of the exhibit, under the headline “OUR SURVIVAL CHALLENGE,” is it noted that levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than they have ever been, and that they are projected to increase dramatically in the next century. No cause is given for this development; no mention is made of any possible role played by fossil fuels. The exhibit makes it seem part of a natural continuum. The accompanying text says, “During the period in which humans evolved, Earth’s temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fluctuated together.” An interactive game in the exhibit suggests that humans will continue to adapt to climate change in the future. People may build “underground cities,” developing “short, compact bodies” or “curved spines,” so that “moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.”

    Such ideas uncannily echo the Koch message. The company’s January newsletter to employees, for instance, argues that “fluctuations in the earth’s climate predate humanity,” and concludes, “Since we can’t control Mother Nature, let’s figure out how to get along with her changes.” Joseph Romm, a physicist who runs the Web site ClimateProgress.org, is infuriated by the Smithsonian’s presentation. “The whole exhibit whitewashes the modern climate issue,” he said. “I think the Kochs wanted to be seen as some sort of high-minded company, associated with the greatest natural-history and science museum in the country. But the truth is, the exhibit is underwritten by big-time polluters, who are underground funders of action to stop efforts to deal with this threat to humanity. I think the Smithsonian should have drawn the line.”

    Cristián Samper, the museum’s director, said that the exhibit is not about climate change, and described Koch as “one of the best donors we’ve had, in my tenure here, because he’s very interested in the content, but completely hands off.” He noted, “I don’t know all the details of his involvement in other issues.”

    The Kochs have long depended on the public’s not knowing all the details about them. They have been content to operate what David Koch has called “the largest company that you’ve never heard of.” But with the growing prominence of the Tea Party, and with increased awareness of the Kochs’ ties to the movement, the brothers may find it harder to deflect scrutiny. Recently, President Obama took aim at the Kochs’ political network. Speaking at a Democratic National Committee fund-raiser, in Austin, he warned supporters that the Supreme Court’s recent ruling in the Citizens United case—which struck down laws prohibiting direct corporate spending on campaigns—had made it even easier for big companies to hide behind “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity.” Obama said, “They don’t have to say who, exactly, Americans for Prosperity are. You don’t know if it’s a foreign-controlled corporation”—or even, he added, “a big oil company.”

    ———-

    “The billionaire brothers who are waging a war against Obama.” by Jane Mayer; The New Yorker; 08/30/2010

    “The David H. Koch Hall of Human Origins, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History, is a multimedia exploration of the theory that mankind evolved in response to climate change. At the main entrance, viewers are confronted with a giant graph charting the Earth’s temperature over the past ten million years, which notes that it is far cooler now than it was ten thousand years ago. Overhead, the text reads, “HUMANS EVOLVED IN RESPONSE TO A CHANGING WORLD.” The message, as amplified by the exhibit’s Web site, is that “key human adaptations evolved in response to environmental instability.” Only at the end of the exhibit, under the headline “OUR SURVIVAL CHALLENGE,” is it noted that levels of carbon dioxide are higher now than they have ever been, and that they are projected to increase dramatically in the next century. No cause is given for this development; no mention is made of any possible role played by fossil fuels. The exhibit makes it seem part of a natural continuum. The accompanying text says, “During the period in which humans evolved, Earth’s temperature and the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere fluctuated together.” An interactive game in the exhibit suggests that humans will continue to adapt to climate change in the future. People may build “underground cities,” developing “short, compact bodies” or “curved spines,” so that “moving around in tight spaces will be no problem.”

    Perhaps that’s the likely plan for humanity in the minds of people like the Koch brothers and Scott Pruitt: Humanity will just evolve. Ok, well, not all of humanity. Most of us will have to die off in a century or two of climate calamity and war. And the survivors will presumably have to employ transhumanist technology and genetically engineer themselves for human evolution to happen in time to adapt with rapid climate change. But don’t forget that the far-right often views a mass die off of most of humanity as a prerequisite for humanity to ‘flourish’. It’s one of the problems with the far-right. They tend to embrace mass death as a bridge to a flourishing tomorrow.

    But what we can say for sure is that if people like the Kochs or Pruitt have a plan for humanity for a much warmer future, it’s presumably a plan involving warming the planet as much as possible as fast as possible because that is the only realistic consequence of their actions. And thus far it’s the Kochs of the world who are largely winning on this front. Far too little is being done to prevent climate change despite the growing bad news on this front. So we really could see very rapid warming that feeds upon itself in ways that starve the world. And maybe give much of the world mercury poisoning too. So if humanity is going to adapt, it had better adapt to live in an environment that’s in the process of collapsing because the environment can’t realistically adapt to all the man-made insults. And adapt to high mercury levels. And drought. And floods. That’s all a lot adaptation.

    Or we could evolve our politics and have actual qualified scientists who actually care about a flourishing future running government agencies like the EPA instead of insanely optimistic diabolical fools like Scott Pruitt.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 12, 2018, 12:29 am
  11. Remember those studies that indicated that just 2 percent of wild bees do 80 percent of the work done by wild bee in pollinating crops and that these wild bees could be particularly important for keeping ecosystems and pollination continuing during climate change? Well, it looks like a lot of the ecosystems in and around federal wildlife refuges might have to make due without those wild bees, because the Trump administration just rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of GMO crops and neonicotinoids in wildlife refuges that allow for agricultural cultivation. Yep, there’s programs that allow for agriculture in wildlife refuges. According to Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan, the neonicotinoids might be needed to “to fulfill needed farming practices.” In other words, if you’re a wild be or any other animal vulnerable to neonicotinoids, wildlife refuges aren’t actually going to be refuges:

    Reuters

    Trump administration lifts GMO crop ban for U.S. wildlife refuges

    Laura Zuckerman
    August 3, 2018 / 8:55 PM

    (Reuters) – The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted.

    Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the 2-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats afforded by wildlife refuges.

    “Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keating, federal lands policy analyst for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

    Limited agricultural activity is authorized on some refuges by law, including cooperative agreements in which farmers are permitted to grow certain crops to produce more food or improve habitat for the wildlife there.

    The rollback, spelled out in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo, ends a policy that had prohibited farmers on refuges from planting biotech crops – such as soybeans and corn – engineered to resist insect pests and weed-controlling herbicides.

    That policy also had barred the use on wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in conjunction with GMO crops. Neonics are a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of wild bees and other pollinating insects around the world.

    Rather than continuing to impose a blanket ban on GMO crops and neonics on refuges, Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in Thursday’s memo that decisions about their use would be made on a case-by-case basis.

    Sheehan said the move was needed to ensure adequate forage for migratory birds, including ducks and geese – favored and hunted by sportsmen on many of the nation’s refuges. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, has made expansion of hunting on public lands a priority for his agency.

    Sheehan wrote that genetically modified organisms have helped “maximize production, and that neonicotinoids might be needed “to fulfill needed farming practices.”

    In a 2014 Obama administration memo announcing plans to phase in the ban, Jim Kurth, head of the refuge system, wrote that seeds treated with neonics give rise to plants whose tissues contained compounds that could harm “non-target” species. He also said, “refuges throughout the country successfully meet wildlife management objectives without” GMOs or neonics.

    Thursday’s memo named 50-plus national wildlife refuges across the country where the revised policy now applies. The entire system consists 560 refuge units encompassing roughly 150 million acres nationwide.

    ———-

    “Trump administration lifts GMO crop ban for U.S. wildlife refuges” by Laura Zuckerman; Reuters; 08/03/2018

    “The Trump administration has rescinded an Obama-era ban on the use of pesticides linked to declining bee populations and the cultivation of genetically modified crops in dozens of national wildlife refuges where farming is permitted.”

    GMO crops and neonicotinoids on wildlife refuges. What could possibly go wrong?

    Keep in mind that the primary concerns about GMO crops isn’t that they use GMO technology. It’s that the GMO technology is typically used to make the crop super resistant to particular pesticides that can then be used in extremely high quantities, leading to pesticide pollution and super-bugs. That’s the big problem with GMOs and those problems are amplified in an insane way by bringing them to wildlife refuges. It’s literally a recipe for bringing pesticides to the wildlife refuge if the GMO crops are the kind that allow for heavy pesticides.

    And, of course, the environmentalists are pointing out that industrial agricultural practices are a grave threat to the many pollinating insects in this wildlife refuge so this is a bad idea and no one is listening to them. Their dire warnings unheeded. So long little wild bees! You’ve been deprioritized!


    Environmentalists, who had sued to bring about the 2-year-old ban, said on Friday that lifting the restriction poses a grave threat to pollinating insects and other sensitive creatures relying on toxic-free habitats afforded by wildlife refuges.

    “Industrial agriculture has no place on refuges dedicated to wildlife conservation and protection of some of the most vital and vulnerable species,” said Jenny Keating, federal lands policy analyst for the group Defenders of Wildlife.

    And while the general use of pesticides is inevitably going to be destabilizing to the insects in general in these wildlife refuges (and the all the critters feeding on those insects), the use of neonicotinoids is particularly devastating to the ecosystem given its specific attack on bees and other pollinators. Like all those crucial wild bees. The new policy treats each neonicotinoid on a case-by-case basis. Which, for the Trump administration, means probably whatever the industry wants. So some neonicotinoids will be allowed for in the private agricultural use of wildlife refuges, maybe not all neonicotinoids. It will be case by case. Whoopie:


    Limited agricultural activity is authorized on some refuges by law, including cooperative agreements in which farmers are permitted to grow certain crops to produce more food or improve habitat for the wildlife there.

    The rollback, spelled out in a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service memo, ends a policy that had prohibited farmers on refuges from planting biotech crops – such as soybeans and corn – engineered to resist insect pests and weed-controlling herbicides.

    That policy also had barred the use on wildlife refuges of neonicotinoid pesticides, or neonics, in conjunction with GMO crops. Neonics are a class of insecticides tied by research to declining populations of wild bees and other pollinating insects around the world.

    Rather than continuing to impose a blanket ban on GMO crops and neonics on refuges, Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan said in Thursday’s memo that decisions about their use would be made on a case-by-case basis.

    Sheehan said the move was needed to ensure adequate forage for migratory birds, including ducks and geese – favored and hunted by sportsmen on many of the nation’s refuges. U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, whose department oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, has made expansion of hunting on public lands a priority for his agency.

    Sheehan wrote that genetically modified organisms have helped “maximize production, and that neonicotinoids might be needed “to fulfill needed farming practices.”

    “Sheehan wrote that genetically modified organisms have helped “maximize production, and that neonicotinoids might be needed “to fulfill needed farming practices.””

    Yikes. Those are some scary words from Fish and Wildlife Service Deputy Director Greg Sheehan. Maximized production of agriculture on federal wildlife refuges and how neonicotinoids might be needed to “fulfill need farming practices”.
    Good luck, wild bees, you aren’t a “wildlife management objective”:


    In a 2014 Obama administration memo announcing plans to phase in the ban, Jim Kurth, head of the refuge system, wrote that seeds treated with neonics give rise to plants whose tissues contained compounds that could harm “non-target” species. He also said, “refuges throughout the country successfully meet wildlife management objectives without” GMOs or neonics.

    But at least this new policy only applies to 50 of the 560 US wildlife refuges. We’ll see how much it grows. Which, under the Trump adminstration, just means there are 510 refuges to go:


    Thursday’s memo named 50-plus national wildlife refuges across the country where the revised policy now applies. The entire system consists 560 refuge units encompassing roughly 150 million acres nationwide.

    So that’s the Trump administration’s new policy regarding neonicotinoids and GMO crops on US wildlife refuges: the bees have been deprioritized. Their refuges need to be borrowed by some farmers.

    It’s all a reminder that the Trump administration really hates refugees. Especially the bee refugees.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 5, 2018, 9:13 pm
  12. There was a remarkable lawsuit recently that’s bound to create big headaches for Bayer following its merger with Monsanto and a big concerted public relations response from Bayer/Monsanto that’s bound to create major confusion for the public: a US jury ordered Monsanto to pay a California man $289 million in damages over the cancer he developed that he charges was linked to glyphosate exposure. Glyphosate is the herbicide in Monsanto’s RoundUp, which is typically paired with glyphosate-resistant GMO crops like corn and soybeans. So if glyphosate is found to actually be carcinogenic that’s a potentially very expensive finding for Bayer. Not only will it potentially reduce the sales of RoundUp, but as this lawsuit demonstrated, the costs of payer for past damages could be enormous. As the article points out, the man awarded that $289 million was just one of 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US.

    So if it turns out glyphosate really is carcinogenic, we should probably be aware that the combined forces of Monsanto and Bayer are going to be trying to make us aware of that unfortunate fact:

    BBC

    Weedkiller glyphosate ‘doesn’t cause cancer’ – Bayer

    11 August 2018

    Pharmaceutical group Bayer has dismissed claims that an ingredient used in weed killers is carcinogenic.

    The German company, which owns agriculture giant Monsanto, says herbicides containing glyphosate are safe.

    On Friday, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m (£226m) damages to a man who claimed the products caused his cancer.

    A Californian jury said Monsanto should have warned users about the dangers of its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers.

    Bayer completed its $66bn takeover of Monsanto in June.

    A Bayer spokesperson told the BBC the two companies operate independently. In a statement the company said: “Bayer is confident, based on the strength of the science, the conclusions of regulators around the world and decades of experience, that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer when used according to the label.”

    The landmark lawsuit was the first to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer.

    The claimant, groundsman Dewayne Johnson, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. His lawyers said he regularly used a form of RangerPro while working at a school in Benicia, California.

    He is among more than 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US.

    Glyphosate is the world’s most common weedkiller. The California ruling could lead to hundreds of other claims against Monsanto.

    The company said it intends to appeal against the verdict.

    What is glyphosate and is it dangerous?

    Glyphosate was introduced by Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers. In the US, more than 750 products contain it.

    In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

    However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insists it is safe when used carefully.

    The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also says glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.

    Last November 2017 EU countries voted to renew the licence of glyphosate despite campaigns against it.

    BBC North American correspondent James Cook reported that in California – where a judge recently ruled that coffee must carry a cancer warning – the agriculture industry sued to prevent such a label for glyphosate, even though the state lists it as a chemical known to cause cancer.

    What happened in the groundsman case?

    Jurors found on Friday that Monsanto had acted with “malice” and that its weed killers contributed “substantially” to Mr Johnson’s terminal illness.

    Following an eight-week trial, the jury ordered the company to pay $250m in punitive damages together with other costs that brought the total figure to almost $290m.

    Mr Johnson’s lawyer, Brent Wisner, said the jury’s verdict showed that the evidence against the product was “overwhelming”.

    “When you are right, it is really easy to win,” he said.

    How did Monsanto react?

    “The jury got it wrong,” vice-president Scott Partridge said outside the courthouse in San Francisco.

    In a written statement, the company said it was “sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family” but it would “continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use”.

    ———-

    “Weedkiller glyphosate ‘doesn’t cause cancer’ – Bayer”; BBC; 08/11/2018

    “On Friday, Monsanto was ordered to pay $289m (£226m) damages to a man who claimed the products caused his cancer.”

    $289 million for not warning people about the dangers. It’s a pretty hefty fine, even for a company as large as Bayer/Monsanto. And if Bayer/Monsanto is guilty in this case it’s potentially guilty in the rest of the 5,000 similar cases in the US alone:


    A Californian jury said Monsanto should have warned users about the dangers of its Roundup and RangerPro weedkillers.

    Bayer completed its $66bn takeover of Monsanto in June.

    A Bayer spokesperson told the BBC the two companies operate independently. In a statement the company said: “Bayer is confident, based on the strength of the science, the conclusions of regulators around the world and decades of experience, that glyphosate is safe for use and does not cause cancer when used according to the label.”

    The landmark lawsuit was the first to go to trial alleging a glyphosate link to cancer.

    The claimant, groundsman Dewayne Johnson, was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2014. His lawyers said he regularly used a form of RangerPro while working at a school in Benicia, California.

    He is among more than 5,000 similar plaintiffs across the US.

    Glyphosate is the world’s most common weedkiller. The California ruling could lead to hundreds of other claims against Monsanto.

    The company said it intends to appeal against the verdict.

    This is the legal nightmare Monsanto was handed after the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans” in 2015:


    What is glyphosate and is it dangerous?

    Glyphosate was introduced by Monsanto in 1974, but its patent expired in 2000, and now the chemical is sold by various manufacturers. In the US, more than 750 products contain it.

    In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, concluded that glyphosate was “probably carcinogenic to humans”.

    However, the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) insists it is safe when used carefully.

    The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) also says glyphosate is unlikely to cause cancer in humans.

    Last November 2017 EU countries voted to renew the licence of glyphosate despite campaigns against it.

    BBC North American correspondent James Cook reported that in California – where a judge recently ruled that coffee must carry a cancer warning – the agriculture industry sued to prevent such a label for glyphosate, even though the state lists it as a chemical known to cause cancer.

    Even more perilous for Bayer/Monsanto is that it doesn’t sound like the jury was very torn on this decision. They found that Monsanto acted with “malice” and that glyphosate contributed “substantially” to Mr Johnson’s cancer. So if whatever evidence they provided at this trial is the kind of evidence that can be brought up in those thousands of other cases there could be a lot more large fines on the way:


    What happened in the groundsman case?

    Jurors found on Friday that Monsanto had acted with “malice” and that its weed killers contributed “substantially” to Mr Johnson’s terminal illness.

    Following an eight-week trial, the jury ordered the company to pay $250m in punitive damages together with other costs that brought the total figure to almost $290m.

    Mr Johnson’s lawyer, Brent Wisner, said the jury’s verdict showed that the evidence against the product was “overwhelming”.

    “When you are right, it is really easy to win,” he said.

    As we should expect, Bayer/Monsanto characterizes the finding as a mistake and is pledging to continue defending the safety of glyphosate:


    How did Monsanto react?

    “The jury got it wrong,” vice-president Scott Partridge said outside the courthouse in San Francisco.

    In a written statement, the company said it was “sympathetic to Mr Johnson and his family” but it would “continue to vigorously defend this product, which has a 40-year history of safe use”.

    So let’s hope Bayer/Monsanto are correct and their product really is safe. Because as the company points out, it’s been in use for 40 years. And pretty heavy use at that. If it turns out this is all a big misunderstanding and there’s no glyphosate cancer risk that’s great news for everyone.

    But if it turns out this jury made the right call, and glyphosate really is a “substantial” cancer risk that Monsanto has been hiding with “malice”, that points towards A LOT more avoidable past cancers and a A LOT more avoidable cancer on the way. And the massive clout of the new Bayer/Monsanto multinational giant is going to be promoting the ongoing use of glyphosates no matter what.

    And that’s all part of why the issue of the safety of glyphosates is going to be an increasingly important issue for the public: following the Bayer/Monsanto merger and this lawsuit, there’s going to be more resources than ever trying to convince the public there’s no glyphosate risk at all. Let’s hope Bayer/Monsanto is correct because otherwise it’s a terrifying situation.

    Of course, it’s a terrifying situation whether or not Bayer/Monsanto happens to be correct in this instance. Because when you’re in a situation where corporate interests are so powerful that you just have to hope the super powerful multinational conglomerate is correct because it’s going to get its way in the end anyway, that’s inherently a terrifying situation.

    So let’s hope this terrifying situation has less glyphosate-induced cancer than this lawsuit suggests it might. It’s terrifying enough. *fingers crossed*

    Also don’t forget that the heavy use of glyphosates for industrial scale farming when so much of it is wasted on things like meat production and biofuels that humanity doesn’t need is potentially cataclysmic on its own due to the many environmental consequences of industrial farming, whether or not glyphosate is indeed carcinogenic. So let’s hope it’s not carcinogenic. But it might be. Either way, it’s probably for the best if we grew a lot less glyphosate-intensive crops just for the sake of making money. Alternatives and less unnecessary glyphosate-intensive agriculture that’s only going to breed super-bugs is what is required. And don’t just go with any alternative.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 12, 2018, 8:10 pm
  13. Researchers just published a study that must be having Bayer’s seemingly endless legal headaches throbbing more intensely: New research appears to have found a new way that glyphosate, the main herbicide in Monsanto’s Roundup, could be damaging the health of bees. Keep in mind that glyphosate targets an enzyme that’s only found in plants and bacteria so it’s not supposed to damage the health of bees and other insects but that’s what appears to be happening.

    The researchers also identified the mechanism by which glyphosate is damaging the health of bees and it’s the kind of mechanism that could lead to glyphosates damaging a lot of other animals too. Including humans. This is why this could be such a huge legal headache. The public may not care very much about the fate of the bees (because we’re an insane species), but people care about their own health so this is the kind of issue that might could attract a lot of attention.

    That mechanism is the destruction of bees’ gut bacteria. Yep, it turns out that a chemical that only targets plants and insects might actually harm the health of animals because the health of animals depends on things like healthy gut bacteria and a healthy microbiome in general.

    And if glyphosate can impact bees’ gut bacteria that raises the obvious possibility that it’s impacting human gut bacteria too. It’s not like there isn’t plenty of glyphosate in the food supply at this point.

    So that’s all one more reason why Bayer is probably wondering if buying Monsanto was really the best idea:

    The Guardian

    Monsanto’s global weedkiller harms honeybees, research finds

    Glyphosate – the most used pesticide ever – damages the good bacteria in honeybee guts, making them more prone to deadly infections

    Damian Carrington Environment editor
    Mon 24 Sep 2018 15.00 EDT
    Last modified on Mon 24 Sep 2018 15.01 EDT

    The world’s most used weedkiller damages the beneficial bacteria in the guts of honeybees and makes them more prone to deadly infections, new research has found.

    Previous studies have shown that pesticides such as neonicotinoids cause harm to bees, whose pollination is vital to about three-quarters of all food crops. Glyphosate, manufactured by Monsanto, targets an enzyme only found in plants and bacteria.

    However, the new study shows that glyphosate damages the microbiota that honeybees need to grow and to fight off pathogens. The findings show glyphosate, the most used agricultural chemical ever, may be contributing to the global decline in bees, along with the loss of habitat.

    “We demonstrated that the abundances of dominant gut microbiota species are decreased in bees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations documented in the environment,” said Erick Motta and colleagues from University of Texas at Austin in their new paper. They found that young worker bees exposed to glyphosate exposure died more often when later exposed to a common bacterium.

    Other research, from China and published in July, showed that honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate. An earlier study, in 2015, showed the exposure of adult bees to the herbicide at levels found in fields “impairs the cognitive capacities needed for a successful return to the hive”.

    “The biggest impact of glyphosate on bees is the destruction of the wildflowers on which they depend,” said Matt Sharlow, at conservation group Buglife. “Evidence to date suggests direct toxicity to bees is fairly low, however the new study clearly demonstrates that pesticide use can have significant unintended consequences.”

    Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, said: “It now seems that we have to add glyphosate to the list of problems that bees face. This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict.”

    However, Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: “To my mind the doses of glyphosate used were rather high. The paper shows only that glyphosate can potentially interfere with the bacteria in the bee gut, not that it actually does so in the environment.”

    The new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that some of the key beneficial bacteria in bees’ guts have the enzyme that is targeted by glyphosate. It also found that the ability of newly emerged worker bees to develop a normal gut biome was hampered by glyphosate exposure.

    Harm to gut bacteria by glyphosate exposure has also been shown in a pilot study in rats. “Gut bacteria play a vital role in maintaining good health, in organisms as diverse as bees and humans,” said Goulson. “The finding that these bacteria are sensitive to the most widely used pesticide in the world is thus concerning.”

    People are known to widely consume glyphosate residues in food – such as children’s breakfast cereal – but the health impact is controversial. In August a US court ordered Monsanto to pay $289m in damages after a jury ruled that the weedkiller caused a terminally ill man’s cancer. The company filed papers to dismiss the case on 19 September.

    The weedkiller, sold as Roundup, won a shortened five-year lease in the EU in 2017. In 2015, the World Health Organisation’s cancer agency, the IARC, declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans,” although several international agencies subsequently came to opposite conclusions. Monsanto insists glyphosate is safe.

    ———-

    “Monsanto’s global weedkiller harms honeybees, research finds” by Damian Carrington; The Guardian; 09/24/2018

    “Previous studies have shown that pesticides such as neonicotinoids cause harm to bees, whose pollination is vital to about three-quarters of all food crops. Glyphosate, manufactured by Monsanto, targets an enzyme only found in plants and bacteria.

    That was part of the promise of glyphosates as a herbicide: it doesn’t targets animals, including insects. Only plants and bacteria. The problem is that animals rely on ‘good’ bacteria to help fight off ‘bad’ bacteria and other pathogens and glyphosate just happens to harm some particularly important strains of bacteria found in the guts of honeybees. And also appears to prevent worker bees from developing healthy gut bacteria in the first place:


    However, the new study shows that glyphosate damages the microbiota that honeybees need to grow and to fight off pathogens. The findings show glyphosate, the most used agricultural chemical ever, may be contributing to the global decline in bees, along with the loss of habitat.

    “We demonstrated that the abundances of dominant gut microbiota species are decreased in bees exposed to glyphosate at concentrations documented in the environment,” said Erick Motta and colleagues from University of Texas at Austin in their new paper. They found that young worker bees exposed to glyphosate exposure died more often when later exposed to a common bacterium.

    The new research, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, found that some of the key beneficial bacteria in bees’ guts have the enzyme that is targeted by glyphosate. It also found that the ability of newly emerged worker bees to develop a normal gut biome was hampered by glyphosate exposure.

    Keep in mind that the collapse of honeybee populations doesn’t appear to be caused by one thing but instead appears to be a ‘death by a thousand cuts’ situation, where a number of different stresses overwhelm the bees. And some of the key known stresses are pathogens like the varroa mites. So if the disruption of bee cut bacteria is making them more prone to pathogens this could have a synergistic effect with the mites. A very negative synergistic effect.

    One researcher does note that the doses of glyphosate used the study were, as he put it, “rather high”, which means the study only demonstrated that glyphosate is potentially impact bee health. It depends on the actual glyphosate exposure levels:


    Prof Dave Goulson, at the University of Sussex, said: “It now seems that we have to add glyphosate to the list of problems that bees face. This study is also further evidence that the landscape-scale application of large quantities of pesticides has negative consequences that are often hard to predict.”

    However, Oliver Jones, a chemist at RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia, said: “To my mind the doses of glyphosate used were rather high. The paper shows only that glyphosate can potentially interfere with the bacteria in the bee gut, not that it actually does so in the environment.”

    But it’s also important to note that this isn’t the first study that found a connection between bee health and glyphosates. A 2015 study demonstrated glyphosate exposure at levels found in fields impaired the cognitive ability of bees to find their way back to the hive. So the levels of exposure found in fields is clearly enough to have some sort of negative impact:


    Other research, from China and published in July, showed that honeybee larvae grew more slowly and died more often when exposed to glyphosate. An earlier study, in 2015, showed the exposure of adult bees to the herbicide at levels found in fields “impairs the cognitive capacities needed for a successful return to the hive”.

    “The biggest impact of glyphosate on bees is the destruction of the wildflowers on which they depend,” said Matt Sharlow, at conservation group Buglife. “Evidence to date suggests direct toxicity to bees is fairly low, however the new study clearly demonstrates that pesticide use can have significant unintended consequences.”

    And as disastrous as it is to learn about another way we’re killing off the bees, it of course gets worse. Because if glyphosate can harm bee gut bacteria there’s no reason to assume it’s not also harming the gut bacteria of other animals. Like humans. Or rats. And while it hasn’t yet been demonstrated to harm human gut bacteria, it’s well established that human gut bacteria are getting exposed to glyphosate because it’s found in all sorts of foods. And it’s already been shown to harm the gut bacteria in rats. So it’s looking rather ominous for any gut bacteria found in the guts of animals that eat plants provided to them by humans:


    Harm to gut bacteria by glyphosate exposure has also been shown in a pilot study in rats. “Gut bacteria play a vital role in maintaining good health, in organisms as diverse as bees and humans,” said Goulson. “The finding that these bacteria are sensitive to the most widely used pesticide in the world is thus concerning.”

    People are known to widely consume glyphosate residues in food – such as children’s breakfast cereal – but the health impact is controversial. In August a US court ordered Monsanto to pay $289m in damages after a jury ruled that the weedkiller caused a terminally ill man’s cancer. The company filed papers to dismiss the case on 19 September.

    Keep in mind that the study that found an impact on the gut bacteria of rats was using levels of glyphosate exposure that were assumed to be “safe levels”. So while we have no research indicating that glyphosate can alter human gut bacteria, it’s increasingly looking like that’s exactly what researchers are going to find once they start looking at that. There’s a pretty compelling constellation of data points emerging pointing in that direction.

    And if it turns out to be the case that humans have been systematically altering their microbiomes through years of systematic exposure to glyphosates, that could mean we’ve been inadvertently altering human consciousness given the link between gut bacteria and the brain. And that’s on top of the array of other medical complications that a whacked out microbiome could trigger.

    So if you have a ‘gut feeling’ that something isn’t right with the food you’re eating, that might be your good gut bacteria letting you know that you’re killing them with glyphosates. That’s a gut feeling worth listening to and don’t forget about the bees when you and your gut have that talk.

    It’s also worth noting that the probiotics industry is probably going to be an interesting investment area as we learn about how we’ve been wreaking havoc on microbiomes across the ecosystem. There’s going to be no shortage of opportunities.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 26, 2018, 9:32 pm
  14. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released a report on the risks of climate change a few days that has everyone quite freaked out. Ok, not everyone. Just sane people. The report offers a mix of hope – hope that the temperature rise can be limited to 1.5 degrees Celsius if the world engages in an unprecedented concerted effort within the next decade – coupled with dire warnings that things are going be worse than previously expected if the world doesn’t do what needs to be done. So humanity needs to accomplish unprecedented levels of intelligence cooperation in order to avoid an unprecedented global catastrophe. That was the ‘good news/catastrophic news’ message from the IPCC.

    One of the dire warnings in the report is the conclusion that the previously identified ‘reasonable goal’ that human civilization could handle without disastrous consequences – a 2 degrees Celsius rise – would actually be quite disastrous in make some parts of the world intolerable. As one observer put it, “1.5 degrees is the new 2 degrees”. So the overall messages is that the world can still limit the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but there’s only about a decade to actually do all the things that need to be done to accomplish that and if those things aren’t done it’s going to be worse than previously expected.

    So what is the IPCC saying the world needs to do over the next decade to avoid complete disaster? Well, it’s pretty much anything that not just cuts carbon emissions but also sucks existing carbon out of the atmosphere. Everything from power plants to vehicles need to be, at worst, carbon neutral, and preferably a net-carbon negative. Within 10 years the world’s percentage of electricity from renewables like solar and wind would have to jump from the current 24 percent levels to closer to 50-60 percent. Coal and gas plants will need to be equipped with carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology and by 2050 most coal plants would have to be shut down. Vehicles and other forms of transportation would also obviously have to be run on renewables.

    And then there’s the IPCC’s proposals for agriculture. It turns out biofuels actually play a key role in the IPCC’s proposal for sucking carbon out of the atmosphere. Specifically, the IPCC calls for the growing of trees and crops to be used as biofuels in a manner where the carbon released during the generation of energy is captured and buried in the ground. This technology still has to be developed because we’re not simply talking about converting corn to ethanol. And the IPCC makes clear that large swaths of land currently used to produce food will have to be converted to producing these biofuel plants.

    So in this dire warning to the world, the IPCC is calling for a massive increase in the growing of crops that won’t be used for food but instead but used as a hopefully net-carbon-negative energy source that can suck the carbon out of the atmosphere. And this is supposed to happen with 2 billion more people expected on the planet by 2050. So if the world adopts the carbon-negative biofuel approach to addressing this climate change disaster there’s either going to be A LOT more agriculture overall or a lot less available food for a growing population. And don’t forget that if nothing is done and surface temperatures shoot past that 1.5 degree Celsius rise, that’s going to translate into more droughts, more deserts, more heat waves and just more overall stresses on crops. So it’s looking like all of the challenges and perils of our industrial agricultural paradigm are poised to get a lot more challenging and a lot more perilous if we don’t meet those challenges:

    The Washington Post

    The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say

    By Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis
    October 7, 2018

    The world stands on the brink of failure when it comes to holding global warming to moderate levels, and nations will need to take “unprecedented” actions to cut their carbon emissions over the next decade, according to a landmark report by the top scientific body studying climate change.

    With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.

    “There is no documented historic precedent” for the sweeping change to energy, transportation and other systems required to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote in a report requested as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

    At the same time, however, the report is being received with hope in some quarters because it affirms that 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible — if emissions stopped today, for instance, the planet would not reach that temperature. It is also likely to galvanize even stronger climate action by focusing on 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees, as a target that the world cannot afford to miss.

    “Frankly, we’ve delivered a message to the governments,” said Jim Skea, a co-chair of the IPCC panel and professor at Imperial College London, at a press event following the document’s release. “It’s now their responsibility … to decide whether they can act on it.” He added, “What we’ve done is said what the world needs to do.”

    The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

    Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

    Overall reductions in emissions in the next decade would probably need to be more than 1 billion tons per year, larger than the current emissions of all but a few of the very largest emitting countries. By 2050, the report calls for a total or near-total phaseout of the burning of coal.

    “It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. He added that the need to either stop emissions entirely by 2050 or find some way to remove as much carbon dioxide from the air as humans put there “means net zero must be the new global mantra.”

    The radical transformation also would mean that, in a world projected to have more than 2 billion additional people by 2050, large swaths of land currently used to produce food would instead have to be converted to growing trees that store carbon and crops designated for energy use. The latter would be used as part of a currently nonexistent program to get power from trees or plants and then bury the resulting carbon dioxide emissions in the ground, leading to a net subtraction of the gas from the air — bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS.

    “Such large transitions pose profound challenges for sustainable management of the various demands on land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services,” the report states.

    The document in question was produced relatively rapidly for the cautious and deliberative IPCC, representing the work of nearly 100 scientists. It went through an elaborate peer-review process involving tens of thousands of comments. The final 34-page “summary for policymakers” was agreed to in a marathon session by scientists and government officials in Incheon, South Korea, over the past week.

    The report says the world will need to develop large-scale “negative emissions” programs to remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although the basic technologies exist, they have not caught on widely, and scientists have strongly questioned whether such a program can be scaled up in the brief period available.

    The bottom line, Sunday’s report found, is that the world is woefully off target.

    “From 2005 to 2017, U.S. CO2-related emissions declined by 14 percent while global energy-related CO2 emissions rose by 21 percent during the same time,” said the official. “This has been possible through the development and large-scale deployment of new, affordable, and cleaner technologies to capitalize on our energy abundance.”

    The IPCC is considered the definitive source on the state of climate science, but it also tends to be conservative in its conclusions. That’s because it is driven by a consensus-finding process, and its results are the product of not only science, but negotiation with governments over its precise language.

    In Sunday’s report, the body detailed the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the changes that would be required to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it held back from taking a specific stand on the feasibility of meeting such an ambitious goal. (An early draft had cited a “very high risk” of warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius; that language is now gone, even if the basic message is still easily inferred.)

    Underscoring the difficulty of interpreting what’s possible, the IPCC gave two separate numbers in the report for Earth’s remaining “carbon budget,” or how much carbon dioxide humans can emit and still have a reasonable chance of remaining below 1.5 degrees Celsius. The upshot is that humans are allowed either 10 or 14 years of current emissions, and no more, for a two-thirds or better chance of avoiding 1.5 degrees Celsius.

    The already limited budget would shrink further if other greenhouse gases, such as methane, aren’t controlled or if and when Arctic permafrost becomes a major source of new emissions.

    But either way — in a move that may be contested — researchers have somewhat increased the carbon budget in comparison with where the IPCC set it in 2013, giving another reason for hope.

    The new approach buys some time and “resets the clock for 1.5 degrees Celsius to ‘five minutes to midnight,’ ” said Oliver Geden, head of the research division of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

    The report is sure to be the central focus of attention this December in Poland when the next meeting of the parties to the Paris climate agreement is held, and countries begin to contemplate how they can up their ambition levels, as the agreement requires them to do over time.

    Meanwhile, the report clearly documents that a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be very damaging and that 2 degrees — which used to be considered a reasonable goal — could approach intolerable in parts of the world.

    “1.5 degrees is the new 2 degrees,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, who was in Incheon for the finalization of the report.

    Specifically, the document finds that instabilities in Antarctica and Greenland, which could usher in sea-level rise measured in feet rather than inches, “could be triggered around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming.” Moreover, the total loss of tropical coral reefs is at stake because 70 to 90 percent are expected to vanish at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report finds. At 2 degrees, that number grows to more than 99 percent.

    The report found that holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could save an Alaska-size area of the Arctic from permafrost thaw, muting a feedback loop that could lead to still more global emissions. The occurrence of entirely ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean goes from one per century to one per decade between 1.5 and 2 degrees, it found — one of many ways in which the mere half a degree has large real-world consequences.

    Risks of extreme heat and weather events just rise and rise as temperatures do, meaning these would be worse worldwide the more it warms.

    To avoid that, in barely more than 10 years, the world’s percentage of electricity from renewables such as solar and wind power would have to jump from the current 24 percent to something more like 50 or 60 percent. Coal and gas plants that remain in operation would need to be equipped with technologies, collectively called carbon capture and storage (CCS), that prevent them from emitting carbon dioxide into the air and instead funnel it to be buried underground. By 2050, most coal plants would shut down.

    Cars and other forms of transportation, meanwhile, would need to be shifting strongly toward being electrified, powered by these same renewable energy sources. At present, transportation is far behind the power sector in the shift to low-carbon fuel sources. Right now, according to the International Energy Agency, only 4 percent of road transportation is powered by renewable fuels, and the agency has projected only a 1 percent increase by 2022.

    The report’s statements on the need to jettison coal were challenged by the World Coal Association.

    “While we are still reviewing the draft, the World Coal Association believes that any credible pathway to meeting the 1.5 degree scenario must focus on emissions rather than fuel,” the group’s interim chief executive, Katie Warrick, said in a statement. “That is why CCS is so vital.”

    That’s an approach largely embraced by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which under President Trump has taken numerous steps to roll back regulations on the coal industry.

    ———-

    “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say” by Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis; The Washington Post; 10/07/2018

    “With global emissions showing few signs of slowing and the United States — the world’s second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide — rolling back a suite of Obama-era climate measures, the prospects for meeting the most ambitious goals of the 2015 Paris agreement look increasingly slim. To avoid racing past warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) over preindustrial levels would require a “rapid and far-reaching” transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before, the group found.

    An unprecedented transformation of human civilization at a magnitude that has never happened before is going to be required to avoid global catastrophe. And if that unprecedented action does take place it looks like humanity really can avoid this doom. That was the relatively hopeful message from the IPCC:


    “There is no documented historic precedent” for the sweeping change to energy, transportation and other systems required to reach 1.5 degrees Celsius, the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) wrote in a report requested as part of the 2015 Paris climate agreement.

    At the same time, however, the report is being received with hope in some quarters because it affirms that 1.5 degrees Celsius is still possible — if emissions stopped today, for instance, the planet would not reach that temperature. It is also likely to galvanize even stronger climate action by focusing on 1.5 degrees Celsius, rather than 2 degrees, as a target that the world cannot afford to miss.

    The transformation described in the document is breathtaking, and the speed of change required raises inevitable questions about its feasibility.

    Most strikingly, the document says the world’s annual carbon dioxide emissions, which amount to more than 40 billion tons per year, would have to be on an extremely steep downward path by 2030 to either hold the world entirely below 1.5 degrees Celsius, or allow only a brief “overshoot” in temperatures. As of 2018, emissions appeared to be still rising, not yet showing the clear peak that would need to occur before any decline.

    Also note that the IPCC is considered to be relatively conservative compared to other climate science organizations. So when it declares that the previously ‘reasonable’ goal of a limiting the temperature rises to 2 degrees Celsius is actually unreasonable because it could trigger feedback loops and will be caused parts of the planet to become inhospitable, that’s coming from a relatively conservative organization:


    The IPCC is considered the definitive source on the state of climate science, but it also tends to be conservative in its conclusions. That’s because it is driven by a consensus-finding process, and its results are the product of not only science, but negotiation with governments over its precise language.

    In Sunday’s report, the body detailed the magnitude and unprecedented nature of the changes that would be required to hold warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius, but it held back from taking a specific stand on the feasibility of meeting such an ambitious goal. (An early draft had cited a “very high risk” of warming exceeding 1.5 degrees Celsius; that language is now gone, even if the basic message is still easily inferred.)

    Meanwhile, the report clearly documents that a warming of 1.5 degrees Celsius would be very damaging and that 2 degrees — which used to be considered a reasonable goal — could approach intolerable in parts of the world.

    “1.5 degrees is the new 2 degrees,” said Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, who was in Incheon for the finalization of the report.

    Specifically, the document finds that instabilities in Antarctica and Greenland, which could usher in sea-level rise measured in feet rather than inches, “could be triggered around 1.5°C to 2°C of global warming.” Moreover, the total loss of tropical coral reefs is at stake because 70 to 90 percent are expected to vanish at 1.5 degrees Celsius, the report finds. At 2 degrees, that number grows to more than 99 percent.

    The report found that holding warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could save an Alaska-size area of the Arctic from permafrost thaw, muting a feedback loop that could lead to still more global emissions. The occurrence of entirely ice-free summers in the Arctic Ocean goes from one per century to one per decade between 1.5 and 2 degrees, it found — one of many ways in which the mere half a degree has large real-world consequences.

    Risks of extreme heat and weather events just rise and rise as temperatures do, meaning these would be worse worldwide the more it warms.

    If we limit the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius we might be able to avoid the thawing of the permafrost and a massive feedback loop. A 2 degree rise, however, will probably trigger that feedback loop. If you didn’t think a 0.5 degree Celsius difference could make the difference between hope and doom now you know better.

    And in order to avoid that catastrophic 2 degree Celsius rise, the world’s electricity needs to suddenly get a lot more renewable. And the non-renewable sources, like coal, need to start capturing that carbon and eventually shut down entirely, which means powerful entities like the Koch brothers would have to actually be reigned in. It’s a reminder that the unprecedented nature of this challenge includes the nearly unprecedented challenge of stopping the global oligarchy from stopping meaningful action:


    To avoid that, in barely more than 10 years, the world’s percentage of electricity from renewables such as solar and wind power would have to jump from the current 24 percent to something more like 50 or 60 percent. Coal and gas plants that remain in operation would need to be equipped with technologies, collectively called carbon capture and storage (CCS), that prevent them from emitting carbon dioxide into the air and instead funnel it to be buried underground. By 2050, most coal plants would shut down.

    Cars and other forms of transportation, meanwhile, would need to be shifting strongly toward being electrified, powered by these same renewable energy sources. At present, transportation is far behind the power sector in the shift to low-carbon fuel sources. Right now, according to the International Energy Agency, only 4 percent of road transportation is powered by renewable fuels, and the agency has projected only a 1 percent increase by 2022.

    The report’s statements on the need to jettison coal were challenged by the World Coal Association.

    “While we are still reviewing the draft, the World Coal Association believes that any credible pathway to meeting the 1.5 degree scenario must focus on emissions rather than fuel,” the group’s interim chief executive, Katie Warrick, said in a statement. “That is why CCS is so vital.”

    That’s an approach largely embraced by the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, which under President Trump has taken numerous steps to roll back regulations on the coal industry.

    Much of the carbon capture and storage technology still needs to be developed. But one of the areas where the IPCC appears to have placed much of its hope is in biofuels. Specifically, plants that are grown for fuel, energy is extracted from them, and the carbon released in this process is all captured and stored in the ground. That’s the plan. Biofuel crops and lots of new trees on existing farmland. So the global proportion of arable land used to grow food is going to have to fall as those crops get replaced with biofuel crops:


    The report says the world will need to develop large-scale “negative emissions” programs to remove significant volumes of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Although the basic technologies exist, they have not caught on widely, and scientists have strongly questioned whether such a program can be scaled up in the brief period available.

    “It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire,” said Erik Solheim, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. He added that the need to either stop emissions entirely by 2050 or find some way to remove as much carbon dioxide from the air as humans put there “means net zero must be the new global mantra.”

    The radical transformation also would mean that, in a world projected to have more than 2 billion additional people by 2050, large swaths of land currently used to produce food would instead have to be converted to growing trees that store carbon and crops designated for energy use. The latter would be used as part of a currently nonexistent program to get power from trees or plants and then bury the resulting carbon dioxide emissions in the ground, leading to a net subtraction of the gas from the air — bioenergy with carbon capture and storage, or BECCS.

    “Such large transitions pose profound challenges for sustainable management of the various demands on land for human settlements, food, livestock feed, fibre, bioenergy, carbon storage, biodiversity and other ecosystem services,” the report states.

    So all of the environmental nightmares unleashed by the mass product of biofuel crops already for fuels like ethanol – including the systematic development of super-pests – is going to get A LOT worse under this plan. And that still might be a best case scenario. It’s either super-pests or runaway temperature increases.

    It’s also worth noting that this isn’t the first time the IPCC called for carbon sequestering biofuels as a means of reducing the carbon levels in the atmosphere. In 2014, the IPCC proposed the same thing. Unfortunately, it was a proposal met with quite a bit of skepticism rooted in the fact that the biofuel carbon capture technology doesn’t actually exist yet and current biomass energy generation arguably releases more pollutants and carbon emissions than coal:

    The Guardian

    IPCC report proposes sucking carbon out of the air as climate fix
    Technique of burning biomass then pumping released carbon underground included in leaked draft from UN climate panel

    Martin Lukacs
    Mon 7 Apr 2014 05.07 EDT
    First published on Mon 7 Apr 2014 05.07 EDT

    An upcoming UN report suggests that unproven technologies to suck carbon out of the air might be a fix for climate change, according to a leaked draft obtained by the Guardian.

    Scientists and government officials gather in Berlin this week ahead of Sunday’s publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s third part of its series of blockbuster climate change reports, which deals with policies addressing the emissions that drive global warming.

    But environmentalists criticised the report’s inclusion of a controversial new technique that would involve burning biomass – trees, plant waste, or woodchips – to generate electricity, and then capturing the released carbon, pumping it into geological reservoirs underground.

    Proponents of the technique – known as bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – suggest that regrown trees and crops might sequester additional carbon, making the technology “negative emission” because it might reduce the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

    It is part of broader group of geoengineering technologies to suck carbon dioxide out of the air – most of them experimental – that the IPCC is now forecasting may require “large-scale deployment” to keep global warming below rises of 2C.

    But critics have warned that “negative emissions” claims about the technology aren’t well-founded, since associated industrial agriculture and forestry activities cause heavy emissions and regrown tree plantations do not act as carbon sinks. They further warn that large-scale conversion of land for the technology could threaten the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries in the same way that the drive for biofuels has been linked to land grabs and food price rises.

    “The technology is the dangerous spawn of two very bad ideas: it brings together the false premises and injustices of the bio-energy debacle with the risky, costly and unproven notion that we can bury carbon dioxide out of sight. That hardly seems a hopeful formula for calming the climate crisis. Such techno-fix fantasies will be welcomed by oil companies because they distract attention from the obvious solution of cutting fossil fuel use,” said Almuth Ernsting, co-director of bio-energy watchdog Biofuelwatch.

    A paper released last week by US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity concludes that biomass-burning facilities produce more pollutants and carbon emissions per megawatt-hour than coal-burning.

    Meanwhile, carbon capture and storage technologies remain expensive, may leak, and will be impossible to commercialise soon enough to make an impact on carbon reductions before 2050, experts say. At present most of the carbon dioxide captured from existing carbon-capture projects is being sold for “enhanced oil recovery”, which extracts extra petroleum from fields already exploited by conventional methods.

    The full UN draft report admits that “the potential costs and risks of BECCS are subject to considerable scientific uncertainty,” and the most recent UN report on climate change impacts advised that such CO2 removal technologies “might invite complacency regarding mitigation efforts.”

    Observers have pointed out that one of the co-chairs of the UN report’s drafting team, Prof Ottmar Edenhofer, has been a long-time advocate for the BECCS technology.

    The report refers to the CO2 removal technologies as “negative emissions” instead of geoengineering, a label that certain proponents have been promoting to disassociate the technologies from criticisms of geoengineering.

    ———–

    “IPCC report proposes sucking carbon out of the air as climate fix” by Martin Lukacs; The Guardian; 04/07/2014

    “Proponents of the technique – known as bio-energy with carbon capture and storage (BECCS) – suggest that regrown trees and crops might sequester additional carbon, making the technology “negative emission” because it might reduce the overall amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

    Growing trees and crops will suck the carbon out of the air and save the day. Let’s hope that’s a viable option. But critics point to a number of flaws with this scheme. For starters, agricultural and forestry activities themselves cause heavy carbon emissions and regrown tree plantations don’t actually act as carbon sinks:


    But critics have warned that “negative emissions” claims about the technology aren’t well-founded, since associated industrial agriculture and forestry activities cause heavy emissions and regrown tree plantations do not act as carbon sinks. They further warn that large-scale conversion of land for the technology could threaten the livelihoods of millions of people in developing countries in the same way that the drive for biofuels has been linked to land grabs and food price rises.

    And one paper released in 2014 found that biomass-burning facilities actually produced more pollutants and carbon emissions than coal. And experts don’t see the widespread commercialization of carbon capture technologies happening soon enough. In other words, if the world shifts to biomass energy as a solution to climate change without first developing adequate carbon capturing technology and we simply assume that the carbon capture technology is just around the corner and will be developed in time, we could be making a bad situation worse while throwing away this closing window of opportunity:


    A paper released last week by US-based Partnership for Policy Integrity concludes that biomass-burning facilities produce more pollutants and carbon emissions per megawatt-hour than coal-burning.

    Meanwhile, carbon capture and storage technologies remain expensive, may leak, and will be impossible to commercialise soon enough to make an impact on carbon reductions before 2050, experts say. At present most of the carbon dioxide captured from existing carbon-capture projects is being sold for “enhanced oil recovery”, which extracts extra petroleum from fields already exploited by conventional methods.

    Then, in 2016, researchers arrived at another unfortunate conclusion about the prospects of using biofuels as a carbon sequestration technology: the assumptions of the IPCC depend on soil soaking up large amounts of carbon and these researchers concluded that the IPCC’s models vastly overstate how much carbon will be soaked up and how rapidly this will happen:

    The Guardian

    Soil carbon storage not the climate change fix it was thought, research finds

    Soil’s potential to soak up planet-warning carbon dioxide has been overestimated by as much as 40%, say scientists

    Oliver Milman

    Thu 22 Sep 2016 14.00 EDT
    Last modified on Wed 14 Feb 2018 12.12 EST

    Hopes that large amounts of planet-warming carbon dioxide could be buried in soils appear to be grossly misplaced, with new research finding that the ground will soak up far less carbon over the coming century than previously thought.

    Radiocarbon dating of soils, when combined with previous models of carbon uptake, has shown the widely assumed potential for carbon sequestration to combat climate change has been overestimated by as much as 40%.

    Scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that models used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assume a much faster cycling of carbon through soils than is actually the case. Data taken from 157 soil samples taken from around the world show the average age of soil carbon is more than six times older than previously thought.

    This means it will take hundreds or even thousands of years for soils to soak up large amounts of the extra CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by human activity – far too long to be relied upon as a way to help the world avoid dangerous global warming this century.

    “A substantial amount of the greenhouse gas that we thought was being taken up and stored in the soil is actually going to stay in the atmosphere,” said study co-author Steven Allison, UCI associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and Earth system science.

    Soil is the largest land-based reservoir of carbon on Earth, absorbing it from trees and vegetation as they die and decay. The IPCC calculated that should the mass deforestation of recent centuries be completely reversed, around 40 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, from the current 400ppm levels, could be removed from the atmosphere. Other studies have shown large amounts of carbon could be soaked up with changes in agricultural practices.

    But the University of California work, published in the journal Science, went beyond the models to explicitly date radiocarbons, one of the two carbon isotopes.

    “It will take a very long time for soil to soak up the carbon, there is a timescale mismatch in terms of climate change,” said Yujie He, a UCI postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the study. “The soil will eventually be a large carbon sink, but it won’t be present in the next century.”

    An international aspiration to cap the rise to 1.5C, seen as crucial to the viability of low-lying nations, already appears to be slipping out of reach. As-yet undeveloped technology, such as geo-engineering of landscapes, carbon capture from power plants or direct removal of CO2 from the atmosphere, may be required even if emissions are radically cut.

    But the prospect of adapting soils so they suck up more carbon is “unlikely”, especially in the short-term, according to He. “I don’t think we can increase that absorption ability, so we may want to make more proactive action to mitigate climate change, such as cuts to fossil fuel emissions, for example,” she said.

    ———-

    “Soil carbon storage not the climate change fix it was thought, research finds” by Oliver Milman; The Guardian; 09/22/2016

    “Soil is the largest land-based reservoir of carbon on Earth, absorbing it from trees and vegetation as they die and decay. The IPCC calculated that should the mass deforestation of recent centuries be completely reversed, around 40 parts per million (ppm) of CO2, from the current 400ppm levels, could be removed from the atmosphere. Other studies have shown large amounts of carbon could be soaked up with changes in agricultural practices.

    Massive amounts of carbon can be removed from the atmosphere if we reverse mass deforestation and improve our agricultural practices. That’s the hope of the IPCC. But according to these researchers, the IPCC’s models overestimate the carbon sequestration potential of soil by as much as 40 percent. And if these researchers are correct, the time it would take for the soil to remove from the atmosphere the levels of carbon that the IPCC is assuming can be removed would be on the scale of hundreds or even thousands of years:


    Radiocarbon dating of soils, when combined with previous models of carbon uptake, has shown the widely assumed potential for carbon sequestration to combat climate change has been overestimated by as much as 40%.

    Scientists from the University of California, Irvine (UCI) found that models used by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) assume a much faster cycling of carbon through soils than is actually the case. Data taken from 157 soil samples taken from around the world show the average age of soil carbon is more than six times older than previously thought.

    This means it will take hundreds or even thouands of years for soils to soak up large amounts of the extra CO2 pumped into the atmosphere by human activity – far too long to be relied upon as a way to help the world avoid dangerous global warming this century.

    “A substantial amount of the greenhouse gas that we thought was being taken up and stored in the soil is actually going to stay in the atmosphere,” said study co-author Steven Allison, UCI associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology and Earth system science.

    “It will take a very long time for soil to soak up the carbon, there is a timescale mismatch in terms of climate change,” said Yujie He, a UCI postdoctoral scholar and lead author of the study. “The soil will eventually be a large carbon sink, but it won’t be present in the next century.”

    “It will take a very long time for soil to soak up the carbon, there is a timescale mismatch in terms of climate change.” That was the grim conclusion of these researchers.

    So while the IPCC’s recent report might seem exceptionally dire, keep in mind that it could easily be far more dire. And that all points to one of the most dire possibilities of all: humanity will just give up, like the Trump administration just officially did:

    The Washington Post

    Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100

    By Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney
    September 28, 2018

    Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees by the end of this century.

    A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

    But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.

    The draft statement, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was written to justify President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.

    “The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.

    The document projects that global temperature will rise by nearly 3.5 degrees Celsius above the average temperature between 1986 and 2005 regardless of whether Obama-era tailpipe standards take effect or are frozen for six years, as the Trump administration has proposed. The global average temperature rose more than 0.5 degrees Celsius between 1880, the start of industrialization, and 1986, so the analysis assumes a roughly four degree Celsius or seven degree Fahrenheit increase from preindustrial levels.

    The world would have to make deep cuts in carbon emissions to avoid this drastic warming, the analysis states. And that “would require substantial increases in technology innovation and adoption compared to today’s levels and would require the economy and the vehicle fleet to move away from the use of fossil fuels, which is not currently technologically feasible or economically feasible.”

    World leaders have pledged to keep the world from warming more than two degrees Celsius compared with preindustrial levels, and agreed to try to keep the temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. But the current greenhouse gas cuts pledged under the 2015 Paris climate agreement are not steep enough to meet either goal. Scientists predict a four degree Celsius rise by the century’s end if countries take no meaningful actions to curb their carbon output.

    Trump has vowed to exit the Paris accord and called climate change a hoax. In the past two months, the White House has pushed to dismantle nearly half a dozen major rules aimed at reducing greenhouse gases, deregulatory moves intended to save companies hundreds of millions of dollars.

    If enacted, the administration’s proposals would give new life to aging coal plants; allow oil and gas operations to release more methane into the atmosphere; and prevent new curbs on greenhouse gases used in refrigerators and air-conditioning units. The vehicle rule alone would put 8 billion additional tons of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere this century, more than a year’s worth of total U.S. emissions, according to the government’s own analysis.

    Administration estimates acknowledge that the policies would release far more greenhouse gas emissions from America’s energy and transportation sectors than otherwise would have been allowed.

    The statement is the latest evidence of deep contradictions in the Trump administration’s approach to climate change.

    ———-

    “Trump administration sees a 7-degree rise in global temperatures by 2100” by Juliet Eilperin, Brady Dennis and Chris Mooney; The Washington Post; 09/28/2018

    “Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous seven degrees by the end of this century.

    You read that correctly: the Trump administration, which pulled the US out of the Paris Climate Accords in a historic ‘F$ck You!’ to the future, quietly issued an environmental impact state that assumes a 4 degree Celsius rise in average global temperatures, double the 2 degree rise that the IPCC sees as catastrophic. And this dire forecast was used to justify the Trump administrations policies of doing nothing under the assumption that nothing can be done to stop this:


    A rise of seven degrees Fahrenheit, or about four degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.

    But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.

    The draft statement, issued by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), was written to justify President Trump’s decision to freeze federal fuel-efficiency standards for cars and light trucks built after 2020. While the proposal would increase greenhouse gas emissions, the impact statement says, that policy would add just a very small drop to a very big, hot bucket.

    “The amazing thing they’re saying is human activities are going to lead to this rise of carbon dioxide that is disastrous for the environment and society. And then they’re saying they’re not going to do anything about it,” said Michael MacCracken, who served as a senior scientist at the U.S. Global Change Research Program from 1993 to 2002.

    And that morally horrendous document, a document that pretty much represents a crime against humanity and life on Earth put on paper, also represents one of the most likely outcomes if people just give up hope. It points towards one of the existential challenges facing humanity at this point: resisting the urge to say “F%ck it! We’re all going to die anyway and there’s nothing we can do so who cares!” An urge that is clearly being embraced by the Trump administration. Well, ok, the Trump administration might have some additional motives for wanting to exacerbate climate change, but it’s hard to ignore the reality that humans have a predilection to collectively say F@ck It! in the face of really difficult challenges that require collective sacrifice and collective effort for the greater good. We’re not too great at the greater good as a species. And in this case it could actually destroy us and take down much of the biosphere in the process.

    So given enormous scale of this challenge and the reality that it’s going to often seem like there’s nothing we can realistically do about, it’s probably worth keeping in mind that not even trying to address this problem that will destroy the future would probably be the greatest collective act of evil in history. Sure, if we try we still might fail, but at least we tried. And when the alternative to trying and possibly failing is to not try at all and committing the greatest act of evil in history, trying and possibly failing doesn’t seem quite as bad in comparison.

    And in that sense we should probably thank the Trump administration for issuing this ultra-cynical report. Because there’s going to be no shortage of future reports from organizations like the IPCC that paint a dire picture of the future. We’re going to need all the tools we can get to fix this, so it’s kind of nice to have such a morally reprehensible official document to look back to remind ourselves that not even trying to fix this mess is what the Trump administration would have us do. We’re going to need all the help we can get, and if that help comes in the form of really, really bad moral examples that can motivate us, so be it.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 11, 2018, 10:16 pm
  15. Researchers just released another jaw-droppingly terrifying report on the ongoing collapse of planet’s ecosystem and the role climate change is likely playing in that catastrophe. It’s a report described as “hyperalarming” by one expert: Researchers who previously studied the tropical rain forests of Puerto Rico in 1976-77 returned to the island for a follow up study. What they found can be accurately described as an insect-pocalypse, with a 60-fold drop in the number of insects caught compared to their observations nearly 40 years earlier.

    And as we should expect, the animals that eat those insects also plummeted in numbers, from lizards to frogs to birds. As the article puts it, The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom.

    The researchers explored a number of different possible causes for this hyperalarming drop in insect levels and the only conclusion they could come to is rising temperatures. Pesticide use in Puerto Rico has dropped substantially since the 60s and when they factor in things like hurricanes into their models it still looks like higher temperatures are to blame. The average high temperature in the Puerto Rico’s rain forests has risen 4 degrees Fahrenheit.

    Other researchers note that this doesn’t necessarily mean that climate changes is the primary driving factor for the collapse if insects observed in other parts of the world, like the 75 percent drop in flying insects observed in Germany last year. Pesticides, habitat loss, and other forms of pollution are still playing a role. But in the case of Puerto Rico’s rain forest the rise in temperature appears to be the primary driving factor in part because tropical forest insects are evolved for a much narrower band of temperatures compared to their more temperature counterparts and therefore more vulnerable to climate change.

    So that’s one more hyperalarming study of the ongoing slow-motion ecological Armageddon currently taking place. It’s almost as hyperalarming alarming as the observation that humanity doesn’t seem to have the capacity to care about this:

    The Washington Post

    ‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss

    By Ben Guarino
    October 15, 2018

    Insects around the world are in a crisis, according to a small but growing number of long-term studies showing dramatic declines in invertebrate populations. A new report suggests that the problem is more widespread than scientists realized. Huge numbers of bugs have been lost in a pristine national forest in Puerto Rico, the study found, and the forest’s insect-eating animals have gone missing, too.

    In 2014, an international team of biologists estimated that, in the past 35 years, the abundance of invertebrates such as beetles and bees had decreased by 45 percent. In places where long-term insect data are available, mainly in Europe, insect numbers are plummeting. A study last year showed a 76 percent decrease in flying insects in the past few decades in German nature preserves.

    The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

    “This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

    Bradford Lister, a biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, has been studying rain forest insects in Puerto Rico since the 1970s. If Puerto Rico is the island of enchantment — “la isla del encanto” — then its rain forest is “the enchanted forest on the enchanted isle,” he said. Birds and coqui frogs trill beneath a 50-foot-tall emerald canopy. The forest, named El Yunque, is well-protected. Spanish King Alfonso XII claimed the jungle as a 19th-century royal preserve. Decades later, Theodore Roosevelt made it a national reserve, and El Yunque remains the only tropical rain forest in the National Forest system.

    “We went down in ’76, ’77 expressly to measure the resources: the insects and the insectivores in the rain forest, the birds, the frogs, the lizards,” Lister said.

    He came back nearly 40 years later, with his colleague Andrés García, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. What the scientists did not see on their return troubled them. “Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister said. Fewer birds flitted overhead. The butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished.

    García and Lister once again measured the forest’s insects and other invertebrates, a group called arthropods that includes spiders and centipedes. The researchers trapped arthropods on the ground in plates covered in a sticky glue, and raised several more plates about three feet into the canopy. The researchers also swept nets over the brush hundreds of times, collecting the critters that crawled through the vegetation.

    Each technique revealed the biomass (the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates) had significantly decreased from 1976 to the present day. The sweep sample biomass decreased to a fourth or an eighth of what it had been. Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.

    “Everything is dropping,” Lister said. The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant.

    “Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss.

    Louisiana State University entomologist Timothy Schowalter, who is not an author of the recent report, has studied this forest since the 1990s. The new research is consistent with his data, as well as the European biomass studies. “It takes these long-term sites, with consistent sampling across a long period of time, to document these trends,” he said. “I find their data pretty compelling.”

    The study authors also trapped anole lizards, which eat arthropods, in the rain forest. They compared these numbers with counts from the 1970s. Anole biomass dropped by more than 30 percent. Some anole species have altogether disappeared from the interior forest.

    Insect-eating frogs and birds plummeted, too. Another research team used mist nets to capture birds in 1990, and again in 2005. Captures fell by about 50 percent. Garcia and Lister analyzed the data with an eye on the insectivores. The ruddy quail dove, which eats fruits and seeds, had no population change. A brilliant green bird called the Puerto Rican tody, which eats bugs almost exclusively, diminished by 90 percent.

    The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s credible that the authors link the cascade to arthropod loss, Schowalter said, because “you have all these different taxa showing the same trends — the insectivorous birds, frogs and lizards — but you don’t see those among seed-feeding birds.”

    Lister and Garcia attribute this crash to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.

    A recent analysis of climate change and insects, published in August in the journal Science, predicts a decrease in tropical insect populations, according to an author of that study, Scott Merrill, who studies crop pests at the University of Vermont. In temperate regions farther from the equator, where insects can survive a wider range of temperatures, agricultural pests will devour more food as their metabolism increases, Merrill and his co-authors warned. But after a certain thermal threshold, insects will no longer lay eggs, he said, and their internal chemistry breaks down.

    The authors of a 2017 study of vanished flying insects in Germany suggested other possible culprits, including pesticides and habitat loss. Arthropods around the globe also have to contend with pathogens and invasive species.

    “It’s bewildering, and I’m scared to death that it’s actually death by a thousand cuts,” Wagner said. “One of the scariest parts about it is that we don’t have an obvious smoking gun here.” A particular danger to these arthropods, in his view, was not temperature but droughts and lack of rainfall.

    Lister pointed out that, since 1969, pesticide use has fallen more than 80 percent in Puerto Rico. He does not know what else could be to blame. The study authors used a recent analytic method, invented by a professor of economics at Fordham University, to assess the role of heat. “It allows you to place a likelihood on variable X causing variable Y,” Lister said. “So we did that and then five out of our six populations we got the strongest possible support for heat causing those decreases in abundance of frogs and insects.”

    The authors sorted out the effects of weather like hurricanes and still saw a consistent trend, Schowalter said, which makes a convincing case for climate.

    “If anything, I think their results and caveats are understated. The gravity of their findings and ramifications for other animals, especially vertebrates, is hyperalarming,” Wagner said. But he is not convinced that climate change is the global driver of insect loss. “The decline of insects in northern Europe precedes that of climate change there,” he said. “Likewise, in New England, some tangible declines began in the 1950s.”

    No matter the cause, all of the scientists agreed that more people should pay attention to the bugpocalypse.

    “It’s a very scary thing,” Merrill said, that comes on the heels of a “gloomy, gloomy” U.N. report that estimated the world has little more than a decade left to wrangle climate change under control. But “we can all step up,” he said, by using more fuel-efficient cars and turning off unused electronics. The Portland, Ore.-based Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes insect conservation, recommends planting a garden with native plants that flower throughout the year.

    Thirty-five percent of the world’s plant crops require pollination by bees, wasps and other animals. And arthropods are more than just pollinators. They’re the planet’s wee custodians, toiling away in unnoticed or avoided corners. They chew up rotting wood and eat carrion. “And none of us want to have more carcasses around,” Schowalter said. Wild insects provide $57 billion worth of six-legged labor in the United States each year, according to a 2006 estimate.

    The loss of insects and arthropods could further rend the rain forest’s food web, Lister warned, causing plant species to go extinct without pollinators. “If the tropical forests go it will be yet another catastrophic failure of the whole Earth system,” he said, “that will feed back on human beings in an almost unimaginable way.”

    ———–

    “‘Hyperalarming’ study shows massive insect loss” by Ben Guarino; The Washington Post; 10/15/2018

    ““This study in PNAS is a real wake-up call — a clarion call — that the phenomenon could be much, much bigger, and across many more ecosystems,” said David Wagner, an expert in invertebrate conservation at the University of Connecticut who was not involved with this research. He added: “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.”

    “This is one of the most disturbing articles I have ever read.” Keep in mind that David Wager probably reads a lot of disturbing articles given his area of expertise. So this study is super disturbing even to someone who is presumably rather inured to disturbing studies about insect loss. And you don’t need to be an expert to understand that these researchers documented a chilling snapshot of a global existential threat to not just humans for most of the ecosystem. Or rather, the interplay of global existential threats. We have climate change, one existential threat, driving the collapse of insect populations, another existential threat:


    “The latest report, published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, shows that this startling loss of insect abundance extends to the Americas. The study’s authors implicate climate change in the loss of tropical invertebrates.

    Bradford Lister, a biologist at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York, has been studying rain forest insects in Puerto Rico since the 1970s. If Puerto Rico is the island of enchantment — “la isla del encanto” — then its rain forest is “the enchanted forest on the enchanted isle,” he said. Birds and coqui frogs trill beneath a 50-foot-tall emerald canopy. The forest, named El Yunque, is well-protected. Spanish King Alfonso XII claimed the jungle as a 19th-century royal preserve. Decades later, Theodore Roosevelt made it a national reserve, and El Yunque remains the only tropical rain forest in the National Forest system.

    “We went down in ’76, ’77 expressly to measure the resources: the insects and the insectivores in the rain forest, the birds, the frogs, the lizards,” Lister said.

    He came back nearly 40 years later, with his colleague Andrés García, an ecologist at the National Autonomous University of Mexico. What the scientists did not see on their return troubled them. “Boy, it was immediately obvious when we went into that forest,” Lister said. Fewer birds flitted overhead. The butterflies, once abundant, had all but vanished.

    García and Lister once again measured the forest’s insects and other invertebrates, a group called arthropods that includes spiders and centipedes. The researchers trapped arthropods on the ground in plates covered in a sticky glue, and raised several more plates about three feet into the canopy. The researchers also swept nets over the brush hundreds of times, collecting the critters that crawled through the vegetation.

    Each technique revealed the biomass (the dry weight of all the captured invertebrates) had significantly decreased from 1976 to the present day. The sweep sample biomass decreased to a fourth or an eighth of what it had been. Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.

    “Everything is dropping,” Lister said. The most common invertebrates in the rain forest — the moths, the butterflies, the grasshoppers, the spiders and others — are all far less abundant.

    “Holy crap,” Wagner said of the 60-fold loss.

    “Between January 1977 and January 2013, the catch rate in the sticky ground traps fell 60-fold.”

    If that 75 percent drop in flying insects reported in Germany sounded ominous, how about 60-fold drop in ground-based insects.

    But it’s not just insects. It’s all the things that feed off of them that are also disappearing. As the article puts it, the food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s a trickle-up catastrophe:


    Louisiana State University entomologist Timothy Schowalter, who is not an author of the recent report, has studied this forest since the 1990s. The new research is consistent with his data, as well as the European biomass studies. “It takes these long-term sites, with consistent sampling across a long period of time, to document these trends,” he said. “I find their data pretty compelling.”

    The study authors also trapped anole lizards, which eat arthropods, in the rain forest. They compared these numbers with counts from the 1970s. Anole biomass dropped by more than 30 percent. Some anole species have altogether disappeared from the interior forest.

    Insect-eating frogs and birds plummeted, too. Another research team used mist nets to capture birds in 1990, and again in 2005. Captures fell by about 50 percent. Garcia and Lister analyzed the data with an eye on the insectivores. The ruddy quail dove, which eats fruits and seeds, had no population change. A brilliant green bird called the Puerto Rican tody, which eats bugs almost exclusively, diminished by 90 percent.

    The food web appears to have been obliterated from the bottom. It’s credible that the authors link the cascade to arthropod loss, Schowalter said, because “you have all these different taxa showing the same trends — the insectivorous birds, frogs and lizards — but you don’t see those among seed-feeding birds.”

    And when the researcher try to explain what caused this crash, the primary thing their models point to is rising temperatures. A 4 degree Fahrenheit increase in average highs over the last 40 years. Insects are vulnerable to this rise in temperatures because insects can’t regulate their internal temperatures. And tropical insects are exceptionally vulnerable to temperature changes due to the relatively narrow band of temperatures in the tropics that they’re evolved to handle:


    Lister and Garcia attribute this crash to climate. In the same 40-year period as the arthropod crash, the average high temperature in the rain forest increased by 4 degrees Fahrenheit. The temperatures in the tropics stick to a narrow band. The invertebrates that live there, likewise, are adapted to these temperatures and fare poorly outside them; bugs cannot regulate their internal heat.

    A recent analysis of climate change and insects, published in August in the journal Science, predicts a decrease in tropical insect populations, according to an author of that study, Scott Merrill, who studies crop pests at the University of Vermont. In temperate regions farther from the equator, where insects can survive a wider range of temperatures, agricultural pests will devour more food as their metabolism increases, Merrill and his co-authors warned. But after a certain thermal threshold, insects will no longer lay eggs, he said, and their internal chemistry breaks down.

    Lister pointed out that, since 1969, pesticide use has fallen more than 80 percent in Puerto Rico. He does not know what else could be to blame. The study authors used a recent analytic method, invented by a professor of economics at Fordham University, to assess the role of heat. “It allows you to place a likelihood on variable X causing variable Y,” Lister said. “So we did that and then five out of our six populations we got the strongest possible support for heat causing those decreases in abundance of frogs and insects.”

    The authors sorted out the effects of weather like hurricanes and still saw a consistent trend, Schowalter said, which makes a convincing case for climate.

    But as other researchers point out, that doesn’t mean we should blame all of the insect population collapse on rising temperatures. The other suspected causes – like pesticides and habitat loss – might still be the explanation for the massive drop in insects observed elsewhere. In other words, as bad as this study makes the situation out to be it’s actually much, much worse:


    The authors of a 2017 study of vanished flying insects in Germany suggested other possible culprits, including pesticides and habitat loss. Arthropods around the globe also have to contend with pathogens and invasive species.

    “It’s bewildering, and I’m scared to death that it’s actually death by a thousand cuts,” Wagner said. “One of the scariest parts about it is that we don’t have an obvious smoking gun here.” A particular danger to these arthropods, in his view, was not temperature but droughts and lack of rainfall.

    “If anything, I think their results and caveats are understated. The gravity of their findings and ramifications for other animals, especially vertebrates, is hyperalarming,” Wagner said. But he is not convinced that climate change is the global driver of insect loss. “The decline of insects in northern Europe precedes that of climate change there,” he said. “Likewise, in New England, some tangible declines began in the 1950s.”

    No matter the cause, all of the scientists agreed that more people should pay attention to the bugpocalypse.

    And, of course, this report gets released a week after the UN climate report that warned humanity had about a decade left to get its act together. Which humanity obviously won’t do in time since it’s clearly in some sort of perpetual daze and led by lunatics:


    “It’s a very scary thing,” Merrill said, that comes on the heels of a “gloomy, gloomy” U.N. report that estimated the world has little more than a decade left to wrangle climate change under control. But “we can all step up,” he said, by using more fuel-efficient cars and turning off unused electronics. The Portland, Ore.-based Xerces Society, a nonprofit environmental group that promotes insect conservation, recommends planting a garden with native plants that flower throughout the year.

    So it sounds like it’s ‘so long’ for the wee ones. It also sounds like insects, especially tropical insects, might end up being the climate change ‘canaries in the climate catastrophe coal mine’, at least in a lot of regions. And that ecological disaster at the bottom of the food chain is only going to trickle up from there.

    The joke about cockroaches surviving humanity’s self-inflicted apocalypses apparently won’t include tropical cockroaches. Well, ok, the tropical cockroaches still might survive this man-made Armageddon too. We’ll see. But for those tropical insects without the cockroach’s incredible adaptive abilities and sounds like it might be the end of the line for them. The meek definitely aren’t inheriting the earth. They’re among the first to go.

    Also keep in mind that insects are often an assumed major source of protein for human consumption in the future, after meat consumption is no longer viable for the masses due to the enormous resources required to generate it. If you don’t want to be a vegetarian in the future you might have to settle for insect ‘meat’. Or there might not be enough vegetables and insect meat will be the only option you have. Either way, it’s worth keeping in mind that humanity might be wiping out its selection of delicious insects to eat in the future thanks to climate change. At least there will still be cockroaches.

    And as the study described in following article predicts, there will be plenty of insects for humans to eat in the more temperate regions that warm up because insects in those regions of the world are expected to increase their activity and numbers due to climate change. Activity that includes eating more crops:

    NBC News

    Climate change may cause insects to gobble more crops, study finds
    The future may bring plagues of locusts to devastate crops as global warming worsens, these experts say.

    by Maggie Fox / Aug. 30, 2018 / 3:55 PM CDT

    Insects are going to love it when the world turns hotter in the coming years. Not only will they spread more disease — they will eat more crops, researchers reported Thursday.

    That’s because as temperatures rise, insects become more active and reproduce more, which makes them hungrier, the researchers reported in the journal Science..

    These increasingly voracious insects will hit North America and Europe right in the breadbasket, the researchers predicted.

    Wheat, corn and rice crops will all be damaged — to the tune of 10 percent to 25 percent for every 1 degree Celsius (1.8 degrees F) that average global temperatures rise, according to the report.

    “Crop losses will be most acute in areas where warming increases both population growth and metabolic rates of insects,” they wrote. “These conditions are centered primarily in temperate regions, where most grain is produced.”

    “First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who worked on the study.

    “Second, with the exception of the tropics, warmer temperatures will increase the reproductive rates of insects. You have more insects, and they’re eating more,” Deutsch said in a statement.

    Farmers can deal with to some degree, the researchers said.

    “Agricultural practices will shift as the climate warms. Changes in planting dates, cultivar use, and planting locations are already under way and will become more pronounced as the rate of climate warming increases,” they wrote.

    They’ll also move to sometimes unpopular farming practices, said Rosamond Naylor, a professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, who also worked on the study.

    “Increased pesticide applications, the use of GMOs, and agronomic practices such as crop rotations will help control losses from insects,” Naylor said in a statement. “But it still appears that under virtually all climate change scenarios, pest populations will be the winners, particularly in highly productive temperate regions, causing real food prices to rise and food-insecure families to suffer.”

    Wheat, corn and rice account for 42 percent of calories eaten directly by humans globally, the researchers said.

    Temperate regions hit hardest

    Wheat crops will be hit the hardest. A 3.6 degree F rise in average temperature could cause a 46 percent increase in crop loss due to insect damage for wheat, the researchers projected.

    Temperate regions will be more affected because insects start slowing down if it gets too hot, and tropical areas are already nearer to that limit.

    Rice losses will taper off as the temperature rises above a certain point,” said Scott Merrill, an ecologist at the University of Vermont.

    “The overall picture is, if you’re growing a lot of food in a temperate region, you’re going to be hit hardest,” Merrill said in a statement.

    Things could get even worse than what’s predicted by the study, said Markus Riegler of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia.

    “For example, many insect pests are vectors of plant pathogens that also cause crop losses,” Riegler, who was not part of the research team, wrote in a commentary.

    “Predictions based on population growth and metabolic rates may thus underestimate crop damage due to insect vectors under global warming.”

    ———-

    “Climate change may cause insects to gobble more crops, study finds” by Maggie Fox; NBC News; 08/30/2018

    ““Crop losses will be most acute in areas where warming increases both population growth and metabolic rates of insects,” they wrote. “These conditions are centered primarily in temperate regions, where most grain is produced.””

    Yep, at the same time rising temperatures kill off insects in the tropics they also cause an explosion of insect populations and activity in the more temperate areas. Temperate areas that are about to get a lot more tropical:


    “First, warmer temperatures increase insect metabolic rates exponentially,” said Curtis Deutsch, an oceanographer at the University of Washington who worked on the study.

    “Second, with the exception of the tropics, warmer temperatures will increase the reproductive rates of insects. You have more insects, and they’re eating more,” Deutsch said in a statement.

    Temperate regions will be more affected because insects start slowing down if it gets too hot, and tropical areas are already nearer to that limit.

    How bad could it get for crops? Well, a 3.6 degree Fahrenheit rise in average temperature could cause a 46 degree increase in crop loss for wheat, according to their projections. In other words, you better get used to the idea of eating insects because they’re going to be the only thing left to eat after they get done eating your lunch:


    Wheat, corn and rice account for 42 percent of calories eaten directly by humans globally, the researchers said.

    Temperate regions hit hardest

    Wheat crops will be hit the hardest. A 3.6 degree F rise in average temperature could cause a 46 percent increase in crop loss due to insect damage for wheat, the researchers projected.

    Rice losses will taper off as the temperature rises above a certain point,” said Scott Merrill, an ecologist at the University of Vermont.

    “The overall picture is, if you’re growing a lot of food in a temperate region, you’re going to be hit hardest,” Merrill said in a statement.

    And then there’s all the crop diseases that this explosion of insect activity, along with new insects bring new diseases, will inevitably bring too:


    Things could get even worse than what’s predicted by the study, said Markus Riegler of the Hawkesbury Institute for the Environment at Western Sydney University in Australia.

    “For example, many insect pests are vectors of plant pathogens that also cause crop losses,” Riegler, who was not part of the research team, wrote in a commentary.

    “Predictions based on population growth and metabolic rates may thus underestimate crop damage due to insect vectors under global warming.”

    How will farmers deal with this infested future? Probably with more pesticides and GMO technology:


    Farmers can deal with to some degree, the researchers said.

    “Agricultural practices will shift as the climate warms. Changes in planting dates, cultivar use, and planting locations are already under way and will become more pronounced as the rate of climate warming increases,” they wrote.

    They’ll also move to sometimes unpopular farming practices, said Rosamond Naylor, a professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, who also worked on the study.

    “Increased pesticide applications, the use of GMOs, and agronomic practices such as crop rotations will help control losses from insects,” Naylor said in a statement. “But it still appears that under virtually all climate change scenarios, pest populations will be the winners, particularly in highly productive temperate regions, causing real food prices to rise and food-insecure families to suffer.”

    It’s all pretty hyperalarming for the world’s breadbaskets. Just a very different kind of hyperalarming situation than the hyperalarming insect situation in the tropics. Kind of the opposite hyperalarming situation. It’s a full-spectrum alarm.

    And don’t forget that if we have runaway climate change there’s no reason temperatures can’t keep going up and fry those temperate zones too. Places with the climate of Northern Canada could be the new temperate zone breadbasket. Maybe. We’ll see Probably sooner than we think.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 20, 2018, 4:38 pm
  16. He’s a pair of articles that add a chilling context to the other recent studies finding warming climates leading to precipitous drops in the populations of insects in the warmest parts of the planet due to tropical insects being unable to deal with extreme heat waves. The following two articles look at the other side of that coin: the inability of insects to deal with the extreme cold that comes with the increasingly harsh winters associated with climate change. :

    While the impact of neonicotinoids on behavior of honeybees and other pollinators is recognized as being detrimental on bee havior by a growing number of studies, far fewer studies have examined how this class of chemicals affects the behavior of bees within colonies. That was what the researchers behind a new study just published in Science looked into. It appears that neonicotinoids have a number of number impacts on bee colony behavior. Surprise!

    First, they found that honeybees were more sluggish and antisocial, spending more time on the periphery of the nest. The chemicals also appeared to interact with their circadian rhythms, with more pronounced effects at night.

    But perhaps the most alarming findings involved the bees ability to deal with winter. Healthy colonies are normally capable of regulating the temperatures within the hive to a relatively narrow range. And since stressed bee colonies are known to die off during the winter, it appears these researchers have discovered one of the key mechanisms triggering the winters die off:

    National Public Radio

    Scientists Spy On Bees, See Harmful Effects Of Common Insecticide

    November 9, 2018 12:04 PM ET

    A team of researchers peered inside bumblebee colonies and spied on insects individually labelled with a tiny tag to figure out exactly how exposure to a common insecticide changes their behavior in the nest.

    They found that the insecticide — from a controversial group called neonicotinoids — made the bees more sluggish and antisocial, spending more time on the periphery of the nest. It also made them less-attentive parents, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science.

    Neonicotinoids, commonly known as “neonics,” are near-ubiquitous in farming in many countries. They’re commonly applied to the seeds of crops such as corn or soy before planting. The plant then carries traces of the insecticide as it grows, even showing up in the pollen, which scientists believe is one way bees are exposed. As NPR’s Dan Charles has reported, “neonicotinoid residues also have been found in the pollen of wildflowers growing near fields and in nearby streams.”

    A growing body of research points to their deleterious effects on bees, which serve an important role in pollinating crops. Scientists have previously found that the insecticides can impair a bee’s ability to forage and limit the growth of a colony.

    “There’s a whole slew of important behaviors happening within the nest that aren’t associated with forging directly, and so how these compounds might be affecting those behaviors, we really haven’t understood so well,” Harvard University biologist James Crall, the study’s lead author, said in an interview with NPR.

    He says scientists think the chemical is disrupting the insect’s central nervous system, which can change bee behavior in subtle ways — such as how bees regulate the temperature of their young.

    Typically, a colony does a good job of maintaining its temperature within a very narrow range, Crall says. But one experiment showed that in colonies exposed to neonicotinoids, “that ability was impaired, so they were less good at maintaining temperature in that narrow preferred range.”

    Bumblebees also typically build a kind of wax blanket over the developing young to insulate them from the cold. “Actually in our control colonies, in the outdoor conditions we’re putting them in, almost all of our colonies built some amount of that sort of insulating wax canopy,” Crall says. But none of the colonies exposed to the insecticide built that protective layer.

    Christian Krupke, a Purdue University entomologist not involved in the research, told NPR that he finds this the most interesting finding of the study. He said some stressed bee colonies have been known to succumb during the winter. The fact that insecticide exposure appears to disrupt bees from building an insulating layer “presents a mechanism for that observation that we’ve seen in various sorts [of bees] … that winter is the time of greatest hazard.”

    In another experiment, the scientists exposed nine colonies to a common type of neonic. Another nine colonies were not exposed. Then they used a robotic arm to take video inside all the colonies, tracking the individually tagged bees.

    “We can map out things like where they are, who they’re interacting with, and how much nursing they’re doing,” Crall said. That technology marks a step forward in a long history of humans tracking bee behavior, he added, because it lets them keep tabs on “every bee in a colony at the same time, which is basically impossible for a human to do.”

    They saw changes in bee behavior colony-wide — but the magnitude of the effect changed based on time of day, becoming stronger at night. “Not only are we seeing these kind of effects, but they actually have some kind of interaction with the natural circadian rhythm of the colony,” Crall said.

    Bayer, a prominent maker of neonicotinoids, has previously questioned scientific research suggesting the chemicals have harmful impacts on bees.

    “While we haven’t yet had the opportunity to review [this] full study, it appears to confirm what is already known about neonicotinoids and bees: Exposures to higher doses can cause differences in bee behavior, whereas lower doses are well tolerated by bees,” the company said in an emailed statement. It did not specify what it views as “higher” or “lower” doses.

    The scientists who conducted this bee study disagree with the company’s characterization, saying their research shows that “field-realistic levels” of the pesticide impact social interactions within the nest.

    ———-

    “Scientists Spy On Bees, See Harmful Effects Of Common Insecticide”; National Public Radio; 11/09/2018

    “There’s a whole slew of important behaviors happening within the nest that aren’t associated with forging directly, and so how these compounds might be affecting those behaviors, we really haven’t understood so well,” Harvard University biologist James Crall, the study’s lead author, said in an interview with NPR.”

    Colony temperature dysregulation. It’s not the only way neonicotinoids harm bees, but it could prove to be a significant one:


    They found that the insecticide — from a controversial group called neonicotinoids — made the bees more sluggish and antisocial, spending more time on the periphery of the nest. It also made them less-attentive parents, according to research published Thursday in the journal Science.

    He says scientists think the chemical is disrupting the insect’s central nervous system, which can change bee behavior in subtle ways — such as how bees regulate the temperature of their young.

    Typically, a colony does a good job of maintaining its temperature within a very narrow range, Crall says. But one experiment showed that in colonies exposed to neonicotinoids, “that ability was impaired, so they were less good at maintaining temperature in that narrow preferred range.”

    Bumblebees also typically build a kind of wax blanket over the developing young to insulate them from the cold. “Actually in our control colonies, in the outdoor conditions we’re putting them in, almost all of our colonies built some amount of that sort of insulating wax canopy,” Crall says. But none of the colonies exposed to the insecticide built that protective layer.

    And this finding just might explain, at least in part, the mechanism causing the observation that stressed colonies are known to collapse in the winter: the colonies might literally be freezing to death due to neonicotinoids disrupting the temperature regulating behaviors:


    Christian Krupke, a Purdue University entomologist not involved in the research, told NPR that he finds this the most interesting finding of the study. He said some stressed bee colonies have been known to succumb during the winter. The fact that insecticide exposure appears to disrupt bees from building an insulating layer “presents a mechanism for that observation that we’ve seen in various sorts [of bees] … that winter is the time of greatest hazard.”

    In addition, the chemicals appear to be interacting with their circadian rhythms. In addition to all the other things neonicotinoids are doing to bees it’s apparently disrupting their sleep too:


    In another experiment, the scientists exposed nine colonies to a common type of neonic. Another nine colonies were not exposed. Then they used a robotic arm to take video inside all the colonies, tracking the individually tagged bees.

    They saw changes in bee behavior colony-wide — but the magnitude of the effect changed based on time of day, becoming stronger at night. “Not only are we seeing these kind of effects, but they actually have some kind of interaction with the natural circadian rhythm of the colony,” Crall said.

    But Bayer would like to assure us that this study doesn’t have any real-world consequences because in the real-world bees aren’t exposed to chemicals at the levels used in the study. So the researchers responded by emphasizing that they were using “field-realistic levels”. In other words, Bayer is trying to refute this study by lying:


    Bayer, a prominent maker of neonicotinoids, has previously questioned scientific research suggesting the chemicals have harmful impacts on bees.

    “While we haven’t yet had the opportunity to review [this] full study, it appears to confirm what is already known about neonicotinoids and bees: Exposures to higher doses can cause differences in bee behavior, whereas lower doses are well tolerated by bees,” the company said in an emailed statement. It did not specify what it views as “higher” or “lower” doses.

    The scientists who conducted this bee study disagree with the company’s characterization, saying their research shows that “field-realistic levels” of the pesticide impact social interactions within the nest.

    So it’s possible that these researchers discovered an important previously unrecognized trigger for colony collapses: colony temperature dysregulation caused by neonicotinoids.

    But, of course, when it comes to the dangers posed to bees, or any creature, by a chemical that disrupts their ability to deal with extreme temperatures, we can’t solely blame that chemical for the deaths cause by extreme temperatures. And that’s obviously because extreme temperatures are getting more extreme and more frequent thanks to global warming. And as the following article reminds us, that ironically includes more extreme cold temperatures during winter due to rising temperatures at in the arctic:

    National Geographic

    Why a Warming Arctic May Be Causing Colder U.S. Winters
    A new study shows how a warming Arctic could negatively impact regions thousands of miles away.

    By Sarah Gibbens

    PUBLISHED March 13, 2018

    Updated March 13: A paper published today in the journal Nature Communications once again linked a warmer Arctic to snowier winters—this time specifically in the northeastern U.S.

    The study comes on the heels of news that another nor’easter, the third in under two weeks, is headed toward New England.

    It’s consistent with study findings that abnormally warm Arctic temperatures make severe winters in the Northeast two to four times more likely.

    “Warm temperatures in the Arctic cause the jet stream to take these wild swings, and when it swings farther south, that causes cold air to reach farther south. These swings tend to hang around for awhile, so the weather we have in the eastern United States, whether it’s cold or warm, tends to stay with us longer,” said study co-author Jennifer Francis in a press release.

    The research adds to theories that more extreme winters characterized by bomb cyclones and polar vortexes will be a more common climate change-induced pattern in the coming years.

    ***

    When a U.S. Republican senator threw a snowball onto the Senate floor in late February of 2015, he used it to underscore his belief that human-made climate change was an alarmist conclusion. The snowball had been rolled from the Capitol grounds in Washington D.C., which, at the time, was experiencing an uncharacteristically cold winter.

    If global warming was real, he posited, how could the nation’s capital experience such severe cold?

    Uncharacteristically cold winters, however, just might be one of the most hard felt effects of climate change, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience by a team of researchers.

    The study found that unusually cold temperatures in northern North America and lower precipitation in the south central U.S. all coincided with periods of warmer Arctic weather.

    To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed how teleconnections in the Arctic cause cooler winters in North America. Teleconnections are largescale weather anomalies that influence weather across continents and span large portions of the atmosphere. The most commonly watched teleconnection weather patterns are El Ninos/as, but teleconnections are observed around the globe.

    Anna Michalak, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science, was involved in creating an ensemble of models used to support the study’s findings. She explained that the massive system of climate models, called MsTMIP, creates a large dataset that allows researchers to study the changes in the Earth terrestrial biosphere.

    In order to reach their conclusions, the study’s authors looked at how the terrestrial biosphere (all the plants and soil on the Earth’s surface) contributed to or pulled carbon from the atmosphere. They found that over the past three decades, plants pulled less carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere during periods of warmer weather in the arctic.

    “Even though we’re talking about the Arctic, it has immediate impacts on what we experience at lower latitudes,” said Michalak.

    What Does It Mean?

    Beyond a need for more scarves and gloves, colder winters could have serious implications for North American farms.

    In an op-ed published in Nature alongside the study, noted climate scientist Ana Bastos wrote that the warming temperatures have the potential to weaken vegetation and shorten spring growing periods. The study looked at crop yields recorded by the National Agricultural Statistics Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture and found crop production declined by an average of one to four percent during warmer Arctic years. Some states, however, saw a decline of almost 20 percent.

    Bastos cautioned that the link between a warmer Arctic and harsher U.S. winters was more complex than a simple cause and effect mechanism. Weather patterns can be notoriously unpredictable, and other factors such as soil health and farming practices can impact crop growth.

    The study suggests that as warmer Arctic years become more frequent, crop productivity could be increasingly hard hit. All of this could lessen the impact of carbon sinks, a term that refers to how much carbon a terrestrial biosphere is capable of pulling from the atmosphere. With fewer plants available to absorb more carbon, Arctic warming could accelerate, further weakening the carbon sink, suggested the study.

    (See “Extreme Research Shows How Arctic Ice Is Dwindling“)

    “Whether the relationship found implies a decreasing carbon sink capacity of North American ecosystems in the coming decades is unclear,” wrote Bastos. She cautioned a need to study how Arctic warming affects other regions in the Northern Hemisphere.

    Speaking about how human influence changes weather patterns, Michalak added, “Winters could be harsher; flooding is more intense; droughts are more frequent… By emitting greenhouse gasses, we’re not just warming temperatures, we’re perturbing the Earth’s entire system.”

    ———–

    “Why a Warming Arctic May Be Causing Colder U.S. Winters” By Sarah Gibbens; National Geographic; 03/13/2018

    “Uncharacteristically cold winters, however, just might be one of the most hard felt effects of climate change, according to a study published in Nature Geoscience by a team of researchers.”

    It’s one of those climate change fun facts people in the Northern hemisphere are repeatedly learning whenever there’s freakishly warm Arctic temperatures: when the Arctic gets hot, the Northern hemisphere gets colder and drier.

    And the particular methodology they used to relate Arctic temperatures to temperatures across North America have implications regarding the risk of climate change feedback loops: When the warming Arctic creates a cold snap one of the consequences is less carbon being pulled from the atmosphere which, in turn, is only going to feed into climate change:


    The study found that unusually cold temperatures in northern North America and lower precipitation in the south central U.S. all coincided with periods of warmer Arctic weather.

    To reach this conclusion, the researchers analyzed how teleconnections in the Arctic cause cooler winters in North America. Teleconnections are largescale weather anomalies that influence weather across continents and span large portions of the atmosphere. The most commonly watched teleconnection weather patterns are El Ninos/as, but teleconnections are observed around the globe.

    Anna Michalak, a researcher at the Carnegie Institution for Science, was involved in creating an ensemble of models used to support the study’s findings. She explained that the massive system of climate models, called MsTMIP, creates a large dataset that allows researchers to study the changes in the Earth terrestrial biosphere.

    In order to reach their conclusions, the study’s authors looked at how the terrestrial biosphere (all the plants and soil on the Earth’s surface) contributed to or pulled carbon from the atmosphere. They found that over the past three decades, plants pulled less carbon from the Earth’s atmosphere during periods of warmer weather in the arctic.

    “Even though we’re talking about the Arctic, it has immediate impacts on what we experience at lower latitudes,” said Michalak.

    The study suggests that as warmer Arctic years become more frequent, crop productivity could be increasingly hard hit. All of this could lessen the impact of carbon sinks, a term that refers to how much carbon a terrestrial biosphere is capable of pulling from the atmosphere. With fewer plants available to absorb more carbon, Arctic warming could accelerate, further weakening the carbon sink, suggested the study.

    Yep, the more climate change impacts the ability of plants to grow, the worse the climate change is going to get as less carbon is absorbed. It’s a giant feedback loop of doom. And it’s not just cold snaps that’s going to be impact plant growth. More extreme heat waves are obviously going to become more frequent too. Climate change isn’t just about rising average temperatures. It’s about more extreme extremes. And as we’ve already seen, rising temperatures are associated with higher levels of insect activity (until temperatures get hot enough to kill off the insects), so as average temperatures get warmer it’s expected that farmers will be using even more pesticides in response.

    So as we can see, if you had to come up with a horrible side-effect for a pesticide in the context of climate change, harming the ability of pollinators to deal with extreme temperatures has got to be one of the most horrible. And one of the most widely used pesticides on the planet appears to do exactly that. Which is pretty horrible.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 11, 2018, 8:05 pm

Post a comment