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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 smashy-burny 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...

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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 meat-lover’s option.

Discussion

69 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
  17. There’s a recent study out on the grow­ing col­lapse of world’s insect pop­u­la­tions. It might be the most dire yet because it’s a review and meta-analy­sis of 73 of the best stud­ies done to date assess­ing insect decline so its find­ings have much more sta­tis­ti­cal pow­er than a sin­gle study are are much hard­er to ignore. It’s described as the first glob­al sci­en­tif­ic review of the insect col­lapse.

    So what did the first glob­al review find? Based on their meta-analy­sis, The rate of extinc­tion is eight times faster than that of mam­mals, birds and rep­tiles. More than 40% of insect species are declin­ing and a third are endan­gered. If the cur­rent 2.5% aver­age annu­al decline in insect lev­els over the last 25–30 is main­tained, there will basi­cal­ly be no insects left in 100 years.

    Anoth­er impor­tant point the researchers make regard­ing the caus­es of the col­lapse of insect pop­u­la­tions around the world is that those caus­es vary on how warm the cli­mate already is in a region. As we’ve seen from stud­ies of insect pop­u­la­tions in Puer­to Rico, for insects in trop­i­cal cli­mates it’s cli­mate change that’s the pri­ma­ry dri­ver of the insect pop­u­la­tion col­lapse as tem­per­a­tures climb into lev­els where insects sim­ply can­not func­tion and repro­duce. But for most regions of the world, it’s the inten­si­fi­ca­tion of indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture and the grow­ing use of pes­ti­cides that the pri­ma­ry dri­ver, with neon­i­coti­noids play­ing a par­tic­u­lar­ly pow­er­ful role because it per­sists in the envi­ron­ment. So if human­i­ty isn’t cook­ing the world’s insect pop­u­la­tions to death it’s poi­son­ing them instead. Until there are no more left (in about 100 years):

    The Guardian

    Plum­met­ing insect num­bers ‘threat­en col­lapse of nature’

    Exclu­sive: Insects could van­ish with­in a cen­tu­ry at cur­rent rate of decline, says glob­al review

    Dami­an Car­ring­ton Envi­ron­ment edi­tor
    Sun 10 Feb 2019 13.00 EST

    The world’s insects are hurtling down the path to extinc­tion, threat­en­ing a “cat­a­stroph­ic col­lapse of nature’s ecosys­tems”, accord­ing to the first glob­al sci­en­tif­ic review.

    More than 40% of insect species are declin­ing and a third are endan­gered, the analy­sis found. The rate of extinc­tion is eight times faster than that of mam­mals, birds and rep­tiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a pre­cip­i­tous 2.5% a year, accord­ing to the best data avail­able, sug­gest­ing they could van­ish with­in a cen­tu­ry.

    The plan­et is at the start of a sixth mass extinc­tion in its his­to­ry, with huge loss­es already report­ed in larg­er ani­mals that are eas­i­er to study. But insects are by far the most var­ied and abun­dant ani­mals, out­weigh­ing human­i­ty by 17 times. They are “essen­tial” for the prop­er func­tion­ing of all ecosys­tems, the researchers say, as food for oth­er crea­tures, pol­li­na­tors and recy­clers of nutri­ents.

    Insect pop­u­la­tion col­laps­es have recent­ly been report­ed in Ger­many and Puer­to Rico, but the review strong­ly indi­cates the cri­sis is glob­al. The researchers set out their con­clu­sions in unusu­al­ly force­ful terms for a peer-reviewed sci­en­tif­ic paper: “The [insect] trends con­firm that the sixth major extinc­tion event is pro­found­ly impact­ing [on] life forms on our plan­et.

    “Unless we change our ways of pro­duc­ing food, insects as a whole will go down the path of extinc­tion in a few decades,” they write. “The reper­cus­sions this will have for the planet’s ecosys­tems are cat­a­stroph­ic to say the least.”

    The analy­sis, pub­lished in the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, says inten­sive agri­cul­ture is the main dri­ver of the declines, par­tic­u­lar­ly the heavy use of pes­ti­cides. Urban­i­sa­tion and cli­mate change are also sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors.

    “If insect species loss­es can­not be halt­ed, this will have cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences for both the planet’s ecosys­tems and for the sur­vival of mankind,” said Fran­cis­co Sánchez-Bayo, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyck­huys at the Chi­na Acad­e­my of Agri­cul­tur­al Sci­ences in Bei­jing.

    The 2.5% rate of annu­al loss over the last 25–30 years is “shock­ing”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quar­ter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

    One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, rep­tiles, amphib­ians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is tak­en away, all these ani­mals starve to death,” he said. Such cas­cad­ing effects have already been seen in Puer­to Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.

    The new analy­sis select­ed the 73 best stud­ies done to date to assess the insect decline. But­ter­flies and moths are among the worst hit. For exam­ple, the num­ber of wide­spread but­ter­fly species fell by 58% on farmed land in Eng­land between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suf­fered the biggest record­ed insect falls over­all, though that is prob­a­bly a result of being more intense­ly stud­ied than most places.

    Bees have also been seri­ous­ly affect­ed, with only half of the bum­ble­bee species found in Okla­homa in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The num­ber of hon­ey­bee colonies in the US was 6 mil­lion in 1947, but 3.5 mil­lion have been lost since.

    There are more than 350,000 species of bee­tle and many are thought to have declined, espe­cial­ly dung bee­tles. But there are also big gaps in knowl­edge, with very lit­tle known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crick­ets. Experts say there is no rea­son to think they are far­ing any bet­ter than the stud­ied species.

    A small num­ber of adapt­able species are increas­ing in num­ber, but not near­ly enough to out­weigh the big loss­es. “There are always some species that take advan­tage of vac­u­um left by the extinc­tion of oth­er species,” said Sanchez-Bayo. In the US, the com­mon east­ern bum­ble­bee is increas­ing due to its tol­er­ance of pes­ti­cides.

    Most of the stud­ies analysed were done in west­ern Europe and the US, with a few rang­ing from Aus­tralia to Chi­na and Brazil to South Africa, but very few exist else­where.

    “The main cause of the decline is agri­cul­tur­al inten­si­fi­ca­tion,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elim­i­na­tion of all trees and shrubs that nor­mal­ly sur­round the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treat­ed with syn­thet­ic fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have start­ed at the dawn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, accel­er­at­ed dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarm­ing pro­por­tions” over the last two decades.

    He thinks new class­es of insec­ti­cides intro­duced in the last 20 years, includ­ing neon­i­coti­noids and fipronil, have been par­tic­u­lar­ly dam­ag­ing as they are used rou­tine­ly and per­sist in the envi­ron­ment: “They ster­ilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves near­by; the 75% insect loss­es record­ed in Ger­many were in pro­tect­ed areas.

    The world must change the way it pro­duces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, not­ing that organ­ic farms had more insects and that occa­sion­al pes­ti­cide use in the past did not cause the lev­el of decline seen in recent decades. “Indus­tri­al-scale, inten­sive agri­cul­ture is the one that is killing the ecosys­tems,” he said.

    In the trop­ics, where indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture is often not yet present, the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures due to cli­mate change are thought to be a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the decline. The species there have adapt­ed to very sta­ble con­di­tions and have lit­tle abil­i­ty to change, as seen in Puer­to Rico.

    Sánchez-Bayo said the unusu­al­ly strong lan­guage used in the review was not alarmist. “We want­ed to real­ly wake peo­ple up” and the review­ers and edi­tor agreed, he said. “When you con­sid­er 80% of bio­mass of insects has dis­ap­peared in 25–30 years, it is a big con­cern.”

    Oth­er sci­en­tists agree that it is becom­ing clear that insect loss­es are now a seri­ous glob­al prob­lem. “The evi­dence all points in the same direc­tion,” said Prof Dave Goul­son at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Sus­sex in the UK. “It should be of huge con­cern to all of us, for insects are at the heart of every food web, they pol­li­nate the large major­i­ty of plant species, keep the soil healthy, recy­cle nutri­ents, con­trol pests, and much more. Love them or loathe them, we humans can­not sur­vive with­out insects.”

    Matt Shard­low, at the con­ser­va­tion char­i­ty Buglife, said: “It is grave­ly sober­ing to see this col­la­tion of evi­dence that demon­strates the piti­ful state of the world’s insect pop­u­la­tions. It is increas­ing­ly obvi­ous that the planet’s ecol­o­gy is break­ing and there is a need for an intense and glob­al effort to halt and reverse these dread­ful trends.” In his opin­ion, the review slight­ly overem­pha­sis­es the role of pes­ti­cides and under­plays glob­al warm­ing, though oth­er unstud­ied fac­tors such as light pol­lu­tion might prove to be sig­nif­i­cant.

    Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­tyin the US, has seen insects van­ish first-hand, through his work on check­erspot but­ter­flies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first stud­ied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, large­ly due to cli­mate change.

    Ehrlich praised the review, say­ing: “It is extra­or­di­nary to have gone through all those stud­ies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the par­tic­u­lar­ly large declines in aquat­ic insects were strik­ing. “But they don’t men­tion that it is human over­pop­u­la­tion and over­con­sump­tion that is dri­ving all the things [erad­i­cat­ing insects], includ­ing cli­mate change,” he said.

    ...

    ———-

    “Plum­met­ing insect num­bers ‘threat­en col­lapse of nature’ ” by Dami­an Car­ring­ton; The Guardian; 02/10/2019

    “The analy­sis, pub­lished in the jour­nal Bio­log­i­cal Con­ser­va­tion, says inten­sive agri­cul­ture is the main dri­ver of the declines, par­tic­u­lar­ly the heavy use of pes­ti­cides. Urban­i­sa­tion and cli­mate change are also sig­nif­i­cant fac­tors.”

    Inten­sive agri­cul­ture and the heavy of use of pes­ti­cides. That’s the pri­ma­ry dri­ver of the glob­al col­lapse of the insects accord­ing to this meta-analy­sis of 73 of the best stud­ies to date, which found that 40 per­cent of insect species are in decline and a third are endan­gered:

    ...
    More than 40% of insect species are declin­ing and a third are endan­gered, the analy­sis found. The rate of extinc­tion is eight times faster than that of mam­mals, birds and rep­tiles. The total mass of insects is falling by a pre­cip­i­tous 2.5% a year, accord­ing to the best data avail­able, sug­gest­ing they could van­ish with­in a cen­tu­ry.

    ...

    The new analy­sis select­ed the 73 best stud­ies done to date to assess the insect decline. But­ter­flies and moths are among the worst hit. For exam­ple, the num­ber of wide­spread but­ter­fly species fell by 58% on farmed land in Eng­land between 2000 and 2009. The UK has suf­fered the biggest record­ed insect falls over­all, though that is prob­a­bly a result of being more intense­ly stud­ied than most places.

    Bees have also been seri­ous­ly affect­ed, with only half of the bum­ble­bee species found in Okla­homa in the US in 1949 being present in 2013. The num­ber of hon­ey­bee colonies in the US was 6 mil­lion in 1947, but 3.5 mil­lion have been lost since.

    There are more than 350,000 species of bee­tle and many are thought to have declined, espe­cial­ly dung bee­tles. But there are also big gaps in knowl­edge, with very lit­tle known about many flies, ants, aphids, shield bugs and crick­ets. Experts say there is no rea­son to think they are far­ing any bet­ter than the stud­ied species.
    ...

    And based on their esti­mates, at the cur­rent 2.5 per­cent annu­al rate of loss­es, vir­tu­al­ly all of the insect pop­u­la­tions will be lost in 100 years, along with the loss of every­thing that relies on them for food:

    ...
    “If insect species loss­es can­not be halt­ed, this will have cat­a­stroph­ic con­se­quences for both the planet’s ecosys­tems and for the sur­vival of mankind,” said Fran­cis­co Sánchez-Bayo, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Syd­ney, Aus­tralia, who wrote the review with Kris Wyck­huys at the Chi­na Acad­e­my of Agri­cul­tur­al Sci­ences in Bei­jing.

    The 2.5% rate of annu­al loss over the last 25–30 years is “shock­ing”, Sánchez-Bayo told the Guardian: “It is very rapid. In 10 years you will have a quar­ter less, in 50 years only half left and in 100 years you will have none.”

    One of the biggest impacts of insect loss is on the many birds, rep­tiles, amphib­ians and fish that eat insects. “If this food source is tak­en away, all these ani­mals starve to death,” he said. Such cas­cad­ing effects have already been seen in Puer­to Rico, where a recent study revealed a 98% fall in ground insects over 35 years.
    ...

    As authors describe it, the soil is lit­er­al­ly being ster­il­ized by mod­ern agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices. And the chem­i­cals doing that ster­il­iza­tion don’t stay in the fields where the pes­ti­cides are sprayed. The chem­i­cals leak into the sur­round­ing areas and kill the insects there too:

    ...
    “The main cause of the decline is agri­cul­tur­al inten­si­fi­ca­tion,” Sánchez-Bayo said. “That means the elim­i­na­tion of all trees and shrubs that nor­mal­ly sur­round the fields, so there are plain, bare fields that are treat­ed with syn­thet­ic fer­tilis­ers and pes­ti­cides.” He said the demise of insects appears to have start­ed at the dawn of the 20th cen­tu­ry, accel­er­at­ed dur­ing the 1950s and 1960s and reached “alarm­ing pro­por­tions” over the last two decades.

    He thinks new class­es of insec­ti­cides intro­duced in the last 20 years, includ­ing neon­i­coti­noids and fipronil, have been par­tic­u­lar­ly dam­ag­ing as they are used rou­tine­ly and per­sist in the envi­ron­ment: “They ster­ilise the soil, killing all the grubs.” This has effects even in nature reserves near­by; the 75% insect loss­es record­ed in Ger­many were in pro­tect­ed areas.

    The world must change the way it pro­duces food, Sánchez-Bayo said, not­ing that organ­ic farms had more insects and that occa­sion­al pes­ti­cide use in the past did not cause the lev­el of decline seen in recent decades. “Indus­tri­al-scale, inten­sive agri­cul­ture is the one that is killing the ecosys­tems,” he said.
    ...

    But as the authors also point out, in the trop­ics, where indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture is often not present, it’s cli­mate change that is col­laps­ing insect pop­u­la­tions:

    ...
    In the trop­ics, where indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture is often not yet present, the ris­ing tem­per­a­tures due to cli­mate change are thought to be a sig­nif­i­cant fac­tor in the decline. The species there have adapt­ed to very sta­ble con­di­tions and have lit­tle abil­i­ty to change, as seen in Puer­to Rico.
    ...

    Or course, as Pro­fes­sor Paul Ehrlich notes at the end of the arti­cle, we have to keep in mind that the unsus­tain­able rate of human resource con­sump­tion — caused by over­pop­u­la­tion and over­con­sump­tion — is the under­ly­ing dri­ving force caus­ing the col­lapse the ecosys­tem, whether it’s over­con­sump­tion lead­ing to unsus­tain­able agri­cul­ture prac­tices, or over­con­sump­tion lead­ing to cli­mate change, or pol­lu­tion or habi­tat loss or what­ev­er. It’s human­i­ty’s poi­son­ing an destruc­tion of ecosys­tems in gen­er­al that’s lead­ing to the col­lapse of the bios­phere. It’s an obvi­ous point that is eas­i­ly for­got­ten as this night­mare sit­u­a­tion unfolds:

    ...
    Prof Paul Ehrlich, at Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­tyin the US, has seen insects van­ish first-hand, through his work on check­erspot but­ter­flies on Stanford’s Jasper Ridge reserve. He first stud­ied them in 1960 but they had all gone by 2000, large­ly due to cli­mate change.

    Ehrlich praised the review, say­ing: “It is extra­or­di­nary to have gone through all those stud­ies and analysed them as well as they have.” He said the par­tic­u­lar­ly large declines in aquat­ic insects were strik­ing. “But they don’t men­tion that it is human over­pop­u­la­tion and over­con­sump­tion that is dri­ving all the things [erad­i­cat­ing insects], includ­ing cli­mate change,” he said.
    ...

    So, as of now, it’s agri­cul­ture, more so than cli­mate change, that is pri­mar­i­ly dri­ving the col­lapse of insect pop­u­la­tions accord­ing to this meta-analy­sis. And at cur­rent rates we could effec­tive­ly run out of insects in 100 years.

    But let’s keep in mind that cli­mate change just might over­take agri­cul­ture as the pri­ma­ry dri­ver of insect loss­es if cli­mate change gets real­ly, real­ly, real­ly bad. Espe­cial­ly if human­i­ty behaves real­ly, real­ly, real­ly bad­ly and does­n’t cut back on CO2 emis­sions and allows the lev­els It’s already pro­ject­ed to get real­ly, real­ly bad but that does­n’t mean it can’t be worse than pro­ject­ed. There are plen­ty of run­away cli­mate change sce­nar­ios that are very plau­si­ble. And that brings us to the fol­low­ing arti­cle about a new study just pub­lished in Nature Geo­science that just might elu­ci­date a mech­a­nism for how it could get real­ly, real­ly, real­ly bad: if CO2 lev­els triple from the present day lev­els, stra­tocu­mu­lus cloud might stop form­ing. Stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds are cre­at­ed by warm air ris­ing and cool­ing, caus­ing water vapor to con­dense. They clouds cov­er large swaths of the trop­i­cal ocean, so if they dis­ap­pear this will pre­sum­ably impact the trop­ics espe­cial­ly hard.

    These types of clouds are par­tic­u­lar­ly impor­tant to trap­ping or deflect­ing sun­light and based on the study we could see an addi­tion­al 8 degrees Cel­sius tem­per­a­ture rise sole­ly from the loss of the cloud cov­er­age. That’s 8 degrees on top of all the 4 degrees or so that’s already assumed in most cli­mate mod­els.

    Chill­ing­ly, this mech­a­nism might explain a peri­od of extreme heat­ing of the cli­mate that took place about 55 mil­lion years called the Pale­ocene Eocene Ther­mal Max­i­mum (PETM) when the tem­per­a­ture rose so much there were croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic. Sci­en­tists haven’t been able to explain this kind of heat­ing based on the known CO2 lev­els from that peri­od. One pos­si­bil­i­ty for the extreme heat­ing that must have tak­en place for the PETM to hap­pen was anoth­er green­house gas: mas­sive methane releas­es from the ocean floor. But this dis­cov­ery of the the­o­ret­i­cal destruc­tion of stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds at high CO2 lev­els pro­vides anoth­er pos­si­ble expla­na­tion for croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic.

    Adding to the chill­ing nature of the report is that their mod­els sug­gest­ed that once that CO2 lev­el is reached where the stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds break up, those lev­els will have to drop far below that thresh­old before the clouds form again. So that 1300 ppm CO2 lev­el is a qua­si-irre­versible tip­ping point for the stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds.

    So what are the odds of a tripling of atmos­pher­ic CO2 lev­els and an ultra-cat­a­stroph­ic surge in tem­per­a­tures? Well, at present trends, human­i­ty will hit that lev­el in about 100 years, around the same time we’re sched­uled to have col­lapse the glob­al insect pop­u­la­tions. So assum­ing human­i­ty does noth­ing mean­ing­ful about CO2 emis­sions for the next cen­tu­ry, the odds are pret­ty good of that CO2 tripling (and the col­lapse of the insects after the loss of the clouds bakes the plan­et). But the study’s lead researcher, Tapio Schnei­der, does­n’t think CO2 lev­els will hit that point. Why? He has faith that human civ­i­liza­tion will find a way to avoid that kind of dis­as­ter. So a faith in human­i­ty’s fore­sight and abil­i­ty to col­lec­tive­ly act for the sake of future gen­er­a­tions is what’s going to pre­vent this dooms­day sce­nario, accord­ing to the lead researcher. Which is per­haps the most chill­ing part of the study:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Very high car­bon diox­ide could sup­press cool­ing clouds, cli­mate change mod­el warns

    By Joel Achen­bach
    Feb­ru­ary 25, 2019

    Stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds are rather bor­ing. They’re not as ele­gant as cir­rus clouds (those horse­tail wisps high in the sky) or as majes­tic as cumu­lonim­bus clouds (big, scary thun­der­heads). But stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds, which hov­er low in the sky and cre­ate vast decks of cloud cov­er, have a supreme val­ue in our warm­ing world: Their white tops reflect lots of solar radi­a­tion back into space.

    But Earth’s broad port­fo­lio of clouds in the year 2019 could poten­tial­ly be altered by extreme cli­mate change. Those stra­tocu­mu­lus cloud decks could van­ish, fur­ther inten­si­fy­ing glob­al warm­ing.

    That’s the unset­tling con­clu­sion of a study pub­lished Mon­day in the jour­nal Nature Geo­science, based on a com­put­er mod­el that pro­vides a new warn­ing that cli­mate change could deliv­er sur­pris­es on top of the already exist­ing and clear­ly pre­dictable con­se­quences.

    The lead researcher, Tapio Schnei­der, a cli­mate sci­en­tist at Cal­tech, hypoth­e­sized that very high lev­els of atmos­pher­ic car­bon diox­ide could sup­press the for­ma­tion of stra­tocu­mu­lus cloud decks. He and his col­leagues mod­eled the for­ma­tion of such clouds and, after two years of com­put­er cal­cu­la­tions, con­clud­ed that the steady rise in atmos­pher­ic CO2 could trig­ger a sud­den spike in tem­per­a­ture asso­ci­at­ed with dis­ap­pear­ing stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds.

    The effect appeared intense if CO2 reached 1,200 parts per mil­lion — three times the cur­rent lev­el, which is already much high­er than the prein­dus­tri­al lev­el of car­bon diox­ide. If CO2 reached 1,300 parts per mil­lion, the new report states, the glob­al atmos­pher­ic tem­per­a­ture would rise 8 degrees Cel­sius above what­ev­er warm­ing had already been pro­duced from green­house gas­es.

    “It’s a dra­mat­ic effect,” Schnei­der told The Wash­ing­ton Post. The stra­tocu­mu­lus cloud decks “break up alto­geth­er,” he said.

    “Once the stra­tocu­mu­lus decks have bro­ken up, they only re-form once CO2 con­cen­tra­tions drop sub­stan­tial­ly below the lev­el at which the insta­bil­i­ty first occurred,” accord­ing to the study.

    Ker­ry Emanuel, a pro­fes­sor of atmos­pher­ic sci­ence at MIT, said of Schneider’s study: “What he’s done is cer­tain­ly plau­si­ble, but these clouds are real­ly hard to sim­u­late. . . . It pro­vides a plau­si­ble, but not yet proven, route by which you could have a tip­ping point in the cli­mate.”

    Cli­mate sci­en­tists have long been con­found­ed by clouds. A cloud can ampli­fy glob­al warm­ing, or it can lim­it it, depend­ing on what kind of cloud it is, and its size, loca­tion, thick­ness, dura­tion, etc. But clouds are hard to pin down in a com­put­er mod­el. They are remark­ably insub­stan­tial ele­ments of the nat­ur­al world. If you could bring all the clouds and water vapor in the atmos­phere to the sur­face, it would form a liq­uid lay­er less than an inch deep, Schnei­der said, and clouds alone would cre­ate a lay­er no deep­er than a coat of paint.

    “You need to pre­dict what small frac­tion of that water vapor will con­dense into clouds,” Schnei­der said.

    There is no easy way to test whether clouds would real­ly behave this way in a world with such alarm­ing­ly high con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide. What’s cer­tain is that a spike of 8 degrees C, in addi­tion to warm­ing already baked in the cake from green­house gas emis­sions, would pre­sum­ably be cat­a­stroph­ic, not only for human civ­i­liza­tion but for count­less species and ecosys­tems jolt­ed by the rapid cli­mate change.

    Since the start of the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, when peo­ple began burn­ing fos­sil fuels on a vast scale, glob­al tem­per­a­tures have risen about 1 degree Cel­sius, or about 1.8 degrees Fahren­heit, with the warm­ing dri­ven by the rise in atmos­pher­ic car­bon diox­ide, from about 280 ppm to more than 400 ppm, a lev­el sur­passed in 2013 for the first time in record­ed his­to­ry. It is hard to imag­ine a world with any­thing near 1,300 ppm CO2.

    Schnei­der, for one, does not think such extreme lev­els of CO2 will actu­al­ly mate­ri­al­ize, sim­ply because he assumes that human civ­i­liza­tion will find a way to avoid putting all that car­bon into the atmos­phere.

    “I hope there’s going to be suf­fi­cient tech­no­log­i­cal progress that we’re not going to get there. But it’s not out­side the realm of the pos­si­ble,” Schnei­der said.

    Matt Huber, a Pur­due cli­mate sci­en­tist who has stud­ied the effects of clouds on cli­mate, offered a cau­tious assess­ment of the new paper. “When­ev­er you see a sur­pris­ing result in a cli­mate mod­el, you get con­cerned that the mod­el is itself just too tip­py, that there’s some­thing that should be sta­bi­liz­ing the mod­el,” he said.

    But Huber not­ed that the Schnei­der paper offers a poten­tial answer to a long-stand­ing rid­dle. For decades, sci­en­tists have known that 55 mil­lion years ago, the Earth endured a strange­ly hot phase — called the Pale­ocene Eocene Ther­mal Max­i­mum (PETM). That’s the famous “croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic” peri­od.

    How did Earth get so swel­ter­ing? Car­bon diox­ide is an obvi­ous ele­ment of the mys­tery, but cli­mate mod­els can­not seem to nudge the plan­et into such high tem­per­a­tures with­out extra­or­di­nary lev­els of CO2, such as 4,000 ppm or high­er. And the geo­log­i­cal record does not show CO2 high­er than 2,000 ppm. So there must be anoth­er fac­tor.

    One pos­si­bil­i­ty has been that a mas­sive escape of methane from the ocean floor tipped the cli­mate into a new hot­house regime. But the Schnei­der paper offers anoth­er con­jec­ture: Van­ish­ing cloud cov­er could lead to a cli­mate tip­ping point.

    Stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds are pro­duced as warm air ris­es from the sur­face and cools, caus­ing water vapor to con­dense. Such cloud decks are known in Cal­i­for­nia as marine lay­ers, and they are noto­ri­ous for rolling into coastal cities and turn­ing warm days cold. These clouds cov­er large swaths of the trop­i­cal ocean.

    ...

    ———-

    “Very high car­bon diox­ide could sup­press cool­ing clouds, cli­mate change mod­el warns” by Joel Achen­bach; The Wash­ing­ton Post; 02/25/2019

    “Cli­mate sci­en­tists have long been con­found­ed by clouds. A cloud can ampli­fy glob­al warm­ing, or it can lim­it it, depend­ing on what kind of cloud it is, and its size, loca­tion, thick­ness, dura­tion, etc. But clouds are hard to pin down in a com­put­er mod­el. They are remark­ably insub­stan­tial ele­ments of the nat­ur­al world. If you could bring all the clouds and water vapor in the atmos­phere to the sur­face, it would form a liq­uid lay­er less than an inch deep, Schnei­der said, and clouds alone would cre­ate a lay­er no deep­er than a coat of paint.”

    Clouds are tricky. Impor­tant but con­found­ing. That’s how cli­mate researchers have long viewed them. But accord­ing to this two year mod­el­ing study, it’s pos­si­ble the stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds sim­ply break up at 1300 ppm CO2 lead­ing to an 8 degree Cel­sius spike in tem­per­a­ture on top of all the oth­er warm­ing. It would be a mega-cat­a­stro­phe for life on Earth:

    ...
    The effect appeared intense if CO2 reached 1,200 parts per mil­lion — three times the cur­rent lev­el, which is already much high­er than the prein­dus­tri­al lev­el of car­bon diox­ide. If CO2 reached 1,300 parts per mil­lion, the new report states, the glob­al atmos­pher­ic tem­per­a­ture would rise 8 degrees Cel­sius above what­ev­er warm­ing had already been pro­duced from green­house gas­es.

    “It’s a dra­mat­ic effect,” Schnei­der told The Wash­ing­ton Post. The stra­tocu­mu­lus cloud decks “break up alto­geth­er,” he said.

    “Once the stra­tocu­mu­lus decks have bro­ken up, they only re-form once CO2 con­cen­tra­tions drop sub­stan­tial­ly below the lev­el at which the insta­bil­i­ty first occurred,” accord­ing to the study.

    ...

    There is no easy way to test whether clouds would real­ly behave this way in a world with such alarm­ing­ly high con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide. What’s cer­tain is that a spike of 8 degrees C, in addi­tion to warm­ing already baked in the cake from green­house gas emis­sions, would pre­sum­ably be cat­a­stroph­ic, not only for human civ­i­liza­tion but for count­less species and ecosys­tems jolt­ed by the rapid cli­mate change.
    ...

    And while Per­due cli­mate sci­en­tist Matt Huber reminds us that it’s very pos­si­ble the mod­el is sim­ply wrong, he also points out that this 1300 ppm CO2 thresh­old on the for­ma­tion of stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds might be the miss­ing expla­na­tion for the Pale­ocene Eocene Ther­mal Max­i­mum (PETM) peri­od 55 mil­lion years ago when there were croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic:

    ...
    Matt Huber, a Pur­due cli­mate sci­en­tist who has stud­ied the effects of clouds on cli­mate, offered a cau­tious assess­ment of the new paper. “When­ev­er you see a sur­pris­ing result in a cli­mate mod­el, you get con­cerned that the mod­el is itself just too tip­py, that there’s some­thing that should be sta­bi­liz­ing the mod­el,” he said.

    But Huber not­ed that the Schnei­der paper offers a poten­tial answer to a long-stand­ing rid­dle. For decades, sci­en­tists have known that 55 mil­lion years ago, the Earth endured a strange­ly hot phase — called the Pale­ocene Eocene Ther­mal Max­i­mum (PETM). That’s the famous “croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic” peri­od.

    How did Earth get so swel­ter­ing? Car­bon diox­ide is an obvi­ous ele­ment of the mys­tery, but cli­mate mod­els can­not seem to nudge the plan­et into such high tem­per­a­tures with­out extra­or­di­nary lev­els of CO2, such as 4,000 ppm or high­er. And the geo­log­i­cal record does not show CO2 high­er than 2,000 ppm. So there must be anoth­er fac­tor.

    One pos­si­bil­i­ty has been that a mas­sive escape of methane from the ocean floor tipped the cli­mate into a new hot­house regime. But the Schnei­der paper offers anoth­er con­jec­ture: Van­ish­ing cloud cov­er could lead to a cli­mate tip­ping point.
    ...

    But at least the lead author is con­fi­dent that the dooms­day 1300 ppm CO2 lev­els won’t be reached. Because he’s con­fi­dent we’ll find a tech­no­log­i­cal solu­tion. Or at least hope­ful:

    ...
    Schnei­der, for one, does not think such extreme lev­els of CO2 will actu­al­ly mate­ri­al­ize, sim­ply because he assumes that human civ­i­liza­tion will find a way to avoid putting all that car­bon into the atmos­phere.

    “I hope there’s going to be suf­fi­cient tech­no­log­i­cal progress that we’re not going to get there. But it’s not out­side the realm of the pos­si­ble,” Schnei­der said.
    ...

    Keep in mind that, at cur­rent rates, the globe is pro­ject­ed to hit around 800 ppm CO2 by 2100, so if present trends con­tin­ue or get worse the 1300 ppm lev­el would pre­sum­ably be hit some time in mid 2100s. Yep, Human­i­ty might have around 150 to avoid break­ing the clouds. And based on out cur­rent behav­ior and the scale of the prob­lem, it’s very unclear why we should share Schei­der’s hope that human­i­ty will find that tech­no­log­i­cal ‘sil­ver bul­let’. So hope­ful­ly we do find that tech­no­log­i­cal sil­ver bul­let that pre­vents the cross­ing of the 1300 ppm thresh­old. But if not, cli­mate change will clear­ly over­take agri­cul­ture as the lead­ing dri­ver of the death of the insects. A rapid 8 degrees Cel­sius rise from the sud­den dis­ap­pear­ance of stra­tocu­mu­lus clouds is going to kill a lot of insects. And much of the rest of the rest of the ecosys­tem.

    But at least the insects that sur­vive the 8 degree Cel­sius spike in tem­per­a­tures will have a com­fy new home with the croc­o­diles in the Arc­tic. That’s the good news.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 3, 2019, 11:26 pm
  18. There was an inter­est­ing announce­ment from Bay­er this week: in response to the grow­ing crit­i­cism (and law­suits) over the health risks posed by glyphosate — the key ingre­di­ent in RoundUp which Bay­er now pro­duces after buy­ing Mon­san­to — Bay­er has declared that it’s going to invest $5.6 bil­lion in find­ing safer alter­na­tives to RoundUp and cut its envi­ron­men­tal impact by 30 per­cent. The com­pa­ny points out that it’s still plan­ning on sell­ing glyphosate for years to come. It’s the kind of move we should have expect­ed giv­en the pub­lic rela­tions headache Bay­er bought for itself with its Mon­san­to acqui­si­tion. With one new study after anoth­er show­ing a glyphosate can­cer risk and one law­suit after anoth­er show­ing the poten­tial legal costs, some sort of pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign was clear­ly in Bay­er’s inter­est.

    And if Bay­er’s new research and devel­op­ment pledge actu­al­ly pans out and devel­ops new safer alter­na­tives to glyphosate this new ini­tia­tive will clear­ly be in pub­lic’s inter­est too. Safer her­bi­cides that don’t col­lapse the ecosys­tem are kind of vital tech­nol­o­gy at this point. Vital tech­nol­o­gy that does­n’t exist yet so let’s wish Bay­er’s researchers luck. We all need it.

    Unfor­tu­nate­ly, as the senior sci­en­tist at the Cen­ter for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty points out in the fol­low­ing arti­cle, this is prob­a­bly just a pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign. Even worse, the arti­cle notes one big rea­son to sus­pect it might not just be a pub­lic rela­tions cam­paign and will actu­al­ly be a real research ini­tia­tive is that weeds resis­tant to glyphosate are already ram­pant across the US south and already in Iowa. The weeds are get­ting resis­tant to the gold­en goose. And Bay­er’s announce­ment sounds like they’re real­ly going to be invest­ing in tech­nol­o­gy to work along­side glyphosate. Because of the resis­tance.

    But also note the implic­it absur­di­ty of Bay­er’s announce­ment: it implies Bayer/Monsanto was­n’t already invest­ing heav­i­ly in safer alter­na­tives to glyphosate or addi­tion­al tech­nol­o­gy to work along­side glyphosate. Isn’t research in next-gen­er­a­tion crop pro­tec­tion tech­nol­o­gy a basic part of Mon­san­to’s busi­ness mod­el that Bay­er just bought? Espe­cial­ly giv­en the record prof­its that Mon­san­to made with RoundUp over the last two decades have gen­er­at­ed plen­ty of finan­cial resources need­ed for mak­ing the sen­si­ble invest­ments like the next-gen­er­a­tion safer her­bi­cides? Would­n’t ‘the mar­ket’ demand that such research invest­ments hap­pen? Nope. As Ed Ander­son, the Iowa Soy­bean Asso­ci­a­tion’s senior research direc­tor, put’s it in the arti­cle below, invest­ment in crop pro­tec­tion stalled after the devel­op­ment of glyphosate because Mon­san­to’s glyphosate-based com­mer­cial empire based on com­bin­ing glyphosate with glyphostate-resis­tant GMO seeds was such a dom­i­nant tech­nol­o­gy that Mon­san­to’s com­peti­tors sim­ply con­ced­ed the mar­ket and stopped research­ing for the last cou­ple of decades. It was just assumed Mon­san­to would win. It prob­a­bly explains why Bay­er was will­ing to buy a legal headache like Mon­san­to at a hefty price: Mon­san­to is prob­a­bly one of the only games in town for cut­ting edge next-gen­er­a­tion crop pro­tec­tion tech­nol­o­gy because it scared away the com­pe­ti­tion with its glyphosate empire.

    But even Mon­san­to’s next-gen­er­a­tion cut­ting edge tech­nol­o­gy that Bay­er bought may not be enough. It was appar­ent­ly assumed by Mon­san­to and its com­peti­tors ini­tial­ly that resis­tance to glyphosate could­n’t eas­i­ly be devel­oped in nature so Mon­san­to’s glyphosate-based empire of glyphosate-resis­tant GMO crops was going to leave Mon­san­to in an insur­mount­able mar­ket posi­tion for years to come. But that assump­tion was wrong because the weeds got resis­tant to glyphosate and now the super­weeds have reached the US bread­bas­ket of Iowa. A solu­tion is nec­es­sary and the one Mon­san­to, now Bay­er, arrived at is adding more her­bi­cides on top of glyphosate. Like dicam­ba, which is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered the next least tox­ic her­bi­cide after glyh­phosate. More research is clear­ly need­ed. Prefer­ably pub­lic research not influ­enced by Bay­er’s bot­tom line.

    So human­i­ty left the future of food sup­ply tech­nol­o­gy up to ‘the mar­ket’ and ‘the mar­ket’ decid­ed to leave it up to Mon­san­to. Then Bay­er bought Mon­san­to and was com­pelled to announce a $5.6 bil­lion com­mit­ment to find­ing glyphosate alter­na­tives in response to glyphosate can­cer con­cerns. It does­n’t inspire opti­mism. That’s why Bay­er announc­ing this research ini­tia­tive in response to the bad press it bought with the Mon­san­to merg­er should be viewed that larg­er con­text of ‘the mar­ket’ fail­ing to invest in human­i­ty’s food sup­ply tech­nol­o­gy because Mon­san­to was so dom­i­nant in the mar­ket. And now Mon­san­to’s crop sci­ence research is merged with Bay­er, one of its few peers in the crop sci­ence space. So one rea­son not to be super enthused about Bay­er’s new com­mit­ment is that it’s in the con­text of a con­cen­tra­tion of mar­ket pow­er in the crop sci­ence space that already result­ed in a lack of invest­ment in next-gen­er­a­tion tech­nolo­gies before Mon­san­to merged with Bay­er so it’s pre­sum­ably only get­ting worse after merg­er:

    Des Moines Reg­is­ter

    Bay­er AG says it will cut envi­ron­men­tal impact 30%, invest $5.6 bil­lion into find­ing glyphosate alter­na­tives

    Don­nelle Eller
    Pub­lished 8:06 a.m. CT June 14, 2019 | Updat­ed 6:56 p.m. CT June 14, 2019

    Bay­er AG, the Ger­man par­ent of Mon­san­to, says it will cut its envi­ron­men­tal impact by 30% and invest $5.6 bil­lion to find alter­na­tives to its wide­ly used glyphosate-based weed killer, RoundUp.

    “While glyphosate will con­tin­ue to play an impor­tant role in agri­cul­ture and in Bayer’s port­fo­lio, the com­pa­ny is com­mit­ted to offer­ing more choic­es for grow­ers and will invest approx­i­mate­ly 5 bil­lion euros in addi­tion­al meth­ods for com­bat weeds over the next decade,” Bay­er said in a state­ment released Fri­day.

    Bay­er, which pur­chased St. Louis-based Mon­san­to last year, faces mount­ing legal chal­lenges after three Cal­i­for­nia juries ruled in favor of peo­ple with lym­phoma and can­cer who blame the her­bi­cide for their dis­ease. Bay­er said it would appeal the court deci­sions.

    Thou­sands of sim­i­lar law­suits are pend­ing. An arm of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion ruled in 2015 that glyphosate was prob­a­bly car­cino­genic, a deci­sion that’s been high­ly con­tro­ver­sial. The U.S. and sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries have deter­mined the chem­i­cal is safe to use.

    Nathan Don­ley, senior sci­en­tist at the Cen­ter for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty, an Ari­zona-based envi­ron­men­tal group, believes the Bay­er is a pub­lic rela­tions move designed to win over its crit­ics.

    “Bay­er is get­ting a lot of flack for the prod­ucts they acquired from Mon­san­to, and they’re try­ing to make peace with the pub­lic. But they’re not real­ly doing any­thing,” Don­ley said.

    “The pub­lic has over­whelm­ing­ly reject­ed Bay­er’s vision of chem­i­cal­ly inten­sive agri­cul­ture, and Bay­er’s answer is to spend more mon­ey find­ing more her­bi­cides,” Don­ley said.

    Liam Con­don, pres­i­dent of Bay­er’s crop sci­ence divi­sion, said the com­pa­ny believes it can use inno­va­tion to cut the com­pa­ny’s envi­ron­men­tal foot­print in agri­cul­ture 30% by 2030.

    “All our research and devel­op­ment efforts are going into devel­op­ing alter­na­tives that are — from a safe­ty point of view — as good or bet­ter than what’s on the mar­ket today,” Con­don told the Reg­is­ter. “What’s on the mar­ket now is safe and approved, but we can always do bet­ter.”

    New gen­er­a­tions of seed traits his­tor­i­cal­ly have helped reduce the amount of crop pro­tec­tion need. “It’s come down sig­nif­i­cant­ly ... and that tra­jec­to­ry will con­tin­ue going for­ward,” he said.

    Con­don said Bay­er expects farm­ers also will be able to reduce their chem­i­cal use through tech­nol­o­gy.

    “We’re look­ing at a mul­ti­tude of new tech­nolo­gies that we think will trans­form agri­cul­ture,” Con­don said, includ­ing tech­nol­o­gy that uses satel­lite imag­ing, sen­sors and robot­ics to more accu­rate­ly apply need­ed her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides.

    They’re typ­i­cal­ly broad­cast across entire fields.

    Don­ley, the Cen­ter for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty sci­en­tist, said farm­ers’ strug­gle with low com­mod­i­ty prices is dri­ving crop com­pa­nies to reduce the amount grow­ers use.

    “Pes­ti­cides are expen­sive ... so there’s pres­sure to use less,” he said. “Mon­san­to had put mon­ey into look­ing at these reduc­tion strate­gies ... to remain com­pet­i­tive.”

    Ed Ander­son, the Iowa Soy­bean Asso­ci­a­tion’s senior research direc­tor, said farm­ers need more crop pro­tec­tion research since invest­ment most­ly stalled fol­low­ing the devel­op­ment of glyphosate, which has been on the mar­ket since 1974.

    Mon­san­to began intro­duc­ing glyphosate-resis­tant crops in 1996, enabling crops to be sprayed with the her­bi­cide with­out harm­ing them. RoundUp is the world’s most pop­u­lar her­bi­cide.

    “We lost about 20 years of research and devel­op­ment,” Ander­son said. Crop pro­tec­tion com­pa­nies thought, “why both­er? They’re not going to be able to com­pete with Mon­san­to and this extreme­ly safe and effec­tive glyphosate sys­tem.”

    But now that weeds are becom­ing resis­tant to glyphosate, com­pa­nies are look­ing for new alter­na­tives.

    Mon­san­to, for exam­ple, has intro­duced a her­bi­cide and seed sys­tem that incor­po­rates dicam­ba, which has been crit­i­cized for drift­ing from fields and harm­ing neigh­bors’ crops.

    Mon­san­to has blamed users for incor­rect­ly using the prod­uct.

    “Now that crop pro­tec­tion com­pa­nies have real­ized that her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds are an issue and that RoundUp is not the easy-but­ton any more, they’re play­ing catch up,” Ander­son said.

    “Every­body is look­ing for the next RoundUp,” he said. “No one can tell you if we’ll find RoundUp again, in terms of safe­ty and effec­tive­ness, but cer­tain­ly that’s what sci­en­tists are pur­su­ing.”

    Bay­er also said it’s “rais­ing the bar in trans­paren­cy,” releas­ing all of its safe­ty-relat­ed crop sci­ence stud­ies online last year.

    Since then, the com­pa­ny said it has released hun­dreds of stud­ies for near­ly 30 com­pounds, includ­ing all 107 com­pa­ny-owned glyphosate stud­ies.

    “Going for­ward, the com­pa­ny will pilot a pro­gram invit­ing sci­en­tists, jour­nal­ists and NGO (non-gov­ern­ment orga­ni­za­tion) rep­re­sen­ta­tives to par­tic­i­pate through its sci­en­tif­ic prepa­ra­tion for the upcom­ing EU glyphosate re-reg­is­tra­tion process, which will start lat­er this year,” Bay­er said.

    Don­ley ques­tioned whether the study infor­ma­tion online is help­ful. He said sci­en­tists have asked Bay­er to pro­vide study data, but have been denied.

    If Bay­er wants to improve its envi­ron­men­tal impact, Don­ley said it should look at its line­up of her­bi­cides and retire the “worst of the worst. ... Some of them are too dan­ger­ous to use, peri­od.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Bay­er AG says it will cut envi­ron­men­tal impact 30%, invest $5.6 bil­lion into find­ing glyphosate alter­na­tives” by Don­nelle Eller; Des Moines Reg­is­ter; 06/14/2019

    “Bay­er, which pur­chased St. Louis-based Mon­san­to last year, faces mount­ing legal chal­lenges after three Cal­i­for­nia juries ruled in favor of peo­ple with lym­phoma and can­cer who blame the her­bi­cide for their dis­ease. Bay­er said it would appeal the court deci­sions.”

    Bay­er did­n’t just buy a crop sci­ence giant. It also bought the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a class action law­suit of over glyphosate. Thou­sands of cas­es are already pend­ing. So there’s a need for some press about Bay­er com­ing up with glyphosate replace­ments. The prob­lem is it might just be all talk and no tech and no real plans for research. $5.6 bil­lion can buy a lot of ads instead of research:

    ...
    Thou­sands of sim­i­lar law­suits are pend­ing. An arm of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion ruled in 2015 that glyphosate was prob­a­bly car­cino­genic, a deci­sion that’s been high­ly con­tro­ver­sial. The U.S. and sev­er­al oth­er coun­tries have deter­mined the chem­i­cal is safe to use.

    Nathan Don­ley, senior sci­en­tist at the Cen­ter for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty, an Ari­zona-based envi­ron­men­tal group, believes the Bay­er is a pub­lic rela­tions move designed to win over its crit­ics.

    “Bay­er is get­ting a lot of flack for the prod­ucts they acquired from Mon­san­to, and they’re try­ing to make peace with the pub­lic. But they’re not real­ly doing any­thing,” Don­ley said.

    “The pub­lic has over­whelm­ing­ly reject­ed Bay­er’s vision of chem­i­cal­ly inten­sive agri­cul­ture, and Bay­er’s answer is to spend more mon­ey find­ing more her­bi­cides,” Don­ley said.
    ...

    But Bay­er’s head of crop sci­ences gives us hints of what’s to come, like the use of satel­lites, sen­sors, and robot­ics to more accu­rate­ly deliv­er pes­ti­cides which is prob­a­bly a ref­er­ence to the ‘Big Data’ vision Mon­san­to had that was creep­ing farm­ers out. Will armies of senors and robots lead to a rev­o­lu­tion in low­er pes­ti­cide use? That’s the promise, so let’s hope it’s not just an excuse to sell a bunch of robots and sen­sors and col­lect valu­able data:

    ...
    Liam Con­don, pres­i­dent of Bay­er’s crop sci­ence divi­sion, said the com­pa­ny believes it can use inno­va­tion to cut the com­pa­ny’s envi­ron­men­tal foot­print in agri­cul­ture 30% by 2030.

    “All our research and devel­op­ment efforts are going into devel­op­ing alter­na­tives that are — from a safe­ty point of view — as good or bet­ter than what’s on the mar­ket today,” Con­don told the Reg­is­ter. “What’s on the mar­ket now is safe and approved, but we can always do bet­ter.”

    New gen­er­a­tions of seed traits his­tor­i­cal­ly have helped reduce the amount of crop pro­tec­tion need. “It’s come down sig­nif­i­cant­ly ... and that tra­jec­to­ry will con­tin­ue going for­ward,” he said.

    Con­don said Bay­er expects farm­ers also will be able to reduce their chem­i­cal use through tech­nol­o­gy.

    “We’re look­ing at a mul­ti­tude of new tech­nolo­gies that we think will trans­form agri­cul­ture,” Con­don said, includ­ing tech­nol­o­gy that uses satel­lite imag­ing, sen­sors and robot­ics to more accu­rate­ly apply need­ed her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides.

    They’re typ­i­cal­ly broad­cast across entire fields.

    Don­ley, the Cen­ter for Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty sci­en­tist, said farm­ers’ strug­gle with low com­mod­i­ty prices is dri­ving crop com­pa­nies to reduce the amount grow­ers use.

    “Pes­ti­cides are expen­sive ... so there’s pres­sure to use less,” he said. “Mon­san­to had put mon­ey into look­ing at these reduc­tion strate­gies ... to remain com­pet­i­tive.”
    ...

    And as Ed Ander­son, the Iowa Soy­bean Asso­ci­a­tion’s senior research direc­tor, omi­nous­ly describes, invest­ment most­ly stalled fol­low­ing the devel­op­ment of glyphosate and GMO resis­tant crops. Two decades of research time was con­ced­ed to Mon­san­to by the rest of the crop pro­tec­tion indus­try. And now every­one is play­ing catch up includ­ing Bay­er which is reflect­ed by the fact that the cur­rent solu­tion to glyphosate resis­tant weeds is dicam­ba which is gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered more tox­ic than glyphosate:

    ...
    Ed Ander­son, the Iowa Soy­bean Asso­ci­a­tion’s senior research direc­tor, said farm­ers need more crop pro­tec­tion research since invest­ment most­ly stalled fol­low­ing the devel­op­ment of glyphosate, which has been on the mar­ket since 1974.

    Mon­san­to began intro­duc­ing glyphosate-resis­tant crops in 1996, enabling crops to be sprayed with the her­bi­cide with­out harm­ing them. RoundUp is the world’s most pop­u­lar her­bi­cide.

    “We lost about 20 years of research and devel­op­ment,” Ander­son said. Crop pro­tec­tion com­pa­nies thought, “why both­er? They’re not going to be able to com­pete with Mon­san­to and this extreme­ly safe and effec­tive glyphosate sys­tem.”

    But now that weeds are becom­ing resis­tant to glyphosate, com­pa­nies are look­ing for new alter­na­tives.

    Mon­san­to, for exam­ple, has intro­duced a her­bi­cide and seed sys­tem that incor­po­rates dicam­ba, which has been crit­i­cized for drift­ing from fields and harm­ing neigh­bors’ crops.

    Mon­san­to has blamed users for incor­rect­ly using the prod­uct.

    “Now that crop pro­tec­tion com­pa­nies have real­ized that her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds are an issue and that RoundUp is not the easy-but­ton any more, they’re play­ing catch up,” Ander­son said.

    “Every­body is look­ing for the next RoundUp,” he said. “No one can tell you if we’ll find RoundUp again, in terms of safe­ty and effec­tive­ness, but cer­tain­ly that’s what sci­en­tists are pur­su­ing.”
    ...

    So it’s not exact­ly great news. But it’s actu­al­ly much worst news because that report of weeds are becom­ing resis­tant to glyphosate is from 2014. And as we’ll in the 2014 arti­cle below, farm­ers had been deal­ing with glyphosate resis­tant super­weeds for almost a decade so it’s been clear glyphosate isn’t the mag­ic bul­let it was ini­tial­ly promised for quite a while. That’s also part of the con­text of the recent Bay­er pledge: glyphosate-resis­tant super­weeds have been ram­pant for years and there isn’t real­ly an answer yet oth­er than adding more pes­ti­cides. And as Robert Hart­zler, an ISU pro­fes­sor of agron­o­my, describes, this was all 100 per­cent pre­dictable because glyphosate was so wide­ly used. In oth­er words, max­i­miz­ing Mon­san­to’s prof­its by over­selling glyphosate guar­an­teed ter­ri­fy­ing super­weeds that might starve us all. There’s pre­sum­ably a good cap­i­tal­ism metaphor some­where in there:

    Des Moines Reg­is­ter

    ‘Super­weeds’ choke farms

    Don­nelle Eller
    Pub­lished 11:23 p.m. CT June 21, 2014 | Updat­ed 10:09 a.m. CT June 23, 2014

    Arkansas farmer Tom­my Young says South­ern grow­ers have lived through near­ly a decade of tor­ment, fight­ing a destruc­tive, fast-grow­ing weed that can car­ry a mil­lion seeds, grow as tall as an NBA play­er and is unfazed by sev­er­al her­bi­cides.

    Now that weed — Palmer ama­ranth — is in five Iowa coun­ties on the state’s bor­der, and agron­o­mists are work­ing to deter­mine whether it is her­bi­cide resis­tant.

    It has the pow­er to choke the state’s econ­o­my and envi­ron­ment — and increase prices for con­sumers.

    Here’s how: Even a mod­er­ate infes­ta­tion of Palmer ama­ranth can rob farm­ers of about two-thirds of their corn and soy­bean yields, experts say.

    That would be about $11 bil­lion gone from last year’s total $16 bil­lion corn and soy­bean receipts. That mon­ey rip­ples through some of the state’s most impor­tant agri­cul­tur­al busi­ness­es, a line­up that includes DuPont Pio­neer, Sukup Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co. and Deere & Co. Econ­o­mists esti­mate that a quar­ter of Iowa’s $166 bil­lion gross domes­tic prod­uct is tied to farm­ing.

    The growth of her­bi­cide resis­tance means farm­ers will use more — and poten­tial­ly more tox­ic — chem­i­cals to bat­tle the aggres­sive weed.

    Agribusi­ness­es are intro­duc­ing a new line­up of her­bi­cides and seeds to the bat­tle. Envi­ron­men­tal groups wor­ry that those pro­posed solu­tions will only wors­en the prob­lem.

    “Increased her­bi­cide use on the new engi­neered crops will speed up weed resis­tance, leav­ing no viable her­bi­cide alter­na­tives,” said Doug Guri­an-Sher­man, a senior sci­en­tist with the Cen­ter for Food Safe­ty.

    “This is a dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal cock­tail that, when com­bined with the cur­rent farm­ing sys­tem, it’s a recipe for dis­as­ter,” Guri­an-Sher­man, for­mer­ly with the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists.

    But farm­ers like Young say they have been forced to adopt less envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly farm­ing prac­tices, such as increased tillage, to bat­tle her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds. Till­ing is blamed for increased soil ero­sion and the loss of nutri­ents that can make their way into rivers and streams.

    Farm­ers also have turned to old­er, less-safe chem­i­cals like 2,4‑D when glyphosate does­n’t work.

    Iowa farm­ers should be scared, said Young, who had stopped till­ing 7,000 acres that his fam­i­ly farms until the dis­cov­ery of Palmer ama­ranth four years ago. He said crop rota­tion and oth­er con­ser­va­tion meth­ods helped him keep the weed at bay for about four years after becom­ing resis­tant in the state.

    South­ern states have plowed under thou­sands of acres of crops such as cot­ton in an effort to con­trol Palmer ama­ranth — and spent mil­lions of dol­lars hand-weed­ing it.

    “I’m sit­ting in a sprayer that cost over $350,000,” Young said. “It’s got a com­put­er sys­tem that lets me tell you pre­cise­ly what her­bi­cide I sprayed, how many ounces I sprayed, the wind direc­tion and speed, the field I was in, the humid­i­ty.

    “I’ve got all this fan­tas­tic tech­nol­o­gy, but noth­ing to pour in my tank,” said the 50-year-old, who wants gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tors to approve new prod­ucts from Dow and Mon­san­to to help bat­tle the weed. “I’m using the same chem­i­cals I used when I was 14.”

    ...

    Access to high-qual­i­ty, low-cost read­i­ly avail­able food is “all a func­tion of an effec­tive agri­cul­tur­al sys­tem that a weed like the Palmer ama­ranth could sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact,” Owen said.

    ‘Best her­bi­cide around’ los­es pow­er

    Near­ly 20 weeds in Iowa have devel­oped resis­tance to her­bi­cides that include glyphosate, a once-in-a-cen­tu­ry chem­i­cal that Mon­san­to brought to the mar­ket in 1976 under the name Roundup. It killed a broad range of weeds.

    Seed com­pa­nies lat­er intro­duced genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied soy­beans, corn, cot­ton and oth­er crops that were tol­er­ant to glyphosate and oth­er her­bi­cides. It enabled farm­ers to spray fields for weeds with­out harm­ing crops.

    Seeds also have been mod­i­fied so crops are resis­tant to insects and can bet­ter with­stand envi­ron­men­tal forces such as drought. Experts say the seeds have increased yields and, at least ini­tial­ly, enabled farm­ers to reduce the amount of her­bi­cides and pes­ti­cides they used.

    Last year, near­ly 160 mil­lion corn and soy­beans acres nation­al­ly were plant­ed with genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied crops, near­ly tripling since 2000, the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture said in a recent report. That’s about 90 per­cent of all corn and soy­bean acres.

    Crit­ics blame farm­ers for cre­at­ing her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds by overus­ing her­bi­cides such as glyphosate and fail­ing to diver­si­fy the crops they plant, rely­ing on prod­ucts such as Roundup Ready corn and soy­beans year after year.

    “Even though we warned them, you under­stand the eco­nom­ics behind it,” said Robert Hart­zler, an ISU pro­fes­sor of agron­o­my. “The cur­rent sys­tem favors the growth of corn and soy­beans,” prompt­ing farm­ers to leave out rota­tions of oth­er crops such as win­ter wheat that could dis­rupt weed resis­tance.

    “To make a rea­son­able liv­ing, you need to farm large acres, and to farm large acres, you need to cov­er acres quick­ly and that involves her­bi­cides. Glyphosate was the best her­bi­cide around,” Hart­zler said.

    “You could­n’t sit down at a black­board and come up with a bet­ter rota­tion than we have for weeds to thrive in,” he said.

    Hart­zler and oth­er sci­en­tists say her­bi­cide resis­tance in weeds was inevitable. “You’ve heard of this guy called Chuck Dar­win and evo­lu­tion?” Owen said.

    “If we use one sin­gle sys­tem, one tool to con­trol a pest, Moth­er Nature will find a way around that tool,” said Brent Wil­son, DuPont Pio­neer tech­ni­cal ser­vices man­ag­er. “That’s just the law of nature.

    “It’s too bad that glyphosate is devel­op­ing resis­tance, but it should­n’t sur­prise us,” Wil­son said. “We don’t know of any her­bi­cide that won’t devel­op resis­tance over some time.”

    Is Palmer already resis­tant in Iowa?

    Hart­zler, Owen and oth­ers are try­ing to deter­mine whether Palmer ama­ranth, dis­cov­ered in Iowa last year, is resis­tant to glyphosate.

    “If I was a bet­ting man, and I am, I’d say we’ve got glyphosate-resis­tant Palmer in Iowa,” Owen said. Hart­zler believes the super­weed is like­ly grow­ing in more than five coun­ties.

    The tiny seed spreads eas­i­ly — by farm equip­ment that moves across state lines and fields, in cot­ton byprod­ucts that are fed to dairy cows, even poten­tial­ly by birds, experts say.

    The states around Iowa are already fight­ing glyphosate-resis­tant Palmer ama­ranth, includ­ing Illi­nois, Mis­souri and Kansas.

    Water­hemp, a sim­i­lar-look­ing but wimpi­er cousin of Palmer ama­ranth, is resis­tant to glyphosate and oth­er her­bi­cides in Iowa. “At least 50 per­cent of fields in Iowa have water­hemp that’s resis­tant to glyphosate. It’s our No. 1 weed prob­lem,” Hart­zler said.

    It’s dif­fi­cult to dis­tin­guish between water­hemp and Palmer ama­ranth, both pig­weeds, espe­cial­ly when they’re small, he said. But Palmer ama­ranth is stronger and faster-grow­ing. It can quick­ly over­run a soy­bean crop. Corn is tougher in a matchup.

    Wait­ing even a long week­end to kill Palmer ama­ranth can result in the plant get­ting too large to kill with a her­bi­cide. The weed can grow 2 inch­es a day and needs to be sprayed when it’s 4 to 6 inch­es in size.

    Add spring rains or wind to the equa­tion, and farm­ers can quick­ly miss the win­dow, Hart­zler said.

    Already, U.S. farm­ers are being forced to use more her­bi­cides to con­trol water­hemp. “We’ve already seen a big leap, and Palmer ama­ranth will increase it more,” he said.

    A Mus­ca­tine Coun­ty farmer who dis­cov­ered Palmer ama­ranth last fall decid­ed to mow down part of a soy­bean field to con­trol it. “He knew if he tried to har­vest it, the Palmer ama­ranth seed would get inside the com­bine, and it’s near­ly impos­si­ble to clean it out,” said Hart­zler, who deter­mined that weed was­n’t yet resis­tant to glyphosate. “He did­n’t want to spread it to oth­er fields.”

    The Iowa Soy­bean Asso­ci­a­tion has asked farm­ers to care­ful­ly scout fields and near­by ditch­es for Palmer ama­ranth. They’re being urged to treat any pig­weed like it’s her­bi­cide-resis­tant, mean­ing aggres­sive­ly stamp­ing it out when it’s small.

    Young, the Arkansas farmer, said he ini­tial­ly thought he had missed spray­ing a small patch of weeds that turned out to be resis­tant to Palmer ama­ranth. With­in a short time, the weed had spread to all the fields he farms.

    “If you miss the win­dow of appli­ca­tion, you miss the whole boat,” Young said. “I’d say there are very few acres in Arkansas that don’t have resis­tant Palmer ama­ranth.”

    The cost of using more her­bi­cide, buy­ing tillage equip­ment, even hir­ing work­ers to hand-weed fields, is dri­ving some farm­ers out of busi­ness, he said. “For a lot of farm­ers, there won’t be a next year.”

    Farm­ers won’t be able to keep up with glob­al demand for their crops as the her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds spread and reduce yields. “We’re farm­ing like we did 35 to 40 years ago,” he said. “It’s like using a rotary-dial phone” in a cell­phone world.

    Palmer ama­ranth

    AGGRESSIVE: Palmer ama­ranth quick­ly evolves, adapt­ing to pres­sures such as her­bi­cides. It’s inva­sive, with small seeds that are eas­i­ly spread by machines, feed and birds. It aggres­sive­ly com­petes with crops for water and nutri­ents.

    FAST-GROWING: One plant can cre­ate 1 mil­lion seeds and grow 2 inch­es a day.

    ‘A CHRISTMAS TREE’: It can grow up to 7 feet, block­ing sun­light from small­er plants such as soy­beans. “You could have used it as a Christ­mas tree,” said agron­o­mist Clarke McGrath, about weeds dis­cov­ered in south­west Iowa. “That’s what’s so scary about Palmer ama­ranth. It’s so com­pet­i­tive, it can put on so much bio­mass, it can take over a field pret­ty easy.”

    EDIBLE: The seeds are a good source of pro­tein.

    Her­bi­cide resis­tance at a glance

    14: Weeds in the U.S. that are resis­tant to glyphosate

    160 mil­lion: U.S. acres with genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied corn and soy­beans

    70 mil­lion: U.S. acres of crop­land with glyphosate-resis­tant weeds in 2013

    30,000: Weed species that have the poten­tial to cause farm­ers trou­ble

    Source: U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture; Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists; Dow Agro­Sciences

    Cli­mate change anoth­er threat

    The nation’s $330 bil­lion agri­cul­ture indus­try will see increased weed, insect and dis­ease pres­sures from pro­ject­ed ris­ing aver­age tem­per­a­tures and extreme weath­er events such as flood­ing and droughts, accord­ing to the lat­est nation­al cli­mate change report.

    Already, farm­ers like those in Iowa are fight­ing nar­row­ing win­dows to pre­pare fields and plant and har­vest crops, said Ricar­do Sal­vador, a senior sci­en­tist at the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists. “You’re apply­ing the her­bi­cides, you’re apply­ing the fer­til­iz­ers, and har­vest­ing all at break­neck speed,” said Sal­vador, a for­mer agron­o­my pro­fes­sor at Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty. That will only inten­si­fy as cat­a­stroph­ic weath­er events increase, mak­ing farm­ing more dif­fi­cult.

    Her­bi­cide-tol­er­ant crops make farm­ing under those nar­row­ing win­dows eas­i­er. But Sal­vador believes that will be detri­men­tal. With increased use comes increased weed resis­tance, he said. “It’s the pri­ma­ry accel­er­a­tor that will bring about more of these prob­lems.”

    Dow Agro­Sciences dis­agrees. It says adding to the tools that farm­ers use is the best way to con­trol weeds and their exten­sive dam­age.

    ———-

    “ ‘Super­weeds’ choke farms” by Don­nelle Eller; Des Moines Reg­is­ter; 06/21/2014

    “Access to high-qual­i­ty, low-cost read­i­ly avail­able food is “all a func­tion of an effec­tive agri­cul­tur­al sys­tem that a weed like the Palmer ama­ranth could sig­nif­i­cant­ly impact,” Owen said.”

    The Palmer ama­ranth is a threat to the mod­ern agri­cul­tur­al sys­tem that was built on glyphosate. And even mod­er­ate infes­ta­tion can drop yields by two thirds. As a result, farm­ers are declar­ing they have no choice but to use the less envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly tech­nolo­gies glyphosate was sup­posed to avoid. And that’s exact­ly what will make the devel­op­ment of the next gen­er­a­tion of super­weeds inevitable. As ISU pro­fes­sor of agron­o­my Robert Hart­zler puts it, “You could­n’t sit down at a black­board and come up with a bet­ter rota­tion than we have for weeds to thrive in.” The eco­nom­ics are set up for a mar­ket giant to dom­i­nate because farm­ers will be forced to used the tech­nol­o­gy that gives them the best com­pet­i­tive edge and the need to rotate crops and her­bi­cides is incom­pat­i­ble with those eco­nom­ics:

    ...
    Here’s how: Even a mod­er­ate infes­ta­tion of Palmer ama­ranth can rob farm­ers of about two-thirds of their corn and soy­bean yields, experts say.

    That would be about $11 bil­lion gone from last year’s total $16 bil­lion corn and soy­bean receipts. That mon­ey rip­ples through some of the state’s most impor­tant agri­cul­tur­al busi­ness­es, a line­up that includes DuPont Pio­neer, Sukup Man­u­fac­tur­ing Co. and Deere & Co. Econ­o­mists esti­mate that a quar­ter of Iowa’s $166 bil­lion gross domes­tic prod­uct is tied to farm­ing.

    The growth of her­bi­cide resis­tance means farm­ers will use more — and poten­tial­ly more tox­ic — chem­i­cals to bat­tle the aggres­sive weed.

    Agribusi­ness­es are intro­duc­ing a new line­up of her­bi­cides and seeds to the bat­tle. Envi­ron­men­tal groups wor­ry that those pro­posed solu­tions will only wors­en the prob­lem.

    “Increased her­bi­cide use on the new engi­neered crops will speed up weed resis­tance, leav­ing no viable her­bi­cide alter­na­tives,” said Doug Guri­an-Sher­man, a senior sci­en­tist with the Cen­ter for Food Safe­ty.

    “This is a dan­ger­ous chem­i­cal cock­tail that, when com­bined with the cur­rent farm­ing sys­tem, it’s a recipe for dis­as­ter,” Guri­an-Sher­man, for­mer­ly with the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists.

    But farm­ers like Young say they have been forced to adopt less envi­ron­men­tal­ly friend­ly farm­ing prac­tices, such as increased tillage, to bat­tle her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds. Till­ing is blamed for increased soil ero­sion and the loss of nutri­ents that can make their way into rivers and streams.

    Farm­ers also have turned to old­er, less-safe chem­i­cals like 2,4‑D when glyphosate does­n’t work.

    ...

    ‘Best her­bi­cide around’ los­es pow­er

    Near­ly 20 weeds in Iowa have devel­oped resis­tance to her­bi­cides that include glyphosate, a once-in-a-cen­tu­ry chem­i­cal that Mon­san­to brought to the mar­ket in 1976 under the name Roundup. It killed a broad range of weeds.

    ...

    Crit­ics blame farm­ers for cre­at­ing her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds by overus­ing her­bi­cides such as glyphosate and fail­ing to diver­si­fy the crops they plant, rely­ing on prod­ucts such as Roundup Ready corn and soy­beans year after year.

    “Even though we warned them, you under­stand the eco­nom­ics behind it,” said Robert Hart­zler, an ISU pro­fes­sor of agron­o­my. “The cur­rent sys­tem favors the growth of corn and soy­beans,” prompt­ing farm­ers to leave out rota­tions of oth­er crops such as win­ter wheat that could dis­rupt weed resis­tance.

    “To make a rea­son­able liv­ing, you need to farm large acres, and to farm large acres, you need to cov­er acres quick­ly and that involves her­bi­cides. Glyphosate was the best her­bi­cide around,” Hart­zler said.

    “You could­n’t sit down at a black­board and come up with a bet­ter rota­tion than we have for weeds to thrive in,” he said.

    Hart­zler and oth­er sci­en­tists say her­bi­cide resis­tance in weeds was inevitable. “You’ve heard of this guy called Chuck Dar­win and evo­lu­tion?” Owen said.

    “If we use one sin­gle sys­tem, one tool to con­trol a pest, Moth­er Nature will find a way around that tool,” said Brent Wil­son, DuPont Pio­neer tech­ni­cal ser­vices man­ag­er. “That’s just the law of nature.

    “It’s too bad that glyphosate is devel­op­ing resis­tance, but it should­n’t sur­prise us,” Wil­son said. “We don’t know of any her­bi­cide that won’t devel­op resis­tance over some time.”
    ...

    Again, this was a 2014 arti­cle and it’s talk­ing about a cri­sis of glyphosate resis­tant weeds that had already been going on for years. That’s part of the con­text of Bay­er’s 2019 pledge of $5.6 bil­lion. An ongo­ing cri­sis over the fail­ure of the pre­vi­ous sil­ver bul­let tech­nol­o­gy that the agri­cul­tur­al sys­tem was built on. As the fol­low Nation­al Pub­lic Radio arti­cle from a cou­ple months describes, 20 years ago, when GMO crops were explod­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty, farm­ers were under the impres­sion that glyphosate was a per­ma­nent solu­tion to pes­ti­cides. Resis­tance could­n’t devel­op in the wild. And then it devel­oped in less than a decade. And as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, there are now strains of pig­weed that are basi­cal­ly resis­tant to al known her­bi­cides. And the only solu­tion the indus­try has is throw­ing every­thing at them. So we’re enter­ing a peri­od where glyphosate-resis­tant super­weeds might start encour­ag­ing farm­ers to use almost every her­bi­cide avail­able in order to deal with the super­weeds we cre­at­ed:

    Nation­al Pub­lic Radio

    As Weeds Out­smart The Lat­est Weed­killers, Farm­ers Are Run­ning Out Of Easy Options

    April 11, 2019 5:12 AM ET

    There was a moment, about 20 years ago, when farm­ers thought that they’d final­ly defeat­ed weeds for­ev­er.

    Biotech com­pa­nies had giv­en them a new weapon: genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered crops that could tol­er­ate dos­es of the her­bi­cide glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. Farm­ers could spray this chem­i­cal right over their crops, elim­i­nate the weeds, and the crops were fine.

    Stan­ley Culpep­per remem­bers that moment. He’d left his fam­i­ly’s farm to study weed sci­ence at North Car­oli­na State Uni­ver­si­ty. “I was trained by some real­ly, real­ly amaz­ing peo­ple,” he says, “and I was even trained that there would nev­er be a weed that was resis­tant to Roundup.”

    These sci­en­tists believed that plants could­n’t become immune to Roundup because it required too big of a change in a plan­t’s biol­o­gy.

    In 2005, though, Culpep­per report­ed that he’d found some weeds that Roundup could not kill. They were grow­ing in a field in Geor­gia. And this was not just any weed. It was a kind of mon­ster weed called Palmer ama­ranth, or pig­weed.

    Over the fol­low­ing years, these glyphosate-resis­tant pig­weeds spread like a plague across Amer­i­ca’s farm­land. They’re prac­ti­cal­ly every­where in the South now and increas­ing­ly com­mon in the Mid­west.

    ...

    So biotech com­pa­nies rolled out a new answer: new genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered vari­eties of soy­beans and cot­ton that can tol­er­ate two oth­er her­bi­cides, called dicam­ba and 2,4‑D. Farm­ers can plant these crops and then spray those chem­i­cals, often in addi­tion to glyphosate, to kill their weeds.

    There’s a lot rid­ing on these new prod­ucts, for farm­ers and for pes­ti­cide com­pa­nies. Dicam­ba-tol­er­ant crops, in par­tic­u­lar, have pro­voked con­tro­ver­sy. But now, even before they’ve been ful­ly launched, there’s evi­dence that this weed-killing tac­tic may be start­ing to fail.

    The evi­dence is sit­ting in a green­house at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty, care­ful­ly tend­ed by Chan­dri­ma Shyam, a grad­u­ate stu­dent there.

    “These are plants that were sprayed with 2,4‑D. And these are the resis­tant plants,” she says. “You can see that the resis­tant plants are pret­ty vig­or­ous.”

    I see trays and trays of green, flour­ish­ing pig­weeds. They are the off­spring of weeds that anoth­er Kansas State sci­en­tist, Dal­las Peter­son, noticed last sum­mer in a field where he con­ducts research. They seemed to sur­vive every chem­i­cal he threw at them.

    “We were just not able to con­trol or kill those weeds fol­low­ing those her­bi­cide appli­ca­tions,” he says.

    He called in a col­league who spe­cial­izes in research on her­bi­cide resis­tance, Mith­ila Jugu­lam, who in turn enlist­ed Shyam’s help.

    “So we went to the field. We dug out the whole plants, brought them to the green­house and kept them in iso­la­tion,” Shyam says.

    They grew 10 Palmer ama­ranth plants until they pro­duced seeds, then replant­ed those seeds to pro­duce new gen­er­a­tions of plants in order to study them. They found that these pig­weeds can sur­vive sprays of 2,4‑D. Some plants also appear to be immune to dicam­ba, although that still needs to be con­firmed. The plants prob­a­bly are resis­tant to glyphosate as well.

    Basi­cal­ly, they’re a farmer’s night­mare. And if they showed up in one field, they’re prob­a­bly in oth­er fields, too.

    Culpep­per, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia, says he’s not sur­prised. Nobody should be sur­prised any­more by the super­pow­ers of pig­weed, he says. “I’m telling you, as a weed sci­en­tist, it’s just an absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing plant,” he says. “You have to respect it, and the first thing to respect it is, [know that] this plant will out­smart me if I do the same thing over and over again.”

    Culpep­per tells farm­ers that they still can con­trol this super­weed, but they need to use a bunch of dif­fer­ent tools. That means deploy­ing mul­ti­ple chem­i­cals, alter­nat­ing the crops that they plant, and plant­i­ng extra “cov­er crops” in the off sea­son to cov­er the soil and make it hard­er for weeds to emerge.

    Matt Coley, a farmer in Vien­na, Ga., says most grow­ers learned a lot from their expe­ri­ence los­ing Roundup as a cure-all for weeds. “As long as we con­tin­ue to fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tions not to rely just on one chem­istry, I think we’ll con­tin­ue to be able to man­age pig­weed,” he says.

    But dicam­ba and 2,4‑D are among the her­bi­cides he uses on his cot­ton crop, and he admits it’s a lit­tle unset­tling to hear about Palmer ama­ranth plants that these chem­i­cals won’t kill. He’s hop­ing for new weapons in his arse­nal. “The indus­try, the man­u­fac­tur­ers — for them to be in busi­ness, they’ve got to have farm­ers,” he says. “Hope­ful­ly they’re uti­liz­ing their research and devel­op­ment to con­tin­ue to pro­vide us with prod­ucts that will help us con­trol our pests in our crops.”

    The arse­nal is run­ning out, though. And that’s what wor­ries Culpep­per the most. “We haven’t had a new way to kill a weed with a her­bi­cide since 1984,” he says.

    Mean­while, weeds like Palmer ama­ranth and rye­grass have been defeat­ing one chem­i­cal after anoth­er. “This is a mon­u­men­tal chal­lenge we’re fac­ing. Is dicam­ba- and 2,4‑D-resistant pig­weed sur­pris­ing? No,” he says. “[But] the over­all issue with resis­tance is flat-out over­whelm­ing.”

    ———–

    “As Weeds Out­smart The Lat­est Weed­killers, Farm­ers Are Run­ning Out Of Easy Options”; Nation­al Pub­lic Radio; 04/11/2019

    “But dicam­ba and 2,4‑D are among the her­bi­cides he uses on his cot­ton crop, and he admits it’s a lit­tle unset­tling to hear about Palmer ama­ranth plants that these chem­i­cals won’t kill. He’s hop­ing for new weapons in his arse­nal. “The indus­try, the man­u­fac­tur­ers — for them to be in busi­ness, they’ve got to have farm­ers,” he says. “Hope­ful­ly they’re uti­liz­ing their research and devel­op­ment to con­tin­ue to pro­vide us with prod­ucts that will help us con­trol our pests in our crops.”

    “Hope­ful­ly they’re uti­liz­ing their research and devel­op­ment to con­tin­ue to pro­vide us with prod­ucts that will help us con­trol our pests in our crops.” That’s what farm­ers are left to. Hop­ing that indus­try is actu­al­ly invest­ing in new pest con­trol prod­ucts because the exist­ing prod­ucts are break­ing. Because they def­i­nite­ly don’t have the sit­u­a­tion under con­trol now. And 20 years ago they were teach­ing stu­dents that glyphosate had like­ly per­ma­nent­ly addressed pest con­trol. By 2005 the first glyphosate resis­tant pig­weed sam­ples were found in Geor­gia. It’s now ram­pant in the US South and spread­ing in the week­end:

    ...
    There was a moment, about 20 years ago, when farm­ers thought that they’d final­ly defeat­ed weeds for­ev­er.

    Biotech com­pa­nies had giv­en them a new weapon: genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered crops that could tol­er­ate dos­es of the her­bi­cide glyphosate, also known by its trade name, Roundup. Farm­ers could spray this chem­i­cal right over their crops, elim­i­nate the weeds, and the crops were fine.

    Stan­ley Culpep­per remem­bers that moment. He’d left his fam­i­ly’s farm to study weed sci­ence at North Car­oli­na State Uni­ver­si­ty. “I was trained by some real­ly, real­ly amaz­ing peo­ple,” he says, “and I was even trained that there would nev­er be a weed that was resis­tant to Roundup.”

    These sci­en­tists believed that plants could­n’t become immune to Roundup because it required too big of a change in a plan­t’s biol­o­gy.

    In 2005, though, Culpep­per report­ed that he’d found some weeds that Roundup could not kill. They were grow­ing in a field in Geor­gia. And this was not just any weed. It was a kind of mon­ster weed called Palmer ama­ranth, or pig­weed.

    Over the fol­low­ing years, these glyphosate-resis­tant pig­weeds spread like a plague across Amer­i­ca’s farm­land. They’re prac­ti­cal­ly every­where in the South now and increas­ing­ly com­mon in the Mid­west.

    ...

    The indus­try’s answer so far is mak­ing GMO-resis­tant crops for the next-least tox­ic her­bi­cides, dicam­ba and 2,4‑D. But the pig­weed is get­ting resis­tant to even those her­bi­cides result­ing in super pig­weed that can’t be killed by known her­bi­cides:

    ...
    So biotech com­pa­nies rolled out a new answer: new genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered vari­eties of soy­beans and cot­ton that can tol­er­ate two oth­er her­bi­cides, called dicam­ba and 2,4‑D. Farm­ers can plant these crops and then spray those chem­i­cals, often in addi­tion to glyphosate, to kill their weeds.

    There’s a lot rid­ing on these new prod­ucts, for farm­ers and for pes­ti­cide com­pa­nies. Dicam­ba-tol­er­ant crops, in par­tic­u­lar, have pro­voked con­tro­ver­sy. But now, even before they’ve been ful­ly launched, there’s evi­dence that this weed-killing tac­tic may be start­ing to fail.

    The evi­dence is sit­ting in a green­house at Kansas State Uni­ver­si­ty, care­ful­ly tend­ed by Chan­dri­ma Shyam, a grad­u­ate stu­dent there.

    “These are plants that were sprayed with 2,4‑D. And these are the resis­tant plants,” she says. “You can see that the resis­tant plants are pret­ty vig­or­ous.”

    I see trays and trays of green, flour­ish­ing pig­weeds. They are the off­spring of weeds that anoth­er Kansas State sci­en­tist, Dal­las Peter­son, noticed last sum­mer in a field where he con­ducts research. They seemed to sur­vive every chem­i­cal he threw at them.

    “We were just not able to con­trol or kill those weeds fol­low­ing those her­bi­cide appli­ca­tions,” he says.

    ...

    What’s are the avail­able options? Deploy­ing lots of her­bi­cides and rotat­ing crops. In oth­er words, roll back the glyphosate rev­o­lu­tion, except keep the glyphosate. Two-steps for­ward, four-steps back:

    ...
    Culpep­per, at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Geor­gia, says he’s not sur­prised. Nobody should be sur­prised any­more by the super­pow­ers of pig­weed, he says. “I’m telling you, as a weed sci­en­tist, it’s just an absolute­ly fas­ci­nat­ing plant,” he says. “You have to respect it, and the first thing to respect it is, [know that] this plant will out­smart me if I do the same thing over and over again.”

    Culpep­per tells farm­ers that they still can con­trol this super­weed, but they need to use a bunch of dif­fer­ent tools. That means deploy­ing mul­ti­ple chem­i­cals, alter­nat­ing the crops that they plant, and plant­i­ng extra “cov­er crops” in the off sea­son to cov­er the soil and make it hard­er for weeds to emerge.

    Matt Coley, a farmer in Vien­na, Ga., says most grow­ers learned a lot from their expe­ri­ence los­ing Roundup as a cure-all for weeds. “As long as we con­tin­ue to fol­low the rec­om­men­da­tions not to rely just on one chem­istry, I think we’ll con­tin­ue to be able to man­age pig­weed,” he says.

    ...

    The arse­nal is run­ning out, though. And that’s what wor­ries Culpep­per the most. “We haven’t had a new way to kill a weed with a her­bi­cide since 1984,” he says.

    Mean­while, weeds like Palmer ama­ranth and rye­grass have been defeat­ing one chem­i­cal after anoth­er. “This is a mon­u­men­tal chal­lenge we’re fac­ing. Is dicam­ba- and 2,4‑D-resistant pig­weed sur­pris­ing? No,” he says. “[But] the over­all issue with resis­tance is flat-out over­whelm­ing.”

    ...

    So that’s all part of the con­text of the Bay­er buy­out of Mon­san­to: Mon­san­to’s flag­ship prod­uct that was a linch­pin of the glob­al food sup­ply is los­ing it’s effec­tive­ness and no one can find a replace­ment. But if some­one can find a replace­ment it was prob­a­bly Mon­san­to who could do it because every­one else gave up on com­pet­ing with them. Now Bay­er owns that research edge. So Bay­er poten­tial holds the fate of the world’s food sup­ply in its hands because the world is rely­ing on Bay­er to find the next glyphosate. Bay­er, one of the few com­pa­nies on the plan­et arguably scari­er than Mon­san­to. That’s who we’re all rely­ing on for secur­ing the food sup­ply to an unprece­dent­ed extent. And so far the like­li­est answer is throw­ing more pes­ti­cides into a grow­ing pes­ti­cide cock­tail that’s going to be sim­mer­ing in the envi­ron­ment and cre­at­ing ever more unstop­pable super­weeds. Because prof­its sim­ply must be max­i­mized even if the con­se­quences are super­weeds.

    And don’t for­get, this is all hap­pen­ing in the con­text of cli­mate change stress­es that are going to be hit­ting ecosys­tems. So if the agri­cul­ture sec­tor ends up los­ing bat­tle to feed human­i­ty and we see an explo­sion of indus­tri­al poi­soned and ruined soil in the after­math of that lost bat­tle that’s only going to feed into an already accel­er­at­ing broad­er glob­al ecosys­tem col­lapse. A glob­al col­lapse that feeds on itself. Expo­nen­tial death. That’s what we’re kick­ing into motion if we screw this up. At the same time we’re dri­ving the evo­lu­tion of new super-pests we’re also dri­ving a glob­al mass extinc­tion event and the indus­tri­al overuse of pes­ti­cides is a major dri­ver of that extinc­tion event. Cli­mate change isn’t the only eco-dooms­day sce­nario human­i­ty is cre­at­ing for itself.

    But at least our super-pests will prob­a­bly be part of the sur­viv­ing hand­ful of life­forms that will repop­u­late the plan­et after human­i­ty breaks the envi­ron­ment and wipes itself out. So that’s kind of neat.

    The future belongs to the super-pests. Our bad.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 16, 2019, 12:19 am
  19. The world is under­stand­ably react­ing with a mix of shock and out­rage over the ongo­ing mas­sive fires in the Ama­zon. Adding to the out­rage is the fact that the fires appear to be large­ly man-made, both in terms of being active­ly start­ed by Brazil­ian farm­ers and ranch­ers with the qui­et approval of the far right Bol­sonaro gov­ern­ment. So it’s worth keep­ing in mind at this point that the inten­tion­al dev­as­ta­tion of the Ama­zon in recent years under right-wing Brazil­ian rule isn’t lim­it­ed to gov­ern­ment-endorsed arson. There’s a broad spec­trum of assaults on Brazil’s rain forests. For exam­ple, as the fol­low­ing arti­cle describes, Brazil has been approv­ing thou­sands of pes­ti­cides banned in oth­er coun­tries in recent years. After left-wing pres­i­dent Dil­ma Rouss­eff was impeached and removed from office in 2016 (in what appeared to be an effec­tive polit­i­cal right-wing coup), the gov­ern­ment under her tem­po­rary replace­ment, right-wing politi­cian Michel Temer, began approv­ing all sorts of new pes­ti­cides. Pes­ti­cides banned in places like the EU. And it’s only accel­er­at­ed under Bol­sonaro.

    This is a par­tic­u­lar­ly dire sit­u­a­tion for an ecosys­tem like a rain for­est. As stud­ies con­tin­ue to demon­strate, the pes­ti­cides used in agri­cul­ture don’t actu­al­ly stay in the fields. They dis­perse across the ecosys­tem. Recall the pro­found­ly dis­turb­ing stud­ies that found a col­lapse of fly­ing insects deep inside Ger­man nature reserves, far from agri­cul­tur­al areas, that appears to be dri­ven, in part, by pes­ti­cides flow­ing in from agri­cul­ture areas. So once Brazil’s farm­ers are done burn­ing down large swathes of the Ama­zon for the pur­pose of turn­ing it into farm­land and begin treat­ing those areas with pes­ti­cides there’s going to be even more pes­ti­cides flow­ing into an ever-shrink­ing remain­ing rain for­est. Increas­ing­ly dan­ger­ous pes­ti­cides thanks to the flood of right-wing pes­ti­cide approvals in recent years:

    The Guardian

    Hun­dreds of new pes­ti­cides approved in Brazil under Bol­sonaro

    Many of those per­mit­ted since far-right pres­i­dent took pow­er are banned in Europe

    Dom Phillips in Rio de Janeiro

    Wed 12 Jun 2019 06.00 EDT
    Last mod­i­fied on Wed 12 Jun 2019 15.10 EDT

    Brazil has approved hun­dreds of new pes­ti­cide prod­ucts since its far-right pres­i­dent, Jair Bol­sonaro, took pow­er in Jan­u­ary, and more than 1,000 since 2016, a study has found. Many of those approved are banned in Europe.

    Of 169 new pes­ti­cides sanc­tioned up to 21 May this year, 78 con­tain active ingre­di­ents clas­si­fied as high­ly haz­ardous by the Pes­ti­cide Action Net­work and 24 con­tain active ingre­di­ents banned in the EU, accord­ing to the study pub­lished on Wednes­day by Green­peace UK’s news agency Unearthed. Anoth­er 28 pes­ti­cides not includ­ed in the report were approved in the last days of 2018.

    “It real­ly appears that they have accel­er­at­ed their approvals process,” said Prof David East­mond, a tox­i­col­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side. “Some of these are high­ly haz­ardous and this rais­es con­cern.”

    Brazil began accel­er­at­ing pes­ti­cide approvals in Sep­tem­ber 2016 after Michel Temer, a con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cian with close agribusi­ness links, assumed the pres­i­den­cy. Bol­sonaro also won the pres­i­den­cy with strong sup­port from the agribusi­ness sec­tor.

    Since Temer took office, 1,270 pes­ti­cides have been approved – dou­ble the num­ber in the pre­vi­ous four years. Of those, 193 con­tained active ingre­di­ents banned in the EU, Unearthed found using data from Brazil’s agri­cul­ture min­istry.

    “We have nev­er had such a big release of pes­ti­cides. This is cer­tain­ly a polit­i­cal deci­sion,” said Mari­na Lacorte, an agri­cul­ture and food cam­paign coor­di­na­tor at Green­peace Brasil. “The indus­try puts prof­its ahead of the population’s health.”

    Con­cern has spread beyond Brazil. The Swedish nat­ur­al and organ­ics super­mar­ket chain Par­adis­et stopped sell­ing Brazil­ian prod­ucts last week because of the increase in approvals of pes­ti­cides and the threat Bol­sonaro rep­re­sents to the Ama­zon rain­for­est. Its founder, Johannes Cull­berg, has launched a #Boy­cottBrazil­ian­Food cam­paign.

    Sev­er­al for­eign com­pa­nies have had pes­ti­cides approved in Brazil that are banned or restrict­ed in their own coun­tries, Unearthed found.

    The Chi­nese chem­i­cals firm Adama has reg­is­tered 25 prod­ucts in Brazil since 2016 that con­tain chem­i­cals it could not use in the EU, includ­ing two with acephate. Chi­na intro­duced restric­tions on acephate in 2017. “Human and envi­ron­men­tal safe­ty … are key com­mit­ments for us,” an Adama spokesman told Unearthed.

    Ham­burg-based Helm has reg­is­tered nine prod­ucts in Brazil it could not sell in Ger­many over the same peri­od, includ­ing one con­tain­ing the weed­killer paraquat, which has been banned in Europe since 2007 and is sched­uled to be banned in Brazil by 2020. The com­pa­ny did not respond to ques­tions from Unearthed.

    Three Brazil­ian prod­ucts con­tain­ing atrazine have been approved this year. Atrazine has been banned in the EU since 2003 and has been found to chem­i­cal­ly cas­trate frogs. Prod­ucts con­tain­ing atrazine are also sold in Brazil by Syn­gen­ta, a for­mer Swiss com­pa­ny now owned by Chem­Chi­na. The Chi­nese firm also sells paraquat, which is man­u­fac­tured in the UK.

    Syn­gen­ta said: “We man­u­fac­ture in a few coun­tries to make sure that all our cus­tomers ben­e­fit from the same high stan­dards, and of course to man­age costs. Atrazine and paraquat are reg­is­tered in many so-called devel­oped coun­tries.”

    Brazil’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Tereza Cristi­na Dias, told par­lia­ment in May that an “ide­o­log­i­cal process” had hin­dered pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments from approv­ing pes­ti­cides and defend­ed the use of glyphosate, a con­tro­ver­sial weed­killer.

    The Inter­na­tion­al Agency for Research on Can­cer clas­si­fied glyphosate, which is cur­rent­ly approved for use in the US and EU, as “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to humans” in 2015. In May, a Cal­i­for­nia court award­ed more than $2bn to a cou­ple who said the weed­killer caused their can­cer – a claim denied by the man­u­fac­tur­er Bay­er, which faces oth­er law­suits. Brazil has approved 87 prod­ucts con­tain­ing glyphosate since Sep­tem­ber 2016, includ­ing eight this year.

    A spokes­woman for Brazil’s agri­cul­ture min­istry said in an email that the ingre­di­ents in all pes­ti­cides approved this year were already being sold by oth­er com­pa­nies. It attrib­uted the increase in approvals to more chem­i­cal­ly trained staff at the min­istry and reor­gan­i­sa­tion at the reg­u­la­to­ry agency Anvisa, which along with the agri­cul­ture and envi­ron­ment min­istries approves new prod­ucts.

    Before becom­ing agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Dias presided over a par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion last year that approved a con­tro­ver­sial bill to lift restric­tions on pes­ti­cides, dubbed the “poi­son pack­age” by oppo­nents. The bill has yet to be vot­ed on.

    ...

    ———-

    “Hun­dreds of new pes­ti­cides approved in Brazil under Bol­sonaro” by Dom Phillips; The Guardian; 06/12/2019

    Brazil began accel­er­at­ing pes­ti­cide approvals in Sep­tem­ber 2016 after Michel Temer, a con­ser­v­a­tive politi­cian with close agribusi­ness links, assumed the pres­i­den­cy. Bol­sonaro also won the pres­i­den­cy with strong sup­port from the agribusi­ness sec­tor.”

    It’s been a pes­ti­cide free-for-all in Brazil since 2016. A free-for-all that’s only increased under Bol­sonaro. Under Bol­sonaro, the agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Tereza Cristi­na Dias, laugh­ably declared that an “ide­o­log­i­cal process” had been slow­ing down pes­ti­cide approval. Dias had presided over a par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion last year that approved the lift­ing even more restric­tions on pes­ti­cides. Omi­nous­ly, that bill, dubbed the “poi­son pack­age”, has­n’t even been vot­ed on yet which means its dam­age is yet to be done. In oth­er words, it’s going to get a lot worse:

    ...
    Brazil’s agri­cul­ture min­is­ter, Tereza Cristi­na Dias, told par­lia­ment in May that an “ide­o­log­i­cal process” had hin­dered pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ments from approv­ing pes­ti­cides and defend­ed the use of glyphosate, a con­tro­ver­sial weed­killer.

    The Inter­na­tion­al Agency for Research on Can­cer clas­si­fied glyphosate, which is cur­rent­ly approved for use in the US and EU, as “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to humans” in 2015. In May, a Cal­i­for­nia court award­ed more than $2bn to a cou­ple who said the weed­killer caused their can­cer – a claim denied by the man­u­fac­tur­er Bay­er, which faces oth­er law­suits. Brazil has approved 87 prod­ucts con­tain­ing glyphosate since Sep­tem­ber 2016, includ­ing eight this year.

    A spokes­woman for Brazil’s agri­cul­ture min­istry said in an email that the ingre­di­ents in all pes­ti­cides approved this year were already being sold by oth­er com­pa­nies. It attrib­uted the increase in approvals to more chem­i­cal­ly trained staff at the min­istry and reor­gan­i­sa­tion at the reg­u­la­to­ry agency Anvisa, which along with the agri­cul­ture and envi­ron­ment min­istries approves new prod­ucts.

    Before becom­ing agri­cul­ture min­is­ter Dias presided over a par­lia­men­tary com­mis­sion last year that approved a con­tro­ver­sial bill to lift restric­tions on pes­ti­cides, dubbed the “poi­son pack­age” by oppo­nents. The bill has yet to be vot­ed on.
    ...

    So the bees and much of the oth­er insect-life that man­ages to escape the wild fires this year are in store for a par­tic­u­lar­ly poi­so­nous next year. But as the fol­low­ing arti­cle reminds us, we should­n’t just be wor­ried about poi­son­ing all the insects. Pes­ti­cides aren’t good for peo­ple either:

    Bloomberg News

    Bees Are Drop­ping Dead in Brazil and Send­ing a Mes­sage to Humans

    Pes­ti­cide use in Brazil sparks con­cern among envi­ron­men­tal­ists.

    By Bruce Dou­glas and Tatiana Fre­itas
    August 19, 2019, 5:00 AM CDT

    Death came swift­ly for Aldo Machado’s hon­ey bees. Less than 48 hours after the first apis mel­lif­era showed signs of sick­ness, tens of thou­sands lay dead, their bod­ies piled in mounds.

    “As soon as the healthy bees began clear­ing the dying bees out of the hives, they became con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed,” said Macha­do, vice pres­i­dent of Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul bee­keep­ing asso­ci­a­tion. “They start­ed dying en masse.”

    Around half a bil­lion bees died in four of Brazil’s south­ern states in the year’s first months. The die-off high­light­ed ques­tions about the ocean of pes­ti­cides used in the country’s agri­cul­ture and whether chem­i­cals are wash­ing through the human food sup­ply — even as the gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers per­mit­ting more. Most dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, a insec­ti­cide pro­scribed in the Euro­pean Union and clas­si­fied as a pos­si­ble human car­cino­gen by the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.

    Since Pres­i­dent Jair Bol­sonaro took office in Jan­u­ary, Brazil has per­mit­ted sales of a record 290 pes­ti­cides, up 27% over the same peri­od last year, and a bill in Con­gress would relax stan­dards even fur­ther. Man­u­fac­tur­ers of new­ly per­mit­ted sub­stances include Brazil­ian com­pa­nies such as Cropchem and Ouro Fino, as well as glob­al play­ers includ­ing Arys­ta Life­science Ltd., Nufarm Ltd. and Adama Agri­cul­tur­al Solu­tions Ltd. Giants such as Syn­gen­ta, Mon­san­to, BASF and Sum­it­o­mo also won new reg­is­tra­tions.

    The fer­tile nation is awash in chem­i­cals. Brazil’s pes­ti­cide use increased 770% from 1990 to 2016, accord­ing to the Food and Agri­cul­ture Orga­ni­za­tion of the Unit­ed Nations. The Agri­cul­ture Min­istry says that Brazil ranks 44th in the world in the use of pes­ti­cides per hectare and that, as a trop­i­cal coun­try, it is “incor­rect” to com­pare its prac­tices with those of tem­per­ate regions.

    Still, in its lat­est food-safe­ty report, Brazil’s health watch­dog Anvisa found that 20% of sam­ples con­tained pes­ti­cide residues above per­mit­ted lev­els or con­tained unau­tho­rized pes­ti­cides. It didn’t even test for glyphosate, Brazil’s best-sell­ing pes­ti­cide, which is banned in most coun­tries.

    The silent hives, crit­ics say, are a warn­ing.

    “The death of all these bees is a sign that we’re being poi­soned,” said Car­los Alber­to Bas­tos, pres­i­dent of the Api­cul­tur­ist Asso­ci­a­tion of Brazil’s Fed­er­al Dis­trict.

    Agri­cul­ture is the biggest con­trib­u­tor to Brazil’s growth, com­pos­ing around 18% of the econ­o­my. Its pow­er — from pop cul­ture to pol­i­tics — is unmatched. Major pro­duc­ers spon­sor sam­ba groups, as well as a nation­wide “lit­tle Ag” school pro­gram and arguably, the most influ­en­tial group­ing in con­gress.

    Like U.S. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump, Bol­sonaro was elect­ed with strong sup­port from agribusi­ness and has expressed dis­dain for envi­ron­men­tal con­cerns. “This is your gov­ern­ment,” Bol­sonaro promised law­mak­ers from the agri­cul­ture cau­cus, and his admin­is­tra­tion has allowed the indus­try wide lee­way to use what­ev­er chem­i­cals it likes.

    About 40% of Brazil’s pes­ti­cides are “high­ly or extreme­ly tox­ic,” accord­ing to Green­peace, and 32% aren’t allowed in the Euro­pean Union. Mean­while, approvals are being expe­dit­ed with­out the gov­ern­ment hir­ing enough peo­ple to eval­u­ate them, said Mari­na Lacorte, a coor­di­na­tor at Green­peace Brazil.

    “There isn’t anoth­er expla­na­tion for it, oth­er than pol­i­tics.” she said.

    Eas­ing pes­ti­cide approvals was a cam­paign com­mit­ment for Bol­sonaro. The agri­cul­ture sec­tor has com­plained for years about slow­ness.

    “Reg­is­tra­tions are the biggest bar­ri­er,” said Flavio Hira­ta, an agro­chem­i­cal spe­cial­ist at Alli­er Brasil con­sul­tan­cy. “The world’s largest pes­ti­cide mar­ket can’t be lim­it­ed to a few com­pa­nies.”

    Rough­ly half of the approvals are ingre­di­ents, not final prod­ucts, said Andreza Mar­tinez, man­ag­er for reg­u­la­tion at Sin­di­veg, a group rep­re­sent­ing pes­ti­cide pro­duc­ers. Vary­ing chem­i­cals is impor­tant as pests devel­op resis­tance to for­mu­las, she said.

    “It brings more tools to farm­ers, but that doesn’t mean an increase in the use of prod­ucts in the field,” she said.

    The vari­ety, how­ev­er, alarms tox­i­col­o­gists. “The high­er the num­ber of prod­ucts, the low­er our chances of safe­ty, because you can’t con­trol them all,” said Sil­via Cazenave, a pro­fes­sor of tox­i­col­o­gy at the Catholic Pon­tif­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Camp­inas.

    Brazil’s health min­istry report­ed 15,018 cas­es of agri­cul­tur­al pes­ti­cide poi­son­ing in 2018, but acknowl­edged that this is like­ly an under­es­ti­mate.

    One vic­tim was Andresa Batista, a 30-year-old moth­er of three. In March 2018, she went to work pick­ing soy­beans on one of the plan­ta­tions on the plains sur­round­ing the cap­i­tal, Brasil­ia. Soon, she start­ed feel­ing dizzy and nau­se­at­ed — and then she passed out.

    More than 40 farmhands fell ill that day, accord­ing to Batista, so many that they were divid­ed into three groups and tak­en to dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals. The first med­ical team to attend Batista also became unwell, prompt­ing the hos­pi­tal to destroy her clothes, includ­ing her under­wear. Still, Batista and most of the oth­ers were cleared to work again two days lat­er. Almost as soon as they start­ed, they col­lapsed.

    Over a year lat­er, Batista still can’t work. She has dif­fi­cul­ty eat­ing with­out vom­it­ing, can’t go to the toi­let with­out med­i­cine, can’t go in the sun with­out her skin swelling and she’s lost around 30% of her vision. Doc­tors can’t give her a prog­no­sis due to uncer­tain­ty about the type of pes­ti­cide that poi­soned her.

    “That day, our lives end­ed,” she said. “We’re not the same peo­ple we were before.”

    Court doc­u­ments show that Dupont do Brasil S.A., the com­pa­ny that man­aged the field, agreed to pay dam­ages of 50,000 reais ($13,000) to one of Batista’s cowork­ers that day. Batista said the com­pa­ny paid her 40,000 reais in an out-of-court set­tle­ment. Dupont’s press office said it could not com­ment on the case due to legal restric­tions.

    The gov­ern­ment said all cas­es of poi­son­ing must be inves­ti­gat­ed, and it would intro­duce a decree to strength­en the over­sight and train­ing process for pes­ti­cide han­dling.

    Despite sto­ries such as Batista’s, Con­gress may accel­er­ate approvals yet fur­ther, rebrand­ing pes­ti­cides as “agri­cul­tur­al defens­es” and sub­sti­tut­ing the require­ment to iden­ti­fy poten­tial harm with a sim­ple risk analy­sis.

    Brazil’s Nation­al Can­cer Insti­tute argued the mea­sure would allow pes­ti­cides with “car­cino­genic char­ac­ter­is­tics, endan­ger­ing the pop­u­la­tion.” But Alceu Mor­eira, head of the low­er house’s agri­cul­ture cau­cus, is cer­tain it will become law.

    “There’s this need to cre­ate this inter­na­tion­al nar­ra­tive that harms the image of Brazil­ian agri­cul­ture, as if we were using exces­sive lev­els of pes­ti­cides,” he said. “We’re not.”

    ...

    ———-

    “Bees Are Drop­ping Dead in Brazil and Send­ing a Mes­sage to Humans” By Bruce Dou­glas and Tatiana Fre­itas; Bloomberg News; 08/19/2019

    “Around half a bil­lion bees died in four of Brazil’s south­ern states in the year’s first months. The die-off high­light­ed ques­tions about the ocean of pes­ti­cides used in the country’s agri­cul­ture and whether chem­i­cals are wash­ing through the human food sup­ply — even as the gov­ern­ment con­sid­ers per­mit­ting more. Most dead bees showed traces of Fipronil, a insec­ti­cide pro­scribed in the Euro­pean Union and clas­si­fied as a pos­si­ble human car­cino­gen by the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency.”

    Brazil’s agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor isn’t just poi­son­ing the forests. The com­pounds are flood­ing the food sup­ply too. Brazil’s own health watch­dog Anvisa found 1 in 5 food sam­ples con­tained pes­ti­cides about per­mit­ted lev­els or had unau­tho­rized pes­ti­cides. Keep in mind that the unau­tho­rized pes­ti­cides are like­ly to be the more dan­ger­ous than the autho­rized pes­ti­cides. And the autho­rized pes­ti­cides are already more dan­ger­ous than else­where. Green­peace esti­mates that 40% of Brazil’s pes­ti­cides are “high­ly or extreme­ly tox­ic” and 32% aren’t allowed in the EU. It’s why we should expect the sto­ries about large groups of agri­cul­tur­al work­ers get­ting sick due to unknown rea­sons to be increas­ing­ly com­mon. The more new chem­i­cals get­ting approved, or used with­out autho­riza­tion, the more mys­tery ill­ness­es we should expect:

    ...
    Still, in its lat­est food-safe­ty report, Brazil’s health watch­dog Anvisa found that 20% of sam­ples con­tained pes­ti­cide residues above per­mit­ted lev­els or con­tained unau­tho­rized pes­ti­cides. It didn’t even test for glyphosate, Brazil’s best-sell­ing pes­ti­cide, which is banned in most coun­tries.

    The silent hives, crit­ics say, are a warn­ing.

    “The death of all these bees is a sign that we’re being poi­soned,” said Car­los Alber­to Bas­tos, pres­i­dent of the Api­cul­tur­ist Asso­ci­a­tion of Brazil’s Fed­er­al Dis­trict.

    ...

    About 40% of Brazil’s pes­ti­cides are “high­ly or extreme­ly tox­ic,” accord­ing to Green­peace, and 32% aren’t allowed in the Euro­pean Union. Mean­while, approvals are being expe­dit­ed with­out the gov­ern­ment hir­ing enough peo­ple to eval­u­ate them, said Mari­na Lacorte, a coor­di­na­tor at Green­peace Brazil.

    “There isn’t anoth­er expla­na­tion for it, oth­er than pol­i­tics.” she said.

    ...

    Brazil’s health min­istry report­ed 15,018 cas­es of agri­cul­tur­al pes­ti­cide poi­son­ing in 2018, but acknowl­edged that this is like­ly an under­es­ti­mate.

    One vic­tim was Andresa Batista, a 30-year-old moth­er of three. In March 2018, she went to work pick­ing soy­beans on one of the plan­ta­tions on the plains sur­round­ing the cap­i­tal, Brasil­ia. Soon, she start­ed feel­ing dizzy and nau­se­at­ed — and then she passed out.

    More than 40 farmhands fell ill that day, accord­ing to Batista, so many that they were divid­ed into three groups and tak­en to dif­fer­ent hos­pi­tals. The first med­ical team to attend Batista also became unwell, prompt­ing the hos­pi­tal to destroy her clothes, includ­ing her under­wear. Still, Batista and most of the oth­ers were cleared to work again two days lat­er. Almost as soon as they start­ed, they col­lapsed.

    Over a year lat­er, Batista still can’t work. She has dif­fi­cul­ty eat­ing with­out vom­it­ing, can’t go to the toi­let with­out med­i­cine, can’t go in the sun with­out her skin swelling and she’s lost around 30% of her vision. Doc­tors can’t give her a prog­no­sis due to uncer­tain­ty about the type of pes­ti­cide that poi­soned her.

    ...

    Court doc­u­ments show that Dupont do Brasil S.A., the com­pa­ny that man­aged the field, agreed to pay dam­ages of 50,000 reais ($13,000) to one of Batista’s cowork­ers that day. Batista said the com­pa­ny paid her 40,000 reais in an out-of-court set­tle­ment. Dupont’s press office said it could not com­ment on the case due to legal restric­tions.
    ...

    And as we should expect, the response to these health con­cerns by the Bol­sonaro gov­ern­ment is to elim­i­nate the need to inves­ti­gate those health con­cerns before a new chem­i­cal gets approved, mak­ing it a lot more like­ly that pes­ti­cides with car­cino­genic prop­er­ties will be approved. Don’t for­get that the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of poi­son­ing a pop­u­lace with poten­tial car­cino­gens might not show up for years or decades. It’s not like the farm work­ers who imme­di­ate­ly pass out from the poi­sons. This could be a recipe for a can­cer epi­dem­ic decades from now. Which is pre­cise­ly the kind of pol­i­cy-mak­ing we should expect from a far right gov­ern­ment like Bol­sonaro’s. Short and long-term poi­son is an inher­ent part of the far right agen­da:

    ...

    Despite sto­ries such as Batista’s, Con­gress may accel­er­ate approvals yet fur­ther, rebrand­ing pes­ti­cides as “agri­cul­tur­al defens­es” and sub­sti­tut­ing the require­ment to iden­ti­fy poten­tial harm with a sim­ple risk analy­sis.

    Brazil’s Nation­al Can­cer Insti­tute argued the mea­sure would allow pes­ti­cides with “car­cino­genic char­ac­ter­is­tics, endan­ger­ing the pop­u­la­tion.” But Alceu Mor­eira, head of the low­er house’s agri­cul­ture cau­cus, is cer­tain it will become law.

    “There’s this need to cre­ate this inter­na­tion­al nar­ra­tive that harms the image of Brazil­ian agri­cul­ture, as if we were using exces­sive lev­els of pes­ti­cides,” he said. “We’re not.”
    ...

    And note the chill­ing warn­ing from the pes­ti­cide pro­duc­er indus­try rep­re­sen­ta­tive about the need to vary­ing chem­i­cals in order to counter grow­ing pes­ti­cide resis­tance. It’s chill­ing because it’s prob­a­bly true. Vary­ing the par­tic­u­lar chem­i­cals used in the chem­i­cal cock­tails that make up these pes­ti­cides real­ly is prob­a­bly going to be a valu­able tool in slow­ing down the inevitable prob­lem of pes­ti­cide resis­tance in the tar­get pests. Because the con­tin­u­ous devel­op­ment of pes­ti­cide resis­tance is the fun­da­men­tal chal­lenge fac­ing the mod­el of using large amounts of poi­son to grow the food to feed human­i­ty. It’s an inher­ent­ly per­ilous par­a­digm that will always be at risk of a super-pest emerg­ing and always neces­si­tate the use of a grow­ing arse­nal of poi­sons. Hope­ful­ly the poi­sons are more tar­get­ed with less tox­i­c­i­ty to humans and the envi­ron­ment but there’s no rule that says the pes­ti­cides won’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get more tox­ic and harm­ful as super-pests inevitably pop up. And as the num­ber of dif­fer­ent chem­i­cals in that agri­cul­tur­al arse­nal grows, so does the dif­fi­cul­ty in assess­ing their safe­ty. It’s one of the many inher­ent com­pli­ca­tions built into our food par­a­digm: It’s going to get hard­er and hard­er to know if we’re poi­son­ing our­selves:

    ...
    Rough­ly half of the approvals are ingre­di­ents, not final prod­ucts, said Andreza Mar­tinez, man­ag­er for reg­u­la­tion at Sin­di­veg, a group rep­re­sent­ing pes­ti­cide pro­duc­ers. Vary­ing chem­i­cals is impor­tant as pests devel­op resis­tance to for­mu­las, she said.

    “It brings more tools to farm­ers, but that doesn’t mean an increase in the use of prod­ucts in the field,” she said.

    The vari­ety, how­ev­er, alarms tox­i­col­o­gists. “The high­er the num­ber of prod­ucts, the low­er our chances of safe­ty, because you can’t con­trol them all,” said Sil­via Cazenave, a pro­fes­sor of tox­i­col­o­gy at the Catholic Pon­tif­i­cal Uni­ver­si­ty of Camp­inas.
    ...

    And that’s all why this lat­est Ama­zon­ian arson spree is just a pre­lude to the indus­tri­al attack on life in the Ama­zon that’s get­ting under­way. The charred remains of the for­est that get plowed over and turned into fields are going to be the newest out­posts of civ­i­liza­tion pump­ing indus­tri­al-scale chem­i­cal pol­lu­tion in the parts of the Ama­zon, the ‘lungs of the world’, that haven’t been burned down yet. First the ‘lungs of the world’ go up in smoke, large­ly to feed human­i­ty’s demand for meat. And in order to pro­vide the feed for all that meat, the burned-down ‘lungs of the world’ start huff­ing cock­tails of chem­i­cals and cough­ing them up all over the place. Smoke and huff­ing. In the Ama­zon and much of the rest of the world. It’s not a great form of sus­te­nance.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 25, 2019, 8:39 pm

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