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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

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

  1. The New York­er has a recent piece on the pub­lic rela­tions war waged by Syn­gen­ta, a major man­u­fac­tur­er of neon­i­coti­noids and oth­er pes­ti­cides, against Tyone Hayes, a researcher that found hhat Syn­gen­ta’s wide­ly-used her­bi­cide, atrazine, was caus­ing her­maph­ro­dit­ic frogs. Fans of chem­i­cal­ly-induced hermaphoditism in wildlife will find a lot to like in the arti­cle. Fans of ‘far-out con­spir­a­to­r­i­al left-wing night­mares’ might also enjoy what they read. Every­one else should prob­a­bly be pret­ty dis­turbed:

    BillMoyers.com
    You Won’t Believe How One Chem­i­cal Com­pa­ny Tried to Dis­cred­it a Scientist’s Research
    Feb­ru­ary 10, 2014

    Rachel Aviv has a report­ed piece in The New York­er that reads like pulp fic­tion. She tells the tale of a sci­en­tist who dis­cov­ered that a pop­u­lar her­bi­cide may have harm­ful effects on the endocrine sys­tem. As he con­tin­ued to inves­ti­gate the mat­ter, he came to believe that the chemical’s man­u­fac­tur­er was out to get him. He thought they were fol­low­ing him to con­fer­ences, tap­ping his phones and sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly try­ing to dri­ve a wedge between him and the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty. Many of his col­leagues believed that he was para­noid until a law­suit yield­ed a slew of inter­nal cor­po­rate doc­u­ments show­ing that every­thing he imag­ined the com­pa­ny had been doing to dis­cred­it his work had in fact been true.

    As Kath­leen Geier put it for the Wash­ing­ton Month­ly, “This sto­ry reads like your most para­noid, far-out con­spir­a­to­r­i­al left-wing night­mare come true.”

    Aviv writes:

    In 2001, sev­en years after join­ing the biol­o­gy fac­ul­ty of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, Tyrone Hayes stopped talk­ing about his research with peo­ple he didn’t trust. He instruct­ed the stu­dents in his lab, where he was rais­ing three thou­sand frogs, to hang up the phone if they heard a click, a sig­nal that a third par­ty might be on the line. Oth­er sci­en­tists seemed to remem­ber events dif­fer­ent­ly, he noticed, so he start­ed car­ry­ing an audio recorder to meet­ings. “The secret to a hap­py, suc­cess­ful life of para­noia,” he liked to say, “is to keep care­ful track of your per­se­cu­tors.”

    Three years ear­li­er, Syn­gen­ta, one of the largest agribusi­ness­es in the world, had asked Hayes to con­duct exper­i­ments on the her­bi­cide atrazine, which is applied to more than half the corn in the Unit­ed States. Hayes was thir­ty-one, and he had already pub­lished twen­ty papers on the endocrinol­o­gy of amphib­ians. David Wake, a pro­fes­sor in Hayes’s depart­ment, said that Hayes “may have had the great­est poten­tial of any­one in the field.” But, when Hayes dis­cov­ered that atrazine might impede the sex­u­al devel­op­ment of frogs, his deal­ings with Syn­gen­ta became strained, and, in Novem­ber, 2000, he end­ed his rela­tion­ship with the com­pa­ny.

    Hayes con­tin­ued study­ing atrazine on his own, and soon he became con­vinced that Syn­gen­ta rep­re­sen­ta­tives were fol­low­ing him to con­fer­ences around the world. He wor­ried that the com­pa­ny was orches­trat­ing a cam­paign to destroy his rep­u­ta­tion. He com­plained that when­ev­er he gave pub­lic talks there was a stranger in the back of the room, tak­ing notes. On a trip to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., in 2003, he stayed at a dif­fer­ent hotel each night. He was still in touch with a few Syn­gen­ta sci­en­tists and, after notic­ing that they knew many details about his work and his sched­ule, he sus­pect­ed that they were read­ing his e‑mails. To con­fuse them, he asked a stu­dent to write mis­lead­ing e‑mails from his office com­put­er while he was trav­el­ling. He sent back­up copies of his data and notes to his par­ents in sealed box­es. In an e‑mail to one Syn­gen­ta sci­en­tist, he wrote that he had “risked my rep­u­ta­tion, my name . . . some say even my life, for what I thought (and now know) is right.” A few sci­en­tists had pre­vi­ous­ly done exper­i­ments that antic­i­pat­ed Hayes’s work, but no one had observed such extreme effects. In anoth­er e‑mail to Syn­gen­ta, he acknowl­edged that it might appear that he was suf­fer­ing from a “Napoleon com­plex” or “delu­sions of grandeur.”

    [...]

    Hayes had become accus­tomed to steady praise from his col­leagues, but, when Syn­gen­ta cast doubt on his work, he became pre­oc­cu­pied by old anx­i­eties. He believed that the com­pa­ny was try­ing to iso­late him from oth­er sci­en­tists and “play on my insecurities—the fear that I’m not good enough, that every­one thinks I’m a fraud,” he said. He told col­leagues that he sus­pect­ed that Syn­gen­ta held “focus groups” on how to mine his vul­ner­a­bil­i­ties. Roger Liu, who worked in Hayes’s lab for a decade, both as an under­grad­u­ate and as a grad­u­ate stu­dent, said, “In the begin­ning, I was real­ly wor­ried for his safe­ty. But then I couldn’t tell where the real­i­ty end­ed and the exag­ger­a­tion crept in.”

    Liu and sev­er­al oth­er for­mer stu­dents said that they had remained skep­ti­cal of Hayes’s accu­sa­tions until last sum­mer, when an arti­cle appeared in Envi­ron­men­tal Health News (in part­ner­ship with 100Reporters)* that drew on Syngenta’s inter­nal records. Hun­dreds of Syngenta’s mem­os, notes, and e‑mails have been unsealed fol­low­ing the set­tle­ment, in 2012, of two class-action suits brought by twen­ty-three Mid­west­ern cities and towns that accused Syn­gen­ta of “con­ceal­ing atrazine’s true dan­ger­ous nature” and con­t­a­m­i­nat­ing their drink­ing water. Stephen Tillery, the lawyer who argued the cas­es, said, “Tyrone’s work gave us the sci­en­tif­ic basis for the law­suit.”

    Hayes has devot­ed the past fif­teen years to study­ing atrazine, and dur­ing that time sci­en­tists around the world have expand­ed on his find­ings, sug­gest­ing that the her­bi­cide is asso­ci­at­ed with birth defects in humans as well as in ani­mals. The com­pa­ny doc­u­ments show that, while Hayes was study­ing atrazine, Syn­gen­ta was study­ing him, as he had long sus­pect­ed. Syngenta’s pub­lic-rela­tions team had draft­ed a list of four goals. The first was “dis­cred­it Hayes.” In a spi­ral-bound note­book, Syngenta’s com­mu­ni­ca­tions man­ag­er, Sher­ry Ford, who referred to Hayes by his ini­tials, wrote that the com­pa­ny could “pre­vent cit­ing of TH data by reveal­ing him as non­cred­i­ble.” He was a fre­quent top­ic of con­ver­sa­tion at com­pa­ny meet­ings. Syn­gen­ta looked for ways to “exploit Hayes’ faults/problems.” “If TH involved in scan­dal, envi­ros will drop him,” Ford wrote. She observed that Hayes “grew up in world (S.C.) that wouldn’t accept him,” “needs adu­la­tion,” “doesn’t sleep,” was “scarred for life.” She wrote, “What’s moti­vat­ing Hayes?—basic ques­tion.”

    Aviv goes on to detail how Syn­gen­ta was able to stymie reg­u­la­tors at every turn and con­tin­ue to sell a prod­uct that the Euro­pean Union had already banned. Read the whole piece at The New York­er.

    Good luck to all the oth­er pes­ti­cide researchers out there! And, of course, good luck to all the bees. You’re new plas­tic-infused nests are no doubt healthy and envi­ron­men­tal­ly sound.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 10, 2014, 7:25 pm
  2. Bye bye bum­ble­bees. And blue­ber­ries:

    Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor
    Not just hon­ey­bees: Afflic­tion may be spread­ing to bum­ble­bees, sci­en­tists say

    The mys­te­ri­ous ail­ment that is dec­i­mat­ing the world hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tion seems to be trans­fer­ring to bum­ble­bees, which also play an impor­tant role in pol­li­nat­ing crops.

    By Noelle Swan, Staff writer / Feb­ru­ary 20, 2014

    The mys­te­ri­ous dis­or­der that has befall­en domes­tic hon­ey­bees may be spread­ing to bum­ble­bees, researchers say.

    Bee­keep­ers in the Unit­ed States and Europe have doc­u­ment­ed mas­sive hon­ey­bee loss­es for sev­er­al years, but less has been under­stood about their wild coun­ter­part, the bum­ble­bee, which also appears to be in glob­al decline.

    Amer­i­can bee­keep­ers first report­ed the mys­te­ri­ous death and dis­ap­pear­ance of entire colonies of domes­ti­cat­ed hon­ey­bees in 2006. Since then, api­arists have impli­cat­ed mul­ti­ple cul­prits work­ing in con­cert, includ­ing pes­ti­cides, virus­es, and exot­ic pests. It now appears that the same pathogens and pests that have befall­en hon­ey­bees may also be affect­ing wild pol­li­na­tors as well, accord­ing to a paper pub­lished online by the sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal Nature Wednes­day.

    “Ongo­ing spillover of EIDs [emerg­ing infec­tious dis­eases] could rep­re­sent a major cause of mor­tal­i­ty of wild pol­li­na­tors wher­ev­er man­aged bees are main­tained,” the study authors write.

    While the researchers can­not say with cer­tain­ty which direc­tion the pests and pathogens are trav­el­ing, from hon­ey­bee to bum­ble­bee or vice ver­sa, they say that the high­er per­cent­age of infec­tion in hon­ey­bees sug­gests that hon­ey­bees are the pri­ma­ry hosts.

    Hon­ey­bees in the US are actu­al­ly Euro­pean hon­ey­bees (Apis mel­lif­era) and are not native to Amer­i­ca.

    ...

    While hon­ey­bees get much of the atten­tion, the US is home to 4,000 species of native bees, which are equal­ly impor­tant in the process of pol­li­nat­ing crops.

    “In the Unit­ed States alone, native bees con­tribute at least $3 bil­lion a year to the farm econ­o­my,” Mace Vaugh­an, pol­li­na­tor pro­gram direc­tor at the Xerces Soci­ety for Inver­te­brate Con­ser­va­tion in Port­land, Ore., told the Nation­al Wildlife Fed­er­a­tion in July. “We gross­ly over­look the crit­i­cal role these ani­mals play.”

    Cer­tain plants, such as blue­ber­ries and sun­flow­ers, can be pol­li­nat­ed only through buzz pol­li­na­tion, where bum­ble­bees dis­con­nect the mus­cle attach­ing their wing to their tho­rax and vibrate just their body, Mr. Gra­ham says.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 20, 2014, 2:09 pm
  3. “All stud­ies on neon­i­coti­noids do not show any link to wide­spread colony loss­es”, says the direc­tor of pol­li­na­tor safe­ty for Bay­er Crop­Science:

    Com­pa­ny defends pes­ti­cide blamed for bee deaths
    By BENNETT HALL, Cor­val­lis Gazette-Times
    Pub­lished 2:48 pm, Wednes­day, Feb­ru­ary 19, 2014

    CORVALLIS, Ore. (AP) — The debate over neon­i­coti­noids came to Cor­val­lis on Tues­day when the Bay­er Crop­Science Bee Care Tour made a stop at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty.

    ...

    Eco­tox­i­col­o­gist David Fis­ch­er, the direc­tor of pol­li­na­tor safe­ty for Bay­er Crop­Science, spoke to an audi­ence of near­ly 75 peo­ple about bee colony col­lapse dis­or­der and oth­er threats to bees.

    “What are the fac­tors affect­ing bee health? I think the con­sen­sus is there’s a lot of fac­tors,” Fis­ch­er said, cit­ing poor nutri­tion, dis­ease, par­a­sites, genet­ic weak­ness, queen fail­ures and pes­ti­cides.

    But he denied that neon­i­coti­noids pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat to bees.

    “All stud­ies on neon­i­coti­noids do not show any link to wide­spread colony loss­es,” he told his audi­ence. “They all say the same thing: Colony loss­es do not cor­re­late to neon­i­coti­noid use or pes­ti­cide residue in hives.”

    Out­side, how­ev­er, a small group of rain-soaked pro­test­ers were telling a dif­fer­ent sto­ry. Nine peo­ple, many of them in black and yel­low bee cos­tumes, crouched under umbrel­las and held signs that said “Bay­er kills bees,” ”Ban bee-killing neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides” and “Bee smart: Stop using gar­den chem­i­cals.”

    Sev­er­al orga­ni­za­tions were rep­re­sent­ed, includ­ing Occu­py Cor­val­lis, the Pacif­ic Green Par­ty and Beyond Tox­i­cs, a Eugene-based anti-pes­ti­cide group.

    Pro­test­er Phil Smith, a mem­ber of Ore­gon Sus­tain­able Bee­keep­ers, called Bay­er’s trav­el­ing bee health exhi­bi­tion “a green­wash­ing tour.”

    While it’s true that there are mul­ti­ple caus­es con­tribut­ing to hon­ey­bee declines, he said, the pur­pose of the tour is to divert atten­tion from the dan­gers of neon­i­coti­noids, which make enor­mous prof­its for Bay­er.

    “It’s all PR,” Smith said. “There’s a host of peer-reviewed stud­ies now that clear­ly show they’re killing bees wher­ev­er they’re used.”

    In an inter­view after his talk, Fis­ch­er denied that claim.

    He argued that neon­ics are far safer for humans, domes­tic ani­mals and wildlife than ear­li­er gen­er­a­tions of pes­ti­cides and insist­ed they are not haz­ardous to bees if used prop­er­ly.

    “Most prob­lems affect­ing hon­ey­bee health are not relat­ed to pes­ti­cides,” he assert­ed. “It’s very impor­tant for home­own­ers and land­scap­ers to fol­low the direc­tions. In the Wilsonville inci­dent, they just did­n’t fol­low the label.”

    OSU hon­ey­bee expert Ramesh Sag­ili said it’s true that there are mul­ti­ple fac­tors involved in the decline of hon­ey­bee pop­u­la­tions and that there’s no con­clu­sive evi­dence con­nect­ing neon­i­coti­noids to colony col­lapse or hon­ey­bee declines.

    But he also said it’s disin­gen­u­ous for man­u­fac­tur­ers to pre­tend that pes­ti­cides don’t play a role in the prob­lem.

    “We don’t have a num­ber to put on them, but every­body agrees they are part of the prob­lem,” Sag­ili said.

    Even in cas­es where neon­ics don’t kill pol­li­na­tors out­right, he added, there is evi­dence of trou­bling sub­lethal effects such as inter­fer­ence with bees’ abil­i­ty to nav­i­gate.

    Above all else, he said, there needs to be much clear­er label­ing of neon­i­coti­noids, espe­cial­ly for peo­ple who are not cer­ti­fied pes­ti­cide appli­ca­tors.

    “The labels should be very clear for home use,” Sag­ili said. “Peo­ple have to under­stand that neon­ics are tox­ic to bees and are to be applied only when there is no oth­er choice.

    So what about the stud­ies that were used to jus­ti­fy the two-year neon­i­coti­noid ban in the EU? Well, one of Syn­gen­ta’s bee experts recent­ly addressed this:

    Alber­ta Farmer Express
    Syn­gen­ta sci­en­tist casts doubts on neon­i­coti­noid research
    One U.K.-based researcher believes the real cul­prit behind colony col­lapse is inex­pe­ri­ence, 
poor weath­er, mites and dis­ease — not neon­i­coti­noids

    Post­ed Jan. 15, 2014 by Shan­non Van­raes

    A Syn­gen­ta bee researcher told the recent Grow­Cana­da con­fer­ence neon­i­coti­noids are being unfair­ly blamed for declin­ing bee pop­u­la­tions.

    “The risk to bee pop­u­la­tions from neon­i­coti­noids as they are cur­rent­ly used and used accord­ing to the label, is low,” Helen Thomp­son, a Syn­gen­ta bee researcher, told atten­dees.

    The U.K.-based sci­en­tist said stud­ies used in the Euro­pean Union to jus­ti­fy a two-year ban on the use of neon­i­coti­noids across the con­ti­nent were based on stud­ies that didn’t repli­cate the kinds of con­di­tions bees actu­al­ly encounter in their nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment.

    The con­di­tions used in the stud­ies were “very extreme,” Thomp­son said, adding that in some cas­es bees were exposed to thou­sands of times the amount of pes­ti­cide con­tained in actu­al agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts.

    But a study led by the British researcher and used to oppose the Euro­pean ban on neon­i­coti­noids has also been called into ques­tion. Before join­ing Syn­gen­ta in Sep­tem­ber of this year, Thomp­son worked for the U.K. government’s Food and Envi­ron­ment Research Agency (FERA). It was there, British pub­li­ca­tions report, that her study on neon­i­coti­noids and bum­ble­bees drew crit­i­cism after con­trol colonies intend­ed to remain pes­ti­cide free, were con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed with the neu­ro-active insec­ti­cide.

    Syn­gen­ta also financed an FERA research project in which Thomp­son par­tic­i­pat­ed, lead­ing some in the British Par­lia­ment to ques­tion the impar­tial­i­ty of the work.

    But Thomp­son doesn’t put much stock in what the media has to say about her research, and believes opin­ions around the use of pes­ti­cides are tied more to per­cep­tion than sci­ence.

    “I’m cer­tain­ly one of those peo­ple now, who is a lit­tle more cir­cum­spect when I read the head­lines in the press,” she said.

    ...

    Fear of a Euro­pean-style ban on neon­i­coti­noids has now prompt­ed action by some Cana­di­an farm groups, includ­ing Grain Grow­ers of Cana­da and the Man­i­to­ba Corn Grow­ers Asso­ci­a­tion.

    “I have been work­ing with my bee­keep­er neigh­bours for a num­ber of years now and they have nev­er indi­cat­ed that neon­i­coti­noids are a prob­lem for their bees,” said Den­nis Thiessen, direc­tor of the Corn Grow­ers Asso­ci­a­tion.

    A sub­mis­sion pre­sent­ed to Health Canada’s Pest Man­age­ment Reg­u­la­to­ry Agency by the Grain Grow­ers asserts that a deci­sion to restrict neon­i­coti­noid use in Cana­da “will major­ly impact Cana­di­an farm­ers’ abil­i­ty to com­pete, and, in fact, increase the need for foliar spray­ing.”

    Thomp­son urged Cana­di­an pro­duc­ers to keep fight­ing against a neon­i­coti­noid ban and make their voic­es heard.

    “From a per­son­al per­spec­tive, I would say the farm­ers have no voice… I heard no com­ments on how this would impact agri­cul­ture,” she said.

    Yep, the EU two-year neon­i­coti­noid ban has the pes­ti­cide indus­try and BigAg in freak out mode, so get ready for more indus­try experts that want us to know that no stud­ies show any neon­i­coti­noid dan­gers except for the stud­ies that do which are flawed and should be ignored.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 2, 2014, 8:22 pm
  4. Here’s some­thing for folks liv­ing in cold­er cli­mates to fac­tor in regard­ing the impact of cli­mate change on their neck of the woods: Pre­vi­ous­ly, it was thought that cli­mate change would dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly impact insects in trop­i­cal regions where it’s already the hottest and that insects in cold­er regions might even thrive as the plan­et warms. New research indi­cates, how­ev­er, that when the stress­es from cli­mate change’s rapid tem­per­a­ture swings are fac­tored in we should prob­a­bly expect cli­mate change to suck for life every­where regard­less of lat­i­tude:

    Man­i­to­ba Co-oper­a­tor
    Tem­per­a­ture swings hard on insects
    The research is chang­ing how sci­en­tists view the effect of cli­mate change on plants and ani­mals
    Share on print Share on face­book Share on twit­ter Share on email More Shar­ing Ser­vices
    Post­ed Feb. 10, 2014

    Many species of insects, includ­ing a wasp com­mon­ly used for bio­con­trol in Cana­da, are at risk due to increas­ing dra­mat­ic tem­per­a­ture changes relat­ed to glob­al warm­ing.

    Increas­ing­ly extreme swings in tem­per­a­ture may put some insects at high­er risk than pre­vi­ous­ly thought, accord­ing to a new study pub­lished today in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Roy­al Soci­ety of Lon­don.

    An inter­na­tion­al team of sci­en­tists test­ed the impact of tem­per­a­ture pat­terns on 38 species of insects and ana­lyzed the results along with his­toric cli­mate data and pro­jec­tions for 2050 to 2059. They found that when only the mean tem­per­a­ture rise is con­sid­ered, insects flour­ished in the warmer envi­ron­ments. How­ev­er, when account­ing for the vari­a­tion in high­est and low­est tem­per­a­tures, insects were neg­a­tive­ly impact­ed.

    “This study changes the way we think about cli­mate change vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of plants and ani­mals,” says study co-author Mary O’Connor, an assis­tant pro­fes­sor in the Uni­ver­si­ty of British Columbia’s dept. of zool­o­gy.

    “Until recent­ly, we believed that trop­i­cal species were more at risk of extinc­tion because gen­er­al­ly they can­not tol­er­ate increas­ing tem­per­a­tures. We also thought that many plants and ani­mals in cold­er cli­mates like in Cana­da could bet­ter tol­er­ate warm­ing,” says O’Connor, who is also asso­ciate direc­tor of UBC’s Bio­di­ver­si­ty Research Cen­tre.

    “But when we add changes in dai­ly and annu­al tem­per­a­ture swings to the mix, species in cold­er cli­mates are in no bet­ter shape to weath­er cli­mate change.”

    O’Connor adds that species such as the sta­ble fly Sto­moxys cal­ci­tran and Mus­cid­i­fu­rax zara­p­tor, a wasp com­mon­ly used for bio­con­trol in Cana­da, are among the species that would not ben­e­fit from warm­ing, con­trary to pre­vi­ous pre­dic­tions.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 3, 2014, 12:55 pm
  5. Good news! Sci­en­tists have dis­cov­ered that cli­mate change can actu­al­ly bring extinct species back as old friends frozen away in the per­mafrost are thawed. Old friends like giant virus­es:

    30,000-year-old virus from per­mafrost is reborn
    by Staff Writ­ers
    Paris (AFP) March 03, 2014

    French sci­en­tists said Mon­day they had revived a giant but harm­less virus that had been locked in the Siber­ian per­mafrost for more than 30,000 years.

    Wak­en­ing the long-dor­mant virus serves as a warn­ing that unknown pathogens entombed in frozen soil may be roused by glob­al warm­ing, they said.

    Dubbed Pithovirus siber­icum, the virus was found in a 30-metre (98-foot) ‑deep sam­ple of per­ma­nent­ly frozen soil tak­en from coastal tun­dra in Chukot­ka, near the East Siberia Sea, where the aver­age annu­al tem­per­a­ture is minus 13.4 degrees Cel­sius (7.8 degrees Fahren­heit).

    The team thawed the virus and watched it repli­cate in a cul­ture in a petri dish, where it infect­ed a sim­ple sin­gle-cell organ­ism called an amoe­ba.

    Radio­car­bon dat­ing of the soil sam­ple found that veg­e­ta­tion grew there more than 30,000 years ago, a time when mam­moths and Nean­derthals walked the Earth, accord­ing to a paper pub­lished in the US jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences (PNAS).

    P. siber­icum is, on the scale of virus­es, a giant — it has 500 genes, where­as the influen­za virus has only eight.

    ...

    Unlike the flu virus, though, P. siber­icum is harm­less to humans and ani­mals, for it only infects a type of amoe­ba called Acan­thamoe­ba, the researchers said.

    The work shows that virus­es can sur­vive being locked up in the per­mafrost for extreme­ly long peri­ods, France’s Nation­al Cen­tre for Sci­en­tif­ic Research (CNRS) said in a press state­ment.

    “It has impor­tant impli­ca­tions for pub­lic-health risks in con­nec­tion with exploit­ing min­er­al or ener­gy resources in Arc­tic Cir­cle regions that are becom­ing more and more acces­si­ble through glob­al warm­ing,” it said.

    “The revival of virus­es that are con­sid­ered to have been erad­i­cat­ed, such as the small­pox virus, whose repli­ca­tion process is sim­i­lar to that of Pithovirus, is no longer lim­it­ed to sci­ence fic­tion.

    “The risk that this sce­nario could hap­pen in real life has to be viewed real­is­ti­cal­ly.”

    A mega virus with 500 genes? Some­one get a nanos­traw in that bad boy. If 500 genes seems like overkill for a virus tar­get­ing the poor lit­tle amoe­ba, keep in mind that the amoe­ba’s genome can be hun­dreds of times larg­er than the human genome. It’s a reminder that sin­gle-celled organ­isms are still wild­ly com­plex crit­ters and also a reminder that there’s a lot left to learn about life on earth. And now, thanks to cli­mate change, we’re get­ting to learn some of those life lessons. It’s good tim­ing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 4, 2014, 11:37 am
  6. Meet Mon­san­to: The world’s most evil cor­po­ra­tion your friend­ly hyper-local data-dri­ven farm ser­vices provider:

    The Verge
    The $1 bil­lion weath­er app: why Mon­san­to is bet­ting the farm on smarter fore­casts

    A bil­lion-dol­lar acqui­si­tion plants the seeds for an agribusi­ness rev­o­lu­tion

    By Vlad Savov on Octo­ber 10, 2013 10:22 am

    To look at Monsanto’s prod­uct pages, you’d think the company’s busi­ness is in sell­ing two close­ly relat­ed com­modi­ties: agri­cul­tur­al seeds and weed killers. But that would be like say­ing that Ver­i­zon sells peo­ple data and phone calls. What these com­pa­nies are tru­ly engaged in is an effort to make them­selves indis­pens­able to their tar­get market’s dai­ly activ­i­ties. Now Mon­san­to is step­ping up that cam­paign by expand­ing into the high-tech world of big data with its $930 mil­lion acqui­si­tion of The Cli­mate Cor­po­ra­tion.

    It’s not that Mon­san­to is unfa­mil­iar with the cut­ting edge of tech­nol­o­gy — as its long list of patents will attest — but so far most of the company’s ener­gies have been spent on alter­ing, enhanc­ing, and oth­er­wise rear­rang­ing the basic ingre­di­ents that go into land farm­ing. With Cli­mate Corp’s exper­tise in hyper-local weath­er pre­dic­tion and big data ana­lyt­ics, Mon­san­to looks set to become a ful­ly fledged ser­vices com­pa­ny as well.

    Found­ed by a pair of for­mer Google employ­ees in 2006, The Cli­mate Cor­po­ra­tion began life under the moniker of Weath­er­Bill Inc. Sir­aj Khaliq and David Fried­berg put togeth­er a com­plex sys­tem for high­ly detailed weath­er mon­i­tor­ing, pre­dic­tion, and analy­sis, which allowed them to offer a new type of insur­ance to farm­ers. Instead of pro­tect­ing grow­ers against loss, Weath­er­Bill promised to rec­om­pense their antic­i­pat­ed prof­it in the event of a giv­en weath­er calami­ty. Thus, if you sign up for the company’s drought pro­tec­tion plan and your fields don’t receive the stip­u­lat­ed amount of rain, you still get the full antic­i­pat­ed prof­it of a healthy year’s crop.

    After chang­ing its name to The Cli­mate Cor­po­ra­tion in 2011 and there­by bet­ter har­ness­ing the prime web estate of its climate.com home­page, the company’s next big mile­stone has been this month’s takeover by Mon­san­to. The all-cash pur­chase price of $930 mil­lion is big by anyone’s stan­dards — stand­ing along­side Insta­gram and Yam­mer in the pan­theon of tech start­up sales — and marks the grow­ing val­ue and impor­tance of apply­ing big data ana­lyt­ics to long-estab­lished indus­tries like agri­cul­ture.

    As Monsanto’s press release makes clear, it’s buy­ing tech­ni­cal acu­men and capa­bil­i­ties first, with the insur­ance busi­ness being of sec­ondary inter­est. Climate.com pro­vides the farmer’s equiv­a­lent of a fit­ness track­er: it offers hourly reports on field-lev­el con­di­tions like pre­ci­pa­tion and wind speed, email and text alerts when thresh­olds are exceed­ed, and even a mobile app for iOS and Android. You’re not just giv­en rough tem­per­a­ture esti­mates, you’re giv­en field-spe­cif­ic and high­ly detailed weath­er fore­casts, plus a litany of option­al sup­port ser­vices for help­ing you choose when to seed your next crop.

    It’s this farmer-sup­port infra­struc­ture that most appeals to Mon­san­to, which already has var­i­ous ven­tures like its AgA­cad­e­my and Inte­grat­ed Farm­ing Sys­tems (IFS) designed to help inform plant­i­ng deci­sions. The first IFS prod­uct from Mon­san­to — Field­Scripts for corn, which advis­es on the best types of Mon­san­to seeds to plant in each field — is actu­al­ly the prod­uct of a sim­i­lar acqui­si­tion the com­pa­ny made last year when it bought Pre­ci­sion Plant­i­ng for a quar­ter of Cli­mate Cor­p’s price. Field­Scripts is still in test­ing ahead of a 2014 launch, illus­trat­ing how nascent this mar­ket still is.

    If Mon­san­to is suc­cess­ful in putting togeth­er a com­pre­hen­sive farm man­age­ment, over­sight, and plan­ning ser­vice, it can make itself even more per­va­sive in the US farmer’s day-to-day oper­a­tions. The company’s not being mod­est in its esti­mates, claim­ing there’s $20 bil­lion of “untapped yield oppor­tu­ni­ty,” which it can help farm­ers unlock through the appli­ca­tion of what it calls “data sci­ence.” Buy­ing The Cli­mate Cor­po­ra­tion is a short­cut to get­ting out in the lead.

    Devel­op­ing the ser­vice side of its busi­ness is more than just an attempt to cat­alyze extra growth for Mon­san­to; it could also help reju­ve­nate the company’s dubi­ous rep­u­ta­tion around the world. Monsanto’s Brave New World approach to farm­ing — where super-strength her­bi­cides like Roundup are used in con­cert with genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied seeds — has been high­ly con­tro­ver­sial. Some 2 mil­lion peo­ple par­tic­i­pat­ed in a glob­al March Against Mon­san­to in May, and anoth­er such event is planned for this Sat­ur­day.

    ...

    Tim Gos­man, Senior Con­sul­tant at The Brand Union, warns that Mon­san­to’s efforts “to help farm­ers improve their prac­tices and prof­its will be seen by many as huge­ly disin­gen­u­ous.” The com­pa­ny still has a major rep­u­ta­tion issue it needs to resolve, he tells The Verge, but “it’s a wise move to try and gen­er­ate some pos­i­tive PR for the busi­ness and this acqui­si­tion could be the first step towards doing exact­ly that.”

    The Cli­mate Cor­po­ra­tion aims to retain all its cur­rent employ­ees and will con­tin­ue to oper­ate in its present role as an expert risk man­age­ment and agri-insur­ance firm. The ques­tion for Mon­san­to is whether it can prop­er­ly cap­i­tal­ize on Climate’s smarts to become the leader in this new field of data-dri­ven farm­ing. If it does, it stands to ben­e­fit both finan­cial­ly and rep­u­ta­tion­al­ly.

    Will Mon­san­to’s hyper-local weath­er data — and now soil data — ser­vices allow Mon­san­to to feed the world while also becom­ing even more inte­grat­ed into the glob­al feed sup­ply? Maybe. If not, Mon­san­to’s new weath­er insur­ance con­tracts may not do very well so at least the Schau­den­freude-induced endor­phin rush­es should help with the hunger pangs.

    Or maybe new farm­ing ser­vices will arise that solve every­thing. Or noth­ing. Either way, we should expect to see a grow­ing inter­est in all sorts of rad­i­cal new kinds of farm­ing ser­vices from all sorts of sur­pris­ing sources.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 6, 2014, 10:17 pm
  7. Here’s some­thing hor­rif­i­cal­ly iron­ic: Instead of bee deaths lead­ing to the loss of wild flow­ers, the cur­rent drought in Cal­i­for­nia is killing the wild flow­ers and starv­ing the bees. It’s a reminder that, as the cli­mate changes, it does­n’t change at an equal pace every­where. Some types of regions and types of habi­tats, like near-deserts, get to walk down The Road at a faster pace than oth­ers:

    The New York Times
    In Parched Cal­i­for­nia, Town Taps Run Near­ly Dry

    By ADAM NAGOURNEY
    MARCH 7, 2014

    LAKE OF THE WOODS, Calif. — Peo­ple in this moun­tain town strad­dling the San Andreas Fault are used to scrap­ping for water. The lake for which it is named went dry 40 years ago. But now, this tiny com­mu­ni­ty is deal­ing with its most unset­tling threat yet: It could run out of water by sum­mer.

    As of last week, just two of the five wells drilled into the dry lake bed that serve its 300 homes were pro­duc­ing water. The moun­tains of the near­by Los Padres Nation­al For­est got their first dust­ing of snow — and it was a light one — last week; it is the win­ter snow that feeds the wells come spring. Peo­ple are water­ing trees with dis­card­ed dish­wa­ter, run­ning the wash­ing machine once a week, and let­ting their care­ful­ly tend­ed beds of flow­ers and trees with­er into patch­es of dusty dirt.

    There are scenes all across Cal­i­for­nia that illus­trate the pow­er of the drought. A haze of smog, which nor­mal­ly would be washed away by win­ter rains, hung over Los Ange­les this week. Bee­keep­ers near Sacra­men­to said the lack of wild­flow­ers has deprived bees of a source of food, con­tribut­ing to a wor­ri­some die-off. Across the rich farm­land of the San Joaquin Val­ley, fields are going unplant­ed.

    But for 17 small rur­al com­mu­ni­ties in Cal­i­for­nia, the absence of rain is pos­ing a fun­da­men­tal threat to the most basic of ser­vices: drink­ing water. And Lake of the Woods, a mid­dle-class enclave 80 miles from down­town Los Ange­les, a mix of com­muters, retirees and week­end res­i­dents, is one of the most seri­ous­ly threat­ened. Signs along its dusty road­ways offer stark red-on-white warn­ings of a “Water Emer­gency” and plead for con­ser­va­tion.

    “I didn’t think it would come to this,” said Diane Gustafson, the man­ag­er of the Lake of the Woods Mutu­al Water Com­pa­ny, as she greet­ed a team of coun­ty and state offi­cials review­ing the community’s request for emer­gency funds to drill more holes. “Our wells are so deep. I have lived here for 40 years, and this is the first time we’ve had a prob­lem like this.”

    So far, noth­ing has seemed to have helped: not the year­long ban on water­ing lawns and wash­ing cars, not the con­sci­en­tious home­own­ers who clean their dish­es in the sink and reuse the gray water on trees, not even the three inch­es of rain that soaked the area last week­end. Three attempts to drill new wells, going down 500 feet, have failed.

    For a while, Lake of the Woods bought water from Fra­zier Park, five miles up the road, but that com­mu­ni­ty halt­ed sales as its water table dropped through the win­ter. Now Lake of the Woods is try­ing to line up alter­na­tives, and fast: State offi­cials pre­dict the exist­ing water sup­ply will last no more than three months.

    The town, which cov­ers an unin­cor­po­rat­ed square mile of Kern Coun­ty and has a pop­u­la­tion of about 900, says it is pre­pared to truck in water should the wells run dry, an expen­sive rem­e­dy that it employed briefly dur­ing a dry spell last year and that now looms as a poten­tial fact of life here. Bob Stow­ell, a gen­er­al con­trac­tor who is the unpaid chair­man of the board of the water com­pa­ny, promis­es that no faucets in Lake of the Woods will go dry.

    But that assur­ance is being met with skep­ti­cism from res­i­dents who, with every dry pass­ing day, have grown uneasy at the prospect of run­ning out of water for drink­ing or, no less alarm­ing, to fight what many see as the inevitable for­est fires on the way.

    ...

    The devel­op­ments here offer a win­dow into the anx­i­eties and bat­tles that may be ahead for many parts of this drought-strick­en region should rain not return. Ms. Gustafson said the own­ers of sum­mer homes threat­ened not to pay their water bills after they were told they could not water their lawns; she has respond­ed by vow­ing to cut off their water.

    For Mr. Stow­ell, the once-mod­est oblig­a­tions of run­ning the water com­pa­ny have become time-con­sum­ing. He spends much of his day deal­ing with home­own­ers anx­ious about what the next sea­son will bring, and scold­ing the occa­sion­al water scofflaws who resist the con­ser­va­tion direc­tives.

    ...

    It’s dif­fer­ent in the San Joaquin Val­ley: You can drill and find water,” said David A. Warn­er, a senior com­mu­ni­ty devel­op­ment spe­cial­ist with Self-Help Enter­pris­es, a non­prof­it group that has been work­ing with home­own­ers dur­ing the drought. “Up here in the moun­tains, it’s much hard­er. They’ve tried, they’ve real­ly tried.”

    This com­mu­ni­ty lies atop on a nest of earth­quake faults, anchored by the San Andreas Fault. That may not be entire­ly a bad thing; geol­o­gists have told water com­pa­ny offi­cials that the best place to look for water this high in the moun­tains is where fault lines meet.

    Mr. Warn­er said the sit­u­a­tion was made worse because so many com­mu­ni­ties face sim­i­lar chal­lenges, and are respond­ing by dig­ging new wells. “The prob­lem for them is there are only so many well drillers,” he said. “Farm­ers need water. Cities need waters. Every­body is lin­ing up for a driller. We had a bid for test wells, and the driller said he won’t be able to be out there until April.”

    And as the drought has shown no sign of eas­ing, the water com­pa­ny, with emer­gency finan­cial assis­tance from Cal­i­for­nia, has inten­si­fied its efforts to find new water sources: buy­ing land, open­ing up closed wells and drilling ever deep­er.

    “We did drill three test holes, and we found noth­ing,” Mr. Stow­ell said. “Went down, three, four, five hun­dred feet. And we didn’t find any­thing. Now we’re going to go down more, 1,000 feet.”

    “We’ll keep drilling until we find water,” Mr. Stow­ell said as he trudged past a closed well, marked by a white cap. “We have three new test loca­tions. We’re going to attempt to drill down and see if we can find more water. I sus­pect we will even­tu­al­ly find water.”

    The sit­u­a­tion has left peo­ple here con­fronting the kind of ques­tions they say peo­ple who live in urban areas have nev­er had to con­sid­er. “Where are you going to get your water from?” said Greg Gustafson, Ms. Gustafson’s son. “How can you flush your toi­lets? How can you take a show­er? How can brush your teeth in the morn­ing? It’s not a nice feel­ing know­ing that your town could be com­plete­ly turned into a ghost town because they don’t have a water sup­ply.”

    As bad as the drought sit­u­a­tion is for North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, it could be worse. Those North­ern Cal­i­for­nia com­mu­ni­ties have the option of drilling for water. That may not do much for the bees or any oth­er wildlife that will still be dry­ing up with­out access to that drilled water, but the peo­ple will be well hydrat­ed for deal­ing the com­ing for­est fires. Although the fact that they have to drill near fault lines that are anchored by the San Andreas Fault might be a lit­tle unset­tling. Good thing they aren’t frack­ing near there.

    Oh wait...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 8, 2014, 1:35 pm
  8. Woah, a new study con­cludes that the mani­acs run­ning civ­i­liza­tion into the ground might not be ful­ly aware of the hor­rors their unleash­ing. Or maybe they know and just don’t care. Either way, elite igno­rance and apa­thy aren’t real­ly very good excus­es for destroy­ing the future buy they’re very viable expla­na­tions:

    Nasa-fund­ed study: indus­tri­al civil­i­sa­tion head­ed for ‘irre­versible col­lapse’?
    Nat­ur­al and social sci­en­tists devel­op new mod­el of how ‘per­fect storm’ of crises could unrav­el glob­al sys­tem

    Post­ed by Nafeez Ahmed
    Fri­day 14 March 2014 14.28 EDT theguardian.com

    A new study spon­sored by Nasa’s God­dard Space Flight Cen­ter has high­light­ed the prospect that glob­al indus­tri­al civil­i­sa­tion could col­lapse in com­ing decades due to unsus­tain­able resource exploita­tion and increas­ing­ly unequal wealth dis­tri­b­u­tion.

    Not­ing that warn­ings of ‘col­lapse’ are often seen to be fringe or con­tro­ver­sial, the study attempts to make sense of com­pelling his­tor­i­cal data show­ing that “the process of rise-and-col­lapse is actu­al­ly a recur­rent cycle found through­out his­to­ry.” Cas­es of severe civil­i­sa­tion­al dis­rup­tion due to “pre­cip­i­tous col­lapse — often last­ing cen­turies — have been quite com­mon.”

    The research project is based on a new cross-dis­ci­pli­nary ‘Human And Nature DYnam­i­cal’ (HANDY) mod­el, led by applied math­e­mati­cian Safa Mote­shar­ri of the US Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion-sup­port­ed Nation­al Socio-Envi­ron­men­tal Syn­the­sis Cen­ter, in asso­ci­a­tion with a team of nat­ur­al and social sci­en­tists. The study based on the HANDY mod­el has been accept­ed for pub­li­ca­tion in the peer-reviewed Else­vi­er jour­nal, Eco­log­i­cal Eco­nom­ics.

    It finds that accord­ing to the his­tor­i­cal record even advanced, com­plex civil­i­sa­tions are sus­cep­ti­ble to col­lapse, rais­ing ques­tions about the sus­tain­abil­i­ty of mod­ern civil­i­sa­tion:

    “The fall of the Roman Empire, and the equal­ly (if not more) advanced Han, Mau­ryan, and Gup­ta Empires, as well as so many advanced Mesopotami­an Empires, are all tes­ti­mo­ny to the fact that advanced, sophis­ti­cat­ed, com­plex, and cre­ative civ­i­liza­tions can be both frag­ile and imper­ma­nent.”

    By inves­ti­gat­ing the human-nature dynam­ics of these past cas­es of col­lapse, the project iden­ti­fies the most salient inter­re­lat­ed fac­tors which explain civil­i­sa­tion­al decline, and which may help deter­mine the risk of col­lapse today: name­ly, Pop­u­la­tion, Cli­mate, Water, Agri­cul­ture, and Ener­gy.

    These fac­tors can lead to col­lapse when they con­verge to gen­er­ate two cru­cial social fea­tures: “the stretch­ing of resources due to the strain placed on the eco­log­i­cal car­ry­ing capac­i­ty”; and “the eco­nom­ic strat­i­fi­ca­tion of soci­ety into Elites [rich] and Mass­es (or “Com­mon­ers”) [poor]” These social phe­nom­e­na have played “a cen­tral role in the char­ac­ter or in the process of the col­lapse,” in all such cas­es over “the last five thou­sand years.”

    Cur­rent­ly, high lev­els of eco­nom­ic strat­i­fi­ca­tion are linked direct­ly to over­con­sump­tion of resources, with “Elites” based large­ly in indus­tri­alised coun­tries respon­si­ble for both:

    “... accu­mu­lat­ed sur­plus is not even­ly dis­trib­uted through­out soci­ety, but rather has been con­trolled by an elite. The mass of the pop­u­la­tion, while pro­duc­ing the wealth, is only allo­cat­ed a small por­tion of it by elites, usu­al­ly at or just above sub­sis­tence lev­els.”

    ...

    Mod­el­ling a range of dif­fer­ent sce­nar­ios, Mote­shar­ri and his col­leagues con­clude that under con­di­tions “close­ly reflect­ing the real­i­ty of the world today... we find that col­lapse is dif­fi­cult to avoid.” In the first of these sce­nar­ios, civil­i­sa­tion:

    “.... appears to be on a sus­tain­able path for quite a long time, but even using an opti­mal deple­tion rate and start­ing with a very small num­ber of Elites, the Elites even­tu­al­ly con­sume too much, result­ing in a famine among Com­mon­ers that even­tu­al­ly caus­es the col­lapse of soci­ety. It is impor­tant to note that this Type‑L col­lapse is due to an inequal­i­ty-induced famine that caus­es a loss of work­ers, rather than a col­lapse of Nature.”

    Anoth­er sce­nario focus­es on the role of con­tin­ued resource exploita­tion, find­ing that “with a larg­er deple­tion rate, the decline of the Com­mon­ers occurs faster, while the Elites are still thriv­ing, but even­tu­al­ly the Com­mon­ers col­lapse com­plete­ly, fol­lowed by the Elites.

    In both sce­nar­ios, Elite wealth monop­o­lies mean that they are buffered from the most “detri­men­tal effects of the envi­ron­men­tal col­lapse until much lat­er than the Com­mon­ers”, allow­ing them to “con­tin­ue ‘busi­ness as usu­al’ despite the impend­ing cat­a­stro­phe.” The same mech­a­nism, they argue, could explain how “his­tor­i­cal col­laps­es were allowed to occur by elites who appear to be obliv­i­ous to the cat­a­stroph­ic tra­jec­to­ry (most clear­ly appar­ent in the Roman and Mayan cas­es).”

    Apply­ing this les­son to our con­tem­po­rary predica­ment, the study warns that:

    “While some mem­bers of soci­ety might raise the alarm that the sys­tem is mov­ing towards an impend­ing col­lapse and there­fore advo­cate struc­tur­al changes to soci­ety in order to avoid it, Elites and their sup­port­ers, who opposed mak­ing these changes, could point to the long sus­tain­able tra­jec­to­ry ‘so far’ in sup­port of doing noth­ing.”

    How­ev­er, the sci­en­tists point out that the worst-case sce­nar­ios are by no means inevitable, and sug­gest that appro­pri­ate pol­i­cy and struc­tur­al changes could avoid col­lapse, if not pave the way toward a more sta­ble civil­i­sa­tion.

    The two key solu­tions are to reduce eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty so as to ensure fair­er dis­tri­b­u­tion of resources, and to dra­mat­i­cal­ly reduce resource con­sump­tion by rely­ing on less inten­sive renew­able resources and reduc­ing pop­u­la­tion growth:

    “Col­lapse can be avoid­ed and pop­u­la­tion can reach equi­lib­ri­um if the per capi­ta rate of deple­tion of nature is reduced to a sus­tain­able lev­el, and if resources are dis­trib­uted in a rea­son­ably equi­table fash­ion.”

    The NASA-fund­ed HANDY mod­el offers a high­ly cred­i­ble wake-up call to gov­ern­ments, cor­po­ra­tions and busi­ness — and con­sumers — to recog­nise that ‘busi­ness as usu­al’ can­not be sus­tained, and that pol­i­cy and struc­tur­al changes are required imme­di­ate­ly.

    Although the study is large­ly the­o­ret­i­cal, a num­ber of oth­er more empir­i­cal­ly-focused stud­ies — by KPMG and the UK Gov­ern­ment Office of Sci­ence for instance — have warned that the con­ver­gence of food, water and ener­gy crises could cre­ate a ‘per­fect storm’ with­in about fif­teen years. But these ‘busi­ness as usu­al’ fore­casts could be very con­ser­v­a­tive.

    Huh, so a tech solu­tion to the prob­lem of civ­i­liza­tion­al unsus­tain­abil­i­ty may not cut it. Find­ing ways to share resources much more fair­ly while also shift­ing to lifestyles that just con­sume a lot less resources alto­geth­er. In oth­er words, the poor­est in the world should be mate­ri­al­ly wealth­i­er but the rest of us real­ly do need to fig­ure out how to have ful­fill­ing, enjoy­able lives with less mate­r­i­al resource con­sump­tion. Hmmm...how might we thread this par­tic­u­lar nee­dle?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 15, 2014, 8:57 pm
  9. Behold! A pos­si­ble mir­a­cle treat­ment for fight­ing infec­tions with­out induc­ing drug resis­tance: sweet sweet bee poop hon­ey!

    Belfast Tele­graph
    Restora­tive pow­ers of hon­ey hailed
    16 March 2014

    Hon­ey could be the key in the bat­tle against antibi­ot­ic resis­tance, experts have said.

    As well as being a tasty treat, hon­ey could be used to help fight infec­tions, they said.

    Sci­en­tists said that hon­ey has a com­bi­na­tion of weapons to beat infec­tion includ­ing hydro­gen per­ox­ide, acid­i­ty, high sug­ar con­cen­tra­tion and polyphe­nols — all of which active­ly kill bac­te­r­i­al cells.

    It also has the “osmot­ic effect”, which means it draws water from bac­te­r­i­al cells which dehy­drates and kills them.

    Dr Susan Meschwitz, assis­tant pro­fes­sor in chem­istry at Salve Regi­na Uni­ver­si­ty in the US, said: “The unique prop­er­ty of hon­ey lies in its abil­i­ty to fight infec­tion on mul­ti­ple lev­els, mak­ing it more dif­fi­cult for bac­te­ria to devel­op resis­tance.”

    She will tell the Nation­al Meet­ing of the Amer­i­can Chem­i­cal Soci­ety in Dal­las, Texas, that a large num­ber of stud­ies have con­firmed the antimi­cro­bial prop­er­ties of the nat­ur­al sweet­en­er.

    Health experts have pre­vi­ous­ly warned of the “cat­a­stroph­ic threat” of peo­ple becom­ing resis­tant to antibi­otics, say­ing that in just 20 years’ time rou­tine oper­a­tions could become dead­ly if we lose the abil­i­ty to fight infec­tion.

    Last year, Eng­land’s chief med­ical offi­cer Pro­fes­sor Dame Sal­ly Davies said that resis­tance to antibi­otics is one of the great­est threats to mod­ern health. She said many of the drugs are being used unnec­es­sar­i­ly for mild infec­tions or ill­ness­es which should not be treat­ed with antibi­otics — help­ing to cre­ate resis­tance.

    Yikes! So in anoth­er 20 years we might have to cov­er surgery patients with hon­ey just to kill off the drug resis­tant bac­te­ria? Well, bet­ter to be cov­ered in hon­ey than dead­ly bac­te­ria. That’s, of course, assum­ing we still have enough hon­ey to spare in anoth­er two decades. We might need it for, you know, eat­ing:

    CBC News

    Cli­mate change will reduce crops soon­er than expect­ed, says study
    Change of only 2 C in tem­per­a­ture will alter yields

    Post­ed: Mar 17, 2014 12:35 PM ET Last Updat­ed: Mar 17, 2014 12:35 PM ET

    Crops yields, espe­cial­ly in tem­per­ate cli­mates such as North Amer­i­ca and Europe, will be affect­ed by cli­mate change much ear­li­er than pre­dict­ed and with only a slight change in tem­per­a­tures, accord­ing to a new inter­na­tion­al study.

    The study, led by Andy Challi­nor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Leeds in Eng­land, says glob­al warm­ing of only 2 C will be detri­men­tal to crops in tem­per­ate and trop­i­cal cli­mates start­ing around the 2030s.

    “Our research shows that crop yields will be neg­a­tive­ly affect­ed by cli­mate change much ear­li­er than expect­ed,” writes Challi­nor in the jour­nal Nature Cli­mate Change.

    “The impact of cli­mate change on crops will vary both from year to year and from place to place – with the vari­abil­i­ty becom­ing greater as the weath­er becomes increas­ing­ly errat­ic.”

    Pre­vi­ous pre­dic­tions had fore­cast that tem­per­ate cli­mates could with­stand a cou­ple of degrees of warm­ing with­out a notice­able effect on crops.

    This new study refutes that.

    “We’ve seen a shift in consensus,telling us that the impacts of cli­mate change in tem­per­ate regions will hap­pen soon­er rather than lat­er,” not­ed Challi­nor.

    Accord­ing to the study, the great­est impact will be in the sec­ond half of the cen­tu­ry, when decreas­es of more than 25 per cent will become increas­ing­ly com­mon.

    Researchers from Aus­tralia, Colom­bia, the Unit­ed States and the Unit­ed King­dom com­bined and com­pared results from 1,700 pub­lished reports of how cli­mate change has affect­ed yields of corn, wheat and rice.

    The researchers says their analy­ses comes from the largest data set to date on crop respons­es.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 17, 2014, 11:40 am
  10. Here’s a sto­ry about how the corn worm became resis­tant to the chem­i­cal insert­ed into genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied corn. Let’s just say that the long-term via­bil­i­ty of this par­tic­u­lar type of GMO corn does­n’t appear to have been part of any­one’s busi­ness mod­el:

    Wired
    Vora­cious Worm Evolves to Eat Biotech Corn Engi­neered to Kill It

    By Bran­don Keim
    03.17.14 3:41 PM

    One of agri­cul­tur­al biotechnology’s great suc­cess sto­ries may become a cau­tion­ary tale of how short-sight­ed mis­man­age­ment can squan­der the ben­e­fits of genet­ic mod­i­fi­ca­tion.

    After years of pre­dict­ing it would hap­pen — and after years of hav­ing their sug­ges­tions large­ly ignored by com­pa­nies, farm­ers and reg­u­la­tors — sci­en­tists have doc­u­ment­ed the rapid evo­lu­tion of corn root­worms that are resis­tant to Bt corn.

    Until Bt corn was genet­i­cal­ly altered to be poi­so­nous to the pests, root­worms used to cause bil­lions of dol­lars in dam­age to U.S. crops. Named for the pes­ti­ci­dal tox­in-pro­duc­ing Bacil­lus thuringien­sis gene it con­tains, Bt corn now accounts for three-quar­ters of the U.S. corn crop. The vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty of this corn could be dis­as­trous for farm­ers and the envi­ron­ment.

    “Unless man­age­ment prac­tices change, it’s only going to get worse,” said Aaron Gassmann, an Iowa State Uni­ver­si­ty ento­mol­o­gist and co-author of a March 17 Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences study describ­ing root­worm resis­tance. “There needs to be a fun­da­men­tal change in how the tech­nol­o­gy is used.”

    First plant­ed in 1996, Bt corn quick­ly became huge­ly pop­u­lar among U.S. farm­ers. With­in a few years, pop­u­la­tions of root­worms and corn bor­ers, anoth­er com­mon corn pest, had plum­met­ed across the mid­west. Yields rose and farm­ers reduced their use of con­ven­tion­al insec­ti­cides that cause more eco­log­i­cal dam­age than the Bt tox­in.

    By the turn of the mil­len­ni­um, how­ev­er, sci­en­tists who study the evo­lu­tion of insec­ti­cide resis­tance were warn­ing of immi­nent prob­lems. Any root­worm that could sur­vive Bt expo­sures would have a wide-open field in which to repro­duce; unless the crop was care­ful­ly man­aged, resis­tance would quick­ly emerge.

    Key to effec­tive man­age­ment, said the sci­en­tists, were refuges set aside and plant­ed with non-Bt corn. With­in these fields, root­worms would remain sus­cep­ti­ble to the Bt tox­in. By mat­ing with any Bt-resis­tant worms that chanced to evolve in neigh­bor­ing fields, they’d pre­vent resis­tance from build­ing up in the gene pool.

    But the sci­en­tists’ own rec­om­men­da­tions — an advi­so­ry pan­el con­vened in 2002 by the EPA sug­gest­ed that a full 50 per­cent of each corn farmer’s fields be devot­ed to these non-Bt refuges — were resist­ed by seed com­pa­nies and even­tu­al­ly the EPA itself, which set vol­un­tary refuge guide­lines at between 5 and 20 per­cent. Many farm­ers didn’t even fol­low those rec­om­men­da­tions.

    Fast for­ward to 2009, when Gassmann respond­ed to reports of exten­sive root­worm dam­age in Bt corn­fields in north­east Iowa. Pop­u­la­tions there had become resis­tant to one of the three Bt corn vari­eties. (Each vari­ety pro­duces a dif­fer­ent type of Bt tox­in.) He described that resis­tance in a 2011 study; around the same time, reports of root­worm-dam­aged Bt corn came in from parts of Illi­nois, Min­neso­ta, Nebras­ka and South Dako­ta. These didn’t rep­re­sent a sin­gle out­break, but rather the emer­gence, again and again, of resis­tance.

    In the new paper, Gassmann describes fur­ther inci­dents of Bt resis­tance in oth­er parts of Iowa. He also found root­worms resis­tant to a sec­ond vari­ety of Bt corn. More­over, being resis­tant to one vari­ety height­ened the chances of resis­tance to anoth­er. That means corn engi­neered to pro­duce mul­ti­ple Bt tox­ins — so-called stacked vari­eties — won’t do much to slow the evo­lu­tion of root­worm resis­tance, as was orig­i­nal­ly hoped.

    Farm­ers like­ly won’t stop using Bt corn, as it’s still effec­tive against oth­er pests — but as root­worms become more resis­tant, said Gassmann, farm­ers will turn to insec­ti­cides, thus increas­ing their costs and los­ing the eco­log­i­cal ben­e­fits orig­i­nal­ly gained by using Bt corn. As ento­mol­o­gists con­cerned by root­worm resis­tance wrote to the EPA in 2012, “When insec­ti­cides over­lay trans­genic tech­nol­o­gy, the eco­nom­ic and envi­ron­men­tal advan­tages of root­worm-­pro­tect­ed corn quick­ly dis­ap­pear.”

    Ento­mol­o­gist Bruce Tabash­nik of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Ari­zona called Bt resis­tance “an increas­ing­ly seri­ous prob­lem,” and said that refuge sizes need to be increased dra­mat­i­cal­ly and imme­di­ate­ly. He and oth­er sci­en­tists have pushed the EPA to dou­ble cur­rent refuge require­ments, but so far with­out suc­cess.

    “Biotech com­pa­nies have suc­cess­ful­ly lob­bied EPA for major reduc­tions in refuge require­ments,” said Tabash­nik.

    Ento­mol­o­gist Elson Shields of Cor­nell Uni­ver­si­ty agrees. “Resis­tance was caused because the farm­ers did not plant the required refuges and the com­pa­nies did not enforce the plant­i­ng of refuges,” said Shields, who has writ­ten that “a wide­spread increase in trait fail­ure may be just around the cor­ner.”

    In addi­tion to increas­ing refuge sizes, farm­ers also need to vary the crops plant­ed on their fields, rather than plant­i­ng corn sea­son after sea­son, said Gassmann. Breaks in the corn cycle nat­u­ral­ly dis­rupt root­worm pop­u­la­tions, but the approach fell from favor as the high price of corn made con­tin­u­ous plant­i­ng appeal­ing. “Con­tin­u­ous corn is the per­fect habi­tat for root­worm,” said Gassmann.

    Shields also lament­ed the dif­fi­cul­ty he and oth­er aca­d­e­m­ic sci­en­tists long expe­ri­enced when try­ing to study Bt corn. Until 2010, after orga­nized objec­tions by ento­mol­o­gists at major agri­cul­tur­al uni­ver­si­ties forced seed com­pa­nies to allow out­side researchers to study Bt corn, the crop was large­ly off-lim­its. Had that not been the case, said Shields, resis­tance could have been detect­ed even ear­li­er, and per­haps stalled before it threat­ened to become such a prob­lem.

    “Once we had legal access, resis­tance was doc­u­ment­ed in a year,” Shields said. “We were see­ing fail­ures ear­li­er but were not allowed to test for resis­tance.”

    There’s a les­son to be learned for future crop traits, Shields said. Root­worm resis­tance was expect­ed from the out­set, but the Bt seed indus­try, seek­ing to max­i­mize short-term prof­its, ignored out­side sci­en­tists. The next pest-fight­ing trait “will fall under the same pres­sure,” said Shields, “and the insect will win. Always bet on the insect if there is not a smart deploy­ment of the trait.”

    Yowza! So Bt corn was large­ly off lim­its to out­side researchers until 2010!? So are there any oth­er sim­i­lar, uh, ‘short-term busi­ness mod­els’ out there? Oh yeah. Us.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 21, 2014, 2:03 pm
  11. A jour­ney of a thou­sand miles begins with a sin­gle step. Jour­neys through time, how­ev­er, don’t require any step­ping at all. You can just lay there and still make it to your des­ti­na­tion. Or you can even dig a hole. A nice vio­lent, flood­ed, impov­er­ish­ing, dis­eased hole which will oth­er­wise be know as “home” once you reach your des­ti­na­tion:

    Big cli­mate report: Warm­ing is big risk for peo­ple

    AP
    SETH BORENSTEIN
    Pub­lished: 21 min­utes ago

    If you think of cli­mate change as a haz­ard for some far-off polar bears years from now, you’re mis­tak­en. That’s the mes­sage from top cli­mate sci­en­tists gath­er­ing in Japan this week to assess the impact of glob­al warm­ing.

    In fact, they will say, the dan­gers of a warm­ing Earth are imme­di­ate and very human.

    “The polar bear is us,” says Patri­cia Romero Lankao of the fed­er­al­ly financed Nation­al Cen­ter for Atmos­pher­ic Research in Boul­der, Colo., refer­ring to the first species to be list­ed as threat­ened by glob­al warm­ing due to melt­ing sea ice.

    She will be among the more than 60 sci­en­tists in Japan to fin­ish writ­ing a mas­sive and author­i­ta­tive report on the impacts of glob­al warm­ing. With rep­re­sen­ta­tives from about 100 gov­ern­ments at this week’s meet­ing of the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change, they’ll wrap up a sum­ma­ry that tells world lead­ers how bad the prob­lem is.

    The key mes­sage from leaked drafts and inter­views with the authors and oth­er sci­en­tists: The big risks and over­all effects of glob­al warm­ing are far more imme­di­ate and local than sci­en­tists once thought. It’s not just about melt­ing ice, threat­ened ani­mals and plants. It’s about the human prob­lems of hunger, dis­ease, drought, flood­ing, refugees and war, becom­ing worse.

    The report says sci­en­tists have already observed many changes from warm­ing, such as an increase in heat waves in North Amer­i­ca, Europe, Africa and Asia. Severe floods, such as the one that dis­placed 90,000 peo­ple in Mozam­bique in 2008, are now more com­mon in Africa and Aus­tralia. Europe and North Amer­i­ca are get­ting more intense down­pours that can be dam­ag­ing. Melt­ing ice in the Arc­tic is not only affect­ing the polar bear, but already chang­ing the cul­ture and liveli­hoods of indige­nous peo­ple in north­ern Cana­da.

    Past pan­el reports have been ignored because glob­al warm­ing’s effects seemed too dis­tant in time and loca­tion, says Penn­syl­va­nia State Uni­ver­si­ty sci­en­tist Michael Mann.

    This report finds “It’s not far-off in the future and it’s not exot­ic crea­tures — it’s us and now,” says Mann, who did­n’t work on this lat­est report.

    The Unit­ed Nations estab­lished the cli­mate change pan­el in 1988 and its work is done by three groups. One looks at the sci­ence behind glob­al warm­ing. The group meet­ing in Japan begin­ning Tues­day stud­ies its impacts. And a third looks at ways to slow warm­ing.

    Its reports have reit­er­at­ed what near­ly every major sci­en­tif­ic orga­ni­za­tion has said: The burn­ing of coal, oil and gas is pro­duc­ing an increas­ing amount of heat-trap­ping green­house gas­es, such as car­bon diox­ide. Those gas­es change Earth­’s cli­mate, bring­ing warmer tem­per­a­tures and more extreme weath­er, and the prob­lem is wors­en­ing.

    ...

    Already the effects of glob­al warm­ing are “wide­spread and con­se­quen­tial,” says one part of the larg­er report, not­ing that sci­ence has com­piled more evi­dence and done much more research since the last report in 2007.

    If cli­mate change con­tin­ues, the pan­el’s larg­er report pre­dicts these harms:

    - VIOLENCE: For the first time, the pan­el is empha­siz­ing the nuanced link between con­flict and warm­ing tem­per­a­tures. Par­tic­i­pat­ing sci­en­tists say warm­ing won’t cause wars, but it will add a desta­bi­liz­ing fac­tor that will make exist­ing threats worse.

    - FOOD: Glob­al food prices will rise between 3 and 84 per­cent by 2050 because of warmer tem­per­a­tures and changes in rain pat­terns. Hotspots of hunger may emerge in cities.

    - WATER: About one-third of the world’s pop­u­la­tion will see ground­wa­ter sup­plies drop by more than 10 per­cent by 2080, when com­pared with 1980 lev­els. For every degree of warm­ing, more of the world will have sig­nif­i­cant­ly less water avail­able.

    - HEALTH: Major increas­es in health prob­lems are like­ly, with more ill­ness­es and injury from heat waves and fires and more food and water-borne dis­eases. But the report also notes that warm­ing’s effects on health is rel­a­tive­ly small com­pared with oth­er prob­lems, like pover­ty.

    - WEALTH: Many of the poor will get poor­er. Eco­nom­ic growth and pover­ty reduc­tion will slow down. If tem­per­a­tures rise high enough, the world’s over­all income may start to go down, by as much as 2 per­cent, but that’s dif­fi­cult to fore­cast.

    Accord­ing to the report, risks from warm­ing-relat­ed extreme weath­er, now at a mod­er­ate lev­el, are like­ly to get worse with just a bit more warm­ing. While it does­n’t say cli­mate change caused the events, the report cites droughts in north­ern Mex­i­co and the south-cen­tral Unit­ed States, and hur­ri­canes such as 2012’s Sandy, as illus­tra­tions of how vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple are to weath­er extremes. It does say the dead­ly Euro­pean heat wave in 2003 was made more like­ly because of glob­al warm­ing.

    ...

    Not look­ing for­ward to life in the vio­lent, flood­ed, impov­er­ish­ing, dis­ease-rid­den hole we’re dig­ging for our­selves? Don’t wor­ry. You can just swim out of the hole although even if you escape you still might drown:

    Sea-lev­el rise to accel­er­ate as La Nina effect ebbs, study finds
    Reuters
    Date March 24, 2014 — 7:48AM

    Heavy rains from the Ama­zon to Aus­tralia have curbed sea lev­el rise so far this cen­tu­ry by shift­ing water from the oceans to land, accord­ing to a study that rejects the­o­ries that the slow­down is tied to a pause in glob­al warm­ing.

    Sea lev­el rise has been one of the clear­est signs of cli­mate change — water expands as it warms and parts of Green­land and Antarc­ti­ca are thaw­ing, along with glac­i­ers from the Himalayas to the Alps.

    But in a puz­zle to cli­mate sci­en­tists, the rate slowed to 2.4 mil­lime­tres a year from 2003 to 2011 from 3.4 mm from 1994–2002, heart­en­ing scep­tics who doubt that deep cuts are need­ed in mankind’s ris­ing green­house gas emis­sions.

    Writ­ing in the jour­nal Nature Cli­mate Change on Sun­day, experts said the rate from 2003–2011 would have been 3.3 mm a year when exclud­ing nat­ur­al shifts led by an unusu­al­ly high num­ber of La Nina weath­er events that cool the sur­face of the Pacif­ic Ocean and cause more rain over land.

    “There is no slow­ing in the rate of sea lev­el rise” after account­ing for the nat­ur­al vari­a­tions, lead author Anny Cazenave of the Lab­o­ra­to­ry for Stud­ies in Geo­physics and Spa­tial Oceanog­ra­phy in Toulouse, France, told Reuters.

    In La Nina years, more rain fell away from oceans, includ­ing over the Ama­zon, the Con­go basin and Aus­tralia, she said. It is unclear if cli­mate change itself affects the fre­quen­cy of La Ninas.

    Rain­fall over land only tem­porar­i­ly brakes sea lev­el rise.

    “Even­tu­al­ly water that falls as rain on land comes back into the sea,” said Anders Lev­er­mann, a pro­fes­sor at the Pots­dam Insti­tute for Cli­mate Impact Research, who was not involved in the study. “Some of it goes into ground water but most of it will drain into rivers, or evap­o­rate.”

    ...

    Still inter­est­ing in liv­ing in that hole-home? Think of it as human­i­ty’s own Atlantis casi­no. It should have a beau­ti­ful under­sea view. Even­tu­al­ly. Plus, accord­ing to the hole-home sales asso­ci­a­tion, it’s not like you can afford to move to high­er land so you might as well get com­fort­able:

    Talk­ing Points Memo
    How The Koch Broth­ers Are Hack­ing Sci­ence
    Frank Ack­er­man – March 24, 2014, 6:01 AM EDT

    Rhode Island has recent­ly learned that its renew­able ener­gy stan­dards could be ruinous­ly expen­sive. But they’re in good com­pa­ny: more than a dozen states have “learned” the same thing, from reports from the same econ­o­mists at the Bea­con Hill Insti­tute (BHI).

    Housed at Boston’s Suf­folk Uni­ver­si­ty, BHI turns out study after study for right-wing, anti-gov­ern­ment groups. Fund­ing for BHI’s relent­less efforts has come from Charles and David Koch (lead­ing tea par­ty fun­ders) and oth­ers on the same wave­length. For the Rhode Island study, BHI teamed up with the Rhode Island Cen­ter for Free­dom & Pros­per­i­ty, a mem­ber of the Koch’s State Pol­i­cy Net­work.

    While BHI’s name and loca­tion place it close to the Mass­a­chu­setts state gov­ern­ment, it is philo­soph­i­cal­ly a dif­fer­ent bea­con on a dif­fer­ent hill. Last year BHI request­ed a grant from the Sear­le Free­dom Trust, aimed at under­min­ing the Region­al Green­house Gas Ini­tia­tive (RGGI), a mul­ti-state effort that Mass­a­chu­setts par­tic­i­pates in. The grant appli­ca­tion said, “Suc­cess will take the form of media recog­ni­tion … and leg­isla­tive activ­i­ty that will pare back or repeal RGGI.” Suf­folk vice-pres­i­dent Greg Gatlin said that BHI had not gone through the university’s required grant approval process, and “the Uni­ver­si­ty would not have autho­rized this grant pro­pos­al as writ­ten.” As it turned out, the pro­pos­al was not fund­ed.

    BHI has worked close­ly with the Amer­i­can Leg­isla­tive Exchange Coun­cil (ALEC), a cor­po­rate-fund­ed net­work of ultra-con­ser­v­a­tive leg­is­la­tors and pol­i­cy ana­lysts, which drafts and advo­cates laws that will push state poli­cies to the right. After gain­ing noto­ri­ety for sup­port­ing “stand your ground” gun laws, ALEC has now decid­ed to down­play social issues and refo­cus on its core eco­nom­ic mis­sion: attack­ing Oba­macare, pro­gres­sive tax­a­tion, and envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion.

    In the effort to roll back renew­able ener­gy tar­gets and stan­dards, ALEC and its local part­ners have spon­sored numer­ous BHI stud­ies of indi­vid­ual state renew­able ener­gy poli­cies. The con­clu­sion, in every case, is that wind and solar ener­gy are exor­bi­tant­ly expen­sive, ener­gy effi­cien­cy can­not be count­ed on, and there’s noth­ing like good old fos­sil fuels – except, of course, for nuclear pow­er.

    David Tuer­ck, the head of both BHI and Suffolk’s eco­nom­ics depart­ment, told the Wash­ing­ton Post that Koch fund­ing did not deter­mine the institute’s con­clu­sions about renew­able ener­gy. Its reports, how­ev­er, are decid­ed­ly Koch-friend­ly. BHI’s Rhode Island study, for exam­ple, point­ed to an analy­sis done by anoth­er con­ser­v­a­tive think tank that in turn relied on a 2006 study, which was cau­tious­ly opti­mistic about the prospects for wind pow­er in Britain. After being fil­tered through two Amer­i­can anti-renew­able-ener­gy think tanks, that study came out sound­ing like some­thing dif­fer­ent alto­geth­er. BHI claims that wind is so inter­mit­tent that expen­sive fos­sil-fuel gen­er­a­tion is always need­ed as back­up; in con­trast, the orig­i­nal British study says that at the lev­els of wind adop­tion “fore­see­able in the next 20 years, it is nei­ther nec­es­sary nor appro­pri­ate to allo­cate ded­i­cat­ed ‘back up’ or reserve plant” to wind ener­gy facil­i­ties.

    The mis­rep­re­sen­ta­tions of renew­able ener­gy in the BHI reports are too numer­ous to list here. Last year, with sev­er­al col­leagues, I wrote a cri­tique of the BHI/ALEC ener­gy stud­ies, which dives into the details. Per­haps the most out­ra­geous was the treat­ment of wind pow­er, which is rapid­ly becom­ing com­pet­i­tive with con­ven­tion­al sources of elec­tric­i­ty. (Nine states get more than 10 per­cent of their elec­tric­i­ty from wind.) Ear­li­er BHI anti-renew­able ener­gy stud­ies often pre­sent­ed low, medi­um, and high esti­mates of wind costs, just like a nor­mal aca­d­e­m­ic analy­sis. In fact, data on actu­al costs show that all wind instal­la­tions in recent years have been cheap­er than BHI’s low case. In oth­er words, real data show that BHI’s three esti­mates of wind pow­er costs were too high, far too high, and absurd­ly too high.

    ...

    Yes, thanks to patri­ots like the Koch broth­ers, there’s going to be a sequel to Water­world made one way or anoth­er and it’ll prob­a­bly be a doc­u­men­tary. It might be Water­world II: The Hole or Drought­world: The Hole or, more like­ly, Water-and-Drought­world: The Hole. It’s com­ing soon­er than you think and it’s going to make the orig­i­nal Water­world seem like par­adise no mat­ter which plot line gets picked. Scared yet?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 24, 2014, 9:22 am
  12. BigAg’s Big Data rev­o­lu­tion has arrived. Sec­ond thoughts soon to fol­low:

    Amer­i­can farm­ers con­front promise, per­il of ‘big data’ as next advance­ment in agri­cul­ture

    By ROXANA HEGEMAN Asso­ci­at­ed Press
    March 29, 2014 — 10:34 am EDT

    WICHITA, Kansas — Farm­ers from across the nation gath­ered in Wash­ing­ton this month for what has become an annu­al trek to seek action on the most impor­tant mat­ters in Amer­i­can agri­cul­ture, such as immi­gra­tion reform and water reg­u­la­tions.

    But this time, a new, more shad­owy issue also emerged: grow­ing unease about how the largest seed com­pa­nies are gath­er­ing vast amount of data from sen­sors on trac­tors, com­bines and oth­er farm equip­ment.

    The increas­ing­ly com­mon sen­sors mea­sure soil con­di­tions, seed­ing rates, crop yields and many oth­er vari­ables, allow­ing com­pa­nies to pro­vide farm­ers with cus­tomized guid­ance on how to get the most out of their fields.

    The involve­ment of the Amer­i­can Farm Bureau, the nation’s largest and most promi­nent farm­ing orga­ni­za­tion, illus­trates how agri­cul­ture is cau­tious­ly enter­ing a new era in which raw plant­i­ng data holds both the promise of high­er yields and the per­il that the infor­ma­tion could be hacked or exploit­ed by cor­po­ra­tions or gov­ern­ment agen­cies.

    Seed com­pa­nies want to har­ness the data to help farm­ers grow more food with the same amount of land, and the indus­try’s biggest brands have offered assur­ances that all infor­ma­tion will be close­ly guard­ed.

    But farm­ers are serv­ing notice in Wash­ing­ton that the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment might need to become involved in yet anoth­er debate over elec­tron­ic secu­ri­ty and pri­va­cy. Some mem­bers of Con­gress from rur­al states such as Kansas were already aware of the con­cerns, although the issue is new to many urban law­mak­ers.

    Rep. Lynn Jenk­ins, a Kansas Repub­li­can who grew up on a dairy farm, said agri­cul­ture must achieve tech­no­log­i­cal advances to keep up with pop­u­la­tion growth, which is expect­ed to require 60 per­cent more food by 2050. But she has heard farm­ers’ con­cerns about data col­lec­tion.

    “Infor­ma­tion and data uti­liza­tion is the way of the future,” Jenk­ins said in an emailed state­ment. “And just as our fed­er­al gov­ern­ment strug­gles with pri­va­cy con­cerns through records at the NSA and var­i­ous health records, so too must we main­tain appro­pri­ate pri­va­cy pro­tec­tion of indi­vid­u­als from cor­po­rate enti­tles.”

    The Farm Bureau isn’t sure what it needs from Wash­ing­ton, or whether action is even war­rant­ed yet. But farm­ers want their elect­ed offi­cials to be aware of how the indus­try is chang­ing.

    This year’s trip to Wash­ing­ton was pri­mar­i­ly “an edu­ca­tion­al effort” to make sure mem­bers of Con­gress know about the data col­lect­ing and under­stand “the impli­ca­tions of the issue for our farm­ers and ranch­ers,” Steve Bac­cus, an Ottawa Coun­ty farmer and pres­i­dent of the Kansas Farm Bureau. “We may need to come back at some time in the future and talk to them about leg­is­la­tion.”

    Farm­ers wor­ry that a hedge fund or large com­pa­ny with access to “real-time” yield data from hun­dreds of com­bines at har­vest time might be able to use that infor­ma­tion to spec­u­late in com­modi­ties mar­kets long before the gov­ern­ment issues crop-pro­duc­tion esti­mates.

    Oth­ers are con­cerned that GPS-linked farm data could be obtained by the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, antag­o­nis­tic envi­ron­men­tal groups or, in the Farm Bureau’s words, “an over­all-clad Edward Snow­den,” a ref­er­ence to the for­mer Nation­al Secu­ri­ty Agency ana­lyst who dis­closed intel­li­gence-gath­er­ing oper­a­tions.

    ...

    Con­cerns over farm­ers’ data falling into the hands of hedge funds and spec­u­la­tors are very legit­i­mate. But aren’t con­cerns over GPS-linked farm data falling into the hands of the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency, envi­ron­men­tal groups or “an over­all-clad Edward Snow­den” a lit­tle omi­nous too? What could an over­all-clad Edward Snow­den even leak about BigAg’s Big Data rev­o­lu­tion? Peak Soil? Pos­si­bly?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 30, 2014, 7:02 pm
  13. Yikes. When it comes to ‘silent but dead­ly’ envi­ron­men­tal insults, the dinosaurs apprent­ly had it easy:

    Methane-spew­ing microbe blamed in Earth­’s worst mass extinc­tion

    By Will Dun­ham

    WASHINGTON Mon Mar 31, 2014 4:01pm EDT

    (Reuters) — Some­times bad things come in small pack­ages.

    A microbe that spewed humon­gous amounts of methane into Earth­’s atmos­phere trig­gered a glob­al cat­a­stro­phe 252 mil­lion years ago that wiped out upwards of 90 per­cent of marine species and 70 per­cent of land ver­te­brates.

    That’s the hypoth­e­sis offered on Mon­day by researchers aim­ing to solve one of sci­ence’s endur­ing mys­ter­ies: what hap­pened at the end of the Per­mi­an peri­od to cause the worst of the five mass extinc­tions in Earth­’s his­to­ry.

    The scale of this calami­ty made the one that doomed the dinosaurs 65 mil­lion years ago — a six-mile wide aster­oid smack­ing the plan­et — seem like a pic­nic by com­par­i­son.

    The impli­cat­ed microbe, Methanosarci­na, is a mem­ber of a king­dom of sin­gle-celled organ­isms dis­tinct from bac­te­ria called archaea that lack a nucle­us and oth­er usu­al cell struc­tures.

    “I would say that the end-Per­mi­an extinc­tion is the clos­est ani­mal life has ever come to being total­ly wiped out, and it may have come pret­ty close,” said Mass­a­chu­setts Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy biol­o­gist Greg Fournier, one of the researchers.

    “Many, if not most, of the sur­viv­ing groups of organ­isms bare­ly hung on, with only a few species mak­ing it through, many prob­a­bly by chance,” Fournier added.

    Pre­vi­ous ideas pro­posed for the Per­mi­an extinc­tion include an aster­oid and large-scale vol­can­ism. But these researchers sug­gest a micro­scope would be need­ed to find the actu­al cul­prit.

    Methanosarci­na grew in a fren­zy in the seas, dis­gorg­ing huge quan­ti­ties of methane into Earth­’s atmos­phere, they said.

    This dra­mat­i­cal­ly heat­ed up the cli­mate and fun­da­men­tal­ly altered the chem­istry of the oceans by dri­ving up acid lev­els, caus­ing unliv­able con­di­tions for many species, they added.

    The horse­shoe crab-like trilo­bites and the sea scor­pi­ons — denizens of the seas for hun­dreds of mil­lions of years — sim­ply van­ished. Oth­er marine groups bare­ly avoid­ed obliv­ion includ­ing com­mon crea­tures called ammonites with ten­ta­cles and a shell.

    On land, most of the dom­i­nant mam­mal-like rep­tiles died, with the excep­tion of a hand­ful of lin­eages includ­ing the ones that were the ances­tors of mod­ern mam­mals includ­ing peo­ple.

    ‘RADICALLY CHANGED’

    “Land ver­te­brates took as long as 30 mil­lion years to reach the same lev­els of bio­di­ver­si­ty as before the extinc­tion, and after­wards life in the oceans and on land was rad­i­cal­ly changed, dom­i­nat­ed by very dif­fer­ent groups of ani­mals,” Fournier said.

    The first dinosaurs appeared 20 mil­lion years after the Per­mi­an mass extinc­tion.

    “One impor­tant point is that the nat­ur­al envi­ron­ment is sen­si­tive to the evo­lu­tion of micro­bial life,” said Daniel Roth­man, an MIT geo­physics pro­fes­sor who led the study pub­lished in the jour­nal Pro­ceed­ings of the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences.

    The best exam­ple of that, Roth­man said, was the advent about 2.5 bil­lion years ago of bac­te­ria engag­ing in pho­to­syn­the­sis, which paved the way for the lat­er appear­ance of ani­mals by belch­ing fan­tas­tic amounts of oxy­gen into Earth­’s atmos­phere.

    Methanosarci­na is still found today in places like oil wells, trash dumps and the guts of ani­mals like cows.

    It already exist­ed before the Per­mi­an cri­sis. But genet­ic evi­dence indi­cates it acquired a unique new qual­i­ty at that time through a process known as “gene trans­fer” from anoth­er microbe, the researchers said.

    It sud­den­ly became a major pro­duc­er of methane through the con­sump­tion of accu­mu­lat­ed organ­ic car­bon in ocean sed­i­ments.

    The microbe would have been unable to pro­lif­er­ate so wild­ly with­out prop­er min­er­al nutri­ents. The researchers found that cat­a­clysmic vol­canic erup­tions that occurred at that time in Siberia drove up ocean con­cen­tra­tions of nick­el, a metal­lic ele­ment that just hap­pens to facil­i­tate this microbe’s growth.

    Fournier called vol­can­ism a cat­a­lyst instead of a cause of mass extinc­tion — “the det­o­na­tor rather than the bomb itself.”

    “As small as an indi­vid­ual microor­gan­ism is, their sheer abun­dance and ubiq­ui­ty make for a huge cumu­la­tive impact. On a geo­chem­i­cal lev­el, they real­ly do run the plan­et,” he said.

    ...

    A sin­gle gene-trans­fer event plus a lot of heavy met­al pol­lu­tion could have turned Methanosarci­na into a destroy­er of worlds? Great. So is that going to be our fate? Death by bac­te­r­i­al flat­u­lence? Or are we going to make it past this phase of per­ma-cri­sis and actu­al­ly die with dig­ni­ty?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 2, 2014, 12:57 pm
  14. Are we alone in our solar sys­tem? Pos­si­bly, but keep in mind that if extrater­res­tri­al hotspots for life are indeed inhab­it­ed, our solar neigh­bors might be extrem­ists:

    Space.com

    Jupiter Moon’s Ocean May Be Too Acidic for Life
    Charles Q. Choi, Astro­bi­ol­o­gy Mag­a­zine Con­trib­u­tor
    March 01, 2012 05:32pm ET

    The ocean under­neath the icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa might be too acidic to sup­port life, due to com­pounds that may reg­u­lar­ly migrate down­ward from its sur­face, researchers say.

    Sci­en­tists believe that Europa, which is rough­ly the size of Earth­’s moon, pos­sess­es an ocean per­haps 100 miles deep (160 kilo­me­ters). This ocean is over­lain by an icy crust of unknown thick­ness, although some esti­mates are that it could be only a few miles thick.

    Since there is life vir­tu­al­ly wher­ev­er there is liq­uid water on Earth, for many years sci­en­tists have enter­tained the notion that this Jov­ian moon could sup­port extrater­res­tri­als. Recent find­ings even sug­gest its ocean could be loaded with oxy­gen, enough to sup­port mil­lions of tons worth of marine life like the kinds that exist on Earth.

    Researchers have pro­posed mis­sions to pen­e­trate Europa’s out­er shell to look for life in its ocean, although oth­ers have sug­gest­ed that Europa could har­bor fos­sils of marine life right on the sur­face for prospec­tors to find, giv­en how water appar­ent­ly reg­u­lar­ly gets pushed up from below.

    How­ev­er, chem­i­cals found on the sur­face of Europa might jeop­ar­dize any chances of life evolv­ing there, sci­en­tists find. The result­ing lev­el of acid­i­ty in its ocean “is prob­a­bly not friend­ly to life — it ends up mess­ing with things like mem­brane devel­op­ment, and it could be hard build­ing the large-scale organ­ic poly­mers,” said Matthew Pasek, an astro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Flori­da. [Pho­tos of Jupiter’s Moon Europa]

    Destruc­tive chem­i­cals

    The com­pounds in ques­tion are oxi­dants, which are capa­ble of receiv­ing elec­trons from oth­er com­pounds. These are usu­al­ly rare in the solar sys­tem because of the abun­dance of chem­i­cals known as reduc­tants such as hydro­gen and car­bon, which react quick­ly with oxi­dants to form oxides such as water and car­bon diox­ide.

    Europa hap­pens to be rich in strong oxi­dants such as oxy­gen and hydro­gen per­ox­ide, which are cre­at­ed by the irra­di­a­tion of its icy crust by high-ener­gy par­ti­cles from Jupiter.

    The oxi­dants on Europa’s sur­face are like­ly car­ried down­ward in poten­tial­ly sub­stan­tial quan­ti­ties by the same churn­ing that caus­es water to rise from below. Oxi­dants could be of great use to any life in Europa’s ocean — for exam­ple, oxy­gen was piv­otal to how com­plex life evolved on Earth.

    How­ev­er, oxi­dants from Europa’s sur­face might react with sul­fides and oth­er com­pounds in its ocean before life could nab it, gen­er­at­ing sul­fu­ric and oth­er acids, inves­ti­ga­tors said. If this has occurred for just about half of Europa’s life­time, not only would such a process rob the ocean of life-sup­port­ing oxi­dants, but it could become rel­a­tive­ly cor­ro­sive, with a pH of about 2.6 — “about the same as your aver­age soft drink,” Pasek said.

    This lev­el of acid­i­ty would be a sig­nif­i­cant chal­lenge for life, unless organ­isms were to con­sume or sequester oxi­dants fast enough to ame­lio­rate the acid­i­fi­ca­tion, researchers said. The ecosys­tem would need to evolve quick­ly to meet this cri­sis, with oxy­gen metab­o­lisms and acid tol­er­ance devel­op­ing in only about 50 mil­lion years to han­dle the acid­i­fi­ca­tion.

    Extremophiles on Europa?

    Any sur­viv­ing ecosys­tem in Europa’s ocean might be anal­o­gous to the micro­bial com­mu­ni­ty found in acid mine drainage on Earth, such as the bright red Río Tin­to riv­er in Spain. The dom­i­nant microbes found there are acid-lov­ing “aci­dophiles” that depend on iron and sul­fide as sources of meta­bol­ic ener­gy.

    “The microbes there have fig­ured out ways of fight­ing their acidic envi­ron­ment,” Pasek said. “If life did that on Europa, [Jupiter’s moon] Ganymede, and maybe even Mars, that might have been quite advan­ta­geous.”

    Oth­ers have ques­tioned whether or not rock in Europa’s seabed might actu­al­ly neu­tral­ize the effects of this acid­i­ty. Pasek does not think this is like­ly — even if such min­er­als were present, there is prob­a­bly not enough of it exposed to reduce acid­i­ty by much, he said.

    The cal­ci­um-based mate­ri­als that bones and shells on Earth are made from might dis­solve pret­ty read­i­ly in such an acidic envi­ron­ment. How­ev­er, “one of the inter­est­ing pos­si­bil­i­ties is that they might have used blue phos­phates as their bone mate­r­i­al instead to evolve large organ­isms,” Pasek said. “If you have iron phos­phates, you make a pret­ty blue min­er­al called vivian­ite.”

    Pasek and co-author Richard Green­berg detailed their find­ings online Jan. 27 in the jour­nal Astro­bi­ol­o­gy.

    Yikes! Vivian­ite cov­ered extremophiles could be run­ning ram­pant in Europa’s oceans! Let’s hope any future Europa expe­di­tions don’t involve bring those crit­ters back here, although they may not do so well in our non-acidic oceans.

    Then again, that may depend on how far off in the future those puta­tive Europa crit­ters come for a swim:

    San Jose Mer­cury News
    Cli­mate change: Pacif­ic Ocean acid­i­ty dis­solv­ing shells of key species

    By Paul Rogers

    progers@mercurynews.com
    Post­ed: 04/30/2014 06:00:00 AM PDT106 Com­ments

    In a trou­bling new dis­cov­ery, sci­en­tists study­ing ocean waters off Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton have found the first evi­dence that increas­ing acid­i­ty in the ocean is dis­solv­ing the shells of a key species of tiny sea crea­ture at the base of the food chain.

    The ani­mals, a type of free-float­ing marine snail known as pteropods, are an impor­tant food source for salmon, her­ring, mack­er­el and oth­er fish in the Pacif­ic Ocean. Those fish are eat­en not only by mil­lions of peo­ple every year, but also by a wide vari­ety of oth­er sea crea­tures, from whales to dol­phins to sea lions.

    If the trend con­tin­ues, cli­mate change sci­en­tists say, it will imper­il the ocean envi­ron­ment.

    “These are alarm bells,” said Nina Bed­narsek, a sci­en­tist with the Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion in Seat­tle who helped lead the research. “This study makes us under­stand that we have made an impact on the ocean envi­ron­ment to the extent where we can actu­al­ly see the shells dis­solv­ing right now.”

    Sci­en­tists from NOAA and Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty found that in waters near the West Coast shore­line, 53 per­cent of the tiny float­ing snails had shells that were severe­ly dis­solv­ing — dou­ble the esti­mate from 200 years ago.

    Until now, the impact on marine species from increas­ing ocean acid­i­ty because of cli­mate change has been some­thing that was test­ed in tanks in labs, but which was not con­sid­ered an imme­di­ate con­cern such as for­est fires and droughts.

    The new study, pub­lished in the Pro­ceed­ings of the Roy­al Soci­ety B, a sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal based in Eng­land, changes that.

    “The pteropods are like the canary in the coal mine. If this is affect­ing them, it is affect­ing every­thing in the ocean at some lev­el,” said one of the nation’s top marine biol­o­gists, Steve Palumbi, direc­tor of Stan­ford Uni­ver­si­ty’s Hop­kins Marine Sta­tion in Pacif­ic Grove.

    The vast major­i­ty of the world’s sci­en­tists — includ­ing those at NOAA, NASA, the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences and the World Mete­o­ro­log­i­cal Orga­ni­za­tion — say the Earth­’s tem­per­a­ture is ris­ing because of humans burn­ing fos­sil fuels like oil and coal. That burn­ing pumps car­bon diox­ide into the atmos­phere and traps heat, sim­i­lar to a green­house. Con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon diox­ide in the Earth­’s atmos­phere have increased 25 per­cent since 1960 and are now at the high­est lev­els in at least 800,000 years, accord­ing to mea­sure­ments of air bub­bles tak­en in ancient ice and oth­er meth­ods.

    Many of the impacts are already being felt. Since the 1880s, when mod­ern tem­per­a­ture records were first tak­en, the 10 hottest years have all occurred since 1998. Polar ice has melt­ed, for­est fires are burn­ing in the West with increas­ing fre­quen­cy, and the ocean has risen 8 inch­es since 1900 at the Gold­en Gate Bridge.

    But what many peo­ple do not real­ize is that near­ly a third of car­bon diox­ide emit­ted by humans is dis­solved in the oceans. Some of that forms car­bon­ic acid, which makes the ocean more cor­ro­sive.

    Over the past 200 years, the ocean’s acid­i­ty has risen by rough­ly 30 per­cent. At the present rate, it is on track to rise by 70 per­cent by 2050 from prein­dus­tri­al lev­els.

    More acidic water can harm oys­ters, clams, corals and oth­er species that have cal­ci­um car­bon­ate shells. Gen­er­al­ly speak­ing, increas­ing the acid­i­ty by 50 per­cent from cur­rent lev­els is enough to kill some marine species, tests in labs have shown.

    ...

    If peo­ple reduce emis­sions of fos­sil fuels, cut­ting car­bon diox­ide lev­els in the decades ahead, the dam­age to the oceans can still be lim­it­ed, he said.

    But if we keep on the emis­sions pro­file we have now, by 2100 the oceans will be so harmed it’s hard to imag­ine them com­ing back from that in any­thing less than thou­sands of years,” Palumbi said.

    “We are in a cen­tu­ry of choice,” he said. “We can choose the way we want it to go.”

    Yep, the ocean’s acid­i­ty has risen rough­ly 30 per­cent over the last 200 years and is on track to rise by 70 per­cent by 2050. As long as we keep on keepin’ on, this plan­et could be quite the inter­stel­lar vaca­tion spot.

    So don’t rule out an Earth vaca­tion yet, Europa bugs. The water will be fine once you get here. Plus, you can meet the fam­i­ly, although you should be warned: Some of them don’t play well with oth­ers. Don’t skimp on the pro­tec­tive gear.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 2, 2014, 12:57 pm
  15. You know that adver­tis­ing tech­nique that says “this is so cheap you can’t afford not to buy it!”. Ads don’t always lie:

    The New York Times
    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al
    Cheap Cli­mate Pro­tec­tion
    May 28 3:01 pm
    Paul Krug­man

    The U.S. Cham­ber of Com­merce just came out with its pre­emp­tive strike against Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion reg­u­la­tions on pow­er plants. What the Cham­ber want­ed to do was show that the eco­nom­ic impact of the reg­u­la­tions would be dev­as­tat­ing. And I was eager to see how they had fudged the num­bers.

    But a fun­ny thing hap­pened on the way to the dia­tribe. The Cham­ber evi­dent­ly made a deci­sion that it want­ed to pre­serve cred­i­bil­i­ty, so it out­sourced the analy­sis. And while it tries to spin the results, what it actu­al­ly found was that dra­mat­ic action on green­house gas­es would have sur­pris­ing­ly small eco­nom­ic costs.

    The Chamber’s sup­posed scare head­line is that reg­u­la­tions would cost the US econ­o­my $50.2 bil­lion per year in con­stant dol­lars between now and 2030. That’s for a plan to reduce GHG emis­sions 40 per­cent from their 2005 lev­el, so it’s for real action.

    So, is $50 bil­lion a lot? Let’s look at the CBO’s long-term pro­jec­tions. These say that aver­age annu­al US real GDP over the peri­od 2014–2030 will be $21.5 tril­lion. So the Cham­ber is telling us that we can achieve major reduc­tions in green­house gas­es at a cost of 0.2 per­cent of GDP. That’s cheap!

    True, the cham­ber also says that the reg­u­la­tions would cost 224,000 jobs in an aver­age year. That’s bad eco­nom­ics: US employ­ment is deter­mined by the inter­ac­tion between macro­eco­nom­ic pol­i­cy and the under­ly­ing trade­off between infla­tion and unem­ploy­ment, and there’s no good rea­son to think that envi­ron­men­tal pro­tec­tion would reduce the num­ber of jobs (as opposed to real wages). But even at face val­ue that’s also a small num­ber in a coun­try with 140 mil­lion work­ers.

    So, I was ready to come down hard on the Chamber’s bad eco­nom­ics; but what they’ve actu­al­ly just shown is that even when they’re pay­ing for the study, the eco­nom­ics of cli­mate pro­tec­tion look quite easy.

    Woohoo! Good news has­n’t gone extinct yet! Still, a lot more good news is going to be need­ed in the future and, like many near­ly extinct crea­tures, good news can’t breed eas­i­ly when there is so lit­tle around to mate with. Human inter­ven­tion will be required.

    For instance, here’s some more good-ish/bad-ish news: Based on the Cham­ber of Com­merce’s report, the planned emis­sion cuts could eas­i­ly be dou­bled! Why? Because the $50 bil­lion price tag in the Cham­ber of Com­merce’s study was for a plan that reduced green­house gas emis­sions by 40% between now and 2030. But the actu­al plan is only for a 20% reduc­tion, far short of the 40–70% cuts that are thought to be required to avoid a cli­mate cat­a­stro­phe. So how about the Oba­ma admin­is­tra­tion dou­bles or even triples the planned emis­sion cuts and give the Cham­ber of Com­merce some­thing real to false­ly cry about. That could be good.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 29, 2014, 2:24 pm
  16. With the GOP gear­ing up for gov­ern­ment shut­down designed to max­i­mize glob­al warm­ing, bees around the world must be ask­ing the same ques­tion? “Could the GOP real­ly be con­sid­er­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down to oppose cli­mate change reg­u­la­tions? Don’t they like hon­ey?” Kevin Drum has take on the top­ic that could put the bees at ease...the same kind of ease one might feel upon learn­ing that their exe­cu­tion has been post­poned: The GOP is still prob­a­bly still plan­ning on a shut­down (due to undi­ag­nosed men­tal dis­or­ders), but there might be just enough san­i­ty left in the par­ty lead­er­ship to defer the shut­down until after the midterms this Novem­ber. At that point, all bets are off:

    Moth­er Jones
    Is a Gov­ern­ment Shut­down Over Coal in Our Future?

    —By Kevin Drum
    | Fri Jun. 20, 2014 12:15 PM EDT

    Bri­an Beut­ler thinks Repub­li­cans are like­ly to force yet anoth­er gov­ern­ment shut­down, this time over the EPA’s pro­posed restric­tion on coal-fired pow­er plants. But unlike the last shut­down, which came last Sep­tem­ber because it lit­er­al­ly seemed like their last chance to pre­vent Oba­macare from tak­ing effect, they have more lee­way this time around::

    I think his­to­ry and rea­son both sug­gest they will not shut down the gov­ern­ment before the election—but that their vehe­ment inter­est in emit­ting as much car­bon pol­lu­tion as pos­si­ble, com­bined with the like­li­hood that they’ll win sev­er­al Sen­ate seats in Novem­ber, presages a dra­mat­ic con­fronta­tion between Repub­li­cans Con­gress and the White House either right after the elec­tion or ear­ly next Con­gress.

    ....The cru­cial dif­fer­ence between last Sep­tem­ber and the com­ing one is that Repub­li­cans (par­tic­u­lar­ly the hardline/opportunist fac­tion) were star­ing down the immi­nent launch of the Afford­able Care Act on Octo­ber 1, 2013....The EPA rule is noth­ing like that. Or, at least, it isn’t there yet. If Repub­li­cans cave now, or sim­ply punt a con­fronta­tion over it until after the elec­tion, they’ll have sac­ri­ficed noth­ing oth­er than the oppor­tu­ni­ty to pants them­selves in front of God and every­one a month before the elec­tion. And if they win a bunch of seats in Novem­ber, their hands will be strength­ened when they actu­al­ly do go to the mat­tress­es dur­ing this year’s lame duck ses­sion of Con­gress or in ear­ly 2015.

    This makes per­fect sense. That does­n’t mean Repub­li­cans will do it this way, of course, since com­mon sense has been in short sup­ply in the GOP cau­cus late­ly. Still, the recent elec­tion of rel­a­tive­ly non-insane folks to the House lead­er­ship sug­gests just enough adult pres­ence to keep the yahoos in line and the gov­ern­ment open at least through Novem­ber. After that, it’s any­one’s guess. If they’re real­ly going to do it, though, it might be best to wait until late next year so they can force all their pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates to weigh in. That should do max­i­mum dam­age to the GOP brand, which seems to be their real goal here.

    While it would be love­ly to imag­ine that the GOP’s lead­er­ship is sub­con­scious­ly try­ing to do “max­i­mum dam­age to the GOP brand” by threat­en­ing a gov­ern­ment shut­down over attempts to thwart the dec­i­ma­tion of the ecosys­tem, “max­i­mum dam­age to the GOP brand” is prob­a­bly think­ing a lit­tle too small in terms of the GOP’s destruc­tive ten­den­cies. For instance, when you throw enough CO2 into the atmos­phere to start acid­i­fy­ing the oceans it might be a one-way cycle. The CO2 goes in but the 02 does­n’t come back out:

    Truth-out
    Acid Seas Threat­en Crea­tures That Sup­ply Half the World’s Oxy­gen
    Thurs­day, 19 June 2014 00:00 By Martha Baskin and Mary Bruno, Cross­cut

    What hap­pens when phy­to­plank­ton, the (most­ly) sin­gle-celled organ­isms that con­sti­tute the very foun­da­tion of the marine food web, turn tox­ic?

    Their tox­ins often con­cen­trate in the shell­fish and many oth­er marine species (from zoo­plank­ton to baleen whales) that feed on phy­to­plank­ton. Recent trail­blaz­ing research by a team of sci­en­tists aboard the RV Melville shows that ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion will dan­ger­ous­ly alter these micro­scop­ic plants, which nour­ish a menagerie of sea crea­tures and pro­duce up to 60 per­cent of the earth­’s oxy­gen.

    The researchers worked in car­bon sat­u­rat­ed waters off the West Coast, a liv­ing lab­o­ra­to­ry to study the effects of chem­i­cal changes in the ocean brought on by increased atmos­pher­ic car­bon diox­ide. A team of sci­en­tists from NOAA’s Fish­eries Sci­ence Cen­ter and Pacif­ic Marine Envi­ron­men­tal Lab, along with teams from uni­ver­si­ties in Maine, Hawaii and Cana­da focused on the unique “upwelled” zones of Cal­i­for­nia, Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton. In these zones, strong winds encour­age mix­ing, which push­es deep, cen­turies-old CO2 to the ocean sur­face. Their find­ings could reveal what oceans of the future will look like. The pic­ture is not rosy.

    Sci­en­tists already know that ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, the term used to describe seas soured by high con­cen­tra­tions of car­bon, caus­es prob­lems for organ­isms that make shells. “What we don’t know is the exact effects ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion will have on marine phy­to­plank­ton com­mu­ni­ties,” says Dr. Bill Cochlan, the bio­log­i­cal oceanog­ra­ph­er from San Fran­cis­co State Uni­ver­si­ty oceanog­ra­ph­er who was the pro­jec­t’s lead inves­ti­ga­tor. “Our hypoth­e­sis is that ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion will affect the quan­ti­ty and qual­i­ty of cer­tain metaboli­ties with­in the phy­to­plank­ton, specif­i­cal­ly lipids and essen­tial fat­ty acids.”

    Acidic waters appear to make it hard­er for phy­to­plank­ton to absorb nutri­ents. With­out nutri­ents they’re more like­ly to suc­cumb to dis­ease and tox­ins. Those tox­ins then con­cen­trate in the zoo­plank­ton, shell­fish and oth­er marine species that graze on phy­to­plank­ton.

    Con­sid­er the dan­ger­ous diatom Pseu­do-nitzschia (below). When ingest­ed by humans, tox­ins from blooms of this sin­gle-celled algae can cause per­ma­nent short-term mem­o­ry loss and in some cas­es death, accord­ing to Dr. Vera Train­er, an oceanog­ra­ph­er with NOAA’s Fish­eries Marine Biotox­ins Pro­gram. Lab­o­ra­to­ry stud­ies show that when acid­i­ty (or pH) is low­ered, Pseu­do-nitzschia cells pro­duce more tox­in. When RV Melville researchers hap­pened on a large bloom of Pseu­do-nitzschia off the coast of Point Sur in Cal­i­for­nia, where pH lev­els are already low, they were pre­sent­ed with a rare oppor­tu­ni­ty, explains Train­er, to see if their the­o­ry “holds true in the wild.”

    ...

    Anoth­er wor­ri­some sub­stance is domoic acid, a neu­ro-tox­in pro­duced by a species of phy­to­plank­ton. Wash­ing­ton has a long his­to­ry of domoic acid out­breaks. The tox­in accu­mu­lates in mus­sels and can wind up in humans. “Changes in the future ocean could stim­u­late the lev­els of domoic acid in the nat­ur­al pop­u­la­tion,” says Pro­fes­sor Charles Trick, a biol­o­gist with West­ern Uni­ver­si­ty in Ontario, and one of the RV Melville researchers. Which means that the acid­i­fied oceans of tomor­row could nur­ture larg­er and more vig­or­ous out­breaks of killer phy­to­plank­ton, which could spell death to many marine species.

    Dur­ing their near­ly month-long cruise, researchers observed the most intense upwelling in Cal­i­for­nia, which is typ­i­cal for spring and ear­ly sum­mer. Upwelling may increase off the coasts of Ore­gon and Wash­ing­ton in mid-late sum­mer and fall. The research team took mul­ti­ple mea­sure­ments and water sam­ples off all three coasts in waters of both low and high pH. Part of their hypoth­e­sis is that con­cen­tra­tions of essen­tial fat­ty acids are low­er when pH is low. They need to estab­lish what exact­ly “low­er’ ” means, but the bot­tom line is that few­er essen­tial fat­ty acids means a less nutri­tion­al diet for fish and oth­er organ­isms.

    If the inter­ac­tion between CO2, ocean acid­i­ty and nutri­ent sup­ply to phy­to­plank­ton and oth­er ocean-going crea­tures isn’t some­thing you can wrap your head around, try this: Every sec­ond breath you take is due to phy­to­plank­ton. Those sin­gle cells gen­er­ate the lion’s share of the world’s O2. “If they’re out of bal­ance,” says Train­er, “the rest of life on earth is going to be out of bal­ance.”

    Don’t wor­ry bees, low-oxy­gen meth­ods for burn­ing coal are already in devel­op­ment.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 20, 2014, 1:29 pm
  17. Chirp, chirp, chirp...chirp.....chirp...........chirp....................

    Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

    Sec­ond Silent Spring? Bird Declines Linked to Pop­u­lar Pes­ti­cides
    Neon­i­coti­noids are aimed at insects, but they’re affect­ing oth­er ani­mals too, study says.

    By Jason Bit­tel

    Pub­lished July 9, 2014

    Pes­ti­cides don’t just kill pests. New research out of the Nether­lands pro­vides com­pelling evi­dence link­ing a wide­ly used class of insec­ti­cides to pop­u­la­tion declines across 14 species of birds.

    Those insec­ti­cides, called neon­i­coti­noids, have been in the news late­ly due to the way they hurt bees and oth­er pol­li­na­tors. (Relat­ed: “The Plight of the Hon­ey­bee.”)

    This new paper, pub­lished online Wednes­day in Nature, gets at anoth­er angle of the story—the way these chem­i­cals can indi­rect­ly affect oth­er crea­tures in the ecosys­tem.

    Sci­en­tists from Rad­boud Uni­ver­si­ty in Nijmegen and the Dutch Cen­tre for Field Ornithol­o­gy and Birdlife Nether­lands (SOVON) com­pared long-term data sets for both farm­land bird pop­u­la­tions and chem­i­cal con­cen­tra­tions in sur­face water. They found that in areas where water con­tained high con­cen­tra­tions of imidacloprid—a com­mon neon­i­coti­noid pesticide—bird pop­u­la­tions tend­ed to decline by an aver­age of 3.5 per­cent annu­al­ly.

    “I think we are the first to show that this insec­ti­cide may have wide-scale, sig­nif­i­cant effects on our envi­ron­ment,” said Hans de Kroon, an expert on pop­u­la­tion dynam­ics at Rad­boud Uni­ver­si­ty and one of the authors of the paper.

    Sec­ond Silent Spring?

    Pes­ti­cides and birds: If this sto­ry sounds famil­iar, it’s prob­a­bly because Rachel Car­son wrote about it back in 1962. Car­son­’s sem­i­nal Silent Spring was the first pop­u­lar attempt to warn the world that pes­ti­cides were con­tribut­ing to the “sud­den silenc­ing of the song of birds.”

    “I think there is a par­al­lel, of course,” said Ruud Fop­pen, an ornithol­o­gist at SOVON and co-author of the Nature paper.

    Fop­pen says that while Car­son bat­tled against a total­ly dif­fer­ent kind of chemicals—organophosphates like DDT—the effects he’s see­ing in the field are very much the same. Plain­ly stat­ed, neon­i­coti­noids are harm­ing bio­di­ver­si­ty.

    “In this way, we can com­pare it to what hap­pened decades ago,” he said. “And if you look at it from that side, we did­n’t learn our lessons.”

    How Neon­i­coti­noids Work

    In the past 20 years, neon­i­coti­noids (pro­nounced nee-oh-NIK-uh-tin-oyds) have become the fastest grow­ing class of pes­ti­cides. They’re extreme­ly pop­u­lar among farm­ers because they’re effec­tive at killing pests and easy to apply.

    Instead of load­ing gal­lons and gal­lons of insec­ti­cide into a crop duster and spray­ing it over hun­dreds of acres, farm­ers can buy seeds that come pre­loaded with neon­i­coti­noid coat­ings. Sci­en­tists refer to neon­i­coti­noids as “sys­temic” pes­ti­cides because they affect the whole plant rather than a sin­gle part. As the pre­treat­ed seed grows, it incor­po­rates the insec­ti­cide into every bud and branch, effec­tive­ly turn­ing the plant itself into a pest-killing machine.

    This lock, stock, and bar­rel approach to crop pro­tec­tion means that no mat­ter where a locust or root­worm likes to nibble—the root, the stem, the flower—the invad­er winds up with a bel­ly­ful of neu­ro­tox­ins.

    “The plants become poi­son not only for the insects that farm­ers are tar­get­ing, but also for ben­e­fi­cial insects like bees,” said Jen­nifer Sass, a senior sci­en­tist with the Nat­ur­al Resources Defense Coun­cil (NRDC) who’s been build­ing a case against the wide­spread use of neon­i­coti­noids. The pes­ti­cide’s top-to-bot­tom cov­er­age means the plants’ flow­ers, pollen, and nec­tar are all poi­so­nous too.

    Worse still, Sass says, neon­i­coti­noids can per­sist in the soil for years. This gives oth­er grow­ing things a chance to come into con­tact with and absorb the chem­i­cals.

    “So they actu­al­ly end up in plants that grow on the sides of fields and that were nev­er meant to be tar­get­ed,” she said.

    Bye Bye Birdie

    The new Nature paper shows strong evi­dence that neon­i­coti­noids are dan­ger­ous even if not ingest­ed.

    The study looked at pop­u­la­tion sta­tis­tics for over a dozen species of birds com­mon to farm­lands in the Nether­lands. Most of these species are depen­dent on insects for all or part of their diet, though some also munch on seeds and grains. This means that there are two ways neon­i­coti­noids could be harm­ing the Nether­lands’ birds.

    The first is inges­tion. Stud­ies have shown that while neon­i­coti­noids are com­mon­ly con­sid­ered to be safer for mam­mals and birds than for insects, they can still be lethal in high enough dos­es. And the best way to get a con­cen­trat­ed dose of neon­i­coti­noids is to eat seeds coat­ed with them. A 1992 study by the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency found that spar­rows have dif­fi­cul­ty fly­ing after con­sum­ing a tiny amount of imi­da­clo­prid, and become immo­bile at high­er dos­es.

    The sec­ond way neon­i­coti­noids can affect birds is by elim­i­nat­ing their food sources. Since these pes­ti­cides kill tar­get and non­tar­get species alike, there are few­er flies, grasshop­pers, stinkbugs, and cater­pil­lars for the birds to feast on.

    Cau­sa­tion vs. Cor­re­la­tion

    While the new paper shows a cor­re­la­tion between high con­cen­tra­tions of neon­i­coti­noids and declin­ing bird pop­u­la­tions, it does­n’t claim the pes­ti­cides are a direct cause of the decrease.

    To make sure the cor­re­la­tion was­n’t some sort of coin­ci­dence, the team ana­lyzed a num­ber of alter­na­tive expla­na­tions.

    Cas­par A. Hall­mann is an ornithol­o­gist and pop­u­la­tion ecol­o­gist at SOVON and Rad­boud Uni­ver­si­ty. As the lead author of the Nature paper, he explained that there are numer­ous caus­es for pop­u­la­tion declines in birds, from changes in the kinds of crops plant­ed in any giv­en year and the amount of fer­til­iz­er used to the urban­iza­tion of for­mer farm­land. But when the team looked at the data, none of these expla­na­tions held up.

    Hall­mann said that, as with any cor­rel­a­tive study, cau­tion is a watch­word. “But still,” he says, “we think we have a line of evi­dence that is build­ing up.”

    Pes­ti­cide Mak­er Dis­agrees

    Bay­er Crop­Science, the pri­ma­ry man­u­fac­tur­er of imi­da­clo­prid, defends the use of neon­i­coti­noids. In a state­ment respond­ing to Hall­mann and his col­leagues, the com­pa­ny writes: “Neon­i­coti­noids have gone through an exten­sive risk assess­ment which has shown that they are safe to the envi­ron­ment when used respon­si­bly accord­ing to the label instruc­tions.”

    The state­ment con­cludes by say­ing that the Nature paper fails to estab­lish a causal link, and there­fore “pro­vides no sub­stan­ti­at­ed evi­dence of the alleged indi­rect effects of imi­da­clo­prid on insec­tiv­o­rous birds.”

    “Indeed, we showed a neg­a­tive cor­re­la­tion, which is already very alarm­ing,” the Dutch sci­en­tists said in response to Bay­er Crop­Science’s cri­tique. “Show­ing causal links at the ecosys­tem scale would require land­scape-scale exper­i­ments,” which would be “dif­fi­cult and prob­a­bly very uneth­i­cal.”

    A Third View

    The Dutch sci­en­tists say neon­i­coti­noids are neg­a­tive­ly affect­ing bird pop­u­la­tions. Bay­er Crop­Science says neon­i­coti­noids are safe when used cor­rect­ly. Whom do we trust?

    Maybe an inde­pen­dent group that just com­plet­ed a review of over 800 sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies on the effects of neon­i­coti­noids on wildlife. The Task Force on Sys­temic Pes­ti­cides, com­posed of 29 mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary sci­en­tists, recent­ly released its land­mark report titled World­wide Inte­grat­ed Assess­ment of the Impact of Sys­temic Pes­ti­cides on Bio­di­ver­si­ty and Ecosys­tems.

    Over­all, the sci­en­tists con­clud­ed that even when neon­i­coti­noids were used accord­ing to the guide­lines on their labels and applied as intend­ed, the chem­i­cals’ lev­els in the envi­ron­ment still fre­quent­ly exceed­ed the low­est lev­els known to be dan­ger­ous for a wide range of species—and were “thus like­ly to have a wide range of neg­a­tive bio­log­i­cal and eco­log­i­cal impacts.”

    ...

    If you think teach­ing your kids about ‘the birds and the bees and the cre­ation of life’ is awk­ward now, just be glad you don’t have to give your kids a ‘the birds and the bees and the mass extinc­tion we caused’ talk. That’ll be your kids’ respon­si­bil­i­ty.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 10, 2014, 2:42 pm
  18. Remem­ber what hap­pened the last time the Arc­tic fell off the wag­on? Look who’s hit­ting the bot­tle again:

    Did You Miss The Polar Vor­tex? Don’t Wor­ry, It’ll Be Back This Sum­mer
    The Huff­in­g­ton Post | By Jonathan Feld­man

    Post­ed: 07/10/2014 6:30 pm EDT Updat­ed: 07/10/2014 6:59 pm EDT

    The polar vor­tex is expect­ed to return to the con­ti­nen­tal Unit­ed States lat­er this month, appar­ent­ly at the behest of lib­er­als who invent­ed it just to con­vince every­one cli­mate change is real (accord­ing to Rush Lim­baugh, at least).

    The Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice pre­dicts that tem­per­a­tures will drop to unsea­son­able lows across the Mid­west and even as far as the East Coast.

    Tem­per­a­tures in the Mid­west are expect­ed to be quite pleas­ant, drop­ping about 20 degrees. The antic­i­pat­ed 10-degree dip in New York and Wash­ing­ton will also be a wel­come break for most peo­ple.

    Chicago’s most revered mete­o­rol­o­gist says that this change in tem­per­a­tures isn’t actu­al­ly caused by the polar vor­tex, but it does bear a strik­ing resem­blance to the phe­nom­e­non many peo­ple became famil­iar with last win­ter. Sev­er­al fac­tors may be coin­cid­ing to cre­ate this reprieve from the heat, includ­ing trop­i­cal storm Neoguri, which is brew­ing off the coast of Japan. Wun­der­ground mete­o­rol­o­gist Jeff Mas­ters explains that the storm is “caus­ing a rip­ple effect in the jet stream over west­ern North Amer­i­ca, where a strong ridge of high pres­sure will devel­op, and over the Mid­west­ern U.S., where a strong trough of low pres­sure will form.” This will push cool air over the U.S. via the Great Lakes region, not unlike what hap­pened last Jan­u­ary.

    ...

    2014 con­tin­ues to be a fas­ci­nat­ing year for weath­er. With an El Niño com­ing soon, there’s a dis­tinct pos­si­bil­i­ty that in the next sev­er­al months tem­per­a­tures will rise again.

    So it may not tech­ni­cal­ly be the polar vor­tex that fell off the wag­on again, but it sure sounds sim­i­lar:

    Red­Eye
    Skilling: No, the polar vor­tex is not com­ing back to Chica­go
    By Mick Swasko

    1:18 p.m. CDT, July 10, 2014

    Chill out, every­one, the polar vor­tex is not com­ing back to Chica­go.

    Despite a tweet today from the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice, which said a “July ver­sion” of the polar vor­tex will hit Chica­go next week, the area won’t see a sin­gle flake or any­thing close to a chill.

    “I’ve been in the busi­ness 47 years and I’ve always learned a polar vor­tex forms in the win­ter,” Skilling told Red­Eye Thurs­day. “There’s such a sen­si­tiv­i­ty to that term, it’s not what I would have used.”

    Skilling said Chica­go will see low­er than nor­mal tem­per­a­tures for most of next week, 70s dur­ing the day and temps as low as the low-50s at night. He choos­es instead to call it a “high­ly ampli­fied jet stream” that will bring “a pool of unsea­son­ably cool air.” Not as flashy, sure, but more accu­rate, he says.

    Also, those freaked out by the term should keep in mind that, in recent weeks, tem­per­a­tures in north­ern Cana­da and even Alas­ka have actu­al­ly been high­er than they have here. Hard to believe, he says, but it should com­fort those wor­ried frigid arc­tic air is going to be sucked into Chica­go.

    Skilling said it would be a “near phys­i­cal impos­si­bil­i­ty” for actu­al polar vor­tex con­di­tions to form. How impos­si­ble? Skilling says a vol­cano would have to erupt, or a nuclear win­ter would have to blot out the sun.

    “We’re not going to see snow fly­ing, or ice pel­lets,” he said. “We might see some hail from thun­der­storms.”

    ...

    Ok, so it’s not quite the “polar vor­tex” that we’re see­ing return, just some­thing very sim­i­lar. Still, as Skilling point­ed out, tem­per­a­tures in north­ern Cana­da and even Alas­ka have actu­al­ly been high­er than they have here, so per­haps peo­ple should­n’t be con­cerned out about a return of weird weath­er so soon after tha last one. Or maybe they should:

    Rut­gers Today
    Is Glob­al Warm­ing Behind the Polar Vor­tex?
    Rut­gers cli­mate sci­en­tist believes that Arc­tic warm­ing is alter­ing jet stream around North­ern Hemi­sphere
    Thurs­day, Jan­u­ary 30, 2014

    It’s been an extreme­ly cold win­ter so far in New Jer­sey – often cold­er, in fact, than it has been in Anchor­age, Alas­ka. In Cal­i­for­nia, the gov­er­nor has declared a drought emergency.There has been snow in Savan­nah and sleet in Mobile. What’s hap­pen­ing? Rut­gers cli­mate researcher Jen­nifer Fran­cis explains that the polar vor­tex, a region of cold air above the North Pole, is at the cen­ter of the action.

    Fran­cis is a research pro­fes­sor at the Insti­tute of Marine and Coastal Sci­ences in the School of Envi­ron­men­tal and Bio­log­i­cal Sci­ences.

    Rut­gers Today: What is the polar vor­tex?

    Jen­nifer Fran­cis: The polar vor­tex large pock­et of very cold air that gen­er­al­ly sits over both the North and South Poles. It is sequestered from the warmer air — to the south in the North­ern Hemi­sphere and to the north in the South­ern Hemi­sphere — by the encir­cling jet stream.

    Rut­gers Today: Why is the polar vor­tex impor­tant?

    Fran­cis: It’s impor­tant because the dif­fer­ence in tem­per­a­ture between the cold air in the polar vor­tex and warmer air out­side of it dri­ves the jet stream, a nar­row, vari­able band of very strong, pre­dom­i­nant­ly west­er­ly air cur­rents encir­cling the globe sev­er­al miles above the earth – and the jet stream has a lot to do with our weath­er. In the North­ern Hemi­sphere, the jet stream moves west to east in a wavy pat­tern.

    When the polar vor­tex is par­tic­u­lar­ly cold, as it is in the win­ter, the jet stream winds tend to be strong and flow in a more cir­cu­lar path around the hemi­sphere. When the air inside the polar vor­tex warms, the west-to-east winds of the jet stream tend to weak­en and the jet stream’s path tends to mean­der more to the north and south in larg­er waves.

    ...
    Rut­gers Today: Is cli­mate change to blame for this mean­der?

    Fran­cis: We can’t say these extremes are hap­pen­ing because of cli­mate change, but we can say that they’re more like­ly because of cli­mate change. Note that when a big trough occurs in one place, there is almost always a big north­ward swing of the jet stream — called a ridge — on either side. That is cer­tain­ly the case now, and it is caus­ing an unusu­al­ly warm win­ter in Alas­ka, drought con­di­tions in Cal­i­for­nia and a par­tic­u­lar­ly warm win­ter in Scan­di­navia as well.

    ...“and it is caus­ing an unusu­al­ly warm win­ter in Alas­ka, drought con­di­tions in Cal­i­for­nia and a par­tic­u­lar­ly warm win­ter in Scan­di­navia as well”.

    In oth­er news, North­ern Nor­way and Swe­den are expe­ri­enc­ing record heat­waves. And, of course, Cal­i­for­nia is still on the path to drought doom, with recent reports sug­gest­ing that the expect­ed rains from El Nino may not actu­al­ly hap­pen. So whether or not this the return of the drunk­en polar vor­tex or one of its cousins, the weath­er weird­ing con­tin­ues

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 11, 2014, 7:50 am
  19. This is kind of fas­ci­nat­ing: A study exam­in­ing the propen­si­ty of indi­vid­u­als to reject cli­mate change sci­ence found that, amongst Repub­li­can vot­ers, the rich­er they are, the more like­ly they are to deny cli­mate sci­ence. They call it the “rich idiot” effect.

    In oth­er news, Rupert Mur­doch recent­ly shared some of his thoughts on cli­mate sci­ence:

    Think Progress
    Rupert Mur­doch Says Cli­mate Change Should Be Approached With Great Skep­ti­cism

    By Ari Phillips July 13, 2014 at 11:19 am Updat­ed: July 13, 2014 at 11:20 am

    Rupert Mur­doch is chair­man and CEO of News Cor­po­ra­tion, one of the world’s largest media con­glom­er­ates, which includes Fox News and The Wall Street Jour­nal. Since launch­ing The Aus­tralian news­pa­per 50 years ago he has also become one of the rich­est peo­ple in the world. In a wide-rang­ing inter­view aired Sun­day in Aus­tralia to mark this 50-year anniver­sary, Mur­doch reflect­ed can­did­ly on cli­mate change, say­ing he thought it should be approached with great skep­ti­cism.

    ...

    Aus­tralia is one of the most green­house gas intense economies in the world, rely­ing heav­i­ly on coal exports. The coun­try passed a car­bon price in 2011 but since last year the con­ser­v­a­tive gov­ern­ment led by Mur­doch-sup­port­ed prime min­is­ter Tony Abbott has been try­ing to repeal it. The lat­est attempt end­ed in dis­ar­ray last week after sev­er­al sen­a­tors rebelled at the last minute.

    Mur­doch said that if tem­per­a­tures rose under the worst case sce­nario 3C (5.4F) over the next 100 years ”at the very most one of those [degrees] would be man­made.”

    He did not explain this back-of-the-enve­lope cal­cu­la­tion. Or that aver­age glob­al tem­per­a­tures could increase by as much as 11.5°F by 2100, depend­ing on the lev­el of future green­house gas emis­sions, accord­ing to recent cli­mate mod­els. A recent study found that tem­per­a­tures are like­ly to rise by at least 4C by 2100, twice the lev­el deemed safe and an out­come that would lead to wide­spread dev­as­ta­tion.

    This would be espe­cial­ly harm­ful along coast­lines, where much of the world’s pop­u­la­tion lives. Mur­doch addressed this issue say­ing ”If the sea lev­el ris­es six inch­es, that’s a big deal in the world, the Mal­dives might dis­ap­pear or some­thing, but OK, we can’t mit­i­gate that, we can’t stop it, we have to stop build­ing vast hous­es on seashores.”

    While six inch­es of sea lev­el rise would cer­tain­ly be life-threat­en­ing to low-lying coastal com­mu­ni­ties, which can include mil­lions of peo­ple such as is the case in Bangladesh, Mur­doch again low­balled the num­bers. Accord­ing to the IPCC’s recent pro­jec­tions, sea lev­el will rise 9.8 to 48 inch­es — far over a meter — by 2100. This could impact five per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion, or 600 mil­lion peo­ple, and reduce glob­al GDP by up to 10 per­cent.

    Aus­tralia is often referred to as the sun­burned coun­try, and on top of mas­sive fos­sil fuel deposits it is endowed with out­stand­ing renew­able resources such as wind and solar. A recent study found that Aus­tralia could cut emis­sions from its ener­gy sec­tor to zero by 2050 and still grow GDP by an aver­age of 2.4 per­cent over that peri­od.

    How­ev­er Mur­doch is far more con­cerned with his bot­tom line than that of emis­sions. ”We can be the low-cost ener­gy coun­try in the world,” he said. “We shouldn’t be build­ing wind­mills and all that rub­bish.”

    Hmmm....so Rupert’s rec­om­men­da­tions for Aus­tralia is that “We shouldn’t be build­ing wind­mills and all that rub­bish,” and instead cities and coal plants should just be relo­cat­ed from the coast to escape the ris­ing water. Prob­lem solved! Well, one prob­lem solved. There’s still the ‘lack of water’ issue, although if Aus­tralia sim­ply shifts its grow­ing fleet of wind-pow­ered ener­gy-inten­sive desali­na­tion plants to coal-pow­er the coun­try will be bet­ter able to afford the costs of adapt­ing to cli­mate change. For instance, if more coal emis­sions result in more trop­i­cal cyclones, well, cyclones do bring a lot of rain. Anoth­er water prob­lem solved and cheap ener­gy too!

    It’s too bad, every­thing has to be so dif­fi­cult, but at least we have the wis­dom of our rich idiots to keep us out of trou­ble.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 16, 2014, 7:49 pm
  20. One of the perks of the New Nor­mal: pre-cooked food:

    Los Ange­les Times
    Cal­i­for­nia drought: Record heat gives some can­taloupe crops sun­burn

    July 21, 2014, 6:01 PM

    The tem­per­a­tures were so hot this year in Joe Del Bosque’s can­taloupe fields in the San Joaquin Val­ley that some of the mel­ons could have used sun­screen.

    The sur­face of the fruit got sun­burned, which looks bad and in some cas­es affects taste. He had to throw those away.

    The first six months of the year were the hottest ever in Cal­i­for­nia, the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice said Mon­day. That’s near­ly five degrees warmer than the 20th cen­tu­ry aver­age and more than a degree hot­ter than the record set in 1934.

    And July isn’t shap­ing up to be any bet­ter, with a heat wave expect­ed to send tem­per­a­tures above 100 degrees in parts of Los Ange­les Coun­ty, espe­cial­ly on Thurs­day and Fri­day and through the week­end.

    Across the state, the bone-dry and hot con­di­tions have been con­tribut­ing to a much larg­er num­ber of fires. Through July 19, the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Forestry and Fire Pro­tec­tion report­ed more than 3,400 veg­e­ta­tion fires that have burned more than 51,000 acres. An aver­age year would see about 2,500 fires and 30,000 acres burned, said Cal­Fire Capt. Amy Head.

    The dif­fer­ence is par­tic­u­lar­ly obvi­ous in places that nor­mal­ly fea­ture green land­scapes, said Head, who lives in Sono­ma Coun­ty.

    “In the win­ter and spring around Sono­ma Coun­ty you’re dri­ving around and there’s nice, green rolling hills every­where,” she said. “It was odd to dri­ve around and see brown hills every­where.

    “We got a lit­tle rain and every­thing greened up real quick and the grass­es grew tall,” Head added. “Then things dried up just as quick­ly.”

    War­ren Bli­er, a mete­o­rol­o­gist for the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice in Mon­terey, said that although the Bay Area and oth­er parts of North­ern Cal­i­for­nia haven’t nec­es­sar­i­ly seen per­va­sive hot weath­er like oth­er parts of the state, it has been warmer than usu­al and def­i­nite­ly dri­er. He said one large reser­voir in south­ern Mon­terey Coun­ty, Lake San Anto­nio, is at only about 4% of capac­i­ty.

    Stu­art Seto, a spe­cial­ist for the Nation­al Weath­er Ser­vice in Oxnard, said the last two years have been the dri­est on record for down­town L.A., with less than 12 inch­es of rain total. An aver­age year is about 15 inch­es, he said.

    The months of May and June were actu­al­ly the warmest on record for plan­et Earth, Seto said.

    Until June, every month this year had been sig­nif­i­cant­ly hot­ter than nor­mal in L.A., said Bill Patzert, a cli­ma­tol­o­gist for the Jet Propul­sion Lab­o­ra­to­ry in La Caña­da Flintridge.

    Jan­u­ary was 4 degrees above nor­mal, Feb­ru­ary more than 2, March about 4, April almost 2 and May almost 5 degrees hot­ter than aver­age. June’s tem­per­a­tures end­ed up about aver­age for L.A., Patzert said.

    It remains to be seen how July will turn out, but August and Sep­tem­ber are two of South­ern California’s hottest months, said Patzert, who calls the lat­ter “the heat wave month.”

    The fact that it’s also been dry for at least three years straight in much of the state has wors­ened an already dif­fi­cult sit­u­a­tion. The agri­cul­tur­al indus­try is fac­ing $1 bil­lion in lost rev­enue this year from the state’s worst drought in decades and might have to pay about $500 mil­lion for addi­tion­al ground­wa­ter pump­ing.

    ...

    Of course, if pre-cooked food isn’t your pref­er­ence you can find some solace in the fact that researchers are already mak­ing progress on iden­ti­fy­ing genes asso­ci­at­ed with plants’ respons­es to intense light. If devel­op­ing sun­light resis­tant plants does­n’t sound like the ide­al solu­tion either, there’s always the option of try­ing to some­how block some of the sun­light from reach­ing the earth. And if try­ing to block the sun sounds like it’ll take far too long to accom­plish, keep in mind that there’s always the ‘nuclear war’ option that should kick plen­ty of dust into the atmos­phere right away. Still, giv­en the draw­backs to that approach, you might want to con­sid­er the slight­ly less insane alter­na­tives. Still hun­gry for alter­na­tives?

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 24, 2014, 10:26 pm
  21. God works in mys­te­ri­ous ways, includ­ing the propen­si­ty leave coal trea­sure troves in the ground intend­ed only for the child-like true believ­ers to some­day find and burn. Yes, God appar­ent­ly works in mys­te­ri­ous ways that some­times resem­bles the East­er Bun­ny’s mys­te­ri­ous ways

    TPM Livewire
    Alaba­ma Offi­cials: Pray That EPA Does­n’t Dis­rupt God’s Coal Indus­try
    By Caitlin Mac­Neal
    Pub­lished­Ju­ly 29, 2014, 12:06 PM EDT

    Two Alaba­ma offi­cials on Mon­day asked res­i­dents to pray that the state can help block the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agen­cy’s new reg­u­la­tions on car­bon emis­sions from coal-fired pow­er plants, AL.com report­ed.

    Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion Pres­i­dent Twin­kle Andress Cavanaugh (pic­tured above) slammed the new reg­u­la­tions.

    “We will not stand for what they are doing to our way of life in Alaba­ma,” she said dur­ing a press con­fer­ence at the Alaba­ma Coal Asso­ci­a­tion.

    Lat­er in the con­fer­ence, Cavanaugh asked res­i­dents to pray for the state.

    “I hope all the cit­i­zens of Alaba­ma will be in prayer that the right thing will be done,” she said.

    Cavanaugh, along with oth­er Alaba­ma offi­cials, will tes­ti­fy at an EPA hear­ing on the reg­u­la­tions in Atlanta on Tues­day.

    PSC com­mis­sion­er-elect Chip Beek­er said that Alaba­ma’s coal was cre­at­ed by God and charged that the gov­ern­ment should­n’t inter­fere with God’s plan, accord­ing to AL.com.

    “Who has the right to take what God’s giv­en a state?” he asked.

    ...

    “Who has the right to take what God’s giv­en a state?” Good ques­tion, although Alaba­ma’s GOP might need to keep an eye on the coasts to make sure none of that pre­cious coal slips away. Alaba­ma’s GOP might also want to keep an eye on Alaba­ma’s coast just in gen­er­al.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | July 29, 2014, 1:09 pm
  22. Tox­ic algae blooms: The lastest states’ right issue:

    The New York Times
    The Con­science of a Lib­er­al

    Phos­phate Mem­o­ries
    Paul Krug­man
    Aug 5 9:52 am

    Does any­one remem­ber this, from Erick Erick­son of Red State?

    Wash­ing­ton State has turned its res­i­dents into a group of drug run­ners — cross­ing state lines to buy dish wash­er deter­gent with phos­phate. At what point do the peo­ple tell the politi­cians to go to hell? At what point do they get off the couch, march down to their state legislator’s house, pull him out­side, and beat him to a bloody pulp for being an idiot? At some point soon, it will hap­pen.

    Yes, because there’s no pos­si­ble rea­son med­dling politi­cians should inter­fere with Amer­i­cans’ God-giv­en right to use phos­phates how­ev­er they like. Oh, wait.

    It took a serendip­i­tous slug of tox­ins and the loss of drink­ing water for a half-mil­lion res­i­dents to bring home what sci­en­tists and gov­ern­ment offi­cials in this part of the coun­try have been say­ing for years: Lake Erie is in trou­ble, and get­ting worse by the year.

    Flood­ed by tides of phos­pho­rus washed from fer­til­ized farms, cat­tle feed­lots and leaky sep­tic sys­tems, the most intense­ly devel­oped of the Great Lakes is increas­ing­ly being choked each sum­mer by thick mats of algae, much of it poi­so­nous. What plagues Tole­do and, experts say, poten­tial­ly all 11 mil­lion lake­side res­i­dents, is increas­ing­ly a seri­ous prob­lem across the Unit­ed States.

    It’s true that farms are the biggest prob­lem, but every lit­tle bit hurts.

    Oh, and when it comes to the obvi­ous pub­lic health and safe­ty issue of lim­it­ing pol­lu­tion from farm runoff — well, you know what hap­pens when the EPA, coop­er­at­ing with state gov­ern­ments, tries to do some­thing:

    Ear­li­er this year, a group of 21 Attor­neys Gen­er­al from states as far away from the Chesa­peake Bay as Alas­ka and Wyoming sub­mit­ted an ami­cus brief that aims to strike down the EPA’s Chesa­peake cleanup plan. The AGs argue that the cleanup plan rais­es seri­ous con­cerns about states’ rights, and they wor­ry that if the plan is left to stand, the EPA could enact sim­i­lar pol­lu­tion lim­its on water­sheds such as the Mis­sis­sip­pi.

    As far as I can tell, there isn’t a well-orga­nized phos­phate denial cam­paign, insist­ing that runoff has noth­ing to do with algae blooms. But I’m sure one will arise as pol­i­cy action grows near­er.

    Yes, who knows when phos­phate denial cam­paign is going to get under way (not to men­tion the phos­pho­nate denial cam­paigns), but it’s look­ing increas­ing­ly inevitable.

    In relat­ed news, here’s a sto­ry out of Cana­da about an indus­tri­al acci­dent that’s going to result in a some­what dif­fer­ent kind of denial cam­paign: The “hey, don’t wor­ry too much about that mas­sive pool of tox­ic sludge we just dumped into the local riv­er and there’s real­ly no rea­son to reg­u­late us more”-kind of denial cam­paign. Such a cam­paign may not be under­way yet, but give it time:

    Think Progress
    Cana­di­ans Can’t Drink Their Water After 1.3 Bil­lion Gal­lons Of Min­ing Waste Flows Into Rivers

    by Katie Valen­tine Post­ed on August 5, 2014 at 11:47 am Updat­ed: August 5, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    Hun­dreds of peo­ple in British Colum­bia can’t use their water after more than a bil­lion gal­lons of min­ing waste spilled into rivers and creeks in the province’s Cari­boo region.

    A breach in a tail­ings pond from the open-pit Mount Pol­ley cop­per and gold mine sent five mil­lion cubic meters (1.3 bil­lion gal­lons) of slur­ry gush­ing into Hazel­tine Creek in B.C. That’s the equiv­a­lent of 2,000 Olympic swim­ming pools of waste, the CBC reports. Tail­ings ponds from min­er­al mines store a mix of water, chem­i­cals and ground-up min­er­als left over from min­ing oper­a­tions.

    The flow of the min­ing waste, which can con­tain things like arsenic, mer­cury, and sul­fur, uproot­ed trees on its way to the creek and forced a water ban for about 300 peo­ple who live in the region. That num­ber could grow, as author­i­ties deter­mine just how far the waste has trav­eled. The cause of the breach is still unknown.

    So far, water-use bans have been issued for the town of Like­ly and for peo­ple liv­ing near Pol­ley Lake, Ques­nel Lake, Hazel­tine Creek (which flows into Ques­nel Lake), and Cari­boo Creek, as well as the Ques­nel and Cari­boo Riv­er sys­tems. Author­i­ties so far haven’t issued water bans for the Fras­er Riv­er — B.C.’s longest riv­er — which is linked to the Ques­nel Riv­er, (which flows from Ques­nel Lake) say­ing it’s not yet clear whether the efflu­ent has made it to the water­way.

    “What we know so far is that debris from the tail­ings pond backed up a lit­tle into Pol­ley Lake, which absorbed some of the flow, but the major­i­ty of it went down into the Hazel­tine Creek,” Al Rich­mond, chair­man of the Cari­boo Region­al Dis­trict told the Van­cou­ver Sun. “The creek (used to be) four feet wide. Now it’s 150 feet wide.”

    The region is sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed, which makes emer­gency response dif­fi­cult — Rich­mond told the Van­cou­ver Sun that only four peo­ple from the region’s vol­un­teer fire depart­ment were able to act as first respon­ders to the dis­as­ter. Right now, author­i­ties are work­ing to test all water­ways for con­t­a­m­i­na­tion, a process that Rich­mond said he hopes will take no more than 48 hours. Rich­mond also said he didn’t know whether or not the spill had been con­tained.

    “The poten­tial long-term impact to water­ways, the water­shed and roads is huge,” he said.

    Chief Anne Louie from the Williams Lake Indi­an band agreed, telling the Van­cou­ver Sun that the spill was a “mas­sive envi­ron­men­tal dis­as­ter.” Res­i­dents have report­ed see­ing dead fish wash­ing up from Pol­ley Lake, a body of water that one res­i­dent described as “milky green.” Robin Hood, pres­i­dent of the Like­ly Cham­ber of Com­merce, told the Province that the spill was a “big dis­as­ter” for his town and that it pos­es a major risk to the region’s salmon-spawn­ing grounds.

    The spill may be a dis­as­ter, but it wasn’t entire­ly a sur­prise. The Van­cou­ver Sun reports that con­cerns about the Mount Pol­ley tail­ings pond date back to 2011, when an envi­ron­men­tal con­sult­ing firm put togeth­er a report for the B.C. Min­istry of the Envi­ron­ment. The report called for an emer­gency plan for spills such as this and said the pond should be mon­i­tored.

    “The tail­ings pond was fill­ing out and they need­ed to get rid of the water,” Bri­an Old­ing of the firm that com­plet­ed the study said. “The walls were get­ting too high and the water was get­ting too high….it appeared from a com­mon sense point of view that you could not con­tin­ue to build that up high­er and high­er.”

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 6, 2014, 11:15 am
  23. With ISIS in con­trol of the Mosul Dam, it’s worth keep­ing in mind that, while the ISIS-relate threat to the Mosul Dam in Iraq is legit­i­mate­ly ter­ri­fy­ing, it’s not the only legit­i­mate­ly ter­ri­fy­ing mega-cri­sis cur­rent­ly impact­ing the region:

    Slate
    Is cli­mate change desta­bil­is­ing Iraq?

    By Eric Holthaus
    2:48 PM Sun­day Jun 29, 2014

    This win­ter was not a good one for farm­ers in the Fer­tile Cres­cent.

    A pun­ish­ing drought hit most of Syr­ia and north­ern Iraq dur­ing what’s nor­mal­ly the wettest time of the year. In the moun­tains of east­ern Turkey, which form the head­wa­ters of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, snow and rain were less than half of nor­mal. The region has seen one of the worst droughts in decades.

    Drought is becom­ing a fix­ture in the parched land­scape, due to a dry­ing trend of the Mediter­ranean and Mid­dle East region fueled by glob­al warm­ing. The last major drought in this region (2006–2010) fin­ished only a few years ago. When tak­en in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er com­plex dri­vers, increas­ing tem­per­a­tures and dry­ing of agri­cul­tur­al land is wide­ly seen as assist­ing in the desta­bi­liza­tion of Syr­ia under the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Before civ­il war broke out there, farm­ers aban­doned their des­ic­cat­ed fields and flood­ed the cities with protests. A series of U.N. reports released ear­li­er this year found that glob­al warm­ing is already desta­bi­liz­ing nation states around the world, and Syr­ia has been no excep­tion.

    With the ongo­ing cri­sis in Iraq seem­ing­ly devolv­ing by the day, it’s not a stretch to think some­thing sim­i­lar could already be under­way just next door.

    ...

    Increas­ing tem­per­a­tures may also be play­ing a role in the recent uptick in vio­lence. A study pub­lished last year in the jour­nal Sci­ence showed a strong con­nec­tion between high tem­per­a­tures and polit­i­cal insta­bil­i­ty, like civ­il wars, riots, and eth­nic vio­lence, though the cause is not well known. A pre­vi­ous study has linked dehy­dra­tion with decreased cog­ni­tive per­for­mance and increased lev­els of anx­i­ety.

    Sure enough, this year has been unusu­al­ly hot so far in Iraq with the March-April-May sea­son rank­ing as the warmest on record across much of the coun­try. (Reli­able records from the Nation­al Ocean­ic and Atmos­pher­ic Admin­is­tra­tion date back to 1880.) The emer­gence of the Islam­ic State in Iraq and Syr­ia around the same time may just be an inter­est­ing coin­ci­dence, but the impli­ca­tions are impor­tant enough for us to con­sid­er a broad­er con­nec­tion.

    The Unit­ed Nations lists Iraq as “one of the Arab region’s most vul­ner­a­ble coun­tries to cli­mate change.” In 2004, just after the Amer­i­can-led regime change, a Con­gres­sion­al Research Ser­vice report cit­ed “rapid pop­u­la­tion growth cou­pled with lim­it­ed arable land” and “a gen­er­al stag­na­tion of agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tiv­i­ty” after decades of con­flict and mis­man­age­ment dur­ing the final Sad­dam years as the main rea­sons Iraq grew more reliant on imports of food amid inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions and the oil-for-food pro­gram. A major drought from 1999–2001 also ham­pered the coun­try’s abil­i­ty to feed itself. Since then, con­flict has raged and the cli­mate has grown even more extreme, with alter­nat­ing severe droughts and heavy rain­storms. From the Unit­ed Nations Devel­op­ment Pro­gramme in 2009:

    Iraq’s wheat pro­duc­tion this year was down 45 per­cent from a nor­mal har­vest, with sim­i­lar reduc­tions expect­ed in the com­ing year. As a result, the coun­try has expe­ri­enced a mas­sive loss of seed reserves for future plant­i­ng, forc­ing the coun­try to sig­nif­i­cant­ly increase food imports at great cost to the econ­o­my.

    Mean­while, farm­ers are aban­don­ing their fields en masse and mov­ing to urban cen­tres, a trend that has placed more stress on cities in Iraq that are already strug­gling to pro­vide basic social ser­vices and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties to grow­ing urban pop­u­la­tions. As a result, social ten­sions and the risk of crime have increased.

    Sound famil­iar? As in neigh­bor­ing Syr­ia, it’s increas­ing­ly clear that Iraq is dry­ing out, an effect that’s long been pre­dict­ed as a result of the human-caused build up of heat-trap­ping gas­es like CO2. Since 1973, Femia says, parts of Iraq and Syr­ia have seen “some of the most dra­mat­ic pre­cip­i­ta­tion declines in the world.” Cit­ing pro­ject­ed stark declines in rain­fall and con­tin­ued pop­u­la­tion pres­sure and upstream dam build­ing, a study released ear­li­er this year made the case that the Tigris and Euphrates rivers may no longer reach the sea by 2040.

    Much of Iraq’s cli­mate is sim­i­lar to Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Cen­tral Val­ley, with a long sum­mer dry sea­son and a rainier, more pro­duc­tive win­ter. That’s helped Iraq serve as the bread­bas­ket of the region for mil­len­nia, but no longer. Like Bak­ers­field, Bagh­dad is intense­ly depen­dent on riv­er water from upstream for irri­ga­tion of most of its crops.

    This year’s major drought has coin­cid­ed with the rise of ISIS, which has already used dams as a weapon of war, threat­en­ing down­stream agri­cul­ture and elec­tric­i­ty pro­duc­tion dur­ing its march to gain con­trol of vast swaths of ter­ri­to­ry in Syr­ia and north­ern Iraq. From Al Ara­biya:

    In Iraq, ISIS, report­ed­ly in con­trol of the strate­gic Mosul dam, has declared its inten­tion to deprive Shi­ite regions from water. Fur­ther elec­tric­i­ty short­ages hit South­ern Iraq, where the con­sec­u­tive gov­ern­ments have failed in restor­ing basic ser­vices since 2003.

    The declines in rain­fall already seen in Syr­ia and Iraq are on the order of sci­en­tists’ pre­dic­tions but have gen­er­al­ly come faster than cli­mate mod­els antic­i­pat­ed. Accord­ing to retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David Tit­ley, the com­bi­na­tion of wors­en­ing drought and vio­lent con­flict now spread­ing across the region “is a clas­sic case of unin­tend­ed and unfore­seen con­se­quences.”

    For all the debate over cli­mate change, those in the nation­al secu­ri­ty realm are mov­ing sur­pris­ing­ly full-speed ahead. In this year’s Qua­dren­ni­al Defense Review, the Pen­ta­gon list­ed the impacts of cli­mate change, like drought, as “threat mul­ti­pli­ers.” As Femia put it, “the U.S. mil­i­tary does­n’t have the lux­u­ry of plan­ning for the short term.” Now that the Depart­ment of Defense has list­ed cli­mate change as a nation­al secu­ri­ty threat, Femia says, “they have an oblig­a­tion and duty to address those issues.”

    For Femia, the way for­ward in Iraq and oth­er parts of the region is by work­ing at reduc­ing one of the root dri­vers of Mid­dle East con­flict: water scarci­ty.

    In post con­flict sit­u­a­tions, issues of dis­ar­ma­ment and new polit­i­cal foun­da­tions and the rela­tion­ship between var­i­ous eth­nic groups, those are all crit­i­cal and need to be part of any solu­tion. But if con­flict res­o­lu­tion does­n’t involve nat­ur­al resource man­age­ment, you’re set­ting the stage for future insta­bil­i­ty.

    The gov­ern­ment of Iraq has named 2014 as a nation­al Year of Envi­ron­ment in an attempt to pri­or­i­tize the reha­bil­i­ta­tion of the coun­try’s degrad­ed lands after years of con­flict. Let’s hope they’re not too late.

    “Accord­ing to retired U.S. Navy Rear Adm. David Tit­ley, the com­bi­na­tion of wors­en­ing drought and vio­lent con­flict now spread­ing across the region “is a clas­sic case of unin­tend­ed and unfore­seen con­se­quences.”” Aha.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 10, 2014, 11:04 pm
  24. “Chang­ing her­bi­cides annu­al­ly or using mul­ti­ple her­bi­cides was a stan­dard prac­tice in the 1970s and 1980s, and agron­o­mists referred to the chem­i­cals as tools to con­trol weeds and get the most yield from crops.

    But in 1996 came the tool that some nick­named “the big ham­mer”: Mon­san­to intro­duced Roundup Ready, a seed and herbi­cide com­bi­na­tion that allowed farm­ers to plant genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered soy­beans that would not be harmed by the her­bi­cide glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup....But over­re­liance on Roundup accel­er­at­ed the spread of weeds resis­tant to glyphosate.” Oops:

    Star Tri­bune
    ‘Super­weeds’ emerge to chal­lenge farm­ers

    Arti­cle by: TOM MEERSMAN , Star Tri­bune
    Updat­ed: August 2, 2014 — 8:27 AM

    Crops are put at risk by plants that have become resis­tant to com­mon her­bi­cides

    On a research plot near the Rochester air­port, Jared Goplen has watched weeds for the past three sum­mers. His spe­cial­ty is giant rag­weed, one of more than a dozen species of “super­weeds” that resist the most wide­ly used ­her­bi­cides. Super­weeds can take over crop­land, reduce yields and wipe out farm­ers’ prof­its. Even con­sumers can face a sec­ondary effect in the form of high­er food prices.

    “It’s a seri­ous prob­lem and one that will con­tin­ue to grow,” said Paul Meints, research pro­gram man­ag­er for Min­neso­ta Soy­bean.

    Weeds that won’t suc­cumb to main­stream her­bi­cides are a ris­ing con­cern nation­al­ly, espe­cial­ly in cot­ton, corn and soy­bean coun­try, and the largest agribusi­ness­es are rac­ing to pro­pose solu­tions. In Min­neso­ta alone, grow­ers plant near­ly 16 mil­lion acres of corn and soy­beans each year.

    Goplen, a Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta grad­u­ate stu­dent, is test­ing whether crop rota­tion and oth­er non-her­bi­cide meth­ods can make a dif­fer­ence in keep­ing weeds under con­trol. He records the num­ber of giant rag­weeds as they come up, col­lects and counts seeds that fall from mature plants, and even sifts seeds in the soil to map hot spots in the seed­bank where seeds are wait­ing to sprout next year.

    In states such as Arkansas, Ten­nessee and Geor­gia, the pri­ma­ry men­ace is a dif­fer­ent weed.

    Thou­sands of acres of soy­beans and cot­ton had to be mowed down in recent years because the her­bi­cide-resis­tant Palmer ama­ranth had over­run the fields.

    Meints said the Palmer weed has reached south­ern Iowa but is not yet in Min­neso­ta, where farm­ers grow more than 7 mil­lion acres of soy­beans and about 8.5 mil­lion acres of corn. No Min­neso­ta farm­ers have lost entire crops to her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds, he said, but some have expe­ri­enced yield loss­es.

    Uni­ver­si­ty researchers and grow­er asso­ci­a­tions have pushed hard the past cou­ple of years to let farm­ers know that using the same her­bi­cide year after year is a bad idea, Meints said, and that her­bi­cides and crops need to be rotat­ed more fre­quent­ly to lessen the chances of run­away super­weeds on their fields.

    ‘The big ham­mer’

    Weeds that can tol­er­ate herbi­cides are noth­ing new, said Jeff Gun­so­lus, Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta Exten­sion agron­o­my pro­fes­sor and weed spe­cial­ist. Weeds are able to adapt to dif­fer­ent envi­ron­ments, he said, so it shouldn’t be sur­pris­ing that they can also adapt to cer­tain her­bi­cides.

    He said only a small num­ber of weeds with­in a species, per­haps one in a bil­lion, have the genet­ic make­up that enables them to sur­vive a par­tic­u­lar ­her­bi­cide appli­ca­tion. But that sin­gle weed can pro­duce 10,000 to 300,000 off­spring seeds, depend­ing on the species, that also will be resis­tant to the herbi­cide. Those that sprout the next year or remain dor­mant in the soil for a longer peri­od also won’t be killed, he said, unless the farmer applies a dif­fer­ent her­bi­cide that’s effec­tive against them.

    Chang­ing her­bi­cides annu­al­ly or using mul­ti­ple her­bi­cides was a stan­dard prac­tice in the 1970s and 1980s, and agron­o­mists referred to the chem­i­cals as tools to con­trol weeds and get the most yield from crops.

    But in 1996 came the tool that some nick­named “the big ham­mer”: Mon­san­to intro­duced Roundup Ready, a seed and herbi­cide com­bi­na­tion that allowed farm­ers to plant genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered soy­beans that would not be harmed by the her­bi­cide glyphosate, sold under the trade name Roundup.

    Farm­ers could apply Roundup and kill near­ly every­thing in sight, except the soy­bean plants, whose seeds were genet­i­cal­ly altered to tol­er­ate the her­bi­cide. Corn, cot­ton and sug­ar beets were soon mod­i­fied to tol­er­ate it as well.

    The sys­tem was rev­o­lu­tion­ary for farm­ers because it sim­pli­fied the issue of what her­bi­cide to use and reduced time and mon­ey spent to grow crops. Gone was the need to till the soil, apply mul­ti­ple her­bi­cides and use cul­ti­va­tors to turn under weeds or hire labor­ers to yank them.

    Roundup Ready seeds now account for about 90 per­cent of soy­beans and 85 per­cent of corn plant­ed in the Unit­ed States each year. “Ini­tial­ly when the tech­nol­o­gy first came out, you lit­er­al­ly could go into the fields and kill weeds that were 18 inch­es tall and they would all die,” Gun­so­lus said. “It was just like peni­cillin was in the 1950s. It was a mir­a­cle.”

    Los­ing effec­tive­ness

    But over­re­liance on Roundup accel­er­at­ed the spread of weeds resis­tant to glyphosate. After the first few years of remark­ably clean fields, farm­ers began to notice that they need­ed to apply Roundup ear­li­er in the year, when weeds were no more than 3 or 4 inch­es tall. Then, some fields began to need two or three appli­ca­tions a year for effec­tive weed con­trol.

    Weeds that were resis­tant to glyphosate sur­vived, flow­ered and seed­ed. In fields that used the her­bi­cide year after year, the weed pop­u­la­tions sky­rock­et­ed.

    “We fell into the habit of this par­tic­u­lar scheme of pro­duc­ing our crops, and one of the con­se­quences is the devel­op­ment of these resis­tant [weed] pop­u­la­tions,” Meints said. “By devel­op­ing these fan­tas­tic sys­tems using a sin­gle or only a cou­ple of herbi­cides, we also accel­er­at­ed the [abil­i­ty] for those her­bi­cide-resis­tant weeds to flour­ish.”

    He said the main glyphosate-resis­tant weeds of con­cern in Min­neso­ta are kochia, a tum­ble­weed-type plant found main­ly in north­west­ern Minnesota’s wheat and sug­ar beet fields, com­mon water­hemp in south­ern and west­ern crop­land of the state, and giant rag­weed, which appears almost every­where.

    No one knows how many farms in Min­neso­ta are bat­tling ­glyphosate-resis­tant super­weeds or how severe the prob­lem is. “When­ev­er there’s some­thing new that’s a prob­lem, farm­ers don’t want to talk about it because they think it reflects poor­ly on them,” Gun­so­lus said.

    Bri­an Hicks, who grows corn, soy­beans and hay on about 2,500 acres near Tra­cy in south­west­ern Min­neso­ta, said it’s clear to him that con­trol­ling weeds is no sim­ple mat­ter.

    “We still do use Roundup, but we also use oth­er chem­istry to make sure that the weeds that we’re tar­get­ing will die,” he said. “It’s easy to dri­ve around the coun­try­side and see guys and gals that haven’t been proac­tive and they do have some [weed] issues that are get­ting worse all the time.”

    Com­bo her­bi­cides

    Large agribusi­ness­es are push­ing hard to devel­op a suc­ces­sor to Roundup.

    Dow Agro­Sciences, a sub­sidiary of Dow Chem­i­cal, has spent the past decade devel­op­ing Enlist Duo, a her­bi­cide con­tain­ing a new form of the 2,4‑D weed­killer and glyphosate. Com­pa­ny spokesman Gar­ry Ham­lin said the com­bo her­bi­cide has “less drift poten­tial, less volatil­i­ty, less odor and bet­ter han­dling char­ac­ter­is­tics.” It would be used with new corn and soy­bean seeds genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to tol­er­ate the chem­i­cals. The prod­ucts need to be approved by two fed­er­al agen­cies and have been opposed by envi­ron­men­tal and oth­er groups.

    Mon­san­to pro­posed the Roundup Ready Xtend Crop sys­tem, which com­bines the her­bi­cide dicam­ba with glyphosate to be used with new­ly engi­neered corn and soy­beans.

    And Syn­gen­ta Seeds Inc. and Bay­er Crop­Science are propos­ing a soy­bean genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to tol­er­ate expo­sure to the her­bi­cides glu­fos­i­nate and mesotri­one.

    Crit­ics of the prod­ucts say new chem­i­cal com­bi­na­tions will harm the envi­ron­ment and pub­lic health and may lead to more resis­tant weeds.

    Ben Lil­lis­ton, vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams for the Min­neapo­lis-based Insti­tute for Agri­cul­ture and Trade Pol­i­cy, said that com­bin­ing her­bi­cides into new mix­es “keeps us on an increas­ing­ly tox­ic tread­mill.”

    ...

    It looks like it’s time for BigAg to put on its big think­ing cap and get cre­ative. It’s either that or they win the cor­po­rate Dar­win Award. Watch out:

    Haz­Mat Man­age­ment Mag­a­zine
    Jul 24, 2014 9:47 AM
    Feds reject cot­ton farm­ers’ tri­azine request to kill super weeds
    By: Haz­Mat Staff
    2014-07-24

    The US Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) has denied the emer­gency use of propazine on three mil­lion acres of Texas cot­ton fields, cit­ing a fear of drink­ing water con­t­a­m­i­na­tion from the tox­ic her­bi­cide.

    Farm­ers pushed for the Milo-Pro spray appli­ca­tion to stop inva­sive “super weeds” from fur­ther dam­ag­ing crops. Palmer ama­ranth, or pig­weed, is an aggres­sive weed that can grow three inch­es a day and has devel­oped resis­tance to wide­ly used chem­i­cals. Propazine, which requires a licence, is a tox­ic her­bi­cide in the tri­azine class of chem­i­cals. It’s been linked to devel­op­men­tal and repro­duc­tive tox­i­c­i­ty.
    2
    The EPA found that the farm­ers’ request met emer­gency appli­ca­tion cri­te­ria, how­ev­er, cit­ed a num­ber of risk assess­ment con­cerns for using propazine on the land, which includes near­ly half of Texas’ land plant­ed with cot­ton.

    “While we dis­agree with the EPA that this meets any of the cri­te­ria for emer­gency exemp­tion, we applaud the EPA for putting the health of peo­ple and the envi­ron­ment first and uphold­ing the health and envi­ron­men­tal stan­dards under the law,” Jay Feld­man, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Beyond Pes­ti­cides, com­ment­ed on the deci­sion in a July 23, 2014 state­ment.

    ...

    “This is not an emer­gency because the weed resis­tance is pre­dictable since it has been known for many years that GMO cot­ton sprayed with glyphosate would cre­ate resis­tant super­weeds,” notes Feld­man. “It is an abuse of the law to prop up failed GMO crop­ping sys­tems with tox­ic chem­i­cals when viable alter­na­tives, like organ­ic grow­ing meth­ods, exist.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 13, 2014, 11:22 am
  25. One of the open ques­tions for Cal­i­for­ni­a’s fate is what’s going to hap­pen when the water runs out. Amongst the grim­mer pre­dic­tions is sim­ply that the night­mare of forced migra­tions will become a real­i­ty if the sit­u­a­tion becomes bad enough. But there’s no rea­son to assume the force push­ing peo­ple out of Cal­i­for­nia will have to be some legal man­date. Eco­nom­ics can be pret­ty per­sua­sive too. Just ask those thirsty flee­ing bees:

    Cal­i­for­nia drought stings bees, hon­ey sup­plies
    Cal­i­for­nia drought hurts hon­ey pro­duc­tion, leaves few­er crops and wild­flow­ers for hon­ey­bees
    Asso­ci­at­ed Press
    By Ter­ence Chea, Asso­ci­at­ed Press August 21, 2014 11:30 AM

    LOS BANOS, Calif. (AP) — Cal­i­for­ni­a’s record drought has­n’t been sweet to hon­ey­bees, and it’s cre­at­ing a sticky sit­u­a­tion for bee­keep­ers and hon­ey buy­ers.

    The state is tra­di­tion­al­ly one of the coun­try’s largest hon­ey pro­duc­ers, with abun­dant crops and wild­flow­ers that pro­vide the nec­tar that bees turn into hon­ey. But the lack of rain has rav­aged native plants and forced farm­ers to scale back crop pro­duc­tion, leav­ing few­er places for hon­ey­bees to for­age.

    The his­toric drought, now in its third year, is reduc­ing sup­plies of Cal­i­for­nia hon­ey, rais­ing prices for con­sumers and mak­ing it hard­er for bee­keep­ers to earn a liv­ing.

    “Our hon­ey crop is severe­ly impact­ed by the drought, and it does impact our bot­tom line as a busi­ness,” said Gene Bran­di, a bee­keep­er in Los Banos, a farm­ing town in Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Cen­tral Val­ley.

    The state’s deep­en­ing drought is hav­ing wide­spread impacts across the state. More than 80 per­cent of the state is under “extreme” or “excep­tion­al” drought, accord­ing to the U.S. Drought Mon­i­tor. Gov. Jer­ry Brown has declared a drought emer­gency, and res­i­dents now face fines of up to $500 a day for wast­ing water.

    The drought is just the lat­est blow to hon­ey­bees, which pol­li­nate about one third of U.S. agri­cul­tur­al crops. In recent years, bee pop­u­la­tions world­wide have been dec­i­mat­ed by pes­ti­cides, par­a­sites and colony col­lapse dis­or­der, a mys­te­ri­ous phe­nom­e­non in which work­er bees sud­den­ly dis­ap­pear.

    The drought is wors­en­ing a world­wide short­age of hon­ey that has pushed prices to all-time highs. Over the past eight years, the aver­age retail price for hon­ey has increased 65 per­cent from $3.83 to $6.32 per pound, accord­ing to the Nation­al Hon­ey Board.

    Since the drought began, Cal­i­for­ni­a’s hon­ey crop has fall­en sharply from 27.5 mil­lion pounds in 2010 to 10.9 mil­lion pounds last year, accord­ing to the U.S. Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture. And this year’s crop is expect­ed to be even worse.

    Cal­i­for­nia was the coun­try’s lead­ing hon­ey pro­duc­er as recent­ly as 2003, but it has since been sur­passed by North Dako­ta, Mon­tana, South Dako­ta and Flori­da. In 2013, Cal­i­for­nia pro­duced less than 10 per­cent of the coun­try’s $317 mil­lion hon­ey crop.

    On a recent sum­mer morn­ing in Los Banos, swarms of hon­ey­bees sur­round­ed Gene Bran­di and his son Mike, wear­ing white hel­mets with mesh veils, as they cracked open wood­en hives and insert­ed pack­ets of pro­tein sup­ple­ment to keep the insects healthy.

    This year their colonies have only pro­duced about 10 per­cent of the hon­ey they make in a good year, said Bran­di, who is vice pres­i­dent of the Amer­i­can Bee­keep­ing Fed­er­a­tion.

    Besides sell­ing hon­ey, bee­keep­ers earn their liv­ing from pol­li­nat­ing crops such as almonds, cot­ton, alfal­fa and mel­ons. But farm­ers are rent­ing few­er hives because the lack of irri­ga­tion water has forced them to tear out orchards and leave fields unplant­ed.

    Like many bee­keep­ers, Bran­di is feed­ing his bees a lot more sug­ar syrup than usu­al to com­pen­sate for the lack of nec­tar. The sup­ple­men­tal feed keeps the bees alive, but it’s expen­sive and does­n’t pro­duce hon­ey.

    “Not only are you feed­ing as an expense, but you aren’t gain­ing any income.” said Brandi’s son Mike, who’s also a bee­keep­er. “If this would per­sist, you’d see high­er food costs, high­er pol­li­na­tion fees and unfor­tu­nate­ly high­er prices for the com­mod­i­ty of hon­ey.”

    Many Cal­i­for­nia bee­keep­ers, includ­ing Gene Brandi’s broth­er, are tak­ing their hives to states such as North Dako­ta where they can for­age in clover and buck­wheat fields.

    ...

    Spencer Mar­shall, who main­tains hives through­out the San Fran­cis­co Bay Area, said this is by far the worst year for hon­ey pro­duc­tion he’s seen in five decades of bee­keep­ing. When the drought ends, “the bees may come back, but the bee­keep­ers may not,” Mar­shall said.

    Amelia Barad-Humphries, who owns a restau­rant and flo­ral busi­ness in Napa Val­ley, said she’s con­cerned about the drought’s impact on bees and hon­ey sup­plies. She said she eats a tea­spoon of local hon­ey every day to keep her aller­gies in check and she relies on bees to pol­li­nate her back­yard gar­den.

    “We need hon­ey­bees for every­thing,” she said. “Peo­ple should be pay­ing atten­tion.”

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 23, 2014, 3:31 pm
  26. A Dai­ly Mail arti­cle has been get­ting a lot of atten­tion in the right-wing media claim­ing that the 43% growth in Arc­tic sea ice over the past two years is evi­dence that cli­mate change is all a lie and Al Gore should feel very embar­rassed. *Sigh*:

    Slate
    Sept. 1 2014 7:30 AM
    No, You Can’t Claim Arc­tic Ice is “Recov­er­ing”
    By Phil Plait

    Sigh. Here we go again.

    The Dai­ly Mail and Mail Online are to sci­en­tif­ic accu­ra­cy what a sledge­ham­mer is to an egg. Espe­cial­ly when it comes to glob­al warm­ing.

    David Rose is often­times the wield­er of that sledge­ham­mer. He’s writ­ten error-laden cli­mate arti­cles in the past, like say­ing that glob­al warm­ing has stopped (no, it hasn’t), that the world is cool­ing (no, it real­ly real­ly isn’t), and the IPCC had to hold a cri­sis meet­ing because Rose’s arti­cles have caused such a fuss (that meet­ing nev­er hap­pened, which Rose had been told sev­er­al times, but still made the claim). Oth­er exam­ples abound.

    This time, In Sunday’s Mail Online he writes that Arc­tic sea ice, which hit a major record low in 2012, “has expand­ed for the sec­ond year in suc­ces­sion.”

    This claim is a humdinger, and typ­i­cal denial dou­ble-speak. It’s tech­ni­cal­ly true, but also real­ly wrong. It’s like exam­in­ing some­one who has a 106° fever and say­ing it’s real­ly made their skin glow. But what do you expect from an arti­cle that has this breath­less head­line:

    Myth of arc­tic melt­down: Stun­ning satel­lite images show sum­mer ice cap is thick­er and cov­ers 1.7million square kilo­me­tres MORE than 2 years ago...despite Al Gore’s pre­dic­tion it would be ICE-FREE by now

    “Myth of arc­tic melt­down” is enough to tell you just how slant­ed and wrong the con­clu­sions of this arti­cle will be… and the inclu­sion of Al Gore’s name brings it home. Men­tion­ing Gore is at best a dis­trac­tion, red meat to the deniers. Gore isn’t a cli­mate sci­en­tist, and as we well know actu­al cli­mate sci­en­tists over­whelm­ing­ly agree that the world is warm­ing. One of the out­comes of this is the decline of Arc­tic sea ice.

    Briefly: Arc­tic sea ice reach­es a min­i­mum in late Sep­tem­ber every year. The over­all trend for the amount of ice at that time is decreas­ing; in oth­er words, there is less ice all the time. Some years there is more than oth­ers, some less. But the trend is down, down, down.

    In 2012, a mix of unusu­al caus­es cre­at­ed con­di­tions where the min­i­mum reached a record low, far below nor­mal. The next year, in 2013, the ice didn’t reach quite so low a min­i­mum extent, and this year looks very much the same as 2013. But say­ing the ice is “recov­er­ing” is, to put it del­i­cate­ly, what comes out the south end of a north-fac­ing bull. You can’t com­pare two years to a record low the year before that was due to unusu­al cir­cum­stances; you have to look at the aver­age over time.

    Of course, if you do, your claims that glob­al warm­ing isn’t real melt away.

    I’m hap­py to pro­vide that infor­ma­tion. Here’s the Arc­tic ice extent graphed by the Nation­al Snow and Ice Data Cen­ter:
    [see image]

    The black line is the aver­age for 1981 – 2010. The gray region shows the ±2 stan­dard devi­a­tion tem­per­a­tures for that aver­age; sta­tis­ti­cal­ly speak­ing it’s an expect­ed range of tem­per­a­tures (it’s actu­al­ly more sub­tle than that, but that’s enough to under­stand what’s going on here). The dashed line shows the 2012 ice extent, and is clear­ly very low, well out­side the expect­ed range. The brown line is 2013, and the light green line is this year, 2014, up to late August. Notice 2014 fol­lows the year before pret­ty close­ly.

    Note also they are well below aver­age, near the bot­tom of the expect­ed range. If you look at any recent year’s ice it’s below aver­age; you have to go back to 2001 to find an ice extent near the aver­age.

    So the claim that the ice is “recov­er­ing” is made based on the wrong com­par­i­son. Com­par­ing the past two years to the over­all trend and they fit in pret­ty well with over­all decline.

    ...

    What makes this even more aggra­vat­ing is that there’s noth­ing new here. This claim of Arc­tic ice recov­er­ing was made last year, and it was just as wrong then as it is now. It’s shame­ful. Glob­al warm­ing is real, it’s a huge prob­lem, and it’s our own damn fault. There’s still time to fix this, though that breath­ing room is get­ting slim­mer all the time… and it’s not help­ing when media give air to deniers.

    In oth­er news, Cal­i­for­nia got a bit of rain recent­ly. Good bye droughts!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 1, 2014, 5:37 pm
  27. Remem­ber when plas­tic was the future? Well get ready for the the new new eco­nom­ic: sand:

    The cri­sis of ris­ing sea lev­els
    Water’s Edge
    A Reuters Inves­ti­ga­tion

    As the seas rise, a slow-motion dis­as­ter gnaws at America’s shores

    By Ryan McNeill, Deb­o­rah J. Nel­son and Duff Wil­son

    Filed Sept. 4, 2014, 1 p.m. GMT

    Part 1: A Reuters analy­sis finds that flood­ing is increas­ing along much of the nation’s coast­line, forc­ing many com­mu­ni­ties into cost­ly, con­tro­ver­sial strug­gles with a relent­less foe.

    WALLOPS ISLAND, Vir­ginia – Mis­sions flown from the NASA base here have doc­u­ment­ed some of the most dra­mat­ic evi­dence of a warm­ing plan­et over the past 20 years: the melt­ing of polar ice, a force con­tribut­ing to a glob­al rise in ocean lev­els.

    The Wal­lops Flight Facility’s rela­tion­ship with ris­ing seas doesn’t end there. Its bil­lion-dol­lar space launch com­plex occu­pies a bar­ri­er island that’s drown­ing under the impact of wors­en­ing storms and flood­ing.

    NASA’s response? Rather than move out of harm’s way, offi­cials have added more than $100 mil­lion in new struc­tures over the past five years and spent $43 mil­lion more to for­ti­fy the shore­line with sand. Near­ly a third of that new sand has since been washed away.

    Across a nar­row inlet to the north sits the island town of Chin­coteague, gate­way to a nation­al wildlife refuge blessed with a stun­ning mile-long recre­ation­al beach – a major tourist draw and source of big busi­ness for the com­mu­ni­ty. But the sea is rob­bing the towns­peo­ple of their main asset.

    The beach has been dis­ap­pear­ing at an aver­age rate of 10 to 22 feet (3 to 7 meters) a year. The access road and a 1,000-car park­ing lot have been rebuilt five times in the past decade because of coastal flood­ing, at a total cost of $3 mil­lion.

    Offi­cials of the wildlife refuge say they face a los­ing bat­tle against ris­ing seas. In 2010, they pro­posed to close the beach and shut­tle tourists by bus to a safer stretch of sandy shore­line.

    The town revolt­ed. Like many local res­i­dents, Wan­da Thorn­ton, the town’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive on the Acco­mack Coun­ty board of super­vi­sors, accepts that the sea is ris­ing, but is skep­ti­cal that cli­mate change and its effects have any­thing to do with the ero­sion of the beach. As a result, “I’m just not con­vinced that it requires the dras­tic change that some peo­ple think it does,” she said.

    Four years on, after a series of angry pub­lic meet­ings, the sea keeps eat­ing the shore, and the gov­ern­ment keeps spend­ing to fix the dam­age.

    Wal­lops offi­cials and the peo­ple of Chin­coteague are unit­ed at the water’s edge in a bat­tle against ris­ing seas.

    All along the ragged shore of Chesa­peake Bay and the Atlantic coast of the Del­mar­va Penin­su­la, north into New Eng­land and south into Flori­da, along the Gulf Coast and parts of the West Coast, peo­ple, busi­ness­es and gov­ern­ments are con­fronting ris­ing seas not as a future pos­si­bil­i­ty. For them, the ocean’s rise is a trou­bling every­day real­i­ty.

    This is the first in a series of arti­cles exam­in­ing the phe­nom­e­non of ris­ing seas, its effects on the Unit­ed States, and the country’s response to an increas­ing­ly watery world. Oth­er sto­ries will show how oth­er nations are cop­ing.

    In cities like Nor­folk, Vir­ginia, and Annapo­lis, Mary­land, coastal flood­ing has become more fre­quent. Beyond the cities, sea­wa­ter and tidal marsh have con­sumed farm­land and sev­er­al once-inhab­it­ed islands. Here in Acco­mack Coun­ty alone, encroach­ing sea­wa­ter is con­vert­ing an esti­mat­ed 50 acres (20 hectares) of farm­land into wet­lands each year, accord­ing to a 2009 Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency study.

    “It breaks my heart to think about it,” said Grayson Chess­er, a decoy carv­er whose ances­tors arrived in the Chesa­peake Bay area four cen­turies ago. He lives out­side Sax­is, a town that’s los­ing ground to the water. Some near­by vil­lages have dis­ap­peared alto­geth­er. “You’ve got to deal with the fact that it’s hap­pen­ing – and what are you going to do with those of us on the edge?”

    It’s a ques­tion the U.S. gov­ern­ment is dodg­ing. More than 300 coun­ties claim a piece of more than 86,000 miles (138,000 km) of tidal coast­line in the Unit­ed States, yet no clear nation­al pol­i­cy deter­mines which loca­tions receive help to pro­tect their shore­lines. That has left com­mu­ni­ties fight­ing for atten­tion and resources, lest they be aban­doned to the sea, as is play­ing out in Chin­coteague.

    “If we can’t make a deci­sion about ris­ing sea lev­el in a park­ing lot, we’re in trou­ble as a nation,” said Louis Hinds, for­mer man­ag­er of Chin­coteague Nation­al Wildlife Refuge.

    ...

    Yes, what are we going to do to those of “on the edge” of ris­ing coast­lines. Oh, that’s right, we’ll just keep sell­ing them sand.

    But what if you want to diver­si­fy for invest­ments for the future? One word: top­soil. There’s a great future in top­soil.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 6, 2014, 6:45 pm
  28. If every­one would put their fruit and veg­etable scraps in a pile to make high nutri­ent com­post, that could prob­a­bly go along way to address­ing the top­soil prob­lem.

    The pow­ers that be could stop frack­ing and start mak­ing their big mon­ey with the for­mu­la dis­cussed in FTR 278, 385 and 506.

    or

    “NASA may send green­house, plants to Mars by 2021. Organ­ic toma­toes out, galac­tic toma­toes in.”

    http://www.techtimes.com/articles/6640/20140507/nasa-may-send-greenhouse-plants-to-mars-by-2021-organic-tomatoes-out-galactic-tomatoes-in.htm

    “The pro­pos­al is just one of many sophis­ti­cat­ed space explo­ration blue­print devel­oped for future col­o­niza­tion of anoth­er plan­et. In 2009, Elec­trolux held a con­test called Elec­trolux Design Lab and one of the final­ists is the robot­ic green­house for Mars named Le Petit Prince.

    Con­cep­tu­al­ized by Mar­tin Mik­li­ca of Brno Uni­ver­si­ty of Tech­nol­o­gy in Czech Repub­lic, the ultra-futur­is­tic pod has a glass green­house fixed atop that caters to a sin­gle plant, which is nur­tured by the hydro­pon­ic solu­tion enclosed in the pod. With the help of its four claw-like legs and a cam­era eye, the machine looks for the best place for the plant to devel­op.”

    Posted by GK | September 7, 2014, 1:39 pm
  29. First, the Ebo­la good news: while cli­mate change cer­tain­ly exac­er­bates the spread of a num­ber of dif­fer­ent types of dis­eases and cli­mate change-induced pover­ty could have a huge impact on the future abil­i­ty to respond any dis­ease, so far there’s no indi­ca­tion of that cli­mate change direct­ly helps Ebo­la spread:

    Cli­mate Progress
    Media Jumps To Con­clu­sions On Ebo­la And Cli­mate Change

    by Emi­ly Atkin Post­ed on August 22, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    If you read Newsweek or CNBC this week, you may be under the impres­sion that one of the pri­ma­ry dri­vers of the Ebo­la out­break in Africa is cli­mate change. It is not.

    Accord­ing to three vet­er­an epi­demi­ol­o­gists who study how cli­mate impacts dis­ease spread, there is cur­rent­ly no sci­en­tif­ic evi­dence that sug­gests a cli­mate link to the cur­rent Ebo­la out­break, which has so far claimed the lives of at least 1,200 peo­ple. Pre­ma­ture­ly report­ing on this link is harm­ful, they say, because it under­mines good research that is being done on the grow­ing link between glob­al warm­ing and oth­er types of infec­tious dis­eases, such as malar­ia and cholera.

    “Because the whole cli­mate change debate has been so con­tro­ver­sial, we’ve got to be doing sol­id sci­ence in that area,” said Andrew P. Dob­son, an ecol­o­gy and evo­lu­tion­ary biol­o­gy pro­fes­sor at Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty who has been research­ing infec­tious dis­ease spread and its rela­tion to cli­mate change since 1988. “If peo­ple start say­ing inflam­ma­to­ry things, it just mess­es up the whole fund­ing are­na for every­body else.”

    Both Newsweek’s sto­ry, titled Ebo­la and Cli­mate Change: Are Humans Respon­si­ble for the Sever­i­ty of the Cur­rent Out­break?“, and CNBC’s sto­ry, titled “Is cli­mate change key to the spread of Ebo­la”, quote sci­en­tists from the non-prof­it Eco­Health Alliance to sug­gest that the virus could be wors­ened by a grad­u­al­ly warm­ing earth. CNBC’s sto­ry in par­tic­u­lar notes the the­o­ry that the Ebo­la virus is spread to humans via infect­ed fruit bats. Cli­mate change could cause those bats to have more babies, the sto­ry said, or could cause humans to come in con­tact with bats more fre­quent­ly as drought dries out agri­cul­tur­al land, send­ing peo­ple into the for­est for food.

    But Jason Rohr, who stud­ies dis­ease ecol­o­gy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of South Flori­da, said those claims are “irre­spon­si­ble” to make because they’re not yet backed up by peer-reviewed research.

    “The evi­dence is incred­i­bly weak,” he said. “There’s a dif­fer­ence between weath­er pat­terns affect­ing an infec­tious dis­ease and actu­al cli­mate change impact­ing a dis­ease. Weath­er pat­terns are going to occur on a much small­er time scale, where­as cli­mate change, you need to link it to a long-term pat­tern. We’ve had so few [Ebo­la] out­breaks that we can’t yet make those claims.”

    A. Marm Kil­patrick, who stud­ies the ecol­o­gy of infec­tious dis­eases at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia San­ta Cruz and used to work for Eco­Health, also said sci­en­tists lack the long-term data to make those claims with con­fi­dence. While Eco­Health did not return ThinkProgress’ request for com­ment, Kil­patrick said he spoke with Eco­Health pres­i­dent Peter Daszak about the quotes giv­en to CNBC.

    “They asked him, ‘Could cli­mate have influ­enced trans­mis­sion of that dis­ease,’ and the answer is sure,” he said. “We could all come up with sto­ries about how that could have hap­pened, but is there any actu­al evi­dence for that at all? The answer is no, and if you said, what do you think are the most impor­tant things lead­ing to addi­tion­al spill-over of Ebo­la from bats to peo­ple, none of us would men­tion cli­mate change.”

    “Cli­mate change still influ­ences Ebo­la, it influ­ences every­thing,” he added. “It’s just that if you had to spend mon­ey on research efforts, it’d be more valu­able to inves­ti­gate oth­er fac­tors first.”

    What sci­en­tists do have the data to claim con­fi­dent­ly is that the spread of Ebo­la in humans may begin when peo­ple eat or oth­er­wise come into con­tact with bats, apes, and oth­er wild ani­mals. This gen­er­al­ly hap­pens in unde­vel­oped coun­tries where health care is poor — anoth­er rea­son why the dis­ease spreads so eas­i­ly from human to human.

    To fight Ebo­la, Dob­son said, sci­en­tists must find out more about the basic biol­o­gy of Ebo­la itself, and the immunol­o­gy of bats, which he said seem to be reser­voirs for a lot of infec­tious dis­eases. In addi­tion, bring­ing bet­ter health care edu­ca­tion and infra­struc­ture to the places infect­ed would do a world of good, he said.

    Though Ebo­la in its cur­rent state is not cause for cli­mate-relat­ed con­cern now, there are oth­er, more pro­lif­ic infec­tious dis­eases that stand to wors­en in a warm­ing world and are far more deserv­ing of our atten­tion in that con­text, Dob­son said.

    “We should be wor­ried about cli­mate change for oth­er dis­eases,” he said. “Malar­ia, dengue fever — where the devel­op­ment time of the pathogen is very depen­dent on tem­per­a­ture, and the abun­dance of the mos­qui­toes is depen­dent on rain­fall.”

    ...

    Well, it could be worse.

    And now the Ebo­la bad news: While the US is cur­rent­ly plan­ning a “surge” of peo­ple to help stop the spread in Ebo­la-hit coun­tries, The glob­al response is still a jum­bled mess. Also, Ebo­la is “surg­ing” too:

    CBC News
    Ebo­la surg­ing beyond con­trol, WHO’s Mar­garet Chan warns
    Efforts must mul­ti­ply to catch up with out­breaks of Ebo­la virus, WHO head says

    CBC News Post­ed: Sep 12, 2014 9:25 AM ET Last Updat­ed: Sep 12, 2014 7:32 PM ET

    Ebo­la virus cas­es in West Africa are ris­ing faster than the abil­i­ty to con­tain them, the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion says, as experts warn that the expo­nen­tial rise could become a world­wide dis­as­ter.

    The death toll has risen to more than 2,400 peo­ple out of 4,784 cas­es, WHO direc­tor gen­er­al Mar­garet Chan told reporters at the UN health agency’s head­quar­ters in in Gene­va on Fri­day, not­ing the fig­ures could be an under­es­ti­mate.

    “In the three hard­est hit coun­tries, Guinea, Liberia and Sier­ra Leone, the num­ber of new patients is mov­ing far faster than the capac­i­ty to man­age them. We need to surge at least three to four times to catch up with the out­breaks,” Chan said.

    She called for urgent inter­na­tion­al sup­port in the form of doc­tors, nurs­es, med­ical sup­plies and aid to the worst-affect­ed coun­tries.

    Health-care work­ers have been infect­ed with Ebo­la while treat­ing patients in West Africa. Almost half of the 301 health-care work­ers who have devel­oped the dis­ease have died.

    Chan wel­comed Cuba’s announce­ment that it will send 165 health-care work­ers to fight the out­break, but added that at least 500 doc­tors from abroad are need­ed.

    An infec­tious dis­ease expert warned in Friday’s New York Times that “the Ebo­la epi­dem­ic in West Africa has the poten­tial to alter his­to­ry as much as any plague has ever done.”

    Michael Oster­holm is the direc­tor of the Cen­ter for Infec­tious Dis­ease Research and Pol­i­cy at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Min­neso­ta.

    Ebo­la spreads through direct con­tact with bod­i­ly flu­ids, but Oster­holm raised a pos­si­bil­i­ty that he said virol­o­gists are loath to dis­cuss open­ly but con­sid­er behind closed doors: the prospect that the Ebo­la virus could mutate to become trans­mis­si­ble through the air.

    Oster­holm cites a 2012 study by researchers at the Nation­al Micro­bi­ol­o­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry in Win­nipeg that showed the Ebo­la Zaire strain behind West Africa’s out­break could spread by the res­pi­ra­to­ry route between pigs and mon­keys.

    The key to con­tain­ing the out­break, Oster­holm stressed, is to beef up efforts to stop the spread of the virus.

    ‘Unprece­dent­ed’ out­break needs response to match

    To that end, he sug­gest­ed that the Unit­ed Nations take over the posi­tion of “com­mand and con­trol” to direct the efforts of med­ical, pub­lic health and human­i­tar­i­an aid from coun­tries and non-gov­ern­men­tal groups.

    “If we wait for vac­cines and new drugs to arrive to end the Ebo­la epi­dem­ic, instead of tak­ing major action now, we risk the dis­ease’s reach­ing from West Africa to our own back­yards,” he con­clud­ed in a com­men­tary titled, “What We’re Afraid to Say About Ebo­la.”

    Mean­while, an edi­to­r­i­al in Euro­sur­veil­lance, pub­lished by the Euro­pean Cen­tre for Dis­ease Pre­ven­tion and Con­trol, said it was hard to track an out­break with expo­nen­tial growth in case num­bers.

    “Ebo­la can­not be ignored in the hope it will burn itself out,” Peter Piot, one of the sci­en­tists who first iden­ti­fied the Ebo­la virus in 1976, and his col­league Adam Kuchars­ki, said in their edi­to­r­i­al. Piot is now direc­tor of the Lon­don School of Hygiene and Trop­i­cal Med­i­cine.

    Stronger con­trol mea­sures are need­ed to stop trans­mis­sion, Piot and Kuchars­ki said.

    A mod­el­ling study pub­lished in Euro­sur­veil­lance projects that, if the growth in cas­es con­tin­ues at its cur­rent pace, under a worst-case sce­nario there could be anoth­er 77,000 to 277,000 cas­es by the end of the year.

    “Many of the issues cur­rent­ly fac­ing West Africa — from lack of trust in health author­i­ties to poor infec­tion con­trol — have sur­faced before, and have been over­come. How­ev­er, the cur­rent out­break is unprece­dent­ed both in size and scale. It will require a response to match,” they con­clud­ed.

    ...

    And now some more Ebo­la good news: So far there’s no indi­ca­tion that Ebo­la has devel­oped the abil­i­ty to pro­duce videos threat­en­ing the world and put them up on youtube.com.

    And now some Ebo­la bad news: Troll-bait­ing the world with rotten.com-esque videos is pos­si­bly the only thing that could prompt a glob­al response at this point. Hope­ful­ly the videos not pro­duced by Ebo­la will even­tu­al­ly do the trick.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 13, 2014, 5:26 pm
  30. Here’s an fun and rel­a­tive­ly opti­mistic Good Cop/Bad Cop take on the chal­lenges of cli­mate change. First, the Good Cop: Paul Krug­man just wrote a col­umn high­light­ing recent stud­ies, includ­ing one from the IMF, that sug­gest that major reduc­tions in car­bon emis­sion would end up hav­ing bare­ly any neg­a­tive impact on eco­nom­ic growth and could even lead to faster growth:

    The New York Times
    Errors and Emis­sions
    Could Fight­ing Glob­al Warm­ing Be Cheap and Free?

    Paul Krug­man
    SEPT. 18, 2014

    This just in: Sav­ing the plan­et would be cheap; it might even be free. But will any­one believe the good news?

    I’ve just been read­ing two new reports on the eco­nom­ics of fight­ing cli­mate change: a big study by a blue-rib­bon inter­na­tion­al group, the New Cli­mate Econ­o­my Project, and a work­ing paper from the Inter­na­tion­al Mon­e­tary Fund. Both claim that strong mea­sures to lim­it car­bon emis­sions would have hard­ly any neg­a­tive effect on eco­nom­ic growth, and might actu­al­ly lead to faster growth. This may sound too good to be true, but it isn’t. These are seri­ous, care­ful analy­ses.

    But you know that such assess­ments will be met with claims that it’s impos­si­ble to break the link between eco­nom­ic growth and ever-ris­ing emis­sions of green­house gas­es, a posi­tion I think of as “cli­mate despair.” The most dan­ger­ous pro­po­nents of cli­mate despair are on the anti-envi­ron­men­tal­ist right. But they receive aid and com­fort from oth­er groups, includ­ing some on the left, who have their own rea­sons for get­ting it wrong.

    Where is the new opti­mism about cli­mate change and growth com­ing from? It has long been clear that a well-thought-out strat­e­gy of emis­sions con­trol, in par­tic­u­lar one that puts a price on car­bon via either an emis­sions tax or a cap-and-trade scheme, would cost much less than the usu­al sus­pects want you to think. But the eco­nom­ics of cli­mate pro­tec­tion look even bet­ter now than they did a few years ago.

    On one side, there has been dra­mat­ic progress in renew­able ener­gy tech­nol­o­gy, with the costs of solar pow­er, in par­tic­u­lar, plung­ing, down by half just since 2010. Renew­ables have their lim­i­ta­tions — basi­cal­ly, the sun doesn’t always shine, and the wind doesn’t always blow — but if you think that an econ­o­my get­ting a lot of its pow­er from wind farms and solar pan­els is a hip­pie fan­ta­sy, you’re the one out of touch with real­i­ty.

    On the oth­er side, it turns out that putting a price on car­bon would have large “co-ben­e­fits” — pos­i­tive effects over and above the reduc­tion in cli­mate risks — and that these ben­e­fits would come fair­ly quick­ly. The most impor­tant of these co-ben­e­fits, accord­ing to the I.M.F. paper, would involve pub­lic health: burn­ing coal caus­es many res­pi­ra­to­ry ail­ments, which dri­ve up med­ical costs and reduce pro­duc­tiv­i­ty.

    And thanks to these co-ben­e­fits, the paper argues, one argu­ment often made against car­bon pric­ing — that it’s not worth doing unless we can get a glob­al agree­ment — is wrong. Even with­out an inter­na­tion­al agree­ment, there are ample rea­sons to take action against the cli­mate threat.

    But back to the main point: It’s eas­i­er to slash emis­sions than seemed pos­si­ble even a few years ago, and reduced emis­sions would pro­duce large ben­e­fits in the short-to-medi­um run. So sav­ing the plan­et would be cheap and maybe even come free.

    Enter the prophets of cli­mate despair, who wave away all this analy­sis and declare that the only way to lim­it car­bon emis­sions is to bring an end to eco­nom­ic growth.

    You most­ly hear this from peo­ple on the right, who nor­mal­ly say that free-mar­ket economies are end­less­ly flex­i­ble and cre­ative. But when you pro­pose putting a price on car­bon, sud­den­ly they insist that indus­try will be com­plete­ly inca­pable of adapt­ing to changed incen­tives. Why, it’s almost as if they’re look­ing for excus­es to avoid con­fronting cli­mate change, and, in par­tic­u­lar, to avoid any­thing that hurts fos­sil-fuel inter­ests, no mat­ter how ben­e­fi­cial to every­one else.

    But cli­mate despair pro­duces some odd bed­fel­lows: Koch-fueled insis­tence that emis­sion lim­its would kill eco­nom­ic growth is echoed by some who see this as an argu­ment not against cli­mate action, but against growth. You can find this atti­tude in the most­ly Euro­pean “degrowth” move­ment, or in Amer­i­can groups like the Post Car­bon Insti­tute; I’ve encoun­tered claims that sav­ing the plan­et requires an end to growth at left-lean­ing meet­ings on “rethink­ing eco­nom­ics.” To be fair, anti-growth envi­ron­men­tal­ism is a mar­gin­al posi­tion even on the left, but it’s wide­spread enough to call out nonethe­less.

    And you some­times see hard sci­en­tists mak­ing argu­ments along the same lines, large­ly (I think) because they don’t under­stand what eco­nom­ic growth means. They think of it as a crude, phys­i­cal thing, a mat­ter sim­ply of pro­duc­ing more stuff, and don’t take into account the many choic­es — about what to con­sume, about which tech­nolo­gies to use — that go into pro­duc­ing a dollar’s worth of G.D.P.

    So here’s what you need to know: Cli­mate despair is all wrong. The idea that eco­nom­ic growth and cli­mate action are incom­pat­i­ble may sound hard­head­ed and real­is­tic, but it’s actu­al­ly a fuzzy-mind­ed mis­con­cep­tion. If we ever get past the spe­cial inter­ests and ide­ol­o­gy that have blocked action to save the plan­et, we’ll find that it’s cheap­er and eas­i­er than almost any­one imag­ines.

    And now for the Bad Cop: Nao­mi Klein has been doing a num­ber of inter­views about her new book This Changes Every­thing: Cap­i­tal­ism vs. the Cli­mate, where she argues that we had bet­ter make some rad­i­cal changes to how the econ­o­my func­tions that go beyond just lim­it­ing car­bon emis­sion if there’s any hope of avoid­ing mass dis­as­ter. Issues like greater pub­lic invest­ments, stronger reg­u­la­tions, yawn­ing wealth gaps, and the sys­tem­at­ic bias towards pol­lu­tion and oth­er neg­a­tive exter­nal­i­ties inher­ent in the lais­sez faire ide­ol­o­gy that dom­i­nates the present and threat­ens to dooms the future:

    In These Times
    Nao­mi Klein: ‘We Can’t Dodge This Fight’ Between Cap­i­tal­ism and Cli­mate Change

    The author explains why right-wing cli­mate-change deniers are more right than you think.
    BY Mic­ah Uet­richt
    Sep­tem­ber 18, 2014

    That the clock on cli­mate change is ticking—and loud­er by the day—is not news to any­one. Like many peo­ple, jour­nal­ist Nao­mi Klein spent years feel­ing over­whelmed by sci­en­tists’ increas­ing­ly apoc­a­lyp­tic pro­nounce­ments about impend­ing plan­e­tary doom, and large­ly opt­ed to ignore them. She had her hands full expos­ing the abus­es of multi­na­tion­al cor­po­ra­tions like Microsoft and Nike in her first book, No Logo (1999), and the impo­si­tion of free mar­ket poli­cies and expand­ing inequal­i­ty on unwill­ing pop­u­la­tions around the globe in her 2007 book, The Shock Doc­trine.

    But Klein came to real­ize not only that cli­mate change was so all-encom­pass­ing and urgent that it couldn’t be ignored, but also that it cre­ates a unique oppor­tu­ni­ty. Cli­mate change “could be the best argu­ment pro­gres­sives have ever had,” she says, to cre­ate the kind of bot­tom-up mass move­ments that can not only force action on the envi­ron­ment, but fight eco­nom­ic inequal­i­ty, cre­ate more demo­c­ra­t­ic soci­eties, rebuild­ing a strong pub­lic sec­tor, address­ing his­tor­i­cal gen­der and racial injus­tices, and a litany of oth­er issues.

    Doing so, how­ev­er, won’t sim­ply require chang­ing a few light­bulbs. “We have not done the things that are nec­es­sary to low­er emis­sions because those things fun­da­men­tal­ly con­flict with dereg­u­lat­ed cap­i­tal­ism,” Klein writes. In This Changes Every­thing: Cap­i­tal­ism vs. the Cli­mate, she explores the fail­ures of “Big Green” envi­ron­men­tal groups and sup­pos­ed­ly benev­o­lent CEOs, the right-wing cli­mate deniers who actu­al­ly under­stand the stakes of cli­mate change bet­ter than many pro­gres­sives, and the grass­roots move­ments coa­lesc­ing to fight cli­mate change. Klein spoke with In These Times from her home in Toron­to.

    Your book begins with a dis­cus­sion of the Right and cli­mate change denial. This makes sense both because the Right has waged a very effec­tive cam­paign to insist that glob­al warm­ing isn’t real and to block poten­tial­ly help­ful leg­is­la­tion, and because, you argue, they actu­al­ly under­stand what’s at stake in address­ing cli­mate change bet­ter than most lib­er­als do: It will require a total over­haul of free-mar­ket cap­i­tal­ism as we know it. Why does the Right under­stand cli­mate change bet­ter than the Left?

    Nao­mi: First, it’s impor­tant to under­stand that the cli­mate-change denier move­ment is often entire­ly a prod­uct of free mar­ket think­ing. The con­fer­ences like the annu­al Heart­land Con­fer­ence, the publications—they’re over­whelm­ing­ly pub­lished by right-wing think tanks like CATO, the Amer­i­can Enter­prise Insti­tute and [the] Heart­land [Insti­tute].

    Heart­land is most famous now as a cli­mate-change deniers institution—I think a lot of peo­ple have only heard of it in the con­text of their annu­al cli­mate change con­fer­ence. But Heart­land is a free mar­ket think tank, first and fore­most. It’s been around for a long time. It exists to push the hard­core neolib­er­al plat­form of dereg­u­la­tion and aus­ter­i­ty poli­cies, anti-labor poli­cies. It’s a famil­iar pack­age.

    When I inter­viewed Joe Bast, the head of the Heart­land Insti­tute, at the con­fer­ence a cou­ple of years ago, he was very frank about this with me. He said that he became inter­est­ed in cli­mate change not because he found a prob­lem with the sci­ence, but because he under­stood that if the sci­ence was true and left unchal­lenged, it would mean “any­thing goes” in terms of gov­ern­ment reg­u­la­tion. You’d have to inter­vene in the mar­ket. You’d have to invest in the pub­lic sphere. Basi­cal­ly, their entire ide­o­log­i­cal project would be dead in the water.

    So they dug in, as he explained, and found what they believed were flaws in the sci­ence. If you look at who deniers actu­al­ly are, it’s clear that what’s dri­ving them is a desire to pro­tect the neolib­er­al project.

    They’re absolute­ly right that a cri­sis of this mag­ni­tude requires col­lec­tive action, requires invest­ment in the pub­lic sphere, requires strong reg­u­la­tion. That does­n’t mean that it requires social­ism. With­in that, there’s a big range of state responses—some of which, in my opin­ion, are very unde­sir­able, some more desir­able. But the idea that you can just have a lais­sez faire response to cli­mate change is pret­ty absurd.

    The rea­son that’s rel­e­vant is because that’s what a lot of the main [envi­ron­men­tal­ist] groups have been telling us: that we can leave this to the mar­ket. Well, the track record for leav­ing it to the mar­ket is 61 per­cent emis­sion increas­es since we’ve been sup­pos­ed­ly deal­ing with cli­mate change.

    ...

    You empha­size that cap­i­tal­ism is respon­si­ble for our cli­mate predica­ment, but you also men­tion, most­ly in pass­ing, the need for a trans­for­ma­tion in how all peo­ple in coun­tries like the Unit­ed States and Cana­da live. And at one point, you men­tion a turn away from some of the Enlight­en­ment val­ues that you asso­ciate with extrac­tivism. When I hear peo­ple on the Left talk about turn­ing away from some parts of Enlight­en­ment and moder­ni­ty, I some­times get very ner­vous.

    Nao­mi: I think we should be as clear as pos­si­ble that [address­ing cli­mate change] isn’t about being anti-tech­nol­o­gy. It’s about the need for tech­nol­o­gy as a decen­tral­ized pow­er. Tech­nol­o­gy can be at the cen­ter of just about any trans­for­ma­tion, but that does­n’t mean all tech­nol­o­gy is good.

    We need to be care­ful of a com­plete­ly anti-progress fetishiz­ing of some idyl­lic past. But at the same time, hang­ing out with geo­engi­neers real­ly scared the hell out of me. What’s clear is that the fur­ther we go down this road, and the more this Fran­cis Bacon idea of progress becomes equat­ed with tam­ing and con­trol­ling nature, the more these ever-larg­er and high­er-risk tech­nolo­gies are going to take hold.

    I think we do need to talk about that fun­da­men­tal issue of whether our place on earth is to dom­i­nate nature—whether we’re at war with it. I’m not against sci­ence, but we’re on the verge of scal­ing up the risks in a real­ly fright­en­ing way if we don’t ask our­selves some real­ly tough ques­tions about just how smart we are. We don’t want to wal­low in igno­rance, but there are huge dan­gers in over­es­ti­mat­ing our intel­li­gence.

    ...

    I want­ed to ask about the labor move­ment. You men­tion unions a few times in the book, in things like the Blue-Green Alliance. But clear­ly the labor move­ment in the U.S. and Cana­da are nowhere near where they need to be on the issue. For that new gen­er­a­tion of environmentalists—“Blockadia,” as you refer to them in the book—how should they be view­ing and inter­act­ing with unions?

    Nao­mi: I think there’s wide­spread self-crit­i­cism with­in the anti-Key­stone move­ment (includ­ing from me) that it would have been bet­ter from the begin­ning to have a jobs com­po­nent. After fight­ing Key­stone for two years, a real­ly good report came out about how the invest­ment being made in Key­stone could cre­ate many more green jobs, and how to do it, and get­ting some labor groups behind that.

    I don’t think that young envi­ron­men­tal­ists are angry at unions. I see actu­al­ly a strong desire to work togeth­er and come up with mod­els where there are just solu­tions embed­ded in them. There’s def­i­nite­ly ten­sions around the pipeline sites. I think we will see in New York [at the People’s Cli­mate March] a real­ly strong labor presence—one of the things that’s dif­fer­ent and inter­est­ing about this con­ver­gence.

    There’s no end of missed oppor­tu­ni­ties on both sides. It’s clear that sec­tors of the U.S. labor move­ment are wast­ing a lot of ener­gy try­ing to pro­tect a very small num­ber of lousy jobs, as opposed to what could be a real­ly large num­ber of good jobs. But I also think we need to go beyond just talk­ing about jobs—it’s real­ly about work.

    The book does get into the fact that Key­ne­sian solu­tions alone aren’t going to get us there. We need to be talk­ing about con­tract­ing cer­tain parts of our econ­o­my and expand­ing oth­er parts of our econ­o­my. That means expand­ing care­giv­ing pro­fes­sions. It means rec­og­niz­ing work that isn’t rec­og­nized as work—caring for chil­dren and the elder­ly. It opens up the debate about basic income. We need to be expand­ing it beyond just a jobs dis­cus­sion.

    In some ways, that’s even more chal­leng­ing to the tra­di­tion­al labor move­ment, once we stop talk­ing just about jobs but about how we val­ue work more gen­er­al­ly. I do think a fight about basic income, a real live debate about that issue, could bring togeth­er a lot con­stituen­cies. And it might be real­ly good for labor.

    ...

    So the good news from Krug­man is that we address­ing cli­mate change may not be near­ly as expen­sive as peo­ple sus­pect. But the bad new from Klein is that we might have to also address top­ics like expand­ing demo­c­ra­t­ic sys­tems, address­ing wealth and pow­er inequal­i­ty, and gen­er­al­ly address­ing the grow­ing fail­ures of the lais­sez faire approach to col­lec­tive prob­lem solv­ing (the hor­rors!).

    Will the Good Cop/Bad Cop mes­sage ever gain any trac­tion or will the Key­stone crim­i­nals con­tin­ue run­ning soci­ety? That’s unclear. One thing is pret­ty clear by now: Much to a dis­ap­point­ment of ‘lais­sez faire for­ev­er!’ true believ­ers, Galt’s Gulch is not going to be the solu­tion.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 18, 2014, 10:30 pm
  31. Here’s some good news on the Ebo­la front: On top of the $1 bil­lion pledge by the US to con­tain the Ebo­la out­break, the the EU just pledged 280 mil­lion euros to help Liberia deal with it’s post-Ebo­la recov­ery:

    Glob­al News Net­work Liberia
    EU Pledges 280m Euros To Liberia’s Post-Ebo­la Recov­ery
    Sub­mit­ted by Cho­lo Brooks on Fri, 09/19/2014 — 18:28

    The Euro­pean Union (EU) has pledged direct bud­getary sup­port of 280 mil­lion Euros to Liberia between 2015–2020 for post-Ebo­la recov­ery, the head of the EU del­e­ga­tion to Liberia, Artillio Paci­fi­ci, dis­closed Fri­day.

    Paci­fi­ci said the funds are intend­ed to assist the Gov­ern­ment of Liberia recov­er lost rev­enues and finances occa­sioned by the impact of the Ebo­la cri­sis.

    Accord­ing to him, the mon­ey will also serve as a reserve, not only for the health sec­tor, but with empha­sis on gov­er­nance, ener­gy, infra­struc­ture, access to road net­works, and edu­ca­tion.

    Pacif­ic also named the agri­cul­ture sec­tor as a major com­po­nent of the recov­ery process, adding that the EU believes that mon­e­tary activ­i­ties to reboot the eco­nom­ic activ­i­ties should emanate from that sec­tor.

    ...

    Recent­ly, the act­ing Min­is­ter of Finance and Devel­op­ment Plan­ning, Ama­ra Kon­neh announced that the coun­try will suf­fer a 3.9 Gross Domes­tic Prod­uct (GDP) decline as a result of the impact of the Ebo­la cri­sis.

    He fur­ther said that the decline will lead to loss of jobs and reverse some lev­els of pover­ty reduc­tion, while at the same time serv­ing as a chal­lenge to nation build­ing and the nation­al devel­op­men­tal agen­da.

    Con­sid­er­ing that Liberia is already forced to imple­ment aus­ter­i­ty mea­sures due to the impact Ebo­la is hav­ing on the econ­o­my and con­sid­er­ing that aus­ter­i­ty in a coun­try as poor as Liberia is exact­ly the kind of pol­i­cy that makes future Ebo­la out­breaks more like­ly hap­pen and hard­er to deal with when they do, this kind of com­mit­ment to the post-Ebo­la recov­ery effort is an impor­tant com­po­nent of the long-term effort to sub­due the dis­ease. Still, it seems unlike­ly that any funds being dis­bursed in 2015 will be part of the post-Ebo­la phase of the heal­ing process. It would be great if that’s the case, but con­sid­er­ing that Ebo­la is still spread­ing expo­nen­tial­ly, it seems like the post-Ebo­la phase might come lat­er:

    Bloomberg
    Ebo­la Worst-Case Sce­nario Has More Than 500,000 Cas­es
    By Car­o­line Chen, Bren­dan Gree­ley and Kel­ly Gilblom Sep 20, 2014 8:17 AM CT

    The Ebo­la out­break in West Africa could spread to hun­dreds of thou­sands more peo­ple by the end of Jan­u­ary, accord­ing to an esti­mate under devel­op­ment by the U.S. Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion that puts one worst-case sce­nario at 550,000 or more infec­tions.

    The report, sched­uled to be released next week, was described by two peo­ple famil­iar with its con­tents who asked to remain anony­mous because it isn’t yet pub­lic.

    The pro­jec­tion, which vast­ly out­strips pre­vi­ous esti­mates, is under review by researchers and may change. It assumes no addi­tion­al aid or inter­ven­tion by gov­ern­ments and relief agen­cies, which are mobi­liz­ing to con­tain the Ebo­la out­break before it spi­rals fur­ther out of con­trol in Liberia, Sier­ra Leone and Guinea.

    “CDC is work­ing on a dynam­ic mod­el­ing tool that allows for recal­cu­la­tions of pro­ject­ed Ebo­la cas­es over time,” Bar­bara Reynolds, a spokes­woman for the agency, said in an e‑mail. “CDC expects to release this inter­ac­tive tool and a descrip­tion of its use soon.”

    The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion said last month that the out­break could reach 20,000 cas­es before being brought under con­trol. That pro­jec­tion is already out­dat­ed, WHO spokesman Dan Epstein said yes­ter­day in a phone inter­view.

    Steep Curve

    “In the three weeks since then, the num­bers have dou­bled so all three coun­tries are still report­ing cas­es on a steep upward curve,” Epstein said. “We don’t have a good idea of how big this epi­dem­ic will become.”

    If the response is not increased, there may be as many as 5,000 new cas­es a week, he said.

    ...

    ‘Not Near­ly Enough’

    “It’s already the worst out­break in his­to­ry,” Tim Shenk, a spokesman for the human­i­tar­i­an group Doc­tors With­out Bor­ders, said in a phone inter­view. He said the actions of the U.S. gov­ern­ment will deter­mine whether the grow­ing epi­dem­ic can be con­tained.

    “What we’ve been clear about is that we are doing every­thing we can do and it’s not near­ly enough,” Shenk said.

    Since the start of the out­break this year, the virus has infect­ed 5,357 peo­ple, killing 2,630, accord­ing to a Sept. 18 WHO report. The dis­ease has spread through five West African coun­tries, accel­er­at­ing in cities includ­ing Mon­rovia, the cap­i­tal of Liberia.

    The Unit­ed Nations yes­ter­day announced the cre­ation of a spe­cial emer­gency mis­sion to respond to the cri­sis, say­ing the effort needs to increase great­ly.

    ‘Expo­nen­tial’ Increase

    “This is a dis­ease out­break that is advanc­ing in an expo­nen­tial fash­ion,” said David Nabar­ro, named spe­cial envoy to West Africa by UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon. “I esti­mate that to get ahead of out­break, the lev­el of response needs to be about 20 times greater than it is at the moment.”

    The U.S. is inten­si­fy­ing its effort, plan­ning to deploy about 3,000 U.S. mil­i­tary per­son­nel to the region to assist with ship­ping and dis­trib­ut­ing med­ical sup­plies and build­ing treat­ment cen­ters.

    Major Gen­er­al Dar­ryl Williams, U.S. Army-Africa com­man­der, arrived in Mon­rovia on Sept. 17 with a 12-per­son team to assess the sit­u­a­tion there, Rear Admi­ral John Kir­by, a Pen­ta­gon spokesman, said yes­ter­day at a news con­fer­ence. That includes decid­ing where to build treat­ment sites and what else will be need­ed from the U.S. mil­i­tary.

    One C‑17 trans­port plane has already arrived, and two more are sched­uled for next week, bring­ing 45 per­son­nel and help­ing to set up a com­mand head­quar­ters, Kir­by said.

    ‘Sense of Urgency’

    Asked about the CDC pro­jec­tion, White House press sec­re­tary Josh Earnest said the U.S. com­mit­ment of $1 bil­lion for the response to Ebo­la will have the effect of spurring oth­er nations to increase their assis­tance.

    “The pro­jec­tions you’re cit­ing are long-term pro­jec­tions,” Earnest said yes­ter­day. “That’s why the pres­i­dent was demon­strat­ing a sense of urgency” when he spoke about the out­break ear­li­er this week.

    Pre­dic­tive mod­els have var­ied as researchers strug­gle to esti­mate an out­break on a size and scale nev­er seen before with Ebo­la.

    A sep­a­rate worst-case sce­nario mod­eled last month by researchers at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Tokyo and Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty pre­dict­ed there would be as many as 277,124 new cas­es by the year’s end.

    That was the high end of their esti­mate though the researchers warned that “uncon­trolled cross-bor­der trans­mis­sion could fuel a major epi­dem­ic to take off in new geo­graph­i­cal areas.”

    Ebo­la ‘Trans­mis­sion Dynam­ics’

    Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty researchers pre­dict­ed 18,755 cas­es by Oct. 26 if the sit­u­a­tion didn’t change, and 49,129 if inter­ven­tion and con­tain­ment efforts degrad­ed.

    “Our under­stand­ing of Ebo­la trans­mis­sion dynam­ics is incom­plete and data on the present out­break are lim­it­ed,” the researchers said.

    Curb­ing the out­break will require invest­ments of $988 mil­lion over the next six months, accord­ing to an overview of needs and require­ments pub­lished by the UN. About 30 per­cent of what’s need­ed has come in so far, Nabar­ro said this week at a brief­ing in Gene­va.

    ...

    “This is a dis­ease out­break that is advanc­ing in an expo­nen­tial fash­ion,” said David Nabar­ro, named spe­cial envoy to West Africa by UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon. “I esti­mate that to get ahead of out­break, the lev­el of response needs to be about 20 times greater than it is at the moment.”

    Since it’s often assumed that WWIII is an inevitabil­i­ty, could­n’t we all just declare war on Ebo­la and get it over with? So why not make WWE human­i­ty’s WWIII? Every­one will be on the same side in this war which will be nice for a change and, even then, it’s not like it’ll be a cake­walk:

    USA Today
    Ebo­la cri­sis could last for years if not con­trolled quick­ly

    If the Ebo­la out­break isn’t con­trolled quick­ly, it could end up last­ing for years and spread­ing to many more coun­tries, a U.S. health offi­cial told a Sen­ate hear­ing Tues­day.
    Liz Szabo
    6:24 p.m. EDT Sep­tem­ber 16, 2014

    The Ebo­la out­break could end up last­ing for years and spread­ing to many more coun­tries if it is not con­trolled quick­ly, a U.S. health offi­cial told a Sen­ate hear­ing Tues­day, a day when aid agen­cies offered a stark assess­ment of prospects for stop­ping the epi­dem­ic.

    Law­mak­ers on Tues­day held their first hear­ing on Ebo­la, warn­ing that the dead­ly out­break of the dis­ease is get­ting worse by the minute. The Sen­ate Health, Edu­ca­tion, Labor and Pen­sions Com­mit­tee and the Appro­pri­a­tions Sub­com­mit­tee on Health Spend­ing held the joint hear­ing.

    “If we do not act now to stop Ebo­la, we could be deal­ing with it for years to come,” said Beth Bell, direc­tor of the nation­al cen­ter for emerg­ing and zoonot­ic infec­tious dis­eases at the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion. At a Sen­ate hear­ing on Ebo­la, she not­ed that 100 CDC staff are work­ing in West Africa and hun­dreds more are assist­ing from Atlanta. “The best way to pro­tect the U.S. is to stop the out­break in West Africa.”

    Kent Brant­ly, a physi­cian work­ing for the mis­sion­ary group Samar­i­tan’s Purse, plead­ed with sen­a­tors to act quick­ly. Brant­ly was flown back to the USA for treat­ment and was cured. “We can’t afford to wait months or even weeks,” Brant­ly said.

    “From the time I fell sick, just two months ago, the death toll has tripled,” Brant­ly said, not­ing World Health Orga­ni­za­tion esti­mates of 5,000 cas­es, with about half of those patients dying from the virus. “In nine months down the road, we are look­ing at hun­dreds of thou­sands, not just in cas­es, but deaths.”

    While Bell described Ebo­la as a dan­ger­ous for­est fire, mov­ing fast, Brant­ly told sen­a­tors that Ebo­la was “a fire straight from the pit of Hell. We can­not fool our­selves into think­ing that the vast moat of the Atlantic Ocean will pro­tect us from this fire.”

    Get­ting Ebo­la treat­ment cen­ters up and run­ning quick­ly, Brant­ly said, “is the only way to keep entire nations from being reduced to ash­es.”

    Even Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s send­ing of 3,000 Amer­i­can troops to West Africa may not be enough to care for the swelling num­bers of patients, experts said Tues­day. Accord­ing to the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion, the out­break has now affect­ed about 5,000 peo­ple and killed half of them.

    Daniel Lucey, who treat­ed Ebo­la patients in Sier­ra Leone for three weeks last month, said the USA is in unchart­ed ter­ri­to­ry with this out­break.

    “It’s not just Ebo­la, like the last 25 out­breaks,” said Lucey, an adjunct pro­fes­sor of micro­bi­ol­o­gy and immunol­o­gy at George­town Uni­ver­si­ty Med­ical Cen­ter. He notes that pre­vi­ous out­breaks occurred in iso­lat­ed rur­al areas. “This is urban Ebo­la. It’s unprece­dent­ed and it’s uncon­trolled.”

    West African Ebo­la treat­ment cen­ters look noth­ing like the gleam­ing mod­ern build­ings that many Amer­i­cans pic­ture when they think of hos­pi­tals, Bell said. Many hos­pi­tals in affect­ed West African coun­tries lack basics such as run­ning water, soap and even beds. Patients often sleep on mat­tress­es on the floor.

    Ken Isaacs, vice pres­i­dent of pro­grams and gov­ern­ment rela­tions at Samar­i­tan’s Purse, a mis­sion­ary group that ran an Ebo­la treat­ment cen­ter in Mon­rovia, the cap­i­tal of Liberia, told USA TODAY in an inter­view that he wel­comes the mil­i­tary’s help. One of its doc­tors, Brant­ly, returned to the USA for treat­ment last sum­mer after becom­ing infect­ed.

    Pro­vid­ing labs to run blood tests will help doc­tors bet­ter care for patients in West Africa, even with­out a vac­cine or effec­tive treat­ment. Those labs could help doc­tors test to see whether patients have health sodi­um lev­els, for exam­ple, or enough red blood cells.

    But there may nev­er be enough hos­pi­tal beds, Isaacs says.

    That’s why Samar­i­tan’s Purse is shift­ing its focus away from hos­pi­tals toward teach­ing peo­ple to safe­ly care for peo­ple infect­ed with Ebo­la at home, Isaacs says.

    The Oba­ma plan includes train­ing up to 500 health care work­ers a week, and con­struc­tion of up to 17 health care facil­i­ties of 100 beds each. Home health care kits will be dis­trib­uted, and local pop­u­la­tions will be trained on how to han­dle sud­den­ly infect­ed Ebo­la patients.

    “We need to edu­cate peo­ple on how to safe­ly care for their loved ones,” Brant­ly said.

    ...

    Ok, almost every­one will be on the same side dur­ing WWE.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 21, 2014, 8:34 pm
  32. Here’s some­thing to keep in mind when read­ing about the lat­est instance of the US turn­ing Detroit into a nation­al punch­ing-bag: All that urban blight could be worth quite a bit in the future. And, some­what iron­i­cal­ly giv­en the claims that gov­ern­ment mis­man­age­ment was at the heart of Detroit’s fis­cal prob­lems, it might be human­i­ty’s incred­i­ble col­lec­tive incom­pe­tence that ends up turn­ing Detroit back into major a hot spot:

    The New York Times
    Port­land Will Still Be Cool, but Anchor­age May Be the Place to Be
    On a Warmer Plan­et, Which Cities Will Be Safest?

    By JENNIFER A. KINGSONSEPT. 22, 2014

    Alaskans, stay in Alas­ka. Peo­ple in the Mid­west and the Pacif­ic North­west, sit tight.

    Sci­en­tists try­ing to pre­dict the con­se­quences of cli­mate change say that they see few havens from the storms, floods and droughts that are sure to inten­si­fy over the com­ing decades. But some regions, they add, will fare much bet­ter than oth­ers.

    For­get most of Cal­i­for­nia and the South­west (drought, wild­fires). Dit­to for much of the East Coast and South­east (heat waves, hur­ri­canes, ris­ing sea lev­els). Wash­ing­ton, D.C., for exam­ple, may well be a flood zone by 2100, accord­ing to an esti­mate released last week.

    Instead, con­sid­er Anchor­age. Or even, per­haps, Detroit.l

    “If you do not like it hot and do not want to be hit by a hur­ri­cane, the options of where to go are very lim­it­ed,” said Cami­lo Mora, a geog­ra­phy pro­fes­sor at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Hawaii and lead author of a paper pub­lished in Nature last year pre­dict­ing that unprece­dent­ed high tem­per­a­tures will become the norm world­wide by 2047.

    “The best place real­ly is Alas­ka,” he added. “Alas­ka is going to be the next Flori­da by the end of the cen­tu­ry.”

    Under any mod­el of cli­mate change, sci­en­tists say, most of the coun­try will look and feel dras­ti­cal­ly dif­fer­ent in 2050, 2100 and beyond, even as cities and states try to adapt and plan ahead. The north­ern Great Plains states may well be pleas­ant (if mug­gy) for future gen­er­a­tions, as may many neigh­bor­ing states. Although few peo­ple today are mov­ing long dis­tances to strate­gize for cli­mate change, some are at least pon­der­ing the ques­tion of where they would go.

    “The answer is the Pacif­ic North­west, and prob­a­bly espe­cial­ly west of the Cas­cades,” said Ben Strauss, vice pres­i­dent for cli­mate impacts and direc­tor of the pro­gram on sea lev­el rise at Cli­mate Cen­tral, a research col­lab­o­ra­tion of sci­en­tists and jour­nal­ists. “Actu­al­ly, the strip of coastal land run­ning from Cana­da down to the Bay Area is prob­a­bly the best,” he added. “You see a lot less extreme heat; it’s the one place in the West where there’s no real expec­ta­tion of major water stress, and while sea lev­el will rise there as every­where, the land ris­es steeply out of the ocean, so it’s a rel­a­tive­ly small fac­tor.”

    Clif­ford E. Mass, a pro­fes­sor of atmos­pher­ic sci­ence at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Wash­ing­ton, writes a pop­u­lar weath­er blog in which he pre­dicts that the Pacif­ic North­west will be “a poten­tial cli­mate refuge” as glob­al warm­ing pro­gress­es. A Seat­tle res­i­dent, he fore­sees that “cli­mate change migrants” will start head­ing to his city and to Port­land, Ore., and sur­round­ing areas.

    “The Pacif­ic Ocean is like our nat­ur­al air con­di­tion­ing,” Pro­fes­sor Mass said in a tele­phone inter­view. “We don’t get humid­i­ty like the East Coast does.”

    As for the water sup­ply? “Water is impor­tant, and we will have it,” Pro­fes­sor Mass declared. “All in all, it’s a pret­ty benign sit­u­a­tion for us — in fact, warm­ing up just a lit­tle bit might be a lit­tle bit wel­come around here.”

    Already, he said, Wash­ing­ton State is gear­ing up to become the next Napa Val­ley as California’s wine coun­try heats up and dries out.
    Con­tin­ue read­ing the main sto­ry

    “Peo­ple are going crazy putting in vine­yards in east­ern Wash­ing­ton right now,” he said.

    There may be oth­er refuges to the east. Don’t count out the ele­vat­ed inland cities in the country’s mid­sec­tion, like Min­neapo­lis, Salt Lake City, Mil­wau­kee and Detroit, said Matthew E. Kahn, a pro­fes­sor of envi­ron­men­tal eco­nom­ics at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Los Ange­les.

    “I pre­dict we’re going to have mil­lions of peo­ple mov­ing to those areas,” he said in a tele­phone inter­view.

    In his 2010 book “Cli­matopo­lis,” Pro­fes­sor Kahn pre­dicts that when things get bad enough in any giv­en loca­tion — not just the tem­per­a­tures and extreme weath­er, but also the cost of insur­ance and so forth — peo­ple will become “envi­ron­men­tal refugees,” flee­ing cities like Phoenix, Los Ange­les and San Diego. By 2100, he writes, Detroit will be one of the nation’s most desir­able cities.

    ...

    Woohoo! Go Detroit!

    And who knows, maybe the idea of Detroit as a future “cli­mate refuge” will prompt the US to actu­al­ly care about the fate of the city it loves to hate. Oh, that’s right, we hate our future selves too. Nev­er mind!

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | September 23, 2014, 2:55 pm
  33. Want to see some scary sea life pics? Here you go. Still not sat­is­fied? Here’s some pics of what’s left of what used to be world’s fourth largest sea. Are you suf­fer­ing from tha­las­so­pho­bia and some­what relieved to see a dis­ap­pear­ing sea? Don’t wor­ry. The land for­mer­ly known as the Aral Sea will get plen­ty scary for you too.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 2, 2014, 10:31 pm
  34. Good news! Accord­ing to a recent study that sim­u­lates a mega-drought for Cal­i­for­nia the state might not be com­plete­ly screwed! The water-inten­sive indus­tries might be screwed, which is appro­pri­ate to an extent giv­en the incred­i­bly waste­ful agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices, but the cities that are wealthy enough to adapt to chang­ing water sources and reduced con­sump­tion should be able to adapt:

    The Los Ange­les Times
    In vir­tu­al mega-drought, Cal­i­for­nia avoids defeat
    By Bet­ti­na Box­all

    Octo­ber 5, 2014, 4:15 PM

    A few years ago a group of researchers used com­put­er mod­el­ing to put Cal­i­for­nia through a night­mare sce­nario: Sev­en decades of unre­lent­ing mega-drought sim­i­lar to those that dried out the state in past mil­len­nia.

    “The results were sur­pris­ing,” said Jay Lund, one of the aca­d­e­mics who con­duct­ed the study.

    The Cal­i­for­nia econ­o­my would not col­lapse. The state would not shriv­el into a giant, aban­doned dust bowl. Agri­cul­ture would shrink but by no means dis­ap­pear.

    Trau­mat­ic changes would occur as devel­oped parts of the state shed an unsus­tain­able gloss of green and dropped what many experts con­sid­er the prof­li­gate water ways of the 20th cen­tu­ry. But over­all, “Cal­i­for­nia has a remark­able abil­i­ty to weath­er extreme and pro­longed droughts from an eco­nom­ic per­spec­tive,” said Lund, direc­tor of the UC Davis Cen­ter for Water­shed Sci­ences.

    The state’s sys­tem of cap­tur­ing and mov­ing water around is one of the most expan­sive and sophis­ti­cat­ed in the world. But it is based on a false­hood.

    “We built it on the assump­tion that the last 150 years is nor­mal. Ha! Not nor­mal at all,” cau­tioned pale­o­cli­mate expert Scott Stine, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of geog­ra­phy and envi­ron­men­tal sci­ence at Cal State East Bay.

    “The weath­er record that we tend to depend on in Cal­i­for­nia for allo­cat­ing water … is based on about 150 years of real­ly quite wet con­di­tions when you look back at, say, the last 8,000 years or so,” Stine said.

    He found evi­dence of two extreme droughts in ancient tree stumps root­ed in the state’s mod­ern lake beds. The trees could have grown only when shore­lines beat a long retreat dur­ing medieval mega-droughts last­ing a cen­tu­ry or more.

    Curi­ous about how the nation’s most pop­u­lous state would fare under such chron­i­cal­ly parched con­di­tions, Stine, Lund and oth­er researchers imposed a vir­tu­al, 72-year drought on mod­ern Cal­i­for­nia. In their com­put­er sim­u­la­tion, annu­al runoff into rivers and reser­voirs amount­ed to only about half the his­tor­i­cal aver­age. Most reser­voirs nev­er filled.

    Under that sce­nario, experts say, irri­gat­ed farm acreage would plunge. Aquat­ic ecosys­tems would suf­fer, with some strug­gling salmon runs fad­ing out of exis­tence.

    Urban water rates would climb. The icon­ic sub­ur­ban lawn would all but dis­ap­pear. Coastal Cal­i­for­ni­ans would stop dump­ing most of their treat­ed sewage and urban runoff from rain storms into the Pacif­ic and instead add it to their water sup­ply.

    “Cities large­ly did OK aside from high­er water costs, since they have the most finan­cial abil­i­ty to pay for water,” Lund said, refer­ring to the study find­ings.

    “They did more water con­ser­va­tion and waste­water reuse, a lit­tle ocean desali­na­tion, and pur­chased some water from farms,” he added. “So the pre­dom­i­nant part of the pop­u­la­tion and econ­o­my felt the drought, but was not dev­as­tat­ed by it.”

    Mega-drought “does­n’t mean no water,” said Peter Gle­ick, pres­i­dent of the Pacif­ic Insti­tute, an Oak­land think tank. “It will mean using what we get more effec­tive­ly.”

    In South­ern Cal­i­for­nia, with­er­ing decades would speed up the region’s move to expand local water sources and reduce depen­dence on increas­ing­ly errat­ic sup­plies from North­ern Cal­i­for­nia, the East­ern Sier­ra and the Col­orado Riv­er.

    “This is a sit­u­a­tion that we’re like­ly to be deal­ing with for a long peri­od of time, whether it’s 25 years in a mega-drought or repeat­ed­ly any num­ber of years over the next 25 years,” said Nan­cy Sut­ley, chief sus­tain­abil­i­ty and eco­nom­ic devel­op­ment offi­cer for the Los Ange­les Depart­ment of Water and Pow­er. “We have to look at all the sources of water that are poten­tial­ly avail­able to us.”

    The DWP is plan­ning to build an expen­sive treat­ment sys­tem to cleanse indus­tri­al­ly con­t­a­m­i­nat­ed ground­wa­ter in the San Fer­nan­do Val­ley. It is reviv­ing plans to replen­ish the local aquifer with high­ly treat­ed waste­water — some­thing that has long been done in Orange Coun­ty and south­east Los Ange­les Coun­ty but was shot down in L.A. years ago by “toi­let to tap” oppo­nents.

    If con­di­tions got bad enough, L.A. could use its exist­ing drought ordi­nance to ban land­scape irri­ga­tion com­plete­ly. But for­mer DWP Com­mis­sion­er Jonathan Par­frey doubts the city would go that far.

    ...

    As the sec­tor with the great­est water use in Cal­i­for­nia by far, agri­cul­ture would sit in the bul­l’s eye of a mega-drought.

    The state’s 8 mil­lion acres of irri­gat­ed crop­land could fall by as much as half, pre­dict­ed Daniel Sum­n­er, direc­tor of the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia Agri­cul­tur­al Issues Cen­ter.

    Farm­ers would large­ly aban­don rel­a­tive­ly low-val­ue crops such as cot­ton and alfal­fa and use their reduced water sup­plies to keep grow­ing the most prof­itable fruits, nuts and veg­eta­bles.

    They would let fields revert to scrub or dry-farm them with wheat and oth­er crops that pre­dom­i­nat­ed before Cal­i­for­ni­a’s mas­sive fed­er­al irri­ga­tion project trans­formed the face of the Cen­tral Val­ley in the mid-20th cen­tu­ry.

    “In a sense, we move back to the future,” Sum­n­er said.

    Some farm com­mu­ni­ties would turn to ghost towns. “For a while, poor peo­ple would get a lot poor­er through­out the Cen­tral Val­ley,” he said. “Then they’d move.”

    But agri­cul­tur­al pro­duc­tion and asso­ci­at­ed indus­tries such as food pro­cess­ing make up only about 4% of Cal­i­for­ni­a’s over­all econ­o­my, Sum­n­er not­ed.

    “Are there rip­ple effects from a reduc­tion in agri­cul­ture through the state econ­o­my? Yes,” he said. “Are they a big deal in total per­cent­age num­bers? No.”

    Yes, it’s good news! As long as your region is blessed with many of the wealth­i­est cities in the world, your future might be OK dur­ing a future economic/environmental aus­ter­i­ty regime...assum­ing you aren’t one of the poor peo­ple liv­ing in that wealthy region. Of course, as with all aus­ter­i­ty-regimes that seem doable when one region alone engages in it, you have to won­der if that sim­u­lat­ed mega-drought fac­tored in what hap­pens if much of the rest of the world is going through environmental/ecological aus­ter­i­ty at the same. Cal­i­for­ni­a’s shrink­ing agri­cul­tur­al sec­tor might be fine for Cal­i­for­nia giv­en how much of its agri­cul­tur­al pro­duce is export­ed but what about the regions of the world that don’t have abun­dant food and super wealthy urban economies able to finance the mas­sive pub­lic works projects nec­es­sary to adapt in time? Even worse, what about regions that are already net-food importers? Are they going to do OK too? In oth­er words, while this study about a sim­u­lat­ed mega-drought appears to be good news because it shows Cal­i­for­nia sur­viv­ing even dur­ing a mega-drought, isn’t that sort of like a bil­lion­aire say­ing a depres­sion is OK because, sure, he’ll cer­tain­ly get a lot poor­er but at least he won’t end up in com­plete pover­ty? Isn’t that still bad news?

    Oh well. At least the rest of the world will prob­a­bly avoid the US’s insane meat-inten­sive diet. Plus, Cal­i­for­ni­a’s the defense indus­tries should do quite well, help­ing to pay for new water treat­ment facil­i­ties. Cal­i­for­nia is going to need them/.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 11, 2014, 3:04 pm
  35. Han­ni­ty’s Amer­i­ca is Fortress Amer­i­ca:

    The Dai­ly Ban­ter
    Guess Where Sean Han­ni­ty Wants to Build Anoth­er Bor­der Fence

    Bob Cesca on Octo­ber 14, 2014

    In case you’re just join­ing us, Fox News Channel’s Sean Han­ni­ty fan­cies him­self an hon­orary bor­der patrol agent, going so far as to pose with Texas Gov­er­nor Rick Per­ry, prac­ti­cal­ly hump­ing a gigan­tic machine gun along shores of the Rio Grande. One of the many incon­sis­ten­cies with Hannity’s pos­ture on immi­gra­tion across the south­ern bor­der of the U.S. is that it entire­ly over­looks the com­plete­ly wide-open north­ern bor­der. Couldn’t so-called evil­do­ers eas­i­ly enter the coun­try from Cana­da? It’d be much eas­i­er than enter­ing through Mex­i­co.

    So, dur­ing a “spe­cial edi­tion” of his show the oth­er day, Han­ni­ty was asked by Bob Beck­el if he also sup­ports a fence along our north­ern bor­der with Cana­da.

    HANNITY: My point is, don’t you think it would be in our best inter­est if we want to not get hit again by ter­ror­ists to maybe secure our bor­der?

    BECKEL: I don’t think that’s the place you need to wor­ry about it.

    HANNITY: You don’t want to secure the bor­der?

    BECKEL: No, of course I want to secure the bor­der. But I think that’s a fool’s game. You keep talk­ing about it, as if some­how – you keep talk­ing about this, theRe­pub­li­cans and the right-wing keep talk­ing about arm­ing the bor­der, 12 foot fence and I’ve told you over and over again, I’ll buy the 13-foot lad­der. You’re sil­ly. You’re being sil­ly. [...]

    BECKEL: I just want to say that when you lis­ten to Hunter, and you start spread­ing this fear about ISIS com­ing through the bor­der of Mex­i­co, it is absurd. Cana­da would be a place you might want to come through. There is no orga­nized –

    HANNITY: I’d put a fence there too. Colonel —

    BECKEL: Oh you would put a fence by Cana­da? That would make some news, now. Are you sure?

    Wow. In addi­tion to build­ing a fence (not a hefty Berlin Wall like Bill O’Reilly sug­gest­ed, just a fence) along the rest of the bor­der with Mex­i­co, with the price tag of $4.8 bil­lion. That’s rough­ly $3.5 mil­lion per mile. A fence along all 3,987 miles of the Cana­di­an bor­der would cost around $14 bil­lion, and that doesn’t include the 1,538 bor­der between Cana­da and Alas­ka. And then what? Unless we have guards patrolling the fence, what’s to keep ISIS ter­ror­ists from cut­ting the fence and walk­ing right in? Okay, then add bor­der patrol agents every few hun­dred feet, on guard 24-hours-a-day. How much will that cost? A lot. Odd that Han­ni­ty, who despis­es gov­ern­ment spend­ing, wouldn’t mind an infra­struc­ture project on that scale. All told, he wants to spend $14 bil­lion on a total­ly inef­fec­tu­al fence. Smart.

    Are you excit­ed for Fortress Amer­i­ca? The ani­mals aren’t, but they were prob­a­bly plan­ning on eat­ing you any­ways. Ok, it will prob­a­bly still be more like “Bub­bly Boy Amer­i­ca” than “Fortress Amer­i­ca” but these are minor details.

    Also, keep in mind that it’s not going be a true fortress even if the US decides to build some sort of impen­e­tra­ble super wall in both the north and south. Why? All those oceans! Aren’t the Ebo­la-infect­ed ter­ror­ists just going to use a boat? So should­n’t the US be build­ing and man­ning giant sea walls along the entire US coast line or are folks like Han­ni­ty only con­cerned about the ter­ror­ists unable to afford a boat? Sure, with ~95k miles of shore­lines this isn’t going to be a quick fix, so maybe we should just start build­ing the super sea­walls along coastal cities. Who knows, even if the cities were the only areas for­ti­fied and the rest of the super sea­wall was nev­er fin­ished it might still be worth the costs:

    Think Progress
    Worst-Case Sce­nario For Sea Lev­el Rise Is 6 Feet By 2100 — Or Is It Worse Than That?

    by Joe Romm Post­ed on Octo­ber 16, 2014 at 11:04 am

    The worst-case sce­nario for sea lev­el rise is 6 feet (1.8 meters) by 2100, accord­ing to a new study. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, this study is already out of date because it is based on expert opin­ion from back in 2012.

    This year, how­ev­er, we’ve seen mul­ti­ple bomb­shell stud­ies on the grow­ing prospect for West Antarc­tic Ice Sheet col­lapse — and sim­i­lar find­ings that “Green­land will be far greater con­trib­u­tor to sea rise than expect­ed.”

    Even so, the plau­si­ble worst-case is impor­tant to under­stand because it is what should dri­ve plan­ning and “adap­ta­tion.” Also, avoid­ing the worst-case is typ­i­cal­ly a dri­ving force behind pre­ven­tion mea­sures (peo­ple quit smok­ing because it might kill them or cause can­cer) — in this case, slash­ing car­bon pol­lu­tion.

    In fact, as the study points out, giv­en a suf­fi­cient lev­el of risk of high cli­mate impacts, “no cost of mit­i­ga­tion is too high to jus­ti­fy.” Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, as the news release for the study notes, the major Fifth Assess­ment report (AR5) of the U.N.’s Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change (IPCC) “was not able to come up with an upper lim­it for sea lev­el rise with­in this cen­tu­ry.”

    There are five core con­trib­u­tors to warm­ing-dri­ven sea lev­el rise, accord­ing to the study:

    * Ther­mal expan­sion
    * Glac­i­er ice loss
    * Green­land ice loss
    * Antarc­tic Ice loss
    * Changes in land water stor­age

    Ther­mal expan­sion is sim­ply (ocean) water expand­ing as it warms up. Moun­tain glac­i­ers that melt also con­tribute to sea lev­el rise. Also, large amounts of ground­wa­ter are “pumped for both drink­ing water and agri­cul­tur­al use in many parts of the world and more ground­wa­ter is pumped than seeps back down into the ground, so this water also ends up in the oceans,” con­tribut­ing to sea lev­el rise.
    These three fac­tors are rel­a­tive­ly straight­for­ward to esti­mate. The study uses the uncer­tain­ty dis­tri­b­u­tions from the AR5 to deter­mine the prob­a­bil­i­ty of dif­fer­ent out­comes.

    But fig­ur­ing out ice sheet loss in Green­land and Antarc­ti­ca is more com­pli­cat­ed, requir­ing knowl­edge of com­plex ice sheet dynam­ics that are not yet ful­ly under­stood and mod­eled. So the authors “replaced the AR5 pro­jec­tion uncer­tain­ties for both ice sheets with prob­a­bil­i­ty dis­tri­b­u­tion func­tion cal­cu­lat­ed from the col­lec­tive view of thir­teen ice sheet experts” deter­mined in a Jan­u­ary 2013 study.

    Here were the results:
    [see pic]

    As you can see, the experts esti­mat­ed Green­land would prob­a­bly con­tribute under 0.2 meters (20 cen­time­ters or 8 inch­es). Same for Antarc­ti­ca. Notice also that the “fat tail” of the dis­tri­b­u­tion — the slow trail off on the right hand side of the fig­ures rep­re­sent­ing the high­est (i.e. worst case) sea lev­el rise — comes almost entire­ly from Antarc­ti­ca and not Green­land.

    Here is their result­ing cumu­la­tive sea lev­el rise pro­jec­tion for the busi­ness-as-usu­al RCP8.5 emis­sions sce­nario (where the world keeps doing very lit­tle to restrict car­bon pol­lu­tion or car­bon cycle feed­backs like the melt­ing per­mafrost are high):
    [see pic]

    This is how the study comes to the con­clu­sion that “seas will like­ly rise around 80 cm” [31 inch­es] by 2100, and that “the worst case [only a 5% chance] is an increase of 180 cm [6 feet].”

    Of course, the expert opin­ions are now more than two years oldd. And so the authors of the new study note:

    We acknowl­edge that this may have changed since its pub­li­ca­tion. For exam­ple, it is quite pos­si­ble that the recent series of stud­ies of the Amund­sen Sea Sec­tor and West Antarc­tic ice sheet col­lapse will alter expert opin­ion.

    In fact, expert opin­ion already has changed. NASA’s Eric Rig­not, the authors of one of the two stud­ies from May on WAIS col­lapse, told me at the time that if we stay near our cur­rent emis­sions path, then “I think that the min­i­mum will be the upper end of the IPCC pro­jec­tions (90 cm [12 inch­es]) by 2100 and the max­i­mum is hard to fig­ure out but will like­ly exceed 1.2 – 1.4 meters.” Note that the May stud­ies were not worst-case analy­ses!

    One week after the WAIS stud­ies, a sim­i­lar­ly stun­ning Green­land study came out with a sim­i­lar con­clu­sion, that its ice sheet was far less sta­ble than thought. Indeed that study not­ed that “old­er mod­els pre­dict­ed that once high­er ground was reached in a few years, the ocean-induced melt­ing would halt. Greenland’s frozen mass would stop shrink­ing, and its effect on high­er sea waters would be cur­tailed.” But as the lead author explained, “That turns out to be incor­rect. The glac­i­ers of Green­land are like­ly to retreat faster and far­ther inland than antic­i­pat­ed — and for much longer.” And that means Green­land “glac­i­er melt will con­tribute much more to ris­ing seas around the globe.”

    ...

    Not impressed by the nation­al sea­wall plan? Ok, how about build­ing lots and lots and lots of canals? The nation­al secu­ri­ty util­i­ty of canals may not be obvi­ous to the anti-ter­ror lay­man. But for a nation­al secu­ri­ty expert like Sean Han­ni­ty the val­ue of anti-ter­ror canals should be obvi­ous.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 16, 2014, 12:57 pm
  36. What hap­pens when the water runs out? We’ll find out soon­er or lat­er. Prob­a­bly soon­er:

    Drought-hit Sao Paulo may ‘get water from mud’: TRFN

    By Adri­ana Brasileiro

    Sat Nov 29, 2014 3:41am EST

    RIO DE JANEIRO (Thom­son Reuters Foun­da­tion) — São Paulo, Brazil’s drought-hit megac­i­ty of 20 mil­lion, has about two months of guar­an­teed water sup­ply remain­ing as it taps into the sec­ond of three emer­gency reserves, offi­cials say.

    .The city began using its sec­ond so-called “tech­ni­cal reserve” 10 days ago to pre­vent a water cri­sis after reser­voirs reached crit­i­cal­ly low lev­els last month.

    This is the first time the state has resort­ed to using the reserves, experts say.

    “If we take into account the same pat­tern of water extrac­tion and rain­fall that we’ve seen so far this month – and it’s been rain­ing less than half of the aver­age – we can say the (reserve) will last up to 60 days,” said Marus­sia Whate­ly, a water resources spe­cial­ist at envi­ron­men­tal NGO Insti­tu­to Socioam­bi­en­tal.

    But an expect­ed increase in water usage dur­ing the upcom­ing Christ­mas and New Year’s hol­i­days could eas­i­ly reduce the time the reserve will last, she added.

    After that peri­od, there is no cer­tain­ty over the water sup­ply avail­able to Brazil’s wealth­i­est city and finan­cial cen­ter, Whate­ly said.

    If rain doesn’t replen­ish the Cantareira sys­tem — the main group of reser­voirs that sup­ply São Paulo — the city could run dry, she said.

    FINAL RESERVE

    A third and final tech­ni­cal reserve might be used, but it is dif­fi­cult to access and mixed with silt that could make pump­ing it to users dif­fi­cult, accord­ing to Vicente Andreu, the pres­i­dent of the water reg­u­la­to­ry agency ANA.

    “I believe that, tech­ni­cal­ly, it would be unvi­able. But if it doesn’t rain, we won’t have an alter­na­tive but to get water from the mud,” Andreu said at a hear­ing about the water cri­sis in Brasilia’s Low­er House of Con­gress on Nov. 13.

    Brazil’s south­east region is suf­fer­ing its worst drought in at least 80 years after an unusu­al­ly dry year left rivers and reser­voirs at crit­i­cal­ly low lev­els.

    Anto­nio Nobre, a lead­ing cli­mate sci­en­tist at INPE, Brazil’s Nation­al Space Research Insti­tute, has linked Brazil’s wors­en­ing drought to glob­al warm­ing and defor­esta­tion in the Ama­zon. Both are dras­ti­cal­ly reduc­ing the release of bil­lions of liters of water by rain­for­est trees, which reduces rain­fall fur­ther south, he said.

    ...

    LOOKING TO 2015

    The Alliance for Water, a grow­ing group of NGOs that includes Green­peace, The Nature Con­ser­van­cy and WWF, is demand­ing a plan to pre­pare for next year’s dry sea­son, which starts in April.

    “We are start­ing 2015 with a seri­ous deficit that won’t be resolved this sum­mer, so we must start think­ing about what to do in April, when the dry sea­son begins and we won’t have any more tech­ni­cal reserves to use,” said Whate­ly, who is coor­di­nat­ing the Alliance for Water.

    Sabe­sp, the water util­i­ty that serves São Paulo, accessed a first emer­gency water reserve in May total­ing 480 bil­lion liters.

    That reserve start­ed to run out in the sec­ond half of Octo­ber, and reser­voirs reached just 3 per­cent of their capac­i­ty on Oct. 21.

    State-owned Sabe­sp was then allowed to tap a sec­ond emer­gency reserve, of 106 bil­lion liters, lift­ing reser­voir capac­i­ty above 10 per­cent.

    But now, just weeks after this sec­ond emer­gency sup­ply start­ed to be used, water lev­els at the Cantareira reser­voirs are once again below 10 per­cent, accord­ing to the com­pa­ny.

    The third reserve, with 200 bil­lion liters of water, is the deep­est, and is locat­ed in small­er reser­voirs and in pas­sage­ways that con­nect reser­voirs, which are hard­er to tap.

    Unlike the water in the reser­voirs, which are drawn by grav­i­ty, the reserves water must be pumped out, accord­ing to ANA’s Andreu.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | December 1, 2014, 10:19 am
  37. Rejoice! The glass is 56% full. Let’s take a big gulp to cel­e­brate.

    *gulp*

    Ewww...tastes like fer­til­iz­er:

    Sci­ence 2.0
    Human­i­ty Is Already 44 Per­cent Doomed — Paper
    By News Staff | Jan­u­ary 15th 2015 06:26 PM

    A new paper says that human civ­i­liza­tion has crossed four of nine so-called plan­e­tary bound­aries as the result of human activ­i­ty that put human­i­ty in a “safe oper­at­ing space.”

    The four that are already beyond that point-of-no-return are cli­mate change, the loss of bios­phere integri­ty, land-sys­tem change, and altered bio­geo­chem­i­cal cycles like phos­pho­rus and nitro­gen runoff. That makes us 44 per­cent of the way on the path to doom.

    ...

    For the last 11,700 years until rough­ly 100 years ago, Earth had been in a “remark­ably sta­ble state,” says Car­pen­ter. Dur­ing this time, known as the Holocene epoch, “every­thing impor­tant to civ­i­liza­tion” has occurred. From the devel­op­ment of agri­cul­ture, to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, to the Indus­tri­al Rev­o­lu­tion, the Holocene has been a good time for human endeav­ors.

    But over the last cen­tu­ry, some of the para­me­ters that made the Holocene so hos­pitable have changed.

    While the study focus­es on sev­er­al of these, includ­ing cli­mate change and a trou­bling loss of bio­di­ver­si­ty, Car­pen­ter led the exam­i­na­tion of bio­geo­chem­i­cal cycle changes. Specif­i­cal­ly, Car­pen­ter looked at two ele­ments essen­tial to life as we know it, phos­pho­rus and nitro­gen.

    Both are wide­ly used to fer­til­ize crops, and the rise of large-scale, indus­tri­al agri­cul­ture has led to an immense increase in the amount of the chem­i­cals enter­ing our ecosys­tems.

    “We’ve changed nitro­gen and phos­pho­rus cycles vast­ly more than any oth­er ele­ment,” Car­pen­ter says. “(The increase) is on the order of 200 to 300 per­cent. In con­trast, car­bon has only been increased 10 to 20 per­cent and look at all the uproar that has caused in the cli­mate.”

    The increase in phos­pho­rus and nitro­gen has been espe­cial­ly detri­men­tal to water qual­i­ty. Phos­pho­rus load­ing is the lead­ing cause of both harm­ful algal blooms and the oxy­gen-starved “dead zone” in Lake Erie. Like­wise, nitro­gen flow­ing down the Mis­sis­sip­pi Riv­er is the main cul­prit behind the “dead zone” in the Gulf of Mex­i­co.

    While nitro­gen and phos­pho­rus lev­els over­all are well beyond the Holocene bound­aries, Car­pen­ter says the chem­i­cal load isn’t spread even­ly over the plan­et.

    “There are places that are real­ly, real­ly over­loaded with nutri­ent pol­lu­tion,” he says. “Wis­con­sin and the entire Great Lakes region are some of those. But there are oth­er places where bil­lions of peo­ple live that are under­sup­plied with nitro­gen and phos­pho­rus.”

    For instance, much of Africa is large­ly lack­ing these two essen­tial ele­ments, Car­pen­ter says. “We’ve got cer­tain parts of the world that are over­pol­lut­ed with nitro­gen and phos­pho­rus, and oth­ers where peo­ple don’t even have enough to grow the food they need.”

    It’s a “dis­tri­b­u­tion prob­lem,” Car­pen­ter says, and sug­gests places like the Mid­west­ern U.S. could vast­ly reduce its use of fer­til­iz­ers and still main­tain pro­duc­tive crops while nutri­ent-poor regions of the globe increase their use — all while keep­ing the glob­al lev­els safe­ly with­in the study’s pre­scribed “plan­e­tary bound­ary.”

    ...

    Cita­tion: ‘Plan­e­tary bound­aries: Guid­ing human devel­op­ment on a chang­ing plan­et’, Will Stef­fen, Kather­ine Richard­son, Johan Rock­ström, Sarah E. Cor­nell, Ingo Fet­zer, Ele­na M. Ben­nett, R. Big­gs, Stephen R. Car­pen­ter, Wim de Vries, Cyn­thia A. de Wit, Carl Folke, Dieter Gerten, Jens Heinke, Georgina M. Mace, Linn M. Pers­son, Veer­ab­had­ran Ramanathan, B. Rey­ers, and Sverk­er Sör­lin , Sci­ence 1259855 15 Jnan­uary 2015 DOI:10.1126/science.1259855. It will be dis­cussed next week at the World Eco­nom­ic Forum in Davos, Switzer­land.

    “There are places that are real­ly, real­ly over­loaded with nutri­ent pollution...Wisconsin and the entire Great Lakes region are some of those. But there are oth­er places where bil­lions of peo­ple live that are under­sup­plied with nitro­gen and phos­pho­rus.”
    Well, at least it’s just a “dis­tri­b­u­tion prob­lem”, and not a “globe’s sources of fer­til­iz­er are about to run out prob­lem”. But it’s also a reminder that plan­ning on feed­ing the world through con­cen­trat­ed region­al “bread bas­kets” is going to increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult while we’re still rely­ing on the kinds of agri­cul­tur­al prac­tices that cre­ate grow­ing “dead zones”. And oth­er parts of the world are going to need to be able to afford to buy from those glob­al “bread bas­kets”.

    So it’s sort of down to human­i­ty’s abil­i­ty to exert col­lec­tive self-con­trol plus our abil­i­ty to bal­ance the long-term sus­tain­abil­i­ty of the oceans’ ecosys­tems with grow­ing demands for food and oth­er agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts. Of course, since we pro­duce enough food to feed 10 bil­lion peo­ple today but still have over a bil­lion peo­ple suf­fer­ing chron­ic mal­nour­ish­ment due to some­thing as insane as “we won’t make as much mon­ey if we do that”, it’s unclear what the dri­ving force is going to be for imple­ment­ing sane food pro­duc­tion prac­tices.

    Sor­ry ocean life. Slow motion mass cat­a­stro­phes are just what we do. It’s what’s prof­itable.

    In oth­er news...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 17, 2015, 9:12 pm
  38. Check it out: The 2005 smash hit Man­s­qui­to might be get­ting a sequel! It’s going to be a doc­u­men­tary:

    Mil­lions of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied mos­qui­toes could be released
    USA Today Net­work AP 8:44 a.m. EST Jan­u­ary 26, 2015

    KEY WEST, Fla. (AP) — Mil­lions of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied mos­qui­toes could be released in the Flori­da Keys if British researchers win approval to use the bugs against two extreme­ly painful viral dis­eases.

    Nev­er before have insects with mod­i­fied DNA come so close to being set loose in a res­i­den­tial U.S. neigh­bor­hood.

    “This is essen­tial­ly using a mos­qui­to as a drug to cure dis­ease,” said Michael Doyle, exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Flori­da Keys Mos­qui­to Con­trol Dis­trict, which is wait­ing to hear if the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion will allow the exper­i­ment.

    Dengue and chikun­gun­ya are grow­ing threats in the U.S., but some peo­ple are more fright­ened at the thought of being bit­ten by a genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied organ­ism. More than 130,000 peo­ple signed a Change.org peti­tion against the exper­i­ment.

    Even poten­tial boost­ers say those respon­si­ble must do more to show that ben­e­fits out­weigh the risks of breed­ing mod­i­fied insects that could bite peo­ple.

    “I think the sci­ence is fine, they def­i­nite­ly can kill mos­qui­toes, but the GMO issue still sticks as some­thing of a thorny issue for the gen­er­al pub­lic,” said Phil Louni­bos, who stud­ies mos­qui­to con­trol at the Flori­da Med­ical Ento­mol­o­gy Lab­o­ra­to­ry.

    Mos­qui­to con­trollers say they’re run­ning out of options. With cli­mate change and glob­al­iza­tion spread­ing trop­i­cal dis­eases far­ther from the equa­tor, storm winds, car­go ships and humans car­ry these virus­es to places like Key West, the south­ern­most city in the con­ti­nen­tal U.S.

    There are no vac­cines or cures for dengue, known as “break-bone fever,” or chikun­gun­ya, so painful it caus­es con­tor­tions. U.S. cas­es remain rare.

    Insec­ti­cides are sprayed year-round in the Keys’ charm­ing and crowd­ed neigh­bor­hoods. But Aedes aegyp­ti, whose bit­ing females spread these dis­eases, have evolved to resist four of the six insec­ti­cides used to kill them.

    Enter Oxitec, a British biotech firm that patent­ed a method of breed­ing Aedes aegyp­ti with frag­ments of genes from the her­pes sim­plex virus and E. coli bac­te­ria as well as coral and cab­bage. This syn­thet­ic DNA is com­mon­ly used in lab­o­ra­to­ry sci­ence and is thought to pose no sig­nif­i­cant risks to oth­er ani­mals, but it kills mos­qui­to lar­vae.

    Oxitec’s lab work­ers man­u­al­ly remove mod­i­fied females, aim­ing to release only males, which don’t bite for blood like females do. The mod­i­fied males then mate with wild females whose off­spring die, reduc­ing the pop­u­la­tion.

    Oxitec has built a breed­ing lab in Marathon and hopes to release its mos­qui­toes in a Key West neigh­bor­hood this spring.

    FDA spokes­woman There­sa Eisen­man said no field tests will be allowed until the agency has “thor­ough­ly reviewed all the nec­es­sary infor­ma­tion.”

    Com­pa­ny spokes­woman Chris Creese said the test will be sim­i­lar in size to Oxitec’s 2012 exper­i­ment in the Cay­man Islands, where 3.3 mil­lion mod­i­fied mos­qui­toes were released over six months, sup­press­ing 96 per­cent of the tar­get­ed bugs. Oxitec says a lat­er test in Brazil also was suc­cess­ful, and both coun­tries now want larg­er-scale projects.

    But crit­ics accused Oxitec of fail­ing to obtain informed con­sent in the Cay­mans, say­ing res­i­dents weren’t told they could be bit­ten by a few stray females over­looked in the lab.

    Instead, Oxitec said only non-bit­ing males would be released, and that even if humans were some­how bit­ten, no genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied DNA would enter their blood­stream.

    Nei­ther claim is entire­ly true, out­side observers say.

    “I’m on their side, in that con­se­quences are high­ly unlike­ly. But to say that there’s no genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied DNA that might get into a human, that’s kind of a gray mat­ter,” said Louni­bos.

    ...

    Key West res­i­dent Mar­i­lyn Smith was­n’t per­suad­ed after Oxitec’s pre­sen­ta­tion at a pub­lic meet­ing. She says nei­ther dis­ease has had a major out­break yet in Flori­da, so “why are we being used as the exper­i­ment, the guinea pigs, just to see what hap­pens?”

    Will the EPA sign on to the pro­posed Man­s­qui­to sequel? That remains to be seen, but keep in mind that Flori­da res­i­dents seem to real­ly enjoy rehash­ing bad sci-fi hor­ror, so the local oppo­si­tion might be lim­it­ed.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | January 27, 2015, 11:28 am
  39. Well here’s a some good news for the starv­ing mass­es of the future: researchers are mak­ing progress on drought-resis­tant crops. So while all the oth­er drought-relat­ed awful­ness is still on the way, and non-mod­i­fied plants liv­ing in the wild will still pre­sum­ably per­ish, at least your descen­dents might not total­ly starve:

    Chris­t­ian Sci­ence Mon­i­tor
    Sci­en­tists tin­ker with plant recep­tors, pro­duce drought-resis­tant crops

    By tweak­ing a plan­t’s abil­i­ty to reg­u­late water, sci­en­tists could make plants that sur­vive longer in dry con­di­tions.

    By Claire Fel­ter, Staff Writer Feb­ru­ary 5, 2015

    Evi­dence of increas­ing lev­els of drought in some regions puts at risk the abil­i­ty to suc­cess­ful­ly grow crops there. But what if plants could bet­ter keep their water sup­ply from shrink­ing?

    Sci­en­tists have tweaked plants’ chem­i­cal recep­tors that reg­u­late water use so that they respond to a com­mon­ly used fungi­cide and, as a result, con­serve water. The find­ings, which were pub­lished Wednes­day in the jour­nal Nature, may allow for crops to become more resis­tant to drought and heat stress.

    Plants geneti­cists have known for some time that plants con­tain recep­tors that sig­nal whether to con­serve water or use it, but for years sci­en­tists were unable to locate these recep­tors. In 2009, a num­ber of research teams pin­point­ed the recep­tors’ loca­tion and began inves­ti­gat­ing ways to manip­u­late them to improve crop pro­duc­tion. One of those teams was led by Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, River­side, plant biol­o­gist Sean Cut­ler, and the group’s most recent work changes the way plant recep­tors work.

    Nor­mal­ly, when a plant is not receiv­ing suf­fi­cient water, it begins to increase pro­duc­tion of abscisic acid (ABA). The chem­i­cal acts as the cat­a­lyst for abscisic acid recep­tors to reg­u­late water use. And those recep­tors, which are part of a larg­er sig­nal­ing net­work, do that by con­trol­ling the aper­ture of the plant’s stom­a­ta, or pores. The less open the pores are, the less water escapes.

    “Plants face this intrin­sic trade-off between grow­ing and con­sum­ing water. There’s a need for the plant to coor­di­nate its growth with how much water is avail­able,” Cut­ler told the Mon­i­tor. “And plants use a small mol­e­cule hor­mone called abscisic acid to sort of make that sig­nal­ing occur.”

    So Cut­ler and his col­leagues devel­oped a new ver­sion of the ABA recep­tor that, when exposed to a com­mon­ly used fungi­cide called mandipropamid, respond­ed in the same way it typ­i­cal­ly does to abscisic acid. The mandipropamid sig­naled the guard cells, which sur­round the stom­a­ta, to close the pores in order to keep water vapor in, rather than allow­ing it to escape in exchange for car­bon diox­ide.

    Mandipropamid was a win-win for the research team: the chem­i­cal pro­vid­ed the research team with suc­cess­ful response by the altered recep­tor, and it had already passed the reg­u­la­to­ry hur­dles for use on farms.

    “We want­ed to take a mol­e­cule that was already used in agri­cul­ture so it had already gone through all those hur­dles,” says Cut­ler. “We knew there was no intrin­sic bar­ri­er to it being used in the field.”

    They test­ed the recep­tors in Ara­bidop­sis, an edi­ble plant in the mus­tard fam­i­ly that is wide­ly used in genet­ic test­ing, but they also saw the recep­tors work in toma­to plants, a crop grown on almost every con­ti­nent.

    Repur­pos­ing the agro­chem­i­cal in this way is pro­vid­ing one solu­tion to a seri­ous glob­al issue: food secu­ri­ty. Though sub­stan­tial­ly more crops will be need­ed in the near future to sup­port the world’s pop­u­la­tion, large quan­ti­ties of poten­tial food are being lost to drought each year, says Cut­ler. And although the find­ings of Cut­ler and his col­leagues don’t yet address instances of extreme drought, com­mon cas­es where farm­ers lose, say, one third of their crop yields could be resolved by the tech­nique.

    “All crops – all plants – need water to grow,” says Cut­ler. “We’re not going to turn toma­toes or corn into cac­ti, but what we’re try­ing to do is recov­er as much of the yield that gets lost to mod­er­ate drought.”

    Alter­ing the ABA recep­tor, how­ev­er, does mean these plants bet­ter equipped to han­dle drought would be genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied ones. Some plant sci­en­tists claim that, by intro­duc­ing for­eign genes into plants, con­se­quences like harm­ful muta­tions or the intro­duc­tion of new pathogens could arise. Cut­ler argues that the new ABA recep­tor isn’t entire­ly for­eign: they’re plac­ing a plant gene back into a plant.

    “We’re tin­ker­ing with the plant gene. We’re not putting back in things that were nev­er ever there,” says Cut­ler.

    Now the research team will spend more time inves­ti­gat­ing toma­to plants and oth­er wide­ly-used crops to see how well they per­form with the new recep­tors. They also hope to make the repro­grammed recep­tors as tar­get­ed as pos­si­ble, so as to help the plant con­serve water while avoid­ing any unde­sir­able effects, like a plant’s leaves dry­ing out and turn­ing yel­low.

    ...

    “And although the find­ings of Cut­ler and his col­leagues don’t yet address instances of extreme drought, com­mon cas­es where farm­ers lose, say, one third of their crop yields could be resolved by the tech­nique.” Yep, while help­ful, the tech­nique still does­n’t address the extreme droughts pre­dict­ed for this cen­tu­ry.

    Still, know­ing how to make plants more drought-resis­tant will clear­ly going to be use­ful. Espe­cial­ly since the ocean life, an obvi­ous food source for a drought-prone future, hap­pens to be dis­solv­ing away:

    Think Progress
    Maine Report Warns Of ‘Urgent’ Need To Address Ocean Acid­i­fi­ca­tion

    by Katie Valen­tine Post­ed on Feb­ru­ary 6, 2015 at 9:06 am

    Maine will soon need to make “hard deci­sions” on what to do to pro­tect its rapid­ly acid­i­fy­ing waters, accord­ing to a new report.

    The report, released Thurs­day by a com­mis­sion charged with study­ing the impacts ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion has on Maine’s marine envi­ron­ment crea­tures — includ­ing lucra­tive lob­sters and oth­er crus­taceans — states that, for Maine and its seafood indus­try, address­ing ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion is an “urgent” mat­ter. After review­ing the sci­en­tif­ic lit­er­a­ture on ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, the pan­el, which con­tained marine sci­en­tists, state law­mak­ers, a fish­er­man, mem­bers of an envi­ron­men­tal group, and oth­ers, said that Maine — and the U.S. in gen­er­al — need­ed more research on ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and its impacts.

    “Per­haps the most alarm­ing of the commission’s find­ings is how much we do not know about ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and how it will affect Maine’s com­mer­cial­ly impor­tant species, includ­ing the icon­ic lob­ster,” the report’s authors write.

    Ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion is an often-ignored effect of car­bon pol­lu­tion — increased lev­els of CO2 in the atmos­phere not only trap heat, but also sat­u­rate the oceans, cre­at­ing high­er lev­els of car­bon­ic acid. This makes the water more acidic, which endan­gers marine life, includ­ing corals, shell­fish and plank­ton.

    The com­mis­sion spells out six goals in the report that Maine should meet if it wants to seri­ous­ly address ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion. The first is to invest in more research on ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and how it’s affect­ing Maine’s seafood indus­try, and the oth­ers include reduc­ing car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, find­ing ways for Maine to mit­i­gate and adapt to ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, and strength­en­ing efforts to lim­it runoff from farms and oth­er sources. The com­mis­sion also is rec­om­mend­ing that Maine set up a per­ma­nent coun­cil that will con­tin­ue to study ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and advise law­mak­ers on the best ways to address it.

    Richard Nel­son, a Maine lob­ster­man and mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, said that the threats that ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion and cli­mate change pose to lob­sters are trou­bling to him. One study has found that ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion makes lob­sters devel­op more slow­ly, and anoth­er found that ris­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures could be mak­ing baby lob­sters hard­er to come by off the coast of Maine. Nel­son said that, with­out lob­ster, many Maine towns would be in trou­ble finan­cial­ly. Maine’s fish­er­men used to fish for mul­ti­ple species through­out the year — ground­fish dur­ing some sea­sons and scal­lops and lob­sters dur­ing oth­ers. But deplet­ed stocks have forced fish­er­men to become heav­i­ly reliant on lob­ster.

    “A lot of Maine has turned into sin­gle-species fish­ery now,” Nel­son said. “Lobster’s about the only game in town. The prob­lem is, if some­thing now hap­pens to the lob­ster, there’s a lot of com­mu­ni­ties that are total­ly reliant eco­nom­i­cal­ly on lob­sters.”

    Nelson’s not only wor­ried about lob­sters them­selves, though. He said he’s con­cerned about the entire ocean food­chain, espe­cial­ly the crea­tures at the bot­tom of it, like plank­ton, that have a hard time build­ing their shells in an over­ly-acidic envi­ron­ment.

    And Nelson’s also not the only fish­er­men who’s wor­ried about the impacts cli­mate change and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion will have on his indus­try — and on the ocean as a whole. A poll last month by the Cen­ter for Amer­i­can Progress found that 65 per­cent of com­mer­cial fish­er­men in New Eng­land think that cli­mate change could one day force them out of the fish­ing indus­try. It also found that about 40 per­cent think changes in the ocean are a “bad thing” for their busi­ness, and that 63 per­cent of Maine lob­ster­men had noticed “warmer water tem­per­a­tures” while fish­ing.

    Sci­en­tists have rec­om­mend­ed can­cel­ing Maine’s shrimp sea­son two years in a row due to mas­sive die-offs caused in part by increas­ing ocean tem­per­a­tures.

    Maine law­mak­ers appear poised to take the issue seri­ous­ly, how­ev­er. On Thurs­day, law­mak­ers intro­duced four bills aimed at slow­ing acid­i­fi­ca­tion off the coast of Maine. Two of the bills would lim­it runoff pol­lu­tion, which, in addi­tion to car­bon diox­ide emis­sions, con­tributes to ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion, and one would cre­ate a $3 mil­lion bond to mon­i­tor pol­lu­tion sources along Maine’s coast. The fourth would ensure the ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion com­mis­sion remains in oper­a­tion for the next three years.

    These bills might run into some trou­ble from Maine’s Gov. Paul LeP­age ®, who denies the real­i­ty of cli­mate change and has vetoed leg­is­la­tion in the past that would have cre­at­ed work­ing group to deliv­er pro­pos­als for how the state can adapt to cli­mate change. But the law­mak­ers in charge of the bills aren’t back­ing down just yet.

    ...

    “These bills might run into some trou­ble from Maine’s Gov. Paul LeP­age ®, who denies the real­i­ty of cli­mate change and has vetoed leg­is­la­tion in the past that would have cre­at­ed work­ing group to deliv­er pro­pos­als for how the state can adapt to cli­mate change”.

    If any­one knows any lob­sters that hap­pen to be Sov­er­eign Cit­i­zens it would be great if you could con­vince them to get involved and start lob­by­ing LeP­age. The lob­sters lob­by is going to need all the help it can get. Along with every­thing else:

    The New York Times
    Sun­day Review
    The Death of the Dinosaurs

    By PETER BRANNEN JAN. 31, 2015
    BOSTON — BY now the image of the demise of the dinosaurs has become icon­ic: a luck­less tyran­nosaur look­ing over its shoul­der as a colos­sal fire­ball from heav­en bears down on the hori­zon, the monster’s death by vapor­iza­tion immi­nent.

    Hang­ing above the desk of the Prince­ton geol­o­gist Ger­ta Keller, though, is a dif­fer­ent artist’s depic­tion. This time it’s a pair of tyran­nosaurs — still doomed — but not by an errant space rock. In this pic­ture they’re writhing on the ground in a with­ered land­scape as erup­tions from vol­ca­noes and fis­sures in the ground tear the earth apart.

    These dinosaurs were killed not by the lava itself, but by the envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phe unleashed by the vol­canic gas­es. It was an end time of glob­al warm­ing, acid rain and acid­i­fy­ing oceans that might sound famil­iar today as a vast body of sci­en­tif­ic research warns us of our own devel­op­ing eco­log­i­cal cri­sis.

    The dif­fer­ence between these two pic­tures rep­re­sents one of the most acri­mo­nious bat­tles in sci­ence.

    The fire­ball image was born in 1980 when the father-son team of Luis and Wal­ter Alvarez at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, dropped an aster­oid on the unsus­pect­ing fields of geol­o­gy and pale­on­tol­ogy, neat­ly explain­ing away one of the most vex­ing prob­lems in sci­ence — the death of the dinosaurs.

    ...

    In the past few decades, as a con­sen­sus has cal­ci­fied around the aster­oid the­o­ry, per­haps no one has endured more ostracism than Dr. Keller, who has long point­ed to enor­mous floods of lava in India, called the Dec­can Traps, as an alter­nate expla­na­tion for the demise of three-quar­ters of all ani­mal and plant life. But her sojourn in the aca­d­e­m­ic wilder­ness may be end­ing as more evi­dence emerges for the dead­li­ness of these vol­ca­noes.

    The plan­et has endured five major mass extinc­tions in which most of its fau­na was wiped away in a geo­log­ic eye blink. They are known as the Big Five. Some, like the End-Per­mi­an mass extinc­tion, 252 mil­lion years ago, were even worse than the cat­a­stro­phe that wiped out the dinosaurs.

    These events had long been mys­te­ri­ous; some 19th-cen­tu­ry nat­ur­al philoso­phers viewed the reboot of the bios­phere that fol­lowed them as evi­dence of sep­a­rate acts of divine cre­ation. With the intro­duc­tion of the Alvarez hypoth­e­sis, there was now a plau­si­ble and testable mech­a­nism for these apoc­a­lypses. Geol­o­gists set out across the plan­et, scour­ing the fos­sil record for evi­dence of aster­oid impacts at each of the oth­er crises in Earth’s his­to­ry. They came up emp­ty.

    Plau­si­ble can­di­dates, like the 62-mile-wide Man­i­coua­gan crater in Que­bec, now a cir­cu­lar sys­tem of lakes, seemed to fit the bill. The aster­oid that cre­at­ed it was large enough, com­put­er mod­els showed, to have wiped out up to a third of life on Earth. But when the crater was dat­ed, there was no evi­dence of such a cat­a­stro­phe.

    Oth­er enor­mous impacts, like the one that cre­at­ed the Chesa­peake Bay 35 mil­lion years ago, left no dis­cernible echoes in the fos­sil record, either.

    While evi­dence for aster­oids at the oth­er mass-extinc­tion bound­aries was hard to come by, researchers did find a coin­ci­dence in time with con­ti­nent-flood­ing cas­cades of lava on a scale unimag­in­able today.

    How these lava flows, known as large igneous provinces, ren­dered their destruc­tion is an active area of study, but some clear sig­na­tures appear at many of the episodes, includ­ing huge injec­tions of car­bon diox­ide into the atmos­phere, intense glob­al warm­ing and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion as car­bon diox­ide was absorbed by the seas.

    In Siberia, one such vol­canic province spewed so much car­bon into the air that parts of the ocean reached — as one pale­on­tol­o­gist put it — the tem­per­a­ture of “hot soup.” Seas became more acidic, as they are becom­ing today, and cal­ci­fy­ing ani­mals like corals died en masse, along with 96 per­cent of ocean life dur­ing the End-Per­mi­an extinc­tion.

    We now know, through the dat­ing of the Pal­isades across from New York City, that 50 mil­lion years lat­er, vir­tu­al­ly the same thing hap­pened at the end of the Tri­as­sic, when lava gushed from the seams of the super­con­ti­nent Pan­gaea as it tore apart.

    That brings us, 135 mil­lion years lat­er, to the most recent of the Big Five: the extinc­tion of the non­bird dinosaurs, along with much else that was liv­ing at the time. It has long been known that huge areas of west­ern India were being smoth­ered in lava, in some places more than a mile deep, close in time to the extinc­tion. Aster­oid pro­po­nents have long dis­missed this vol­can­ism as an irri­tat­ing coin­ci­dence — the smok­ing gun hav­ing already been placed sat­is­fac­to­ri­ly in the hands of a cul­prit from out­er space.

    But Dr. Keller’s team, led by her Prince­ton col­league Blair Schoene, recent­ly dat­ed the Indi­an lava flows with the same pre­cise radio­met­ric dat­ing tech­niques that have recent­ly tied oth­er mas­sive lava flows to mass extinc­tions. The most destruc­tive phase of vol­can­ism, the sci­en­tists found, took place over less than 750,000 years, a geo­log­i­cal­ly brief span, and over­lapped the extinc­tion.

    Dr. Keller points to rocks in Texas, Tunisia and else­where that indi­cate warm­ing episodes of at least 7 degrees Fahren­heit in under 10,000 years, with acid­i­fy­ing oceans that killed all but the hardi­est life-forms, which then thrived for mil­len­ni­ums.

    Still, few are ready to demote the role of the dinosaurs’ aster­oid, which cre­at­ed a crater larg­er than any found in the half-bil­lion-year his­to­ry of ani­mal life. Some experts still con­tend that it was the lone killer. But many now lean toward a one-two punch of a plan­et weak­ened by vol­ca­noes and then crip­pled by the aster­oid. Or vice ver­sa. Or per­haps the coin­ci­dence in time between the aster­oid, the vol­ca­noes and the extinc­tion, is not a coin­ci­dence at all.

    At a meet­ing in Octo­ber of the Geo­log­i­cal Soci­ety of Amer­i­ca, Wal­ter Alvarez patient­ly looked on as Dr. Keller pre­sent­ed her work dis­miss­ing his aster­oid the­o­ry. When it was time for Pro­fes­sor Alvarez’s Berke­ley col­lab­o­ra­tor, Mark Richards, to present his team’s paper, Dr. Richards admit­ted the destruc­tive poten­tial of the Dec­can Traps and called their prox­im­i­ty in the fos­sil record to the aster­oid “the 8,000-pound goril­la in the room.” Per­haps, he said, there was even a causal link between the aster­oid — which induced a mag­ni­tude 12 earth­quake — and the most destruc­tive peri­od of Indi­an vol­can­ism.

    As anoth­er author of the paper, Paul Renne of Berke­ley, explained to me, the aster­oid might have per­turbed Earth’s man­tle and turned an already dis­as­trous vol­canic episode in India apoc­a­lyp­tic. The work bor­ders on spec­u­la­tive at this point and is far from an endorse­ment of Dr. Keller’s con­clu­sions, but it is still a frag­ile olive branch in a field where few have been extend­ed in recent decades.

    “It may be that Chicx­u­lub was the gun and the Dec­can Traps were the bul­let,” Dr. Renne said.

    Isn’t that fas­ci­nat­ing: the dinosaurs may not have been killed off by an aster­oid, at least not exclu­sive­ly. Instead, all of the cli­mate change and ocean acid­i­fi­ca­tion (and lava if you were a real­ly luck­less dinosaur) may have been the required sec­ond “punch” in this “one-two punch” sce­nario. It’s like “syn­thet­ic lethal­i­ty”, but for life on Earth!

    And yet, here we are, with plen­ty of cli­mate change but no aster­oids hurtling towards the Earth. So we’re not quite at a one-two punch sce­nario just yet. Hope­ful­ly that means we can eek through this peri­od with only a minor mass extinc­tion. Or maybe one giant shrug can do the trick. We’ll see.

    So grab some drought-resis­tant snacks and try to enjoy the show.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 6, 2015, 12:59 pm
  40. So, uh, this hap­pened:

    Time
    Watch a Mon­san­to Lob­by­ist Claim a Weed Killer Is Safe to Drink but Then Refuse to Drink It

    Helen Regan @hcregan

    1:51 AM ET

    A lob­by­ist for Mon­san­to, who claimed the company’s Roundup weed killer was safe for humans to drink a large quan­ti­ty of, refused to con­sume some him­self when offered it dur­ing a tele­vi­sion inter­view with French cable chan­nel Canal+.

    Patrick Moore told the jour­nal­ist that the active ingre­di­ent in the her­bi­cide, glyphosate, was not caus­ing can­cer rates in Argenti­na to increase.

    “You can drink a whole quart of it and it won’t hurt you,” he said.

    But when the reporter told him that they had pre­pared a glass and invit­ed Moore to drink it, he refused, say­ing “I’m not stu­pid.”

    “So, it’s dan­ger­ous?” the inter­view­er asked.

    “It’s not dan­ger­ous to humans,” Moore replied.

    He insist­ed that peo­ple “try to com­mit sui­cide” by drink­ing Roundup but “fail reg­u­lar­ly.” Moore then walked out of the inter­view.

    ...

    Maybe he prefers to enjoy his glyphosate in small, chron­ic, invol­un­tary dos­es.

    Also, this hap­pened:

    Nature
    Wide­ly Used Her­bi­cide Linked to Can­cer
    The World Health Orga­ni­za­tion’s research arm declares glyphosate a prob­a­ble car­cino­gen. What’s the evi­dence?
    March 25, 2015

    The can­cer-research arm of the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion last week announced that glyphosate, the world’s most wide­ly used her­bi­cide, is prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to humans. But the assess­ment, by the Inter­na­tion­al Agency for Research on Can­cer (IARC) in Lyon, France, has been fol­lowed by an imme­di­ate back­lash from indus­try groups.

    On March 23, Robb Fra­ley, chief tech­nol­o­gy offi­cer at the agro­chem­i­cal com­pa­ny Mon­san­to in St Louis, Mis­souri, which sells much of the world’s glyphosate, accused the IARC of “cher­ry pick­ing” data. “We are out­raged with this assess­ment,” he said in a state­ment. Nature explains the con­tro­ver­sy.

    What does the IARC report say?
    The IARC reg­u­lar­ly reviews the car­cino­genic­i­ty of indus­tri­al chem­i­cals, food­stuffs and even jobs. On March 20, a pan­el of inter­na­tion­al experts con­vened by the agency report­ed the find­ings of a review of five agri­cul­tur­al chem­i­cals in a class known as organophos­phates. A sum­ma­ry of the study was pub­lished in The Lancet Oncol­o­gy.

    Two of the pes­ti­cides — tetra­chlorv­in­phos and parathion — were rat­ed as “pos­si­bly car­cino­genic to humans”, or cat­e­go­ry 2B. Three — malathion, diazi­non and glyphosate — were rat­ed as “prob­a­bly car­cino­genic to humans”, labelled cat­e­go­ry 2A.

    Why should I care about glyphosate?
    Glyphosate is the world’s most wide­ly pro­duced her­bi­cide, by vol­ume. It is used exten­sive­ly in agri­cul­ture and is also found in gar­den prod­ucts in many coun­tries. The chem­i­cal is an ingre­di­ent in Mon­san­to’s weed­killer prod­uct Roundup, and glyphosate has become more pop­u­lar with the increas­ing mar­ket share of crops that are genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to be tol­er­ant to the her­bi­cide.

    What evi­dence is there for a link between glyphosate and can­cer?
    The IARC review notes that there is lim­it­ed evi­dence for a link to can­cer in humans. Although sev­er­al stud­ies have shown that peo­ple who work with the her­bi­cide seem to be at increased risk of a can­cer type called non-Hodgkin lym­phoma, the report notes that a sep­a­rate huge US study, the Agri­cul­tur­al Health Study, found no link to non-Hodgkin lym­phomas. That study fol­lowed thou­sands of farm­ers and looked at whether they had increased risk of can­cer.

    But oth­er evi­dence, includ­ing from ani­mal stud­ies, led the IARC to its ‘prob­a­bly car­cino­genic’ clas­si­fi­ca­tion. Glyphosate has been linked to tumours in mice and rats — and there is also what the IARC clas­si­fies as ‘mech­a­nis­tic evi­dence’, such as DNA dam­age to human cells from expo­sure to glyphosate.

    Kathryn Guy­ton, a senior tox­i­col­o­gist in the mono­graphs pro­gramme at the IARC and one of the authors of the study, says, “In the case of glyphosate, because the evi­dence in exper­i­men­tal ani­mals was suf­fi­cient and the evi­dence in humans was lim­it­ed, that would put the agent into group 2A.”

    But not every­one agrees?
    An indus­try group of agro­chem­i­cal com­pa­nies called the Glyphosate Task Force said that the agency’s eval­u­a­tion “demon­strates seri­ous defi­cien­cies in terms of method­olog­i­cal approach and the over­all con­clu­sion is incon­sis­tent with the results of all reg­u­la­to­ry reviews con­cern­ing glyphosate’s safe­ty pro­file”.

    Mon­san­to — a mem­ber of the task force — said that rel­e­vant sci­en­tif­ic data that showed no risk was exclud­ed from the review, and the IARC “pur­pose­ful­ly dis­re­gard­ed dozens of sci­en­tif­ic stud­ies”, specif­i­cal­ly genet­ic tox­i­c­i­ty stud­ies.

    But Guy­ton strong­ly defends the IARC process and insists that there is a set of clear rules that lays out which stud­ies can be con­sid­ered by the experts con­vened by the IARC. These are broad­ly lim­it­ed to peer-reviewed pub­li­ca­tions and gov­ern­ment reports, lead­ing to the rejec­tion of a num­ber of indus­try-sub­mit­ted stud­ies.

    ...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 27, 2015, 2:59 pm
  41. One of the inter­est­ing fun facts about hon­ey is that it’s one of the only types of food that basi­cal­ly does­n’t go bad.

    But don’t assume all that hon­ey good­ness is com­ing from good­ness of the bees them­selves. Yes, accord­ing to new research, we’re rais­ing of gen­er­a­tion of bee smok­ers. Ok, not quite smok­ers. But both hon­ey­bees and their wild coun­ter­parts appear to be get­ting hooked on nico­tine-like sub­stances. Bad bees!

    Although you can’t real­ly blame this on the bees them­selves. After all, the nico­tine-like sub­stances they’re get­ting hooked on are the same nico­tine-like sub­stances that we’re spray­ing on their food:

    Bees may get hooked on neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides
    Nico­tine-like pes­ti­cides affect repro­duc­tion, colony growth in some bee species

    Thom­son Reuters
    Post­ed: Apr 22, 2015 3:05 PM ET Last Updat­ed: Apr 22, 2015 3:05 PM ET

    Bees may be get­ting hooked on nec­tar laced with wide­ly used nico­tine-relat­ed chem­i­cals in pes­ti­cides they can­not even taste, in the same way humans are addict­ed to cig­a­rettes, new research has found.

    Adding to evi­dence of poten­tial harm from the chem­i­cals, anoth­er field-scale study pub­lished on Wednes­day also found that expo­sure to so-called neon­i­coti­noids affects repro­duc­tion and colony growth in some bee species.

    Europe has placed restric­tions on three such pes­ti­cides, cit­ing con­cerns for bees, but debate con­tin­ues about the impact of low dos­es on these and oth­er non-tar­get insects.

    Sup­port­ers of neon­i­coti­noids — made by com­pa­nies includ­ing Bay­er and Syn­gen­ta — say they have a major ben­e­fit because they destroy pests and boost crop yields.

    Crit­ics, how­ev­er, fear they con­tribute to a decline in bees, which are cru­cial for crop pol­li­na­tion.

    To find out more, Geral­dine Wright of New­cas­tle Uni­ver­si­ty and col­leagues offered bees a choice of sip­ping on pure sug­ar water or a sug­ar solu­tion con­tain­ing very low dos­es of neon­i­coti­noids.

    Wright said she was shocked to find that hon­ey­bees and bum­ble­bees drank more from pes­ti­cide-con­tain­ing solu­tions, imply­ing that nat­u­ral­ly for­ag­ing bees would do like­wise.<

    “There’s a conun­drum that they are attract­ed to the stuff that actu­al­ly is hav­ing a neg­a­tive impact on their motor func­tion and their abil­i­ty to col­lect food and for­age,” she told reporters.

    The most like­ly rea­son lies in the sim­i­lar­i­ty of the chem­i­cals to nico­tine, which itself is pro­duced by tobac­co plants to pre­vent against attacks by insects. In large amounts it is tox­ic, but a lit­tle bit acts as a drug.

    “As soon as it gets into their blood they are get­ting a lit­tle buzz, as it were, and they are respond­ing to that,” Wright said.

    ...

    Those bees nev­er had a chance.

    Sor­ry bees. Our bad.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 22, 2015, 4:39 pm
  42. Bee Colony Col­lapse Dis­or­der mass dis­as­ters: It’s not just a win­ter activ­i­ty. Any­more:

    The Wall Street Jour­nal
    Hon­ey­bee Cri­sis Wors­ens As Sum­mer Die-Offs Mount
    New study shows bee­keep­ers start­ing to lose large amounts of bees dur­ing both sum­mer and win­ter

    By Ten­nille Tra­cy
    Updat­ed May 13, 2015 6:47 p.m. ET

    More than 40% of U.S. hon­ey­bee colonies died in a 12-month peri­od end­ing in April, extend­ing a trou­bling trend that has sci­en­tists scram­bling for a solu­tion and pro­fes­sion­al bee­keep­ers strug­gling to stay in busi­ness.

    The Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment said in its annu­al hon­ey­bee sur­vey released Wednes­day that bee­keep­ers are start­ing to lose large num­bers of bees dur­ing both the sum­mer and winter—presenting sci­en­tists with a new wrin­kle since die-offs had gen­er­al­ly occurred dur­ing the cold win­ter months.

    “I think the sit­u­a­tion is chang­ing,” said Den­nis vanEn­gels­dorp, an expert on hon­ey­bees at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mary­land. “It remains bad but I don’t know if we can assume the same thing is hap­pen­ing year to year.”

    For the first time since the sur­vey began five years ago, the sum­mer loss rates exceed­ed the win­ter loss rates, sug­gest­ing bees are becom­ing vul­ner­a­ble dur­ing a time of the year they were thought to be healthy and robust. The most recent sum­mer loss rate reached 27%, up from 20%.

    While the pre­cise cause of the hon­ey­bee cri­sis is unknown, sci­en­tists gen­er­al­ly blame a com­bi­na­tion of fac­tors, includ­ing poor diets and stress. Some bees die from infes­ta­tions of the Var­roa mite, a blood­suck­ing par­a­site that weak­ens bees and intro­duces dis­eases to the hive.

    Envi­ron­men­tal groups also point to a class of pes­ti­cides known as neon­i­coti­noids. In April, the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency said it would stop approv­ing new out­door uses for those types of chem­i­cals until more stud­ies on bee health are con­duct­ed.

    Dur­ing the one-year peri­od end­ing in April, bee­keep­ers lost 42% of their colonies, accord­ing to the sur­vey, mark­ing the sec­ond-high­est rate of loss since the Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment began track­ing annu­al sta­tis­tics in 2010. The loss rate was up from 34% dur­ing the pre­vi­ous 12-month peri­od.

    Bee deaths present a con­sid­er­able chal­lenge to pro­fes­sion­al bee­keep­ers, who spend sub­stan­tial amounts of time and mon­ey to replen­ish their colonies. Many bee­keep­ers, already in their 50s and 60s, are con­sid­er­ing ear­ly retire­ment or are being forced out of the busi­ness due to the expense.

    Bee­keep­ers have said they start to feel a finan­cial pinch once annu­al loss rates rise above 19%.

    “It’s just tough because [high loss rates] seem like the new norm today,” said Blake Shook, own­er of Desert Creek Hon­ey in Texas. “And that’s chal­leng­ing because it’s not sus­tain­able.”

    ...

    The White House cre­at­ed a task force last year to study ways to pre­vent hon­ey­bee loss­es. It is expect­ed to issue a nation­al plan in com­ing weeks.

    The hon­ey­bee cri­sis dates back to at least 2006, when bee­keep­ers first report­ed a trou­bling phe­nom­e­non known as colony col­lapse dis­or­der. Adult bees were sim­ply van­ish­ing from their hives, leav­ing behind the younger bees, the queen and the hon­ey.

    Bee­keep­ers are wit­ness­ing few­er instances of colony col­lapse dis­or­der but the over­all high loss­es are still “very trou­bling,” Mr. Pet­tis said.

    Well, we may be los­ing our bees, but at least there’s no short­age of corn at the moment. Yay.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 14, 2015, 12:53 pm
  43. You know all those wild bees that aren’t direct­ly used to grow food for peo­ple but still play a vital role in the ecosys­tem includ­ing the agri­cul­tur­al ecosys­tem and are van­ish­ing? Yeah, we might need all those wild bees in order to pre­vent a col­lapse of the broad­er ecosys­tem dur­ing all the cli­mate change we’re caus­ing:

    Reuters
    Tiny num­ber of bees account for most crop pol­li­na­tion — study

    OSLO, June 16 | By Alis­ter Doyle

    Just two per­cent of wild bee species do almost 80 per­cent of their work in pol­li­nat­ing crops, accord­ing to a study on Tues­day that out­lined sim­ple mea­sures for farm­ers to attract star insects to safe­guard food pro­duc­tion.

    The inter­na­tion­al report, based on 90 stud­ies in five con­ti­nents, said gov­ern­ments should also con­serve the appar­ent­ly less valu­able bees as they might play a big­ger role in the event of envi­ron­men­tal shocks, such as from cli­mate change.

    Many types of wild bees, which count 22,000 species world­wide, are in decline because of fac­tors such as pes­ti­cides and habi­tat loss, rais­ing uncer­tain­ty about how best to pro­tect insects vital to human food pro­duc­tion.

    ...

    The study in the jour­nal Nature Com­mu­ni­ca­tions said just two per­cent of species, usu­al­ly the most com­mon such as bum­ble­bees or soli­tary bees, did almost 80 per­cent of the work by wild bees in pol­li­nat­ing crops such as pota­toes, beans or apples.

    The report, exam­in­ing wild bees rather than man­aged hon­ey bees kept in hives, said farm­ers could eas­i­ly attract the best wild insect pol­li­na­tors by plant­i­ng wild flow­ers or strips of grass along­side their crops.

    “It should be help­ful to farm­ers to know that the sim­ple and cheap mea­sures can give them what they need for pol­li­na­tion,” said Pat Wilmer of Scot­land’s Uni­ver­si­ty of St Andrews, who was not among the authors.

    The study esti­mat­ed that wild bees’ work con­tributed more than $3,000 per hectare (2.5 acres) in help­ing to pro­duce crops, com­pa­ra­ble to the eco­nom­ic val­ue of man­aged hon­ey bees.

    The most indus­tri­ous wild species was the North Amer­i­can bum­ble bee, with work worth $963 a hectare, it said.

    One study in 2008 esti­mat­ed that insect pol­li­na­tion, main­ly by bees, is worth 153 bil­lion euros ($171.54 bil­lion) a year for human crop pro­duc­tion.

    But the authors said pure­ly eco­nom­ic argu­ments about the cur­rent val­ue of bees would wrong­ly over­look many species.

    “We need a large and diverse group of species on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench,” said Pro­fes­sor Simon Potts, a co-author at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing.

    http://www.nature.com/articles/doi:10.1038/ncomms8414

    This is where we are:

    “We need a large and diverse group of species on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench,” said Pro­fes­sor Simon Potts, a co-author at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing.

    Yes, giv­en the mass extinc­tion human­i­ty is cur­rent­ly caus­ing, we’re def­i­nite­ly going to need a large and diverse group of species on the sub­sti­tutes’ bench. It had bet­ter be a deep bench.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | June 17, 2015, 10:22 pm
  44. GMO researchers Philip. J. Lan­dri­g­an and Charles Ben­brook just pub­lished an opin­ion piece in the New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine. Mon­san­to and much of the US agri­cul­tur­al indus­try would prob­a­bly pre­fer they keep their opin­ions to them­selves:

    The New Eng­land Jour­nal of Med­i­cine

    GMOs, Her­bi­cides, and Pub­lic Health

    Philip J. Lan­dri­g­an, M.D., and Charles Ben­brook, Ph.D.

    N Engl J Med 2015; 373:693–695
    August 20, 2015
    DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1505660

    Genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied organ­isms (GMOs) are not high on most physi­cians’ wor­ry lists. If we think at all about biotech­nol­o­gy, most of us prob­a­bly focus on direct threats to human health, such as prospects for con­vert­ing pathogens to bio­log­ic weapons or the impli­ca­tions of new tech­nolo­gies for edit­ing the human germline. But while those debates sim­mer, the appli­ca­tion of biotech­nol­o­gy to agri­cul­ture has been rapid and aggres­sive. The vast major­i­ty of the corn and soy­beans grown in the Unit­ed States are now genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered. Foods pro­duced from GM crops have become ubiq­ui­tous. And unlike reg­u­la­to­ry bod­ies in 64 oth­er coun­tries, the Food and Drug Admin­is­tra­tion (FDA) does not require label­ing of GM foods.

    Two recent devel­op­ments are dra­mat­i­cal­ly chang­ing the GMO land­scape. First, there have been sharp increas­es in the amounts and num­bers of chem­i­cal her­bi­cides applied to GM crops, and still fur­ther increas­es — the largest in a gen­er­a­tion — are sched­uled to occur in the next few years. Sec­ond, the Inter­na­tion­al Agency for Research on Can­cer (IARC) has clas­si­fied glyphosate, the her­bi­cide most wide­ly used on GM crops, as a “prob­a­ble human carcinogen”1 and clas­si­fied a sec­ond her­bi­cide, 2,4‑dichlorophenoxyacetic acid (2,4‑D), as a “pos­si­ble human carcinogen.”2

    ...

    The Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences has twice reviewed the safe­ty of GM crops — in 2000 and 2004.3 Those reviews, which focused almost entire­ly on the genet­ic aspects of biotech­nol­o­gy, con­clud­ed that GM crops pose no unique haz­ards to human health. They not­ed that genet­ic trans­for­ma­tion has the poten­tial to pro­duce unan­tic­i­pat­ed aller­gens or tox­ins and might alter the nutri­tion­al qual­i­ty of food. Both reports rec­om­mend­ed devel­op­ment of new risk-assess­ment tools and post­mar­ket­ing sur­veil­lance. Those rec­om­men­da­tions have large­ly gone unheed­ed.

    Her­bi­cide resis­tance is the main char­ac­ter­is­tic that the biotech­nol­o­gy indus­try has cho­sen to intro­duce into plants. Corn and soy­beans with genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered tol­er­ance to glyphosate (Roundup) were first intro­duced in the mid-1990s. These “Roundup-Ready” crops now account for more than 90% of the corn and soy­beans plant­ed in the Unit­ed States.4 Their advan­tage, espe­cial­ly in the first years after intro­duc­tion, is that they great­ly sim­pli­fy weed man­age­ment. Farm­ers can spray her­bi­cide both before and dur­ing the grow­ing sea­son, leav­ing their crops unharmed.

    But wide­spread adop­tion of her­bi­cide-resis­tant crops has led to over­re­liance on her­bi­cides and, in par­tic­u­lar, on glyphosate.5 In the Unit­ed States, glyphosate use has increased by a fac­tor of more than 250 — from 0.4 mil­lion kg in 1974 to 113 mil­lion kg in 2014. Glob­al use has increased by a fac­tor of more than 10. Not sur­pris­ing­ly, glyphosate-resis­tant weeds have emerged and are found today on near­ly 100 mil­lion acres in 36 states. Fields must now be treat­ed with mul­ti­ple her­bi­cides, includ­ing 2,4‑D, a com­po­nent of the Agent Orange defo­liant used in the Viet­nam War.

    The first of the two devel­op­ments that raise fresh con­cerns about the safe­ty of GM crops is a 2014 deci­sion by the Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency (EPA) to approve Enlist Duo, a new com­bi­na­tion her­bi­cide com­pris­ing glyphosate plus 2,4‑D. Enlist Duo was for­mu­lat­ed to com­bat her­bi­cide resis­tance. It will be mar­ket­ed in tan­dem with new­ly approved seeds genet­i­cal­ly engi­neered to resist glyphosate, 2,4‑D, and mul­ti­ple oth­er her­bi­cides. The EPA antic­i­pates that a 3‑to-7-fold increase in 2,4‑D use will result.

    In our view, the sci­ence and the risk assess­ment sup­port­ing the Enlist Duo deci­sion are flawed. The sci­ence con­sist­ed sole­ly of tox­i­co­log­ic stud­ies com­mis­sioned by the her­bi­cide man­u­fac­tur­ers in the 1980s and 1990s and nev­er pub­lished, not an uncom­mon prac­tice in U.S. pes­ti­cide reg­u­la­tion. These stud­ies pre­dat­ed cur­rent knowl­edge of low-dose, endocrine-medi­at­ed, and epi­ge­net­ic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assess­ment gave lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion to poten­tial health effects in infants and chil­dren, thus con­tra­ven­ing fed­er­al pes­ti­cide law. It failed to con­sid­er eco­log­ic impact, such as effects on the monarch but­ter­fly and oth­er pol­li­na­tors. It con­sid­ered only pure glyphosate, despite stud­ies show­ing that for­mu­lat­ed glyphosate that con­tains sur­fac­tants and adju­vants is more tox­ic than the pure com­pound.

    The sec­ond new devel­op­ment is the deter­mi­na­tion by the IARC in 2015 that glyphosate is a “prob­a­ble human carcinogen”1 and 2,4‑D a “pos­si­ble human carcinogen.”2 These clas­si­fi­ca­tions were based on com­pre­hen­sive assess­ments of the tox­i­co­log­ic and epi­demi­o­log­ic lit­er­a­ture that linked both her­bi­cides to dose-relat­ed increas­es in malig­nant tumors at mul­ti­ple anatom­i­cal sites in ani­mals and linked glyphosate to an increased inci­dence of non-Hodgk­in’s lym­phoma in humans.

    These devel­op­ments sug­gest that GM foods and the her­bi­cides applied to them may pose haz­ards to human health that were not exam­ined in pre­vi­ous assess­ments. We believe that the time has there­fore come to thor­ough­ly recon­sid­er all aspects of the safe­ty of plant biotech­nol­o­gy. The Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences has con­vened a new com­mit­tee to reassess the social, eco­nom­ic, envi­ron­men­tal, and human health effects of GM crops. This devel­op­ment is wel­come, but the com­mit­tee’s report is not expect­ed until at least 2016.

    In the mean­time, we offer two rec­om­men­da­tions. First, we believe the EPA should delay imple­men­ta­tion of its deci­sion to per­mit use of Enlist Duo. This deci­sion was made in haste. It was based on poor­ly designed and out­dat­ed stud­ies and on an incom­plete assess­ment of human expo­sure and envi­ron­men­tal effects. It would have ben­e­fit­ed from deep­er con­sid­er­a­tion of inde­pen­dent­ly fund­ed stud­ies pub­lished in the peer-reviewed lit­er­a­ture. And it pre­ced­ed the recent IARC deter­mi­na­tions on glyphosate and 2,4‑D. Sec­ond, the Nation­al Tox­i­col­o­gy Pro­gram should urgent­ly assess the tox­i­col­o­gy of pure glyphosate, for­mu­lat­ed glyphosate, and mix­tures of glyphosate and oth­er her­bi­cides.

    Final­ly, we believe the time has come to revis­it the Unit­ed States’ reluc­tance to label GM foods. Label­ing will deliv­er mul­ti­ple ben­e­fits. It is essen­tial for track­ing emer­gence of nov­el food aller­gies and assess­ing effects of chem­i­cal her­bi­cides applied to GM crops. It would respect the wish­es of a grow­ing num­ber of con­sumers who insist they have a right to know what foods they are buy­ing and how they were pro­duced. And the argu­ment that there is noth­ing new about genet­ic rearrange­ment miss­es the point that GM crops are now the agri­cul­tur­al prod­ucts most heav­i­ly treat­ed with her­bi­cides and that two of these her­bi­cides may pose risks of can­cer. We hope, in light of this new infor­ma­tion, that the FDA will recon­sid­er label­ing of GM foods and cou­ple it with ade­quate­ly fund­ed, long-term post­mar­ket­ing sur­veil­lance.

    “In our view, the sci­ence and the risk assess­ment sup­port­ing the Enlist Duo deci­sion are flawed. The sci­ence con­sist­ed sole­ly of tox­i­co­log­ic stud­ies com­mis­sioned by the her­bi­cide man­u­fac­tur­ers in the 1980s and 1990s and nev­er pub­lished, not an uncom­mon prac­tice in U.S. pes­ti­cide reg­u­la­tion. These stud­ies pre­dat­ed cur­rent knowl­edge of low-dose, endocrine-medi­at­ed, and epi­ge­net­ic effects and were not designed to detect them. The risk assess­ment gave lit­tle con­sid­er­a­tion to poten­tial health effects in infants and chil­dren, thus con­tra­ven­ing fed­er­al pes­ti­cide law. It failed to con­sid­er eco­log­ic impact, such as effects on the monarch but­ter­fly and oth­er pol­li­na­tors. It con­sid­ered only pure glyphosate, despite stud­ies show­ing that for­mu­lat­ed glyphosate that con­tains sur­fac­tants and adju­vants is more tox­ic than the pure com­pound.”

    Yum­my.

    In oth­er news...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | August 30, 2015, 8:47 pm
  45. The USDA has anoth­er whistle­blow­er: Jonathan Lund­gren, an ento­mol­o­gist and 11-year vet­er­an of the USDA’s Agri­cul­tur­al Research Ser­vice who pub­lished a num­ber of stud­ies crit­i­cal of the effects of neon­i­coti­noids and “gene silenc­ing” (RNAi) pes­ti­cides, alleges that the agency sus­pend­ed him over pet­ty vio­la­tions in an attempt to silence him. So if you’re a fan of things like bees, but­ter­flies, and sci­en­tif­ic integri­ty, there’s a very impor­tant whis­tle that’s blow­ing right nowthat should you should prob­a­bly be lis­ten­ing to:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post
    Sus­pend­ed USDA researcher alleges agency tried to block his research into harm­ful effects of pes­ti­cides on bees, but­ter­flies

    By Steve Volk
    Octo­ber 28

    A promi­nent Agri­cul­ture Depart­ment sci­en­tist is alleg­ing that he was sus­pend­ed after com­plain­ing that the agency was block­ing his research into the harm­ful effects of pes­ti­cides on pol­li­na­tors, such as bees and but­ter­flies.

    In a whistle­blow­er com­plaint filed Wednes­day, Jonathan Lund­gren, an ento­mol­o­gist and 11-year vet­er­an of the USDA’s Agri­cul­tur­al Research Ser­vice, says his super­vi­sors retal­i­at­ed against him by sus­pend­ing him ini­tial­ly for 30 days before reduc­ing it to 14 days.

    The com­plaint, filed with the fed­er­al Mer­it Sys­tems Pro­tec­tion Board, says his supe­ri­ors began to “impede or deter his research and resul­tant pub­li­ca­tions” more than a year ago. Lund­gren has also pre­vi­ous­ly alleged that the agency tried to pre­vent him from speak­ing about his find­ings for polit­i­cal rea­sons and inter­fered with his abil­i­ty to review the research of oth­er sci­en­tists.

    The trou­ble began after he pub­lished research and gave inter­views about the effect that cer­tain com­mon pes­ti­cides were hav­ing on pol­li­na­tors, accord­ing to a state­ment by Pub­lic Employ­ees for Envi­ron­men­tal Respon­si­bil­i­ty (PEER), which filed the com­plaint on his behalf. The whistle­blow­er com­plaint says that Lundgren’s “work showed the adverse effects of cer­tain wide­ly used pes­ti­cides, find­ings which have drawn nation­al atten­tion as well as the ire of the agri­cul­tur­al indus­try.”

    Over the past decade, there have been dra­mat­ic declines in the pop­u­la­tion of hon­ey­bees, which play an essen­tial role in pol­li­nat­ing about one-third of the food Amer­i­cans eat.

    Christo­pher Bent­ley, a spokesman for the Agri­cul­tur­al Research Ser­vice, declined to dis­cuss the specifics of Lundgren’s case but said the agency is com­mit­ted to main­tain­ing sci­en­tif­ic integri­ty.

    “We take the integri­ty of our sci­en­tists seri­ous­ly, and we rec­og­nize how crit­i­cal that is to main­tain­ing wide­spread con­fi­dence in our research among the sci­en­tif­ic com­mu­ni­ty, pol­i­cy­mak­ers and the gen­er­al pub­lic,” Bent­ley said in a state­ment.

    In sus­pend­ing Lund­gren, PEER says USDA cit­ed two infrac­tions: He pro­vid­ed some of his research to a sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal with­out prop­er approval, and he vio­lat­ed offi­cial trav­el poli­cies in con­nec­tion with lec­tures he deliv­ered in Philadel­phia and Wash­ing­ton.

    In his com­plaint and relat­ed doc­u­ments released by PEER, Lund­gren says the sub­mis­sion of the jour­nal arti­cle — which con­cerned the non-tar­get effects of cloth­i­an­i­din, a wide­ly used nico­tine-based pes­ti­cide, on monarch but­ter­flies — was not inap­pro­pri­ate. He calls the trav­el vio­la­tions an inad­ver­tent paper­work error.

    Lund­gren has pub­lished work sug­gest­ing that soy­bean seeds pre­treat­ed with neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cide pro­duce no yield ben­e­fit to farm­ers, who pay extra for the seeds. He wrote a paper on the poten­tial haz­ards of “gene silenc­ing” pes­ti­cides, which he said require fur­ther study to deter­mine whether they could harm oth­er organ­isms. He also peer-reviewed a report pub­lished by the Cen­ter for Food Safe­ty called “Heavy Costs,” which was crit­i­cal of neon­i­coti­noid pes­ti­cides for pro­vid­ing lit­tle to no ben­e­fit to farm­ers and adverse­ly affect­ing bees.

    Lund­gren, a 2011 recip­i­ent of the Pres­i­den­tial Ear­ly Career Awards for Sci­en­tists and Engi­neers, has giv­en inter­views on aspects of his research, includ­ing a wide­ly dis­trib­uted inter­view with Min­neso­ta Pub­lic Radio, and spoke before the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences. Accord­ing to the com­plaint, his sus­pen­sion was based in part on the paper­work asso­ci­at­ed with that trip.

    “Hav­ing research pub­lished in pres­ti­gious jour­nals and being invit­ed to present before the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences should be sources of offi­cial pride, not pun­ish­ment,” PEER staff coun­sel Lau­ra Dumais said. “Pol­i­tics inside USDA have made ento­mol­o­gy into a most dan­ger­ous dis­ci­pline.”

    The whistle­blow­er fil­ing cul­mi­nates months of spec­u­la­tion about Lund­gren in the small com­mu­ni­ty of com­mer­cial bee­keep­ers and researchers study­ing their decline. Ear­li­er this year, Lundgren’s dis­pute with his supe­ri­ors became evi­dent in a sci­en­tif­ic jour­nal.

    A paper pub­lished in Envi­ron­men­tal Sci­ence & Pol­i­cy, with the sole list­ed author Scott W. Fausti, includes the fol­low­ing foot­note: “I would like to acknowl­edge Dr. Jonathan G. Lundgren’s con­tri­bu­tion to this man­u­script. Dr. Lund­gren is an ento­mol­o­gist employed by the USDA Agri­cul­tur­al Research Ser­vice (ARS). How­ev­er, the ARS has required Dr. Lund­gren to remove his name as joint first author from this arti­cle. I believe this action rais­es a seri­ous ques­tion con­cern­ing pol­i­cy neu­tral­i­ty toward sci­en­tif­ic inquiry.”

    That paper sug­gests that the com­bi­na­tion of fed­er­al man­dates for corn ethanol pro­duc­tion and the advent of genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied corn crops have pro­duced a host of unin­tend­ed adverse con­se­quences, includ­ing ris­ing envi­ron­men­tal pol­lu­tion and green­house gas emis­sions, stronger pest resis­tance and inflat­ed corn prices.

    ...

    In the state­ment, ARS spokesman Bent­ley said: “As one of the world’s lead­ing pro­mot­ers of agri­cul­ture and nat­ur­al resources sci­ence and research, USDA has imple­ment­ed a strong sci­en­tif­ic integri­ty pol­i­cy to pro­mote a cul­ture of excel­lence and trans­paren­cy. That includes pro­ce­dures for staff to report any per­ceived inter­fer­ence with their work, seek res­o­lu­tion and receive pro­tec­tion from recourse for doing so.”

    But Jeff Ruch, PEER’s exec­u­tive direc­tor, said Lundgren’s whistle­blow­er com­plaint adds to the debate about sci­en­tif­ic free­dom. He said USDA is essen­tial­ly say­ing: “?‘You can do what­ev­er sci­ence you want, as long as it has no real-world appli­ca­tions.’ The rules allow for sci­en­tists to be silenced based on the con­tent of their sci­ence.”

    “Hav­ing research pub­lished in pres­ti­gious jour­nals and being invit­ed to present before the Nation­al Acad­e­my of Sci­ences should be sources of offi­cial pride, not punishment...Politics inside USDA have made ento­mol­o­gy into a most dan­ger­ous dis­ci­pline.”

    If sto­ries like this fill you with an urged to slam of six-pack of beer in an attempt to numb the knowl­edge that we’re point­less­ly killing off a key com­po­nent of the ecosys­tem, just imag­ine how the bees feel...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | October 29, 2015, 9:33 pm
  46. Look out Brazil, the Koch-financed “Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty” con­fer­ence is back to lib­er­ate you. From san­i­ty:

    Pana­ma Post
    The Canal

    Brazil­ian Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty Con­fer­ence Draws 600 Atten­dees
    São Paulo Exhibits Lib­er­tar­i­an Move­ment on the Rise

    Novem­ber 9, 2015 at 9:16 am

    By Andre Freo

    Octo­ber 17, 2015 was a day unlike the rest for Estu­dantes Pela Liber­dade (EPL), the Brazil branch of Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty. The plan was to bring togeth­er hun­dreds of young Brazil­ian lib­er­tar­i­an lead­ers in the Rebouças Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in São Paulo for the organization’s Nation­al Con­fer­ence.

    The orga­niz­ers arrived ear­ly on Sat­ur­day morn­ing to wel­come more than 400 peo­ple into the audi­to­ri­um for the two-day event’s first lec­tures.

    Pro­fes­sor José Luis Cordeiro, advis­er at Sin­gu­lar­i­ty Uni­ver­si­ty, took the stage to talk about the future and kick­start­ed what would be an unfor­get­table event. By cov­er­ing top­ics such as immor­tal­i­ty and telepa­thy, José Luis caught the public’s atten­tion by deliv­er­ing what the orga­niz­ers had promised: the con­fer­ence would not just be about the phi­los­o­phy of free­dom, but a mul­ti­dis­ci­pli­nary venue for cul­ture, sci­ence, and inno­va­tion.

    Humor is one of the most effec­tive tools to get your mes­sage across. That’s why EPL invit­ed come­di­ans Felipe Hamachi and Arthur Born Portel­la. The for­mer offered a stand-up show and the lat­ter deliv­ered an imper­son­ation of con­ser­v­a­tive Con­gress­man Jair Bol­sonaro.

    The first debate, “Pub­lic ver­sus Pri­vate Sci­ence,” fea­tured Rehen Stevens and David Schlesinger, who explained how reg­u­la­tions on sci­en­tif­ic research is sti­fling entre­pre­neur­ship in Brazil.

    Then, Brazil­ian jour­nal­ist Lean­dro Narloch and Por­tuguese author Joao Pereira Coutin­ho debat­ed whether or not Euro­pean her­itage is the root cause of Brazil’s woes. The answer was sim­ple: we always want to find anoth­er cul­prit for our own prob­lems. It’s time for Brazil to admit its flaws, under­stand that Por­tu­gal is no longer the metrop­o­lis, and change its self-imposed colo­nial men­tal­i­ty.

    The first day’s clos­ing keynote address came with a storm of applause from start to fin­ish. Econ­o­mist and lib­er­tar­i­an the­o­rist David Fried­man took the stage around 4:30 p.m. to offer an insight­ful and wide-rang­ing talk about envi­ron­men­tal­ism. A stand­ing ova­tion ensued, both for David and the rest of the conference’s par­tic­i­pants.

    Sun­day: Guns, Labor Rights, Free Speech

    The final day began with a sub­ject known to those who already hold the ideals of free­dom. Bene Bar­bosa, head of the Viva Brazil Move­ment, an NGO that defends Brazil­ians’ right to poss­es firearms, expound­ed on manda­to­ry cit­i­zen dis­ar­ma­ment, using facts to dis­pel all the fal­lac­i­es we hear in the media.

    The pan­el con­tin­ued with lawyer Ricar­do San­tos Gomes, who tack­led labor rights and demon­strat­ed how Brazil’s “Fight for $15” cam­paign, which aims to increase wages for low-pay­ing jobs, will end up hurt­ing the poor­est.

    Next, there ensued a recur­ring ques­tion: does pol­i­tics work? Local con­gress­man Mar­cel Van Hat­tem and for­mer mock-can­di­date Paulo Batista demon­strat­ed that aver­sion to pol­i­tics is due to recur­ring cor­rup­tion scan­dals, pop­ulism, and tra­di­tion­al par­ties’ dis­con­nect with the pop­u­la­tion. They argued that it is pos­si­ble to spread the ideas of lib­er­ty in pol­i­tics; all it takes is courage.

    ...

    As much as Brazil­ian lib­er­als are at a dis­ad­van­tage, we are grow­ing and gain­ing ground where the sta­tist men­tal­i­ty used to dom­i­nate unop­posed. It’s not time to give up, quite the con­trary.

    Four years have passed since Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty Brazil’s first Nation­al Con­fer­ence in Belo Hor­i­zonte. At our first con­fer­ence, we had only 100 atten­dees, where­as our lat­est event gath­ered 600 peo­ple over the course of the two-day con­fer­ence. We also passed from 30 coor­di­na­tors to almost 700 in four years.

    Lib­er­tar­i­an­ism is mak­ing big strides in Brazil and EPL is play­ing its part.

    Wow, that sure sound­ed like an inter­est­ing con­fer­ence. Immor­tal­i­ty and telepa­thy. Why we need to dereg­u­late sci­en­tif­ic research. How the min­i­mum wage hurts the poor. Does pol­i­tics work? Let’s ease access to firearms! Yes, how fun and edu­ca­tion­al.

    But per­haps the most inter­est­ing sound­ing talk would have been David Fried­man’s “insight­ful and wide-rang­ing talk about envi­ron­men­tal­ism” keynote address on envi­ron­men­tal­ism. What sort of insights might David Fried­man, son of Mil­ton Fried­man and father of Patri Fried­man (head of the Seast­eading Insti­tute), have to offer the world in the realm of envi­ron­men­tal­ism? Well, since we can’t read of view his speech, we’ll just have to spec­u­late.

    But we won’t have to blind­ly spec­u­late. Because it turns out David Fried­man has spoke at length about the envi­ron­ment plen­ty in the past. Like this talk in in 2013, when he spoke for almost an hour and a half about how the impact of pop­u­la­tion growth is too dif­fi­cult to assess to let’s not wor­ry too much about its impact, and also cli­mate change may be real but we can’t real­ly do any­thing about it oth­er than build real­ly high walls along the coast­lines and there will be some ben­e­fits to lets just accept that some areas will be destroyed. If you don’t have an hour and half to lis­ten, here’s a sum­ma­ry from a Lib­er­tar­i­an that’s actu­al­ly not insane about cli­mate change:

    The New Lib­er­ty
    David Fried­man on Glob­al Warm­ing and Exter­nal­i­ties

    01.15.13
    by the­newlib­er­ty

    The renowned econ­o­mist David Fried­man, author of Machin­ery Of Free­dom, is cur­rent­ly on a Euro­pean speak­ing tour. He is pre­sent­ing three talks for three hosts on suc­ces­sive nights; I plan to attend all three (he’s been a hero of mine since I read the above book at Uni­ver­si­ty in the mid-1980s). The first talk was on ‘Glob­al Warm­ing’ and exter­nal­i­ties.

    David first talked about pop­u­la­tion growth and exter­nal­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with it, out­lin­ing the premise that although it has typ­i­cal­ly been thought to be a bad thing, due to the neg­a­tive impacts brought by it, it also has pos­i­tive impacts. As these pos­i­tive impacts don’t often fit our men­tal mod­el and pre­con­cep­tions (prej­u­dices) about pop­u­la­tion growth, we usu­al ignore them. His ear­ly eco­nom­ic work 40 years ago looked in detail at this issue and attempt­ed to quan­ti­fy the net pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive impacts. What he found was that most fac­tors were impos­si­ble to quan­ti­fy, or even sign (decide if they were pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive). This is hard­ly sur­pris­ing giv­en the com­plex­i­ty of the sys­tem and its vari­ables; like fore­cast­ing weath­er and cli­mate there are too many inter­act­ing vari­ables that are them­selves often unquan­tifi­able (it’s worth read­ing James Gleick’s Chaos for more under­stand­ing on this).

    So hav­ing estab­lished his premise that it is impos­si­ble to quan­ti­fy the impacts involved in pop­u­la­tion growth, and there­fore con­clude whether it’s ‘good’ or ‘bad’, Fried­man moved on to the main top­ic: glob­al warm­ing.

    I am pleased to say that as some­one with a sci­ence-based back­ground (physics), David was more pos­i­tive about the cli­mate sci­ence research that many lib­er­tar­i­ans I know dis­pute. While he recog­nis­es that cli­mate sci­ence does have a vest­ed self-inter­est in pro­vok­ing gov­ern­ments to spend more on research, he doesn’t seem to be in the Del­ing­polean camp that believes all cli­mate sci­en­tists are Eco-social­ists that want to resort to an imag­i­nary idyl­lic agrar­i­an econ­o­my of the Mid­dle Ages. I dis­agree strong­ly with these tin-foil-hat-wear­ing con­spir­a­cy-the­o­rists; maybe that’s because I come from a sci­ence-based back­ground and am there­fore more ratio­nal about this top­ic. Amus­ing­ly a cou­ple of the said con­spir­a­cy-the­o­rists were there and asked ques­tions that indi­cat­ed their prej­u­dices; Fried­man dis­ap­point­ed them by most­ly not agree­ing on their points.

    David’s main points on glob­al warm­ing were:

    * Yes, the cli­mate is warm­ing, as cli­mate sci­en­tists main­ly agree;
    * Yes, one cause of this is car­bon diox­ide, though there are many caus­es (e.g. Water vapour) and not all are quan­tifi­able in their impact;
    * Yes, many of these changes prob­a­bly have anthro­pogenic caus­es;
    * Yes, there are many neg­a­tive impacts of cli­mate change, but there are many pos­i­tive impacts which are often ignored in the cal­cu­la­tions;

    * Yes, car­bon tax­es and car­bon trad­ing schemes can con­trol some of the increase in car­bon out­put, though there are many eco­nom­ic faults with these schemes that pre­vent them from work­ing as planned.

    One of the points David made will almost cer­tain­ly have the Eco-war­riors up in arms: that there are prob­a­bly more pos­i­tive impacts than neg­a­tive impacts to a small increase (e.g. 3°C as IPCC sug­gests) in tem­per­a­ture over the next cen­tu­ry. As he sug­gest­ed the increase in hab­it­able and pro­duc­tive arable land will almost cer­tain­ly out­weigh the land that becomes mar­gin­al­ly less hab­it­able or less pro­duc­tive for farm­ing due to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of land in the world. While this is obvi­ous­ly true I have a reser­va­tion about this. Due to chaot­ic fluc­tu­a­tions this tran­si­tion may not be smooth: there could be cat­a­stroph­ic impacts to some areas, such as Bangladesh as he high­light­ed. His solu­tion was to build dykes as suc­cess­ful­ly used in Hol­land start­ing over 2000 years ago (approx­i­mate­ly 27% of the Nether­lands is below sea lev­el).

    Whilst this may be dif­fi­cult for poor­er Bangladesh they do have a sig­nif­i­cant labour force so this isn’t insur­mount­able; also rich­er coun­tries near­by may want to help fund this to pre­vent a con­sid­er­able refugee prob­lem. Anoth­er larg­er chaos-dri­ven change that could occur due to a rel­a­tive­ly minor rise in glob­al tem­per­a­tures is the move­ment of the Atlantic jet stream, which warms West­ern Europe.

    There is a the­o­ry, yet unproven, that the ice melt from Green­land could alter the salin­i­ty of the North Atlantic suf­fi­cient­ly to move the jet stream south, there­by dra­mat­i­cal­ly drop­ping the tem­per­a­ture in Europe and mak­ing much of the north­ern lat­i­tudes unin­hab­it­able for all but the most hardy. The thought of hun­dreds of mil­lions of rel­a­tive­ly-wealthy Euro­peans becom­ing home­less in a short peri­od would be cat­a­stroph­ic. Inter­est­ing­ly this sce­nario was pro­posed by influ­en­tial sci­ence fic­tion author Stan­ley G. Wein­baum in his short sto­ry ‘Shift­ing Seas’ pub­lished in 1937; he right­ly sug­gest­ed it could pro­voke mass migra­tions and sub­se­quent wars.

    These issues were not answered dur­ing the ses­sion but do need to be includ­ed under the ‘low-risk/high-impact’ cat­e­go­ry that David referred to.

    Sad­ly David did not have any mag­ic solu­tion to pro­pose that would pro­vide more effec­tive con­trols over out­put pol­lu­tants, recog­nis­ing that even in an anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that these exter­nal­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with pub­lic goods will always be prob­lem­at­ic (e.g. due to free rid­ers).

    ...

    Ok, so:

    ...

    David’s main points on glob­al warm­ing were:

    * Yes, the cli­mate is warm­ing, as cli­mate sci­en­tists main­ly agree;
    * Yes, one cause of this is car­bon diox­ide, though there are many caus­es (e.g. Water vapour) and not all are quan­tifi­able in their impact;
    * Yes, many of these changes prob­a­bly have anthro­pogenic caus­es;
    * Yes, there are many neg­a­tive impacts of cli­mate change, but there are many pos­i­tive impacts which are often ignored in the cal­cu­la­tions;

    * Yes, car­bon tax­es and car­bon trad­ing schemes can con­trol some of the increase in car­bon out­put, though there are many eco­nom­ic faults with these schemes that pre­vent them from work­ing as planned.

    One of the points David made will almost cer­tain­ly have the Eco-war­riors up in arms: that there are prob­a­bly more pos­i­tive impacts than neg­a­tive impacts to a small increase (e.g. 3°C as IPCC sug­gests) in tem­per­a­ture over the next cen­tu­ry. As he sug­gest­ed the increase in hab­it­able and pro­duc­tive arable land will almost cer­tain­ly out­weigh the land that becomes mar­gin­al­ly less hab­it­able or less pro­duc­tive for farm­ing due to the dis­tri­b­u­tion of land in the world. While this is obvi­ous­ly true I have a reser­va­tion about this. Due to chaot­ic fluc­tu­a­tions this tran­si­tion may not be smooth: there could be cat­a­stroph­ic impacts to some areas, such as Bangladesh as he high­light­ed. His solu­tion was to build dykes as suc­cess­ful­ly used in Hol­land start­ing over 2000 years ago (approx­i­mate­ly 27% of the Nether­lands is below sea lev­el).

    ...

    Well, yes, sea­walls will prob­a­bly be part of the solu­tion, espe­cial­ly thanks to the gen­er­al atti­tude that glob­al warm­ing would­n’t be net bad and isn’t net real­ly worth try­ing to stop. Just build sea­walls. No wor­ries.

    So let’s see: Years ago, when David Fried­man stud­ied the impact of pop­u­la­tion growth, he con­clud­ed that it was basi­cal­ly an intractable prob­lem of whether or not it was a net ben­e­fit. And he appears to have a sim­i­lar view of cli­mate change. And he agrees that it’s prob­a­bly, at least in part, man-made. Just not real­ly worth doing much about.

    Well that was refresh­ing. David Fried­man’s thoughts on the top of cli­mate change were actu­al­ly rel­a­tive­ly refesh­ing for lib­er­tar­i­an the­o­reti­cian. It was still scary and depress­ing, but also rel­a­tive­ly refresh­ing (beg­gars can’t be choosers). And the lib­er­tar­i­an cri­tique of Fried­man seemed quite sane. Although the last part about the futil­i­ty of com­ing up with effec­tive con­trols over “out­put pol­lu­tants” (like pol­lu­tion that con­tributes to cli­mate change and/or eco-col­lapse) was rather depress­ing:

    ...

    Sad­ly David did not have any mag­ic solu­tion to pro­pose that would pro­vide more effec­tive con­trols over out­put pol­lu­tants, recog­nis­ing that even in an anar­cho-cap­i­tal­ist soci­ety that these exter­nal­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with pub­lic goods will always be prob­lem­at­ic (e.g. due to free rid­ers).

    ...

    Now, exter­nal­i­ties asso­ci­at­ed with pub­lic goods is poten­tial­ly prob­lem­at­ic in sys­tems that dis­cour­age such behav­ior (like most soci­eties). But have we just giv­en up on that? It seems rather prob­lem­at­ic to do so since poli­cies that work towards the pub­lic good seem, well...good. And desire­able. And a major part of the solu­tion for things like cli­mate change that just might be more cat­a­clysmic than Mr. Fried­man assumes.

    So let’s hope David Fried­man is cor­rect in his opti­mism of the rel­a­tive­ly benign impact of cli­mate change and our abil­i­ty to build sea­walls in time. That would be nice, although it sounds like coun­tries like Bangladesh are going to need to inter­na­tion­al help, which requires that “pub­lic good” that we can’t seem to do even if lives depend on it. So let’s hope he’s wrong about out abil­i­ty to even­tu­al­ly have a social con­tract around the globe that demo­c­ra­t­i­cal­ly fos­ters the com­mon good and can exe­cute poli­cies that fos­ters it. Because oth­er­wise we’re screwed:

    DavidFriedman.blogspot.co.nz
    The Oth­er Half of the Glob­al Warm­ing Prob­lem
    David Fried­man
    Thurs­day, Feb­ru­ary 14, 2013

    For rea­sons I have dis­cussed in ear­li­er posts, I am skep­ti­cal of the claim that glob­al warm­ing on the scale sug­gest­ed by the IPCC pro­jec­tions is a seri­ous prob­lem that needs to be dealt with. In this post, I want to look at the oth­er side of the prob­lem. If one accepts the con­ven­tion­al view that it is a seri­ous enough prob­lem to jus­ti­fy the cost of the sharp reduc­tion in the use of fos­sil fuels need­ed to sub­stan­tial­ly reduce it, can it be done?

    The rea­son I sus­pect it can­not is that pre­vent­ing glob­al warm­ing faces a pub­lic good prob­lem at sev­er­al lev­els. Con­sid­er first the indi­vid­ual lev­el. One might argue that if glob­al warm­ing is going to make me worse off, that is a rea­son for me to reduce my use of fos­sil fuels in order to pre­vent it. The prob­lem is that although it is a rea­son, it is a very weak rea­son, because I would be bear­ing all of the cost—driving less, or being cold­er in win­ter and hot­ter in sum­mer, or pay­ing more to get my elec­tric­i­ty from solar pow­er instead of from nat­ur­al gas—while receiv­ing only a tiny frac­tion of the ben­e­fit. As with oth­er pub­lic goods, one would expect it to be under­pro­duced and, since this is a pub­lic good for an enor­mous pub­lic, dras­ti­cal­ly so.

    One pop­u­lar solu­tion to a pub­lic good prob­lem is to have the good pro­duced by gov­ern­ment. Have the gov­ern­ment hold down the pro­duc­tion of CO2 by a car­bon tax or a cap and trade sys­tem, sub­si­dize the devel­op­ment of tech­nolo­gies for recy­clable pow­er, and in var­i­ous oth­er ways force its cit­i­zens to mod­i­fy their behav­ior to reduce glob­al warm­ing.

    One prob­lem with this solu­tion is that we have no good way of mak­ing a gov­ern­ment act in the inter­est of those it rules, in part due to anoth­er pub­lic good prob­lem. Any­thing I do to make gov­ern­ment do the right things—figuring out which politi­cian sup­ports good poli­cies and vot­ing for him or con­tribut­ing to his cam­paign, writ­ing books or op-eds defend­ing good poli­cies and crit­i­ciz­ing bad—is itself pro­duc­ing a pub­lic good for a large pub­lic, since almost all of the ben­e­fit of good poli­cies goes to oth­er peo­ple. Pub­lic goods, espe­cial­ly for large publics, are under­pro­duced, which explains why many voters—about half of them, judg­ing by the high­ly unsci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ment of ask­ing stu­dents in class­es I teach—do not even know the name of the con­gress­man who repres­nts them, and almost no vot­er knows enough about all of the rel­e­vant issues to have a sound basis for decid­ing how to vote. That out­come is referred to in the pub­lic choice lit­er­a­ture as ratio­nal igno­rance. It is ratio­nal to be igno­rant when infor­ma­tion costs you more than it is worth to you.

    If we have no way of mak­ing gov­ern­ment con­sis­tent­ly act in the nation­al inter­est, we can­not count on gov­ern­ment action to deal with glob­al warm­ing, even if it is in our inter­est to do so. And even if we did have a reli­able way of con­trol­ling our gov­ern­ment, we would still face a sec­ond lev­el of pub­lic good prob­lem. Con­trol­ling glob­al warm­ing is a pub­lic good not only at the indi­vid­ual lev­el but at the nation­al lev­el, since if the U.S. holds down its emis­sion of CO2, any ben­e­fit is shared with all oth­er coun­tries, whether or not they hold down theirs. Hence even a U.S. gov­ern­ment that did act in the inter­est of its pop­u­la­tion might choose not to deal with glob­al warm­ing unless it could some­how arrange for most oth­er coun­tries to do so as well. Such an agree­ment among many ben­e­fi­cia­ries of a pub­lic good is hard to arrange. It is even hard­er when, as in this case, the ben­e­fits are very uneven­ly dis­trib­uted. Even if glob­al warm­ing pro­duces net costs, which for the pur­pos­es of this post I am assum­ing, the costs to some coun­tries will be larg­er than to oth­ers and some coun­tries, most obvi­ous­ly in cold regions, will prob­a­bly ben­e­fit.

    I have just offered rea­sons, at sev­er­al lev­els, why noth­ing will be done to pre­vent glob­al warm­ing, even if it is worth pre­vent­ing. Read­ers may rea­son­ably ask how I can explain the fact that things are being done. The U.S. House passed a cap and trade bill some years ago, although it nev­er made it through the Sen­ate, and it looks as though there will be renewed attempts to get a car­bon tax or some­thing sim­i­lar in the near future. The cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion has sub­si­dized a vari­ety of activ­i­ties, such as bio­fu­els and the devel­op­ment of elec­tric auto­mo­biles, on the the­o­ry that they reduce glob­al warm­ing. Sim­i­lar poli­cies have been employed by a num­ber of oth­er coun­tries, many of which com­mit­ted them­selves some years back to spec­i­fied future reduc­tions in car­bon emis­sions.

    The answer is that while such poli­cies are not worth doing, polit­i­cal­ly speak­ing, as a way of reduc­ing glob­al warm­ing, they may be polit­i­cal­ly prof­itable in oth­er ways. A loan guar­an­tee to a com­pa­ny whose investors sup­port the cur­rent admin­is­tra­tion, for instance, is a pri­vate good, or a pub­lic good with a very small pub­lic, from the stand­point of those investors, and one they will be will­ing to pay for in cam­paign dona­tions or oth­er ways of reward­ing the politi­cians respon­si­ble for it. A car­bon tax pro­vides a new way of get­ting mon­ey into the hands of gov­ern­ment, where it can be used to buy votes or reward sup­port­ers. Cap and trade, along the lines of the actu­al bill passed by the House, gen­er­ates valu­able assets—permits per­mit­ting the emis­sion of a set amount of car­bon diox­ide. Those assets can be, in the House bill were, allo­cat­ed to polit­i­cal­ly favored groups. In all of these ways, the cam­paign against glob­al warm­ing pro­vides rhetor­i­cal sup­port for politi­cians doing things they would like to do, but things that, absent that sup­port, might cost them votes.

    ...

    My con­clu­sion is that there may be no prac­ti­cal way of using polit­i­cal mech­a­nisms to slow or pre­vent glob­al warm­ing, even if it is worth doing. Pub­lic sup­port for doing it will be used by politi­cians to do things they want to do, many of which will impose sub­stan­tial costs, which is why they need the warm­ing rhetoric to let them do them. The things they do are unlike­ly to be well designed to pre­vent glob­al warm­ing, since that will not be the rea­son they are being done. I offer as one piece of evi­dence the bio­fu­els pro­gram. Part of the orig­i­nal jus­ti­fi­ca­tion for it was the claim that it would reduce CO2 emis­sions. At this point, a fair num­ber of envi­ron­men­tal lead­ers and orga­ni­za­tions have con­ced­ed that it will not. It does, how­ev­er, raise the price of corn, which makes it polit­i­cal­ly attrac­tive to politi­cians who want farm­ers to vote for them, and there is no sign as yet that it is going to go away.

    Well that was depress­ing: So cli­mate change isn’t actu­al­ly a seri­ous prob­lem worth tack­ling, but assum­ing it was, noth­ing that will actu­al­ly pre­vent it will be done because the pos­i­tive exter­nal­i­ties of engag­ing in “pub­lic good”-generating activ­i­ties (like being a knowl­edge­able vot­er at the indi­vid­ual lev­el to inten­tion­al­ly vio­lat­ing glob­al pol­lu­tion/­CO2-con­trol pledges at the nation­al lev­el) are sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly dis­in­cen­tivized because work­ing for the greater good is sys­tem­at­i­cal­ly dis­in­cen­tivized. And the pub­lic poli­cies that do seem to be intend­ed to pre­vent cli­mate change can be explained away by assum­ing that they were actu­al­ly poli­cies imple­ment­ed to please polit­i­cal lob­bies and jist giv­en the label of “anti-cli­mate change” to jus­ti­fy pass­ing the poli­cies (he def­i­nite­ly has a point about things like ethanol man­dates). So it’s polit­i­cal impos­si­ble to effec­tive­ly work togeth­er to imple­ment poli­cies for the com­mon good to slow down cli­mate change even if we want and need to do it to avoid mass cat­a­stro­phe.

    That was David Fried­man in 2013. It would be inter­est­ing to hear what he had to say dur­ing the recent Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty keynote address to audi­ence in Brazil. Did the coastal sea­walls idea come up? That would have been inter­est­ing. And as we just saw, prob­a­bly also scary and depress­ing. It also would have been inter­est­ing to hear if he had any new thoughts on our capac­i­ty to work towards the com­mon good. In fact, that would have been a fas­ci­nat­ing theme for the entire Stu­dents for Lib­er­ty Koch-con­fer­ence. Scary, but fas­ci­nat­ing. Like our future is going to be if we don’t fig­ure out how to work towards the com­mon good.

    And in oth­er news...scary depress­ing news...

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | November 14, 2015, 10:24 pm
  47. When the Supreme Court blocked Pres­i­dent Oba­ma’s Clean Pow­er Plan, one of the big imme­di­ate ques­tions was whether or not this would imper­il the recent­ly signed Paris cli­mate accord. And with the death of Antonin Scalia, those ques­tions are get­ting a bit of an upgrade. So as the arti­cle below points out, accord­ing to the Paris cli­mate accord, CO2 emis­sions don’t just need to be reduced. The CO2 is going to have to be sucked out of the air and trapped and that means “neg­a­tive emis­sions” tech­nol­o­gy is going to have to be devel­oped and deployed on a vast scale. It’s a reminder that clean ener­gy may not be enough the far­ther along we go down the path of ele­vat­ed atmos­pher­ic CO2 lev­els. Geo­engi­neer­ing solu­tions might be deemed nec­es­sary if that’s how bad the sit­u­a­tion gets. And it looks like that’s how bad it’s going to get:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Coun­tries just adopt­ed a his­toric cli­mate change accord. Here’s what hap­pens next

    By Chris Mooney Decem­ber 12, 2015

    The word “his­toric,” already being used to describe the just-accept­ed Paris cli­mate agree­ment, is more than war­rant­ed. The world will now have a new and com­pre­hen­sive regime in place to shape how its diverse nations go about the urgent task of reduc­ing their green­house gas emis­sions.

    That’s why cli­mate activists are ecsta­t­ic the world over right now. It’s a big deal.

    The more ambigu­ous news, how­ev­er, is that this doc­u­ment, by its very nature, depends on key sec­tors of soci­ety to respond to help make sure its goals are real­ized. Coun­tries, com­pa­nies and indi­vid­u­als all across the plan­et will have to do the right things — and very hard things, at that. And it’s too soon to tell exact­ly how they will do so.
    s
    What’s more, even if every­one plays by the rules, the stan­dards and goals set out by the Paris agree­ment may not be enough to pre­vent the cat­a­stroph­ic effects of cli­mate change. New sci­ence sug­gests that forces already set in motion — the melt­ing of glac­i­ers, the release of car­bon diox­ide from thaw­ing per­mafrost — could unleash con­sid­er­able impacts that this new deal is unable to pre­vent.

    But those doubts should not over­shad­ow the mag­ni­tude of what was accom­plished. And there are rea­sons for hope.

    Most impor­tant is the ener­gy sec­tor. We have seen even before this land­mark text a sharp growth in renew­able ener­gy install­ments around the world, from the U.S. to Ger­many to Chi­na. We have seen the coal indus­try begin to stum­ble and a surge in nat­ur­al gas.

    The trends, in oth­er words, are already point­ing in the direc­tion that the agree­ment itself means to encour­age.

    But what will ener­gy com­pa­nies — and ener­gy investors — do once they read that the world now intends to “reach glob­al peak­ing of green­house gas emis­sions as soon as possible…and to under­take rapid reduc­tions there­after?” Will this send a strong enough “sig­nal,” in the words of U.S. Sec­re­tary of State John Ker­ry, to change the deci­sions that these com­pa­nies, and these wealthy indi­vid­u­als, make?

    An evo­lu­tion in the pri­vate sec­tor is cru­cial, because despite all the pow­er­ful lan­guage of the Paris agree­ment itself, it does not imme­di­ate­ly oblige coun­tries to do any­thing more than what is con­tained in their already released cli­mate pledges, or “Intend­ed Nation­al­ly Deter­mined Con­tri­bu­tions.”

    And — as has been often stat­ed — these pledges are not com­pat­i­ble with the Paris agreement’s ambi­tious tem­per­a­ture tar­get, which is to lim­it “the increase in the glob­al aver­age tem­per­a­ture to well below 2 °C above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els and to pur­sue efforts to lim­it the tem­per­a­ture increase to 1.5 °C above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els.”

    The doc­u­ment requires coun­tries whose cur­rent pledges go out to 2025 to update them (and up their ambi­tion) in 2020, and coun­tries whose pledges go out to 2030 to do the same. So a lot of progress needs to hap­pen between now and 2020, in the form of rapid instal­la­tions of wind, solar and oth­er forms of renew­able ener­gy around the world. If in 2020 coun­tries look around and see that they’re in the midst of a sur­pris­ing­ly rapid clean ener­gy tran­si­tion, then it will be easy for them to strength­en their pledges.

    Until now, ana­lysts have gen­er­al­ly expect­ed the clean ener­gy tran­si­tion to be grad­ual rather than rad­i­cal, and that we will still sig­nif­i­cant­ly depend upon the use of fos­sil fuels for some time. One key mea­sure of the suc­cess of Paris is how much it changes this dynam­ic. And ear­ly signs sug­gest that it could.

    The new text sends “a very strong sig­nal to busi­ness and investors that there is only one future direc­tion of trav­el to reduce emis­sions in line with a 1.5 degree path­way,” said Stephanie Pfeifer, chief exec­u­tive of the Insti­tu­tion­al Investors Group on Cli­mate Change, whose mem­bers man­age assets val­ued at over 13 tril­lion euros, in a state­ment in response to the new doc­u­ment. “Investors across Europe will now have the con­fi­dence to do much more to address the risks aris­ing from high car­bon assets and to seek oppor­tu­ni­ties linked to the low car­bon tran­si­tion already trans­form­ing the world’s ener­gy sys­tem and infra­struc­ture.”

    Anoth­er key ques­tion, mean­while, is what the agree­ment will do to spur more research into a suite of tech­nolo­gies that go unmen­tioned in the text, but nonethe­less are effec­tive­ly put in the hot seat by it — so-called “neg­a­tive emis­sions” tech­nolo­gies that would be able to remove car­bon diox­ide from the air.

    Sci­en­tists have said that the aspi­ra­tional tem­per­a­ture goal con­tained in the text, name­ly that “par­ties should pur­sue efforts to lim­it the tem­per­a­ture increase to 1.5 °C above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els,” like­ly won’t be pos­si­ble unless we have a large-scale way of remov­ing car­bon diox­ide from the air. Many sce­nar­ios for lim­it­ing warm­ing to 2 degrees C also rely on such tech­nolo­gies.

    The new text itself appears to empow­er these tech­nolo­gies fur­ther when it says that the ulti­mate goal is to “achieve a bal­ance between anthro­pogenic emis­sions by sources and removals by sinks of green­house gas­es in the sec­ond half of this cen­tu­ry.” Sources are things like coal-burn­ing pow­er plants — sinks are things like trees, forests and oceans. But the lan­guage in this sec­tion may also sub­tly invoke neg­a­tive emis­sions tech­nolo­gies.

    Com­ment­ing on this “long term goal” lan­guage, John Schellnhu­ber, direc­tor of the Pots­dam Insti­tute for Cli­mate Impact Research, remarked that “to sta­bi­lize our cli­mate, CO2 emis­sions have to peak well before 2030 and should be elim­i­nat­ed as soon as pos­si­ble after 2050. Tech­nolo­gies such as bio-ener­gy and car­bon cap­ture and stor­age as well as afforesta­tion can play a role to com­pen­sate for resid­ual emis­sions, but cut­ting CO2 is key.”

    In oth­er words, yes — there is going to be a lot of car­bon cut­ting in com­ing cen­turies, but there may also have to be quite a lot of car­bon with­draw­al and bur­ial by human-made devices (or car­bon seques­tra­tion by human-plant­ed trees). The con­ver­sa­tion needs to start now about these tech­nolo­gies — many of which have major side-effects, such as the use of very large amounts of land (to grow the crops and plants that would be burned in bioen­er­gy com­bined with car­bon cap­ture and stor­age schemes).

    “So far, neg­a­tive emis­sions are basi­cal­ly ‘sci­ence fic­tion,’” says Oliv­er Geden, a schol­ar with the Ger­man Insti­tute for Inter­na­tion­al and Secu­ri­ty Affairs. “We will need a seri­ous debate on the con­se­quences, and R&D on a mas­sive scale.”

    ...

    “What’s more, even if every­one plays by the rules, the stan­dards and goals set out by the Paris agree­ment may not be enough to pre­vent the cat­a­stroph­ic effects of cli­mate change. New sci­ence sug­gests that forces already set in motion — the melt­ing of glac­i­ers, the release of car­bon diox­ide from thaw­ing per­mafrost — could unleash con­sid­er­able impacts that this new deal is unable to pre­vent.”
    That could have been more uplift­ing, but it is what it is. Cre­at­ing an ener­gy econ­o­my of the future that incor­po­rates atmos­pher­ic CO2 removal as a basic fea­ture is going to a man­date. Sure, the cli­mate accords don’t actu­al man­date any­thing, but avoid glob­al hor­ri­ble envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phes might, which part of why it’s going to be impor­tant to rec­og­nize that some car­bon reduc­tion tech­nolo­gies are bet­ter than oth­ers. For instance, some car­bon cap­ture tech­nolo­gies are hor­ri­ble envi­ron­men­tal cat­a­stro­phes that would have to be applied glob­al­ly to make a dif­fer­ence:

    The MIT Review

    The Dubi­ous Promise of Bioen­er­gy Plus Car­bon Cap­ture

    Cli­mate change agree­ments rest on neg­a­tive emis­sions tech­nolo­gies that may be unachiev­able.

    by Richard Mar­tin Jan­u­ary 8, 2016

    While many sci­en­tists and cli­mate change activists hailed December’s Paris agree­ment as a his­toric step for­ward for inter­na­tion­al efforts to lim­it glob­al warm­ing, the land­mark accord rests on a high­ly dubi­ous assump­tion: to achieve the goal of lim­it­ing the rise in glob­al aver­age tem­per­a­ture to less than 2 °C (much less the more ambi­tious goal of 1.5 °C), we don’t just need to reduce emis­sions of car­bon diox­ide to essen­tial­ly zero by the end of this cen­tu­ry. We also must remove from the atmos­phere huge amounts of car­bon diox­ide that have already been emit­ted (see “Paris Cli­mate Agree­ment Rests on Shaky Tech­no­log­i­cal Foun­da­tions”).

    Doing so will involve “neg­a­tive emis­sions technologies”—systems that cap­ture car­bon diox­ide and store it, usu­al­ly deep under­ground. Such tech­nolo­gies are the­o­ret­i­cal at best, but they are con­sid­ered crit­i­cal for achiev­ing the Paris goals. Of the 116 sce­nar­ios reviewed by the Inter­gov­ern­men­tal Pan­el on Cli­mate Change to achieve sta­bi­liza­tion of car­bon in the atmos­phere at between 430 and 480 parts per mil­lion (the lev­el con­sid­ered nec­es­sary for a max­i­mum 2 °C rise in tem­per­a­ture), 101 involve some form of neg­a­tive emis­sions.

    There are basi­cal­ly two ways to elim­i­nate car­bon from the atmos­phere. One is to cap­ture it from the air. Tech­nolo­gies to do so are still in their infan­cy and, even if they do prove prac­ti­cal, are like­ly decades away from deployment—far too late to achieve the goals of the Paris agree­ment (see “Mate­ri­als Could Cap­ture CO2 and Make It Use­ful”). The oth­er is to rely on plants to cap­ture the car­bon diox­ide, then burn the plants to gen­er­ate pow­er (or refine them into liq­uid fuels such as ethanol), and cap­ture the result­ing car­bon emis­sions. Known as “bioen­er­gy plus car­bon cap­ture and stor­age,” or BECCS, this cum­ber­some process is receiv­ing renewed atten­tion in the wake of Paris. But there is no guar­an­tee that it will ever work.

    Large amounts of bio­mass would be pro­duced from fast-grow­ing trees, switch­grass, agri­cul­ture waste, or oth­er sources. The bio­mass would then be turned into pel­lets for burn­ing in pow­er plants—either on their own or as addi­tives. The result­ing emis­sions would be sep­a­rat­ed using car­bon-cap­ture tech­nolo­gies that have been proven at small scale but have nev­er been applied eco­nom­i­cal­ly at any­thing like com­mer­cial scale. Final­ly, the car­bon diox­ide would be stored in deep-under­ground aquifers, pre­sum­ably per­ma­nent­ly.

    While each of these steps is tech­ni­cal­ly fea­si­ble, nei­ther has proven to be suc­cess­ful at a large scale. Although there are dozens of projects that use bio­mass, either alone or in com­bi­na­tion with oth­er fuels such as coal, for pro­duc­ing elec­tric­i­ty, there are seri­ous doubts about the eco­nom­ic via­bil­i­ty of the sec­tor, the avail­abil­i­ty of bio­mass sup­plies to sup­port growth, and the life-cycle con­tri­bu­tion of such facil­i­ties to green­house gas emis­sions. Ambi­tious pro­jec­tions for car­bon cap­ture and stor­age pro­grams, mean­while, have proven unre­al­is­tic, and there is lit­tle indi­ca­tion that such sys­tems will become eco­nom­i­cal­ly viable in the fore­see­able future.

    What’s more, although the full BECCS process is often tout­ed as car­bon-neg­a­tive, there are sev­er­al faulty assump­tions in that char­ac­ter­i­za­tion.

    The first is that suf­fi­cient amounts of bio­mass could be pro­duced to dis­place a sig­nif­i­cant per­cent­age of fos­sil-fuel pro­duced elec­tric­i­ty, and that pro­duc­ing those amounts would be car­bon-neu­tral. Advo­cates assert that because plants cap­ture car­bon from the atmos­phere, burn­ing the plants and releas­ing the car­bon back into the atmos­phere does not result in a net gain. That is nom­i­nal­ly true, but it doesn’t account for the ener­gy required for grow­ing, har­vest­ing, pro­cess­ing, and trans­port­ing the bio­mass, and it diverts land from oth­er pur­pos­es, includ­ing food crops, that will become more urgent as the human pop­u­la­tion surges toward nine bil­lion.

    The most promi­nent BECCS project cur­rent­ly under­way is Archer Daniels Midland’s project at Decatur, Illi­nois. The project has been years in devel­op­ment. “Per­mit­ting has been a long and com­plex process,” says Scott McDon­ald, the project man­ag­er. And it still awaits final approval from the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. Once it’s com­plete, the cap­tured car­bon will not be stored under­ground but used for enhanced oil recov­ery in near­by wells. Stud­ies have esti­mat­ed that about a bil­lion bar­rels of resid­ual oil could be recov­ered in the Illi­nois basin using car­bon diox­ide for enhanced oil recov­ery. In oth­er words, a tech­nol­o­gy adver­tised as car­bon-neg­a­tive would result in the pro­duc­tion of a bil­lion new bar­rels of car­bon-pro­duc­ing fos­sil fuels—oil that would not oth­er­wise be pro­duced. That is hard­ly a cli­mate-friend­ly solu­tion.

    ...

    In short, BECCS rep­re­sents the mar­riage of two tech­nolo­gies, nei­ther of which has proven to be viable on its own. The technology’s “cred­i­bil­i­ty as a cli­mate change mit­i­ga­tion option is unproven,” con­clud­ed a Sep­tem­ber 2014 study in Nature Cli­mate Change led by Sabine Fuss, a sci­en­tist at the Mer­ca­tor Research Insti­tute on Glob­al Com­mons and Cli­mate Change in Berlin, “and its wide­spread deploy­ment in cli­mate sta­bi­liza­tion sce­nar­ios might become a dan­ger­ous dis­trac­tion.”

    The most promi­nent BECCS project cur­rent­ly under­way is Archer Daniels Midland’s project at Decatur, Illi­nois. The project has been years in devel­op­ment. “Per­mit­ting has been a long and com­plex process,” says Scott McDon­ald, the project man­ag­er. And it still awaits final approval from the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency. Once it’s com­plete, the cap­tured car­bon will not be stored under­ground but used for enhanced oil recov­ery in near­by wells. Stud­ies have esti­mat­ed that about a bil­lion bar­rels of resid­ual oil could be recov­ered in the Illi­nois basin using car­bon diox­ide for enhanced oil recov­ery. In oth­er words, a tech­nol­o­gy adver­tised as car­bon-neg­a­tive would result in the pro­duc­tion of a bil­lion new bar­rels of car­bon-pro­duc­ing fos­sil fuels—oil that would not oth­er­wise be pro­duced. That is hard­ly a cli­mate-friend­ly solu­tion.
    That’s right, the cap­tured car­bon from Archer Daniels Mid­land’s project is to be used to gen­er­ate CO2 for advanced oil extrac­tion tech­nolo­gies. That too could have been more uplift­ing, but it is what it is which, in this case it, is a recipe for turn­ing crops into a renew­able source of CO2 for oil-extrac­tion com­pounds as part of some sort of car­bon-friend­ly bioen­er­gy pro­gram. Pro­grams like this might be good news for Archer Daniels Mid­land and the oil-recov­ery indus­try, but car­bon-stor­age biotech­nol­o­gy that’s just being used for the tem­po­rary stor­age of that car­bon before it’s released back into the atmos­phere is the kind of pro­gram that does­n’t bode well for the future but is prob­a­bly what we should expect. And with bioen­er­gy as a key tech­nol­o­gy envi­sioned under the Paris accord, that means we should prob­a­bly expect a lot more land to be used for grow­ing bioen­er­gy crops in the future because a bunch of that car­bon cap­tured by the bioen­er­gy crops is just going to be re-released back into the atmos­phere as var­i­ous uses for the stored car­bon are devel­oped.

    In oth­er words, the devel­op­ment of new car­bon stor­age tech­nol­o­gy is inevitably going to facil­i­tate the cre­ation of new car­bon-releas­ing activ­i­ties as new appli­ca­tions for that stored car­bon get devel­oped too. It all comes down to the net amounts stored or released, which is if you’re a crit­ter liv­ing on the poten­tial­ly arable land around of the globe, the plan to grow crops for car­bon cap­tured ener­gy isn’t real­ly the most sus­tain­able solu­tion for your habi­tat because we’re going to need A LOT of land:

    Nation­al Geo­graph­ic
    Mas­sive Tree Farms May Be a Real­ly Bad Cli­mate Idea

    World-wide tree plan­ta­tions, soil mod­i­fi­ca­tion or bioen­er­gy crops could add to the plan­e­tary harm of glob­al warm­ing, sci­en­tist warns.

    By Mar­i­anne Lavelle

    PUBLISHED Wed Feb 10 13:15:00 EST 2016

    To meet the Paris cli­mate deal’s goal of deep green­house gas cuts, nations appear to be rely­ing on cost­ly, pos­si­bly harm­ful large-scale projects to suck car­bon diox­ide from the atmos­phere, says a new paper with sober­ing cal­cu­la­tions of the risks.

    “The Paris agree­ment shows where we want to go — the brave new world of a bal­anced car­bon bud­get — but not how to get there,” says Phil Williamson, envi­ron­men­tal sci­en­tist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of East Anglia in the Unit­ed King­dom and sci­ence coor­di­na­tor for the U.K. gov­ern­men­t’s Nat­ur­al Envi­ron­ment Research Coun­cil.

    Williamson warned in a com­men­tary Wednes­day in Nature that even seem­ing­ly ben­e­fi­cial approach­es like tree plant­i­ng could wreak hav­oc if they are imple­ment­ed on the mas­sive scale required to lim­it the increase in aver­age glob­al tem­per­a­ture to below 2° Cel­sius.

    “There’s a lot of opti­mism based on the assump­tion it will all be all right, because some­time in the future, we’re going to be able to remove the car­bon,” Williamson said in a phone inter­view. “Well, that’s actu­al­ly going to be more trou­ble and more expen­sive than if you face up to the prob­lem now.” He said research is urgent­ly need­ed on the con­se­quences of these mas­sive car­bon removal projects, which he says are essen­tial­ly geo­engi­neer­ing projects by anoth­er name.

    Paris nego­tia­tors did not specif­i­cal­ly dis­cuss car­bon removal, but Williamson argues their deal implic­it­ly relies upon large-scale mit­i­ga­tion projects, because nations are not on track to cut fos­sil fuel burn­ing enough to meet the pact’s tar­gets.

    For exam­ple, he offers stark num­bers on the poten­tial impact of bioen­er­gy with car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (BECCS)—or the grow­ing of crops, from grass­es to trees, that can be burned at pow­er sta­tions for elec­tric­i­ty while the car­bon emit­ted is cap­tured and stored. Williamson cal­cu­lates that for the cuts envi­sioned under the Paris deal, crops sole­ly for car­bon removal would have to be plant­ed on 430 mil­lion to 580 mil­lion hectares (1,060 mil­lion to 1,440 mil­lion acres) of land—about one third of the total arable land on the plan­et, or half the land area of the Unit­ed States.

    Such depen­dence on BECCS could cause a loss of ter­res­tri­al species at the end of the cen­tu­ry per­haps worse than the loss­es result­ing from a tem­per­a­ture increase of about 2.8 °C above pre-indus­tri­al lev­els, Williamson wrote.

    He also ana­lyzed the pos­si­ble impact of tech­niques to increase car­bon sequestered in soil—for exam­ple, by plow­ing biochar, a form of char­coal, into agri­cul­tur­al plots. If mil­lions of acres of soil were dark­ened by appli­ca­tion of biochar—as would be required to achieve deep car­bon cuts—the albe­do, or reflec­tiv­i­ty, of the soil would be reduced, increas­ing the Earth­’s heat absorp­tion sig­nif­i­cant­ly.

    An alter­na­tive would be to add pul­ver­ized reflec­tive rock-like sil­i­cate to the soil sur­face. But it entails a huge amount of rock. To cut 50 parts per mil­lion of CO2 in the atmos­phere (a 12 per­cent decrease from cur­rent lev­els), coun­tries would need to apply one to five kilo­grams per square meter of sil­i­cate rock each year to as much as 45 per­cent of the Earth­’s land sur­face area, most­ly in the trop­ics, Williamson wrote. The vol­ume of rock mined and processed would have to exceed the amount of coal cur­rent­ly pro­duced world­wide, at a cost of more than $60 tril­lion, with envi­ron­men­tal degra­da­tion of adja­cent water sys­tems.

    Ken Caldeira, an atmos­pher­ic sci­en­tist at the Carnegie Insti­tu­tion for Sci­ence who has long argued for increased efforts to devel­op car­bon removal tech­nolo­gies, notes that he and oth­ers who have been work­ing on geo­engi­neer­ing also advo­cate the cut­ting of car­bon emis­sions as deeply and as rapid­ly as is prac­ti­ca­ble. “But [we] are con­cerned that even our best efforts may not suf­fice to avoid dan­ger­ous cli­mate change,” Caldeira said.

    Indeed, in a new study pub­lished this week in Nature Cli­mate Change, researchers at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty and Lawrence Liv­er­more Nation­al Lab­o­ra­to­ry found that the longer-term sea lev­el rise impacts due to cli­mate change will con­tin­ue well past the 21st cen­tu­ry. Giv­en the long time scales of the car­bon cycle, the authors said reduc­ing emis­sions slight­ly or even sig­nif­i­cant­ly is not suf­fi­cient.

    “To spare future gen­er­a­tions from the worst impacts of cli­mate change, the tar­get must be zero — or even neg­a­tive car­bon emis­sions — as soon as pos­si­ble,” said Peter Clark, Ore­gon State pale­o­cli­ma­tol­o­gist.

    Caldeira said increased research into the impact of car­bon diox­ide removal would be a good thing, but it should­n’t take away from invest­ment in promis­ing tech­nolo­gies such as solar pow­er.

    Williamson pre­vi­ous­ly led sci­en­tif­ic research reviews for the UN Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­si­ty on one geo­engi­neer­ing pro­pos­al: ocean fer­til­iza­tion with iron to increase its abil­i­ty to store car­bon. Ini­tial opti­mism about that idea fad­ed, he said, after research showed the poten­tial costs and unin­tend­ed con­se­quences to marine life.

    ...

    “For exam­ple, he offers stark num­bers on the poten­tial impact of bioen­er­gy with car­bon cap­ture and stor­age (BECCS)—or the grow­ing of crops, from grass­es to trees, that can be burned at pow­er sta­tions for elec­tric­i­ty while the car­bon emit­ted is cap­tured and stored. Williamson cal­cu­lates that for the cuts envi­sioned under the Paris deal, crops sole­ly for car­bon removal would have to be plant­ed on 430 mil­lion to 580 mil­lion hectares (1,060 mil­lion to 1,440 mil­lion acres) of land—about one third of the total arable land on the plan­et, or half the land area of the Unit­ed States..”
    A third of all arable land on the plan­et does seem exces­sive. And while we’re high­ly unlike­ly to actu­al­ly use that much land for bioen­er­gy pur­pos­es, the fact that reach­ing the cli­mate accord’s goals would require plant­i­ng on that scale is a reminder that even if destruc­tive solu­tions like bioen­er­gy are embraced as part of the glob­al approach to cli­mate change, there’s going to nec­es­sar­i­ly be a num­ber of dif­fer­ent approach­es tried simul­ta­ne­ous­ly. The scope of the prob­lem is matched only by the mag­ni­tude of the con­se­quences if we fail. If we don’t achieve the unprece­dent­ed, we’re his­to­ry, so we might fail and flail, but we’re going to try.

    So, odds are human­i­ty (and life on Earth) is in store for a bunch of failed bioenergy/geoengineering projects. Who knows, maybe human­i­ty will pull off some sort of come from behind vic­to­ry and avoid a path of unre­lent­ing grow­ing mega-crises. Maybe. But if the mega-crises aren’t avoid­ed, at least we’ll be able to tell future gen­er­a­tions that the CO2 used for our our advanced oil-extrac­tion tech­nol­o­gy was both renew­able and car­bon-neg­a­tive.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | February 14, 2016, 11:06 pm
  48. The US Fed­er­al Trade Com­mis­sion just announced that it’s start­ing legal pro­ceed­ings against Volk­swa­gen over the decep­tive adver­tis­ing of their “clean” diesel vehi­cles. It a step towards rec­ti­fy­ing the sit­u­a­tion, at least for US con­sumers. But what about the bees? Don’t the bees have a strong case against VW too? Well, if it stud­ies turn out to be accu­rate indi­cat­ing that the NOx gas­es in diesel exhaust chem­i­cal­ly react with the odor­ous flo­ral chem­i­cals released by flow­ers that bees require for remem­ber­ing the flow­ers’ loca­tions then, yes, it would appear the bees have a pret­ty good case:

    Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

    Fuel Exhaust Dis­rupts Scent Sig­nals for Hon­ey­bees
    Even “clean” diesel and bio­fu­el gen­er­ate gas­es that pose threat to pol­li­na­tors.

    By Helen Thomp­son, for Nation­al Geo­graph­ic

    PUBLISHED Octo­ber 5, 2013

    To a bee, no two flow­ers smell quite the same. When hon­ey­bees for­age for flow­ers, they search for, learn, and mem­o­rize dis­tinc­tive flo­ral scents and return to the hive to tell oth­er bees what they’ve found through their famous wag­gle dance.

    It is an impor­tant rit­u­al that is being dis­rupt­ed by one of the most per­va­sive forms of air pol­lu­tion—diesel exhaust—accord­ing to a new study pub­lished Thurs­day in Sci­en­tif­ic Reports. The research pin­points the mech­a­nism by which the fuel-com­bus­tion pol­lu­tants degrade cer­tain chem­i­cals in flo­ral odors. The absence of those chem­i­cals affects hon­ey­bees’ abil­i­ty to rec­og­nize the scent. (See relat­ed quiz: “What You Don’t Know About Cars and Fuel.”)

    Engine exhaust is hard­ly the only threat fac­ing the hon­ey­bee. It is well rec­og­nized that expo­sure to mul­ti­ple pes­ti­cides can impair bees’ olfac­to­ry skills, while ground-lev­el ozone, or smog, and ultra­vi­o­let (UV) radi­a­tion can also degrade flo­ral odor com­pounds that bees pick up on. Author­i­ties around the globe are grap­pling with how to address the lit­tle-under­stood cycli­cal dis­eases that are caus­ing colonies to dwin­dle. (See relat­ed, “The Plight of the Hon­ey­bee.”)

    The new study offers insight into the spe­cif­ic haz­ard for pol­li­na­tors from the fumes from cars, trucks, trains, ships, and heavy machin­ery. Sig­nif­i­cant­ly, the study indi­cates that hon­ey­bees haven’t been helped by the “clean­er” diesel now used in Europe and the Unit­ed States due to reg­u­la­tions that over the past decade removed sul­fur from the fuel. The researchers used ultra-low-sul­fur diesel fuel in their exper­i­ment. (See relat­ed: “Pic­tures: Cars That Fired Our Love-Hate Rela­tion­ship With Fuel.”)

    Odor Cues

    Thou­sands of chem­i­cal com­pounds con­tribute to flower odors, so hon­ey­bees (Apis mel­lif­era) need a dis­cern­ing sense of smell. “A hon­ey­bee might see a red flower, and say oh is this a flower that I want to vis­it, and [it] uses odor cues to fig­ure out if it’s worth vis­it­ing,” said Quinn McFred­er­ick, an ecol­o­gist at Fres­no State Uni­ver­si­ty in Cal­i­for­nia. Odor cues can tell bees which flow­ers have the most nutri­tious nec­tar and pollen for har­vest­ing.

    Sci­en­tists have long thought that air pol­lu­tion masked these key flo­ral scents, but the new study pro­vides evi­dence of how the exhaust actu­al­ly changed the chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion of the odors. Using an odor palette from a com­mon tar­get for hon­ey­bees, oilseed rape flow­ers (Bras­si­ca napus), a research team at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton in the Unit­ed King­dom exposed the com­pounds to diesel fumes from a gen­er­a­tor fueled by ultra-low-sul­fur diesel. Almost imme­di­ate­ly, the diesel fumes start­ed break­ing down two of the flower odor com­pounds: far­ne­sene and ter­pinene. After train­ing hon­ey­bees rec­og­nize the flower scent, the researchers removed both degrad­ed com­pounds from the mix.

    “To our sur­prise, real­ly, we saw that even changes in one of the very minor con­stituents of the mix­ture caused a major change in the respon­sive­ness of the bee to the smell,” said Tracey New­man, a neu­ro­bi­ol­o­gist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton and a co-author of the study.

    The researchers said one com­po­nent of diesel exhaust takes the blame for this degra­da­tion: NOx gas­es, com­pounds that con­tain both nitro­gen and oxy­gen, react­ing with volatile flo­ral odors. Although the sci­en­tists used diesel fuel, which pow­ers the major­i­ty of cars in Europe and near­ly all heavy vehi­cles around the world, NOx gas­es also are emit­ted by gaso­line, or petrol, and even alter­na­tive fuels like biodiesel and ethanol. (See relat­ed, “Bio­fu­el at a Cross­roads.”) “The bot­tom line is I don’t think one can start point­ing one’s fin­ger at biodiesel, diesel, or petrol,” said Guy Pop­py, an ecol­o­gist and co-author on the study. It’s a larg­er issue with inter­nal com­bus­tion engines, he said.

    Both the Unit­ed States and the Euro­pean Union use nitro­gen diox­ide (NO2) lev­els as a proxy for all NOx gas­es and have set lim­its for the amount of NO2 in the air, but not for nitric oxide (NO) lev­els. Pop­py said, “These are the sorts of emis­sions that are some­times left out from the dis­cus­sions about cli­mate change because these emis­sions are not ones as heav­i­ly asso­ci­at­ed with green­house gas­es.” (See relat­ed “Pic­tures: A Rare Look Inside Car­mak­ers’ Dri­ve for 55 MPG.”)

    Flower Chem­istry

    Oilseed rape flow­ers aren’t the sweet­est smelling blooms. “They’re actu­al­ly a bit stinky,” New­man said. But, their odors are very well under­stood, and these two degrad­ed com­pounds appear to be a key ele­ment of odor com­mu­ni­ca­tion for bees. Oth­er bee species and oth­er pol­li­na­tors rely even more heav­i­ly on scent over longer dis­tances. So, the find­ings could have major impli­ca­tions for oth­er pol­li­na­tors as well, said McFred­er­ick, who was not affil­i­at­ed with the study.

    Inter­est­ing­ly, the degrad­ed com­pounds in this exper­i­ment were present only at low lev­els, and remov­ing ter­pinene by itself led to a sig­nif­i­cant decline in bee recog­ni­tion in the exper­i­ment. “That sug­gests that that in some way kicks off a par­tic­u­lar path­way in the odor per­cep­tion abil­i­ties of the ani­mal,” said New­man.

    The researchers’ next step is to look at the impact of diesel on the hon­ey­bee ner­vous sys­tem.

    How will these find­ings play out in the real world? “The study clear­ly illus­trates that air­borne pol­lu­tion can per­ni­cious­ly impact the abil­i­ty of bees to locate food,” said Jose Fuentes, a mete­o­rol­o­gist at Penn State Uni­ver­si­ty who was not asso­ci­at­ed with the study. Fuentes spelled out two cautions:The exper­i­men­tal lev­els of pol­lu­tants were high even for urban rush hour; and the impact of the NOx gas­es might actu­al­ly be an indi­rect one. That’s because NOx gas­es noto­ri­ous­ly react with air and sun­light to make ground-lev­el ozone, or smog, which may be the actu­al cul­prit in dis­rupt­ing the flo­ral odor com­pounds.

    Urban envi­ron­ments expose hon­ey­bees and flow­ers to more diesel exhaust, but there are many impor­tant fac­tors affect­ing the suc­cess of hives. The kind of neigh­bor­hood gar­dens found in urban and sub­ur­ban areas also might pro­vide bees with longer last­ing food sources than in rur­al areas. Field stud­ies could shed more light on the impact of air pol­lu­tion. “What we need to know is [for] a flower sit­ting in a field next to a car in a motor­way, whether there actu­al­ly is going to be a plume of smell com­ing from that flower and whether it’s going to be sig­nif­i­cant­ly affect­ed because of the exhaust fumes,” said Pop­py. The worst-case sce­nario would be to find a dras­tic reduc­tion in hon­ey­bee for­ag­ing and pol­li­na­tion.

    ...

    “Hon­ey­bees liv­ing in a mod­ern world face many stress­es,” includ­ing dis­eases, insec­ti­cides, and atmos­pher­ic pol­lu­tants, Pop­py said. “Prob­a­bly bees can cope with most of these stress­es in iso­la­tion or when just two or three of them come togeth­er. But, when they all come togeth­er simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, one might start to see sig­nif­i­cant effects and that might explain some of the things we’re see­ing … with pol­li­na­tors being lost around the world.”

    ““The bot­tom line is I don’t think one can start point­ing one’s fin­ger at biodiesel, diesel, or petrol,” said Guy Pop­py, an ecol­o­gist and co-author on the study. It’s a larg­er issue with inter­nal com­bus­tion engines, he said.
    So the good news is that diesel emis­sions prob­a­bly aren’t the pri­ma­ry pri­ma­ry threat to bees. It’s more of a ‘death by a thou­sand envi­ron­men­tal insults’ phe­nom­e­na. The bad news is, of course, the thou­sand envi­ron­men­tal insults that threat­ens to kill a lot more than just bees.

    Is it time for the bees to lawyer up? If it’s not just an issue with diesel but com­bus­tion engines in gen­er­al, that’s going to require a lot of bee lawyers. And note the study’s caveats:

    ...
    How will these find­ings play out in the real world? “The study clear­ly illus­trates that air­borne pol­lu­tion can per­ni­cious­ly impact the abil­i­ty of bees to locate food,” said Jose Fuentes, a mete­o­rol­o­gist at Penn State Uni­ver­si­ty who was not asso­ci­at­ed with the study. Fuentes spelled out two cautions:The exper­i­men­tal lev­els of pol­lu­tants were high even for urban rush hour; and the impact of the NOx gas­es might actu­al­ly be an indi­rect one. That’s because NOx gas­es noto­ri­ous­ly react with air and sun­light to make ground-lev­el ozone, or smog, which may be the actu­al cul­prit in dis­rupt­ing the flo­ral odor com­pounds.
    ...

    So it may not be pri­mar­i­ly com­bus­tion engine emis­sions but instead any­thing that con­tributes to ground-lev­el ozone that’s break­ing down the the flow­ery odors bees need. And, if that’s the case, yes, the bees are going to need A LOT more lawyers.

    But any future class action bee law­suits will depend on fur­ther stud­ies back­ing up the above sci­en­tif­ic find­ings. So we’ll have to wait and see what fur­ther research finds, although there might not be many bees left if we wait too long giv­en the con­clu­sions of a recent­ly pub­lished fol­low-up study:

    Newsweek Europe

    Diesel Fumes Threat­en Bees Abil­i­ty to Find Flow­ers

    By Nick Win­ches­ter On 10/20/15 at 3:06 PM

    Tox­ic nitrous oxide (NOx) from diesel exhausts is reduc­ing bees’ abil­i­ty to locate pollen, a new study has found.

    Accord­ing to the study titled, “The Effects of Diesel Exhaust Pol­lu­tion on Flo­ral Volatiles and the Con­se­quences for Hon­ey Bee Olfac­tion,” pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Chem­i­cal Ecol­o­gy, bees are find­ing it hard­er to dis­tin­guish flo­ral odors. The work, fund­ed by the Lev­er­hulme Trust, fur­thers a 2013 study by the same researchers that dis­cov­ered that pol­lu­tion was con­fus­ing bees sense of smell.

    For the study, researchers from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Southamp­ton and the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing exposed chem­i­cal com­pounds in flower odors to NOx that is found in diesel fumes. They dis­cov­ered that five out of the 11 most com­mon chem­i­cal com­pounds that make up flo­ral odors were per­ma­nent­ly altered after being exposed.

    “Bees are worth mil­lions to the British econ­o­my alone, but we know they have been in decline world­wide,” said the study’s lead author Dr Rob­bie Girling, from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Read­ing’s Cen­ter for Agri-Envi­ron­men­tal Research. “We don’t think that air pol­lu­tion from diesel vehi­cles is the main rea­son for this decline, but our lat­est work sug­gests that it may have a worse effect on the flower odors need­ed by bees than we ini­tial­ly thought.

    “Peo­ple rely on bees and pol­li­nat­ing insects for a large pro­por­tion of our food, yet humans have paid the bees back with habi­tat destruc­tion, insec­ti­cides, cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion,” Girling added.

    The research indi­cates that pol­lu­tion not only impacts human health, but has a great effect on the envi­ron­ment and econ­o­my too.

    ...

    The pol­li­na­tion process is essen­tial to the sur­vival of both bees and plants, and inte­gral for food pro­duc­tion. Accord­ing to a 2011 Unit­ed Nations report, 70 out of the 100 crop species that make up 90 per­cent of the world’s food stock require pol­li­na­tion by bees.

    Ear­li­er this month, a study that looked at muse­um records span­ning 110 years found that glob­al warm­ing is a major rea­son why bum­ble­bee pop­u­la­tions are declin­ing in North Amer­i­ca and Europe.

    “Peo­ple rely on bees and pol­li­nat­ing insects for a large pro­por­tion of our food, yet humans have paid the bees back with habi­tat destruc­tion, insec­ti­cides, cli­mate change and air pol­lu­tion”
    Yep. Let’s hope the bees are busy work­ing on their open­ing state­ments.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | March 30, 2016, 10:00 pm
  49. Cal­i­for­nia con­duct­ed its annu­al snow pack sur­vey and the news is, well, rel­a­tive­ly good: After 5 years of severe drought, and with the help of El Nino, drought con­di­tions have indeed improved. Of course, while this is rel­a­tive­ly good com­pared to dis­as­trous news over recent years, that does­n’t mean it still can’t be over­all bad rel­a­tive to what was need­ed:

    The Wash­ing­ton Post

    Cal­i­for­nia drought endures as snow­pack falls short of El Niño expec­ta­tions

    By Angela Fritz March 31

    The results of the annu­al Cal­i­for­nia snow sur­vey are in. Despite the huge increase from one year ago, snow­pack is still below aver­age for this time of year. This is a dis­ap­point­ing out­come after what seemed to be the best pos­si­ble sce­nario for the state — a very strong El Niño fes­ter­ing in the trop­i­cal Pacif­ic Ocean.

    Every month from Jan­u­ary to May, a sur­vey team from the Cal­i­for­nia Depart­ment of Water Resources hikes to Phillips Sta­tion, high in the Sier­ra Moun­tains east of Sacra­men­to. There, they mea­sure snow depth and water con­tent — how much liq­uid water is con­tained in the snow­pack.

    The April sur­vey, con­duct­ed in the last cou­ple days of March, is always met with high antic­i­pa­tion. At this point in the win­ter sea­son, snow­pack should be at its high­est.

    Sier­ra snow­fall is just as impor­tant for drought con­di­tions as the rain that runs off into reser­voirs. Snow pro­vides around 30 per­cent of California’s water, held on the moun­tains until spring when it begins to melt.

    Cal­i­for­nia statewide snow­pack is just 87 per­cent of aver­age for this time of year, the sur­vey team found on Wednes­day. Although the results are a huge improve­ment over last year at this time, snow and water con­tent still fell short of aver­age — even far­ther short of the snowy boom that was expect­ed thanks to a very strong El Niño.

    Frank Gehrke, chief of the Cal­i­for­nia Coop­er­a­tive Snow Sur­veys Pro­gram, leads the expe­di­tion to Phillips Sta­tion every month. “It’s clear­ly not what we had hoped,” Gehrke told the gag­gle of press that made the trip with the team. “It seems good because it was so much bet­ter than last year.”

    The statewide mea­sure­ment in 2015 was just five per­cent of nor­mal, the low­est it had ever been since 1950. “This was a dry dusty field last year,” Gehrke added.

    But while this winter’s mea­sure­ment exceeds every year since 2012, it wasn’t enough.

    “It’s giv­ing us a sober assess­ment of where were are,” Cal­i­for­nia Water Resources Depart­ment spokesman Doug Carl­son told The Wash­ing­ton Post. “We as a state agency didn’t buy into the hype of the arrival of El Niño. Many saw this ocean phe­nom­e­non as a sav­ior. The depart­ment here was not buy­ing into that, but we cer­tain­ly had high hopes.”

    Strong El Niños tend to enhance win­ter­time pre­cip­i­ta­tion along the West Coast. Notably, in the El Niño win­ter of 1982–1983, there was over 150 inch­es of snow on the ground dur­ing the April sur­vey. Come late May, there was still over 50 inch­es of snow, prompt­ing an rare June sur­vey mea­sure­ment — some­thing the team hasn’t had the oppor­tu­ni­ty to do since.

    “It’s easy to fall into the trap of look­ing at a famil­iar phe­nom­e­non and maybe putting too much weight on it,” said Gehrke, “and it’s clear that’s what we did this year.”

    ...

    Gehrke was clear to note the sil­ver lin­ing, though. This year could have been a lot worse, and that every bit helps. “It’s halt­ing the down­ward spi­ral that we’ve been in the past two years,” he said. “It’s bet­ter than we were, let’s put it that way.”

    “It’s easy to fall into the trap of look­ing at a famil­iar phe­nom­e­non and maybe putting too much weight on it...and it’s clear that’s what we did this year.”
    The times they are a changin. For the worse. And that means expect­ing the unex­pect­ed­ly worse is one of the best ways to the neg­a­tive con­se­quences of look­ing at a famil­iar phe­nom­e­non and maybe putting too much weight on it. So, unfor­tu­nate­ly, it appears that we’re in a sit­u­a­tion where real­is­tic opti­mism for our abil­i­ty to deal with future chal­lenges relies on our pes­simism of future cir­cum­stances:

    SFGate

    California’s drought: Get used to it, sci­en­tists say

    By Kevin Schultz Updat­ed 7:08 am, Sat­ur­day, April 2, 2016

    The Bay Area and the rest of the state may as well get com­fort­able with drought.

    Stan­ford sci­en­tists, along with researchers from North­west­ern Uni­ver­si­ty and Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, say the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions that have paved the way for California’s record drought have occurred at increas­ing inter­vals in recent decades, sig­nal­ing that the cur­rent con­di­tions may be the new norm.

    In oth­er words, the sci­en­tists said, mod­er­ate Cal­i­for­nia weath­er may be a thing of the past, with weath­er trend­ing toward extreme­ly warm and dry years, with inter­mit­tent extremes of warm and wet weath­er.

    “We are now in a new cli­mate where the atmos­pher­ic con­fig­u­ra­tions that lead to drought are much more com­mon,” said Noah Dif­f­en­baugh, a Stan­ford pro­fes­sor of earth sci­ence and an author of a study pub­lished Fri­day in Sci­ence Advances.

    While the years with warm and wet weath­er extremes have also become more com­mon in the state, increased tem­per­a­tures accom­pa­ny­ing the pre­cip­i­ta­tion tend to lead to quick­er evap­o­ra­tion, Dif­f­en­baugh said. That, along with inad­e­quate­ly adjust­ed water man­age­ment, would reduce any ben­e­fit of the wet­ter weath­er, he said.

    For the study, researchers tracked the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions for the wettest and dri­est and coolest and warmest years of the state’s typ­i­cal win­ter sea­sons from 1948 to 2015.

    From those records, they pro­duced a com­pos­ite for what the atmos­phere looks like dur­ing each of the years with the most extreme weath­er con­di­tions by Cal­i­for­nia stan­dards. They deter­mined that the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions respon­si­ble for those years have become increas­ing­ly more com­mon.

    The con­di­tions for both the warmest and dri­est years is gen­er­al­ly cre­at­ed, the sci­en­tists said, when increased coastal tem­per­a­tures warm air in the low­er atmos­phere, cre­at­ing a ridge of high pres­sure that ramps up tem­per­a­tures even fur­ther and blocks rain-bear­ing storms from reach­ing the state.

    “When these ridges per­sist for most or all of our rainy sea­son we lose our oppor­tu­ni­ty for rain that sea­son,” said Daniel Swain, a doc­tor­al stu­dent at Stan­ford and lead author of the study. “If one sticks around for the win­ter, that’s pret­ty much it for the year.”

    ...

    More research is need­ed to explain the exact caus­es of the increase in tem­per­a­tures along the coast that trig­gers the ridge, Swain said. One expla­na­tion, he said, could be man-made caus­es.

    The sci­en­tists were sure that ongo­ing, grad­ual cli­mate change adds to the over­all rise in tem­per­a­tures and drought.

    “We are super­im­pos­ing this on top of the warm­ing trend that is already occur­ring here,” Swain said. “It’s a com­bined effect.”

    Over­all, the sci­en­tists said, the study adds to a sub­stan­tial body of evi­dence that California’s weath­er is chang­ing.

    “Cal­i­for­nia is now in a new cli­mate,” Dif­f­en­baugh said, “a dif­fer­ent cli­mate than we had when our legal water rates were designed more than a cen­tu­ry ago and when our water infra­struc­ture and man­age­ment sys­tems were built half a cen­tu­ry ago.

    “Our cli­mate is on a tra­jec­to­ry to con­tin­ue to change, and man­ag­ing our water resources will require some catch­ing up.”

    “In oth­er words, the sci­en­tists said, mod­er­ate Cal­i­for­nia weath­er may be a thing of the past, with weath­er trend­ing toward extreme­ly warm and dry years, with inter­mit­tent extremes of warm and wet weath­er.”
    Drought. Then a bunch of rain. But not enough rain to off­set the drought. It’s not the future would should be opti­mistic about, espe­cial­ly for states that are basi­cal­ly already deserts. But it would be a lot worse if we weren’t expect­ing it. Although it might be even worse if part of what’s fuel­ing the dis­as­ter is mar­ket demand from a group of nations that are even more screwed than Cal­i­for­nia, water-wise:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press
    Sau­di land pur­chas­es fuel debate over US water rights

    By ELLIOT SPAGAT and AYA BATRAWY
    Mar. 28, 2016 4:06 PM EDT

    SAN DIEGO (AP) — Sau­di Ara­bi­a’s largest dairy com­pa­ny will soon be unable to farm alfal­fa in its own parched coun­try to feed its 170,000 cows. So it’s turn­ing to an unlike­ly place to grow the water-chug­ging crop — the drought-strick­en Amer­i­can South­west.

    Almarai Co. bought land in Jan­u­ary that rough­ly dou­bled its hold­ings in Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Palo Verde Val­ley, an area that enjoys first dibs on water from the Col­orado Riv­er. The com­pa­ny also acquired a large tract near Vicks­burg, Ari­zona, becom­ing a pow­er­ful eco­nom­ic force in a region that has few­er well-pump­ing restric­tions than oth­er parts of the state.

    The pur­chas­es total­ing about 14,000 acres enable the Saud­is to take advan­tage of farm-friend­ly U.S. water laws. The acqui­si­tions have also rekin­dled debate over whether a patch­work of reg­u­la­tions and court rul­ings in the West favors farm­ers too heav­i­ly, espe­cial­ly those who grow thirsty, low-prof­it crops such as alfal­fa at a time when cities are urg­ing peo­ple to take short­er show­ers, skip car wash­es and tear out grass lawns.

    “It flies in the face of eco­nom­ic rea­son,” said John Szczepan­s­ki, direc­tor of the U.S. For­age Export Coun­cil. “You’ve tak­en on all of the risk a farmer has. The only way you can jus­ti­fy that is that they’re real­ly not try­ing to make a prof­it. They’re try­ing to secure the food sup­ply.”

    For decades, Sau­di Ara­bia attempt­ed to grow its own water-inten­sive crops for food rather than rely on farms abroad. But it reversed that pol­i­cy about eight years ago to pro­tect scarce sup­plies.

    To fur­ther con­serve water, the coun­try has adopt­ed bans on select­ed crops. This year, the king­dom will no longer pro­duce wheat. In Decem­ber, the gov­ern­ment announced the coun­try will stop grow­ing green fod­der, live­stock feed derived from crops like alfal­fa, over the next three years.

    Almarai already farms world­wide to make sure that weath­er, trans­porta­tion prob­lems or oth­er con­di­tions don’t inter­rupt sup­plies. The expan­sion in the Amer­i­can South­west was a “nat­ur­al pro­gres­sion” in its effort to diver­si­fy sup­ply, said Jor­dan Rose, an attor­ney for the com­pa­ny’s Ari­zona unit.

    ...

    Despite the wide­spread drought con­di­tions, the U.S. is attrac­tive to water-seek­ing com­pa­nies because it has strong legal pro­tec­tions for agri­cul­ture, even though the price of land is high­er than in oth­er places.

    “South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona have good water rights. Who knows if that will change, but that’s the way things are now,” said Daniel Put­nam, an agron­o­mist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, Davis.

    Over the last decade, Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates emerged as sig­nif­i­cant buy­ers of Amer­i­can hay as their gov­ern­ments moved to curb water use. Togeth­er they account­ed for 10 per­cent of U.S. exports of alfal­fa and oth­er grass­es last year.

    The land pur­chas­es sig­nal that Almarai does­n’t just want to buy hay; it wants to grow. And it’s not the only Arab-owned Gulf com­pa­ny to take that approach.

    Al Dahra ACX Glob­al Inc., a top U.S. hay exporter based in Bak­ers­field, Cal­i­for­nia, is owned by Al Dahra Agri­cul­ture Co. of Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates. It farms exten­sive­ly in South­ern Cal­i­for­nia and Ari­zona and, accord­ing to its web­site, plans to add 7,500 acres in the Unit­ed States for alfal­fa and oth­er crops. The exporter pack­ages crops grown across the West at its two plants in Cal­i­for­nia and one in Wash­ing­ton state.

    Most of the farms that Arab com­pa­nies own world­wide are in devel­op­ing nations. For instance, Qatar’s sov­er­eign wealth fund has hold­ings in Latin Amer­i­ca and Africa.

    But part of the king­dom’s long-term food secu­ri­ty strat­e­gy means invest­ing in high­er-cost coun­tries with greater polit­i­cal sta­bil­i­ty, said John Law­ton, own­er of Agri­cul­ture Tech­nol­o­gy Co., a farm­ing com­pa­ny in Sau­di Ara­bia.

    In 2014, Almarai paid $47.5 mil­lion for more than 9,800 acres in La Paz Coun­ty, Ari­zona, a sparse­ly pop­u­lat­ed alfal­fa-grow­ing region that is exempt from severe restric­tions on pump­ing imposed on Phoenix, Tuc­son and oth­er large Ari­zona cities under a 1980 state law designed to pro­tect the state’s aquifers.

    It lat­er turned to the Palo Verde Val­ley, where South­ern Cal­i­for­nia set­tlers staked claim to the Col­orado Riv­er in 1877, beat­ing Los Ange­les and San Diego under a Gold Rush-era doc­trine called “first in time, first in right” that gov­erns the 1,450-mile water­way. The com­pa­ny paid $31.5 mil­lion for 1,790 acres in Jan­u­ary after buy­ing about 2,000 acres there last year.

    Farm­ers and water experts have greet­ed Almarai with both cheers and jeers.

    Sup­port­ers note that the com­pa­ny has embraced water-con­ser­va­tion meth­ods that few oth­er farm­ers have adopt­ed. The Ari­zona Depart­ment of Water Resources released maps that show well lev­els on Almarai’s prop­er­ty in La Paz Coun­ty rose in recent years, and the far­m’s foot­print has remained about the same since 2000.

    In Cal­i­for­nia, some farm­ers say Almarai is a well-run com­pa­ny that has boost­ed the econ­o­my by grow­ing its own alfal­fa and buy­ing more hay from neigh­bor­ing farm­ers. The com­pa­ny recent­ly broke ground on a plant in Cal­i­for­ni­a’s Impe­r­i­al Val­ley to pack­age hay into ship-ready bales.

    Oth­ers say the pur­chas­es high­light mis­guid­ed water poli­cies. La Paz Coun­ty Super­vi­sor Hol­ly Irwin rais­es con­cern that Almarai will deplete wells.

    “We’ve got them com­ing, mov­ing in here and using our nat­ur­al resources up. Why isn’t any­one pay­ing atten­tion to the ground we live on?” she said.

    Christo­pher Thorn­berg, an econ­o­mist at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia at River­side, called alfal­fa farms a “shock­ing waste of a resource” and sug­gest­ed Cal­i­for­nia con­sid­er seiz­ing land under emi­nent domain.

    “At some point in time,” he said, “we have to face the fact that the state can­not con­tin­ue to pros­per under the cur­rent cir­cum­stances.”

    “Over the last decade, Sau­di Ara­bia and the Unit­ed Arab Emi­rates emerged as sig­nif­i­cant buy­ers of Amer­i­can hay as their gov­ern­ments moved to curb water use. Togeth­er they account­ed for 10 per­cent of U.S. exports of alfal­fa and oth­er grass­es last year.”
    It’s easy to raise and eye­brow over the sale of farm­land and water in drought-strick­en states for beef con­sump­tion giv­en the long-term drought prospects for the region and the fact that there’s real­ly no excuse for beef con­sump­tion at this point unless it’s lab grown or some­thing. It’s just too waste­ful, not to men­tion the moral haz­ards of putting bil­lions of ani­mals through the fac­to­ry farmed life expe­ri­ence. Beef is just not remote­ly worth it, which is why it’s pret­ty easy to frown at coun­tries buy­ing up large tracks of land in drought-strick­en states to grow water-inten­sive alfal­fa to feed their cows. It’s an insane­ly easy tar­get to frown at because it’s insane.

    But anoth­er part of what com­pli­cates this sit­u­a­tion is that it’s very like­ly going to be a very dif­fer­ent sce­nario soon­er than we expect: Let’s assume a sce­nario where, 40 years from now, Sau­di Ara­bia, the UAE, or any oth­er desert nation are des­per­ate to buy increas­ing­ly scarce US farm­land to grow water-effi­cient and nutri­tious veg­eta­bles that are required just to feed their pop­u­la­tion. Or face seri­ous food short­ages. Imag­ine a world where cli­mate-change induced food short­ages are the norm for a grow­ing part of the world and the nation­al­iza­tion. Isn’t that sce­nario a high­ly pre­dictable one at some point over the 21st cen­tu­ry?

    There’s only going to be a grow­ing demand for food imports and net reduc­tion in arable land and ocean resources. What’s the US, or any oth­er poten­tial food exporter in a cli­mate-stressed world, going to do when food becomes a pre­mi­um prod­uct and poten­tial­ly starv­ing nations would like to buy some water and farm­land. It’s some­thing worth con­sid­er­ing because, based on the way the world works today, if a nation can’t pay for the resources it needs, it starves or falls into a per­ma­nent cri­sis.

    And what if Sau­di Ara­bia, the UAE, and a bunch of oth­er desert nations are too poor to actu­al­ly afford that farm­land, say, 40 years from now? And it just keeps get­ting worse and they get poor­er and fall into an eco­nom­ic spi­ral because their cli­mate went all screwy and they were deserts to begin with. How is a resource poor world going to treat the resource poor­est. Let’s say, in the year 2056, we’ve tran­si­tioned heav­i­ly away for oil con­sump­tion as a result of a glob­al pan­ic of the all the cli­mate-relat­ed changes and oil-based economies are sort of long-term screwed. Assume there’s still plen­ty of petro­le­um demand, but it’s not a growth sec­tor, and much of the Mid­dle East is fac­ing poten­tial star­va­tion due to high pop­u­la­tion growth rates, resource deple­tion, and cli­mate change. In that cir­cum­stance, it’s not a mat­ter of sell­ing farmland/water. You have to give it away because the nations that need it won’t be able to afford it. Is the world ready to do that indef­i­nite­ly? If not, that could be incred­i­bly cru­el, unless mass migra­tions are allowed.

    All in all, an array of glob­al trends that go far beyond cli­mate change (like habi­tat destruc­tion and pol­lu­tion) are more or less guar­an­tee­ing a future where the future food-rich nations are going to have to share grow­ing por­tions of their shrink­ing food sup­plies in order to avoid food short­ages else­where. And that help is going to have to be increas­ing­ly free, and the worse cli­mate change gets the more free it’s going to have to be.

    So whether or not present day pur­chas­es of farm­land and water for alfal­fa by Sau­di or UAE is deemed good pub­lic pol­i­cy (it’s not because alfal­fa for beef is such an atro­cious waste), food-rich coun­tries like the US are going to have to plan for allo­cat­ing grow­ing amounts of food resources and water for shar­ing. Increas­ing­ly and indef­i­nite­ly. Cli­mate change isn’t going to be fair. It’s just going to hap­pen. And the parts of the world that end up being rel­a­tive­ly food-rich world will have to fac­tor in that those most most food poor prob­a­bly won’t be able to afford to pay for that assis­tance unless some great food cre­ation tech­nol­o­gy comes along that does­n’t require arable land or non-deplet­ed oceans to gen­er­a­tion pop­u­la­tion-sus­tain­ing lev­els of nutri­tion (don’t believe the hype). If that does­n’t hap­pen, long-term food assis­tance for deserts, old and new deserts, is prob­a­bly going to be part of the future “treat peo­ple humane­ly” equa­tion. What role Cal­i­for­nia will play in that food sup­ply future decades from is unclear since, of course, it might run out of water. But what­ev­er that role is for Cal­i­for­nia and the US South­west, let’s hope it does­n’t involve some­thing as insane as beef, because what­ev­er is grown is going to have to shared. Don’t waste it on cat­tle.

    So while real­is­tic opti­mism for the future of the world’s food sup­ply in the face of unprece­dent­ed cli­mate change requires the obser­va­tion of real­is­tic pes­simism by soci­eties about the unprece­dent­ed­ly bad nature of our cur­rent tra­jec­to­ry (so we have rea­son to believe we’ll change it), the response to that real­is­tic pes­simism is is going to require see­ing signs of planned long-term gen­eros­i­ty on an unprece­dent­ed scale too for any real­is­tic opti­mism.

    Also keep in mind that we might be run­ning out of top soil this cen­tu­ry if cur­rent trends don’t change so we might be look­ing at a shar­ing the Soy­lent Green glob­al sit­u­a­tion. That does­n’t make opti­mism any eas­i­er but you can at least be opti­mistic about advances in food pro­cess­ing that should make the Soy­lent Green quite appe­tiz­ing. Sure, we could use today’s food sci­ence tech­nol­o­gy to replace things like beef with the increas­ing­ly real­is­tic fake meat options and per­haps some of the loom­ing fast sup­ply crunch, but food tech­nol­o­gy in a starv­ing high-tech world is going to be very advanced too so the Soy­lent Green 60 years from now should also taste fan­tas­tic. It’s not the best thing to be pos­i­tive­ly opti­mistic about, but it’s some­thing.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | April 3, 2016, 12:55 am
  50. Com­ing in as the fourth most hat­ed com­pa­ny in the US would prob­a­bly be con­sid­ered pret­ty awful news for most com­pa­nies. But when Mon­san­to earned the rank of the fourth most hat­ed com­pa­ny in the US accord­ing to a 2015 Har­ris Poll it was actu­al­ly kind of good news. Why? Because it was the third most hat­ed com­pa­ny in the US accord­ing to the same poll in 2014. At least fourth most hat­ed isn’t the most hat­ed. It could be worse! Not much worse, but still worse.

    Of course, things could also be a lot bet­ter for Mon­san­to’s pop­u­lar­i­ty. And who knows, they just might get bet­ter. Espe­cial­ly if the sur­prise takeover pro­pos­al by Bay­er results in a new Bay­er-Mon­san­to agri-giant. Grant­ed, con­sumers might actu­al­ly end up hat­ing the new enti­ty even more once all of that Mon­san­to mad­ness will get mixed and meld­ed with Bay­er’s bad­ness. But maybe not. Who knows. We’ll see:

    Asso­ci­at­ed Press

    Bay­er takeover of Mon­san­to would cre­ate a glob­al giant

    May 19, 2016, 1:32 PM

    Bay­er’s poten­tial acqui­si­tion of Mon­san­to Co. would cre­ate a giant seed and farm chem­i­cal com­pa­ny with a strong foot­print in the U.S., Europe and Asia, com­bin­ing two busi­ness­es with com­ple­men­tary geo­graph­i­cal focus.

    But Bay­er might have to shed part of its busi­ness because of antitrust con­cerns. And the price tag on any deal would be huge: Mon­san­to’s mar­ket val­ue is around $42 bil­lion.

    Ger­many-based Bay­er said Thurs­day in a short state­ment that its exec­u­tives had met recent­ly with their Mon­san­to coun­ter­parts “to pri­vate­ly dis­cuss a nego­ti­at­ed acqui­si­tion” of the spe­cial­ist in genet­i­cal­ly mod­i­fied crop seeds.

    The news of a poten­tial­ly cost­ly deal sent Bay­er shares tum­bling 8.2%. Mon­san­to shares climbed 3.5%.

    Both com­pa­nies are famil­iar brands on farms around the globe. Bay­er, whose farm busi­ness pro­duces seeds as well as com­pounds to kill weeds, bugs and fun­gus, said the pro­posed acqui­si­tion would help it “cre­ate a lead­ing inte­grat­ed agri­cul­ture busi­ness.”

    Mon­san­to, based in St. Louis, said it was review­ing Bay­er’s pro­pos­al. Nei­ther com­pa­ny gave oth­er details.

    The pos­si­ble deal had been rumored for a week, but these were the first com­ments from either com­pa­ny.

    “A com­bi­na­tion of both com­pa­nies would cre­ate $67 bil­lion of annu­al sales and the world’s largest seed and crop-chem­i­cal com­pa­ny,” ana­lyst Ulrich Huwald at War­burg Research wrote in a research note to investors. “How­ev­er, the ques­tion is if Mon­san­to would be inter­est­ed in a deal.”

    Huwald said that “the busi­ness­es are geo­graph­i­cal­ly com­ple­men­tary, with Mon­san­to hav­ing a strong pres­ence in North Amer­i­ca and Bay­er in Europe and Asia.”

    A com­bi­na­tion of the two would have 28% of the glob­al mar­ket for pes­ti­cides and a strong pres­ence in the U.S. corn and soy­bean seed busi­ness.

    Huwald said that the two com­pa­nies do over­lap in their veg­etable and cot­ton seed busi­ness, which could require divest­ments due to antitrust issues. Bay­er might also have to sell parts of its weed killer busi­ness.

    Antitrust reg­u­la­tors scru­ti­nize merg­ers and takeovers and have the author­i­ty to block them if they hin­der free-mar­ket com­pe­ti­tion. If com­pa­nies get too much con­trol over a mar­ket, they can charge high­er prices and have few­er incen­tives to inno­vate.

    News of the talks fol­lows a wave of con­sol­i­da­tion in the chem­i­cal indus­try: DuPont and Dow Chem­i­cal agreed to com­bine last year, and Chem­Chi­na agreed to buy Syn­gen­ta of Switzer­land in March after Mon­san­to’s own bid for its Basel-based rival failed.

    Mon­san­to has some 20,000 employ­ees and pro­duces seeds for fruits, veg­eta­bles and oth­er crops includ­ing corn, soy­beans and cot­ton, as well as the pop­u­lar weed killer Roundup.

    Its sales have suf­fered recent­ly as falling crop prices have reduced farm­ers’ spend­ing on its genet­i­cal­ly enhanced seeds. And the strong U.S. dol­lar has meant its prod­ucts are more expen­sive over­seas.

    ...

    ““A com­bi­na­tion of both com­pa­nies would cre­ate $67 bil­lion of annu­al sales and the world’s largest seed and crop-chem­i­cal com­pa­ny,” ana­lyst Ulrich Huwald at War­burg Research wrote in a research note to investors. “How­ev­er, the ques­tion is if Mon­san­to would be inter­est­ed in a deal.””
    At least some­one loves Mon­san­to. A lot! But there’s still the big ques­tion of whether or not Mon­san­to take the offer. Not only are there poten­tial­ly going to be mas­sive anti-trust con­cerns, but it’s not like Bay­er is Mon­san­to’s only Ger­man suit­or:

    Reuters

    BASF best leav­ing Mon­san­to seeds for the birds

    By OLAF STORBECK MAY 19, 2016

    There is one thing the share­hold­ers of the chem­i­cal com­pa­ny BASF should fear more than con­sol­i­da­tion between its Ger­man rival Bay­er and the Amer­i­can seed mak­er Mon­san­to: their own board wad­ing in with a coun­ter­bid.

    Bayer’s bid for Mon­san­to puts BASF’s chief exec­u­tive, Kurt Bock, on the spot. With agri­cul­tur­al rev­enue of 5.8 bil­lion euros ($6.5 bil­lion), BASF is one of the world’s big play­ers in an indus­try where every­one seems to be enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly cou­pling. Think of Dow Chemical’s merg­er with DuPont, and Syngenta’s planned takeover by Chem­Chi­na. Only BASF would be left on the shelf.

    More­over, a Bay­er-Mon­san­to tie-up may put BASF’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­cans at risk. BASF and Mon­san­to work togeth­er on research and devel­op­ment in plant biotech­nol­o­gy, giv­ing a strong rea­son, per­haps, to spoil Bayer’s plans.

    Yet the math of a BASF coun­ter­bid would be a stretch. A 30 per­cent sweet­en­er on Monsanto’s undis­turbed share price would mean an inter­lop­er pay­ing around $51 bil­lion. That’s a pre­mi­um equiv­a­lent to $12 bil­lion. Jef­feries ana­lysts esti­mate that BASF could gen­er­ate around $720 mil­lion of annu­al cost syn­er­gies from merg­ing with Mon­san­to by 2020, but their $5.4 bil­lion net present val­ue — what they would be worth as a lump sum today — falls far short of jus­ti­fy­ing such gen­eros­i­ty. By lever­ag­ing up to 3.5 times the com­bined enti­ties’ earn­ings before inter­est, tax­es, depre­ci­a­tion and amor­ti­za­tion, BASF could com­fort­ably take on only about $30 bil­lion of new debt.

    Unlike BASF, Bay­er sells seeds, which sug­gests greater room for syn­er­gies. Yet Bayer’s chief exec­u­tive, Wern­er Bau­mann, is already strug­gling to per­suade his share­hold­ers that an offer for the Amer­i­can seed group makes sense, even as his company’s shares have fall­en 10 per­cent in a week. Mr. Bock sat on his hands while oth­er poten­tial merg­er tar­gets like Syn­gen­ta and DuPont were snapped up. He can afford to do it again.

    “More­over, a Bay­er-Mon­san­to tie-up may put BASF’s col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Amer­i­cans at risk. BASF and Mon­san­to work togeth­er on research and devel­op­ment in plant biotech­nol­o­gy, giv­ing a strong rea­son, per­haps, to spoil Bayer’s plans.”
    Uh oh, it sounds like we have a love tri­an­gle. So is BASF going to suc­cumb to the merg­er fer­vor sweep­ing the agro­chem­i­cals sec­tor and make a Mon­san­to bid of its own? Pos­si­bly, but it’s also pos­si­ble that some of Mon­san­to could be bought by Bay­er, while oth­er parts, specif­i­cal­ly the parts that have to be spun off due to anti-trust con­cerns, end up with BASF. It’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly pos­si­ble sce­nario since that’s what BASF:

    Bloomberg

    BASF Is Sleep­ing Giant on Deals as Bay­er Moves on Mon­san­to

    Sheenagh Matthews
    Andrew Marc Noel
    May 19, 2016 — 8:36 AM CDT
    Updat­ed on May 19, 2016 — 10:54 AM CDT

    * Ger­man chem­i­cals mak­er fears over­pay­ing, los­ing inte­gra­tion
    * CEO Kurt Bock may buy agro­chem­i­cals assets dis­card­ed on deals

    With an aver­sion to over­pay­ing and con­vic­tion that a con­glom­er­ate approach is best, Germany’s BASF SE has so far sat out the biggest-ever con­sol­i­da­tion wave in the glob­al crop chem­i­cals and seeds indus­try.

    In the lead up to Bay­er AG’s unso­licit­ed takeover pro­pos­al for Mon­san­to Co on Thurs­day, Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Kurt Bock has talked up thrift, balk­ing at the price tags placed on assets. Rather than bet­ting the farm on a big deal and chal­leng­ing arch agro­chem­i­cals rival Bay­er for Mon­san­to, Bock appears con­tent to stay out of the fray, ready to selec­tive­ly buy up any busi­ness­es that may come to the mar­ket in the dust of mega deals.

    “Bock would prob­a­bly be pleased if the agro busi­ness was a bit big­ger but doesn’t con­sid­er that he’s missed any deals,” said Lutz Grueten, an ana­lyst at Com­merzbank. “He doesn’t believe that they’ve failed to make good on a strate­gic oppor­tu­ni­ty.”

    The deci­sion by Bay­er to move on Mon­san­to comes as Swiss pes­ti­cide-mak­er Syn­gen­ta AG is work­ing through reg­u­la­to­ry hur­dles to become a unit of state-owned Chi­na Nation­al Chem­i­cal Corp., a $43 bil­lion deal unveiled in Feb­ru­ary that left the five remain­ing com­peti­tors look­ing to pair up to strength­en their posi­tions. It also fol­lows hot on the heels of Dow Chem­i­cal Co.’s planned merg­er with DuPont Co. BASF, the world’s biggest chem­i­cal com­pa­ny, is now the odd one out.

    BASF spokes­woman Jen­nifer Moore-Braun declined to com­ment. In response to what he called expec­ta­tions that a big deal could be in the off­ing, Bock pledged in Feb­ru­ary to “ratio­nal­ly exam­ine” poten­tial tar­gets. The com­pa­ny is “com­fort­able with what we have,” the CEO told Bloomberg Tele­vi­sion that same month.

    Until recent­ly, BASF’s suc­cess has been under­pinned by its con­glom­er­ate struc­ture under which basic chem­i­cal pro­duc­tion feeds into out­put of spe­cial­ized ingre­di­ents for cars and sham­poo. Now, fol­low­ing the oil price crash and an aging of its port­fo­lio span­ning pig­ments and addi­tives, there’s more pres­sure on man­age­ment to adjust the mod­el, accord­ing to Tim Jones, a Lon­don-based ana­lyst at Deutsche Bank.

    “Change may be on the hori­zon with man­age­ment also under increas­ing pres­sure to sim­pli­fy the con­glom­er­ate, ” he said, adding that BASF isn’t so con­ser­v­a­tive as to stay com­plete­ly put.

    No Big Deals

    Poten­tial moves could be acquir­ing assets from Dow and DuPont when they merge, doing a joint ven­ture in agro­chem­i­cals, and a pos­si­ble de-merg­er of its oil-and-gas arm Win­ter­shall, accord­ing to Deutsche Bank.

    BASF shares closed 1.6 per­cent low­er at 66.55 euros in Frank­furt. They have lost a quar­ter of their val­ue dur­ing the past 12 months.

    The Lud­wigshafen-based com­pa­ny has nev­er done a mega deal. Its biggest acqui­si­tions since 2009 include Swiss dye-mak­er Ciba Hold­ing AG for around $5 bil­lion and Ger­man ingre­di­ents-mak­er Cog­nis Hold­ing GmbH for 3.1 bil­lion euros (3.5 bil­lion). It bought Engel­hard Corp., a U.S. inven­tor of cat­alyt­ic con­vert­ers, in 2006 for about $5.4 bil­lion.

    ...

    “In the lead up to Bay­er AG’s unso­licit­ed takeover pro­pos­al for Mon­san­to Co on Thurs­day, Chief Exec­u­tive Offi­cer Kurt Bock has talked up thrift, balk­ing at the price tags placed on assets. Rather than bet­ting the farm on a big deal and chal­leng­ing arch agro­chem­i­cals rival Bay­er for Mon­san­to, Bock appears con­tent to stay out of the fray, ready to selec­tive­ly buy up any busi­ness­es that may come to the mar­ket in the dust of mega deals.
    So that’s at least one path out of this cor­po­rate love tri­an­gle: Bay­er merg­ers with Mon­san­to, and BASF, the odd man out of this cur­rent wave of mega-merg­ers in the indus­try, scoops up the assets that would oth­er­wise cause anti-trust issues. And maybe BASF can do the same for the oth­er mega-merg­er anti-trust asset sales. We’ll see. But it’s a reminder that the cor­po­rate love Mon­san­to has been expe­ri­enc­ing recent­ly is tak­ing place with­in a larg­er orgy of cor­po­rate con­sol­i­da­tions. There’s a lot of lovin’ going on right now. At least between cor­po­ra­tions.

    That said, the new Bay­er-Mon­san­to mon­ster is prob­a­bly still going to be pret­ty unpop­u­lar with the peo­ple. Could it make it to the num­ber one most hat­ed com­pa­ny with the rab­ble? We’ll see. But keep in mind that Mon­san­to, unlike Bay­er, isn’t real­ly in the neon­i­coti­noid busi­ness, so while Mon­san­to may or may not end up being more hat­ed by the pub­lic should it become Bay­er-Mon­san­to, it will def­i­nite­ly win the ‘most hat­ed’ title with the bees.

    Posted by Pterrafractyl | May 19, 2016, 8:17 pm

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