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Sunday, February 26, 2012

That's not the way!


Caption: Unmodified plum blossom


Dear Bill Gates. He so wants a techie solution for everyone. After all he's invested in TerraPower, the travelling wave reactor company (which he touts as the solution to our energy problems, even though it's decades off becoming a reality).
Now here he is, going all GM on us. (And pro-geo-engineering, heaven save us - see the end of the article...)

Published on Thursday, February 23, 2012 by Common Dreams
Bill Gates: We Need Genetically Modified Seeds
Gates' yield-increasing claims widely refuted by studies
- Common Dreams staff

At a forum of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in Rome today, Microsoft founder Bill Gates pressed the need for genetically modified seeds in the developing world, and the need for a "digital revolution" to meet the needs of the world's farmers. Gates' claims that genetically modified crops double or triple smaller farmers' yields have been challenged by recent research.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates on Thursday called for a "digital revolution" to alleviate world hunger by increasing agricultural productivity through satellites and genetically-engineered seed varieties.

"We have to think hard about how to start taking advantage of the digital revolution that is driving innovation including in farming," the U.S. billionaire philanthropist said in a speech at the UN rural poverty agency IFAD in Rome.

"If you care about the poorest, you care about agriculture. We believe that it's possible for small farmers to double and in some cases even triple their yields in the next 20 years while preserving the land," Gates said. [...]

AFP adds that Gates announced $200 million (150 million euros) in new grants from his foundation to finance research on a new type of drought-resistant maize. [...]

As John Vidal reported for the Guardian, the claims that genetically modified seeds can increase gains have been challenged by research:

Genetic engineering has failed to increase the yield of any food crop but has vastly increased the use of chemicals and the growth of "superweeds", according to a report by 20 Indian, south-east Asian, African and Latin American food and conservation groups representing millions of people.

And a 2009 report from the Union of Concerned Scientists showed that genetically modified seeds failed to increase yields in U.S. crops:

Despite 20 years of research and 13 years of commercialization, genetic engineering has failed to significantly increase U.S. crop yields.

"The biotech industry has spent billions on research and public relations hype, but genetically engineered food and feed crops haven't enabled American farmers to grow significantly more crops per acre of land," said Doug Gurian-Sherman, a biologist in the UCS Food and Environment Program and author of the report. "In comparison, traditional breeding continues to deliver better results."

Ronnie Cummins, International Director of the Organic Consumers Association, told Common Dreams:

“Bill Gates may be a smart guy in terms of computer programming, and an expert on how to become a billionaire, but he obviously knows nothing about agriculture other than what Monsanto and the biotech industry have told him. Eighteen years after the introduction of the first genetically engineered crops, there is no evidence, including data from the pro-biotech USDA, that these energy and chemical-intensive crops increase yield, improve nutrition, or provide greater yields under adverse weather conditions of drought or heavily rains. On the contrary hundreds of studies, including those by peer-reviewed scientists and the U.N.’s FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization) indicate that organic crops provide significantly higher levels of vitamins, nutrients, and cancer-fighting anti-oxidants; that organic crops have significantly higher yields during periods of drought and torrential rain; and that agro-ecological or organic farms produce 2-10 times great yields than industrial-scale chemical and GMO farms. In others words, not only can organic farming and ranching feed the world, but in fact it is the only way that we will ever be able to feed the world.”

* * *

Recent reports also show Gates behind climate engineering efforts, as he is among other wealthy individuals financially backing scientists to lobby governments to push geoengineering, raising concerns that this small group may have a large impact on further decisions on geoengineering.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Environmental pollutants - could they be causing weight gain?

There's been quite a lot of research in recent years on the impact of various pollutants on weight gain. About four years ago, a Spanish study linked exposure to hexachlorobenzene (HCB) in the umblicial cords of newborns, and found that those who'd been exposed in the womb were more likely to be overwieght at six. (This chemical is mainly used to treat seeds, so it had implications for those living in and around agricultural areas.)
Now there's new evidence that perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) may also be linked to weight gain. PFOA is ubiquitous - it's found even in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and all the inhabited continents, and is now found in animals, poor sods. It's been made since 1951, and was used in non-stick surfaces (they say it's not anymore), outdoor clothing, treatments for carpets and tiles and more.

Environmental pollutant linked with overweight

The levels of the environmental pollutant perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) that mothers had in their blood during pregnancy increased the risk of obesity in their daughters at 20 years of age. The findings come from a recent study of Danish women in which the Norwegian Institute of Public Health participated.

In recent decades, there has been a sharp increase in the number of overweight children and adults worldwide. It is suspected that diet and exercise alone cannot explain this large weight increase.

Researchers suggest that the increasing levels of endocrine disrupters in the environment may be a possible contributing factor. Therefore, this study was established and discovered the following:

Daughters of mothers with the highest concentrations of PFOA in the blood during pregnancy were three times as likely to be overweight at the age of about 20 years as daughters of mothers with the lowest PFOA levels.
The calculations took into account many variables, such as maternal weight and lifestyle factors.
An association was also found between PFOA exposure before birth and elevated levels of insulin and leptin, two hormones that are linked to obesity.
Levels of insulin and leptin were also elevated in the sons of mothers with high PFOA, but the relationship was weaker than for girls.
There was no increased risk of development of obesity among the sons.

What does this mean for us?

It is still too early to say what this might mean for us. The study indicates that factors such as environmental pollutants, in addition to diet and physical activity, play a role in the obesity epidemic seen today although this remains to be confirmed by similar studies.
EurekAlert, 22 February 2012

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Summer temperatures and food security


Summer temperatures will rise (or rise and fall) to a point where you can't grow certain crops. And the losers are? Wait, I have the envelope right here: "the biggest impacts will be on Europe, Africa and South America.

Models underestimate future temperature variability; Food security at risk

Climate warming caused by greenhouse gases is very likely to increase the variability of summertime temperatures around the world by the end of this century, a University of Washington climate scientist said Friday. The findings have major implications for food production.

Current climate models do not adequately reflect feedbacks from the relationship between the atmosphere and soil, which causes them to underestimate the increase of variability in summertime temperatures, said David Battisti, a UW professor of atmospheric sciences.

While warmer temperatures already have implications for food production in the tropics, the new findings suggest the increase in the volatility of summertime temperatures will have serious effects in grain-growing regions of Europe and North and South America, Battisti said.

"If there's greater variability, the odds of the temperature being so high that you can't grow a crop are greater," he said.

"In terms of regional and global food security, it's not good news."

[...]

Earlier research has shown that by the end of this century, the increase in average growing season temperature, if other factors remain the same, will likely reduce yields of rice, corn and soybean 30 to 40 percent. Already rice yields in the tropics are being affected by higher temperatures, affecting nations such as Indonesia, which frequently imports rice to stabilize prices, Battisti said.

In addition, the scientists say global warming will have greater impacts than previously thought on the El Niño Southern Oscillation, a tropical phenomenon that has global impact on climate and food production. Their conclusions are based on geological and other proxy records of climate and El Niño from the last 10,000 years, plus recent analyses of long-term climate changes because of global warming.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations body conducting ongoing assessments of climate change, has estimated that future month-to-month temperature variability during summer months is likely to be greater in some places and less in some places, but should stay roughly constant in many places.

But the new modeling work, Battisti said, shows most areas can expect to see greater variability in summer temperatures between now and 2085, with the biggest impacts in Europe, Africa and South America.

"The increased variability will be pretty ubiquitous. You will see it pretty much everywhere."

Increased temperature variability compounds the loss of production because of higher average temperatures, Battisti said. Add higher fertilizer prices and other market pressures to the mix "and food insecurity is likely to be higher than it has been for some time."
(EurekAlert 17 Feb 2012)

Friday, February 10, 2012

Stormy weather

Did you know that the South-West Indian Ocean cyclone basin is one of the deadliest in the world, with about 80 people dying a year? The season begins in mid-November and ends around end April - although it can linger for a month more around Mauritius and Reunion. Apparently it averages about 10 storms a year. There's a new one brewing, and NASA caught footage of it. It's expectd to make landfall in Madagascar on 13 Feburary. I wonder if this cyclone basin is becoming more active? http://www.eurekalert.org/multimedia/pub/40637.php?from=204616

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Thalassa, oh thalassa!


Unprecedented, man-made trends in ocean's acidity


Oh, the sea! Though not unexpected, this is such awful news:

Nearly one-third of CO2 emissions due to human activities enters the world's oceans. By reacting with seawater, CO2 increases the water's acidity, which may significantly reduce the calcification rate of such marine organisms as corals and mollusks. The extent to which human activities have raised the surface level of acidity, however, has been difficult to detect on regional scales because it varies naturally from one season and one year to the next, and between regions, and direct observations go back only 30 years.

Combining computer modeling with observations, an international team of scientists concluded that anthropogenic CO2 emissions over the last 100 to 200 years have already raised ocean acidity far beyond the range of natural variations. The study is published in the January 22 online issue of Nature Climate Change.
EurekAlert, 22 January 2012