Thursday, July 17, 2014

Do Something

July 16, 2014 - Stephen Leahy has just written a landmark article, which can be found at http://motherboard.vice.com/read/the-new-ddt-is-starving-out-insect-eating-songbirds.  I kind
of wish he wouldn't use that phrase, "the new ddt," though I understand why he does.  He's actually talking about neonicotinoids, which I've written about here previously.  His article is based on a science article published in the journal Nature on July 9.  The name of the article begins "Declines in insectivorous birds ... ."

Neonicotinoids were introduced 20 years ago.  Their usage has increased every year since then.  When did their manufacturers realize that these toxins were 5,000 - 10,000 times more poisonous than DDT?
As the now-adage goes, what did they know, and when did they know it?  The contagion makers have unleashed on an unsuspecting world amounts to a lethal pandemic.  You see, neonicotinoids don't stay put.  They are absorbed not just by crops, but by every plant in the vicinity.  Some, not very close to farm fields at all.

Let's skip to the punch line, then go back.  Many insect-eating birds are starving because there are now too few insects to eat.  Populations of insectivorous birds have crashed 50 - 90 % over the past two decades.  Once a plant - any plant - has taken the poisonous neonicotinoid into its system, it, too, becomes poisonous: to bees, butterflies, beetles, caterpillars, and, perhaps most damaging of all, to earthworms.

Birds are starving, and so are their offspring, because insects constitute an "indispensable" part of a baby bird's diet, according to the article in Nature.  Dutch researchers have linked the steady decline of 60% of the insect-eating birds they studied to the introduction, in the late 1990s, of imidacloprid, the most commonly used neonicotinoid.  These substances are nerve poisons, and they have migrated into our soil and water.  Once in a waterway, there is little to limit the distance they can travel.  What these researchers found was that the regions with the highest levels of nerve poison in the soil and water had experienced the biggest declines in birds that eat insects during the breeding season.

In fact, only 5 percent of the insecticide winds up in the plant.  One percent of it gets blown away.  All the rest accumulates, over the course of multiple applications, in the surrounding soil and water.  As a result, insects that spend any part of their life cycle in the water are probably being killed, as well.  This adds up to unbelievable numbers of North American songbirds that are threatened with extinction: kingbirds, warblers, whip-poor-wills and other nightjars, swifts, swallows, martins, flycatchers, and others.  Their populations have plummeted by 50 to 90 percent.

For this reason, the American Bird Conservancy has called for an immediate and permanent ban on the use of neonicotinoids.  Ask your state legislators what action they are taking to stop the use of neonicotinoids in your state.  Tell your federal representatives that you agree with the American Bird Conservancy.  Congratulate Home Depot on their decision to no longer carry products containing neonicotinoids.  Shop there!  Find a list of bannable products at www.beyondpesticides.org/pollinators/documents/pesticide_list_final.pdf.

Do something!



With thanks to Stephen Leahy and Nature.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Dear Readers

Dear Readers - I'll be writing only sporadically from now on.  Thanks for caring - do all you can. - Best, Vicki

Monday, May 12, 2014

Tiny Steps


May 12, 2014 - The Daily Climate features an article by Al Kesselheim today.  Kesselheim writes about the need for Americans to notice the beauty of nature in their own backyards, rather than expecting to encounter nature only when they visit a state or national park.  Actually, Kesselheim writes about wilderness; I will, too, but on a very small scale.

For many Americans, what Kesselheim advises is a bland prospect, at best.  First-time homeowners many times own just enough yard to mow, a miniature imitation pasture of sorts that has been scraped off and graded.  Those lucky enough to own property that has been tended and loved (or, better yet, neglected!) probably would find a great deal going on in their private outdoors that would be worth noticing.  What so many of us lack is the time it would take to do so.

The bugs and the birds are, nevertheless, right there under ignorant and knowledgeable noses alike.  What if you were to decide that your own natural paradise consisted of the square yard of lawn nearest your back door?  Let’s say – you devil, you! – you’ve decided to let it “go wild.”  No mowing allowed.  Gadzooks, you could even up the ante: no chemicals, either.  The rain would rain, the breeze would blow, the days would follow one after the other, just like always.

What do you suppose would be the first thing you would notice?  How pretty the long grass looks as it waves in the wind?  The fact that a Cooper’s Hawk now occupies a mature tree in your neighbor’s yard, expecting a mouse or chipmunk to exit the newly created “wilderness?”  How about the butterflies stopping by to enjoy the wildflowers that have shown up, seemingly out of nowhere?

One day it dawns on you that you’ve been getting up a few minutes earlier in the morning so you’ll have time to observe what transpires out in the back 40 (ho ho).  That you’ve been scrawling the occasional note on random pieces of paper.  That your spouse now takes an interest, and your children surprise you when they mention having told their teachers about Daddy’s Wilderness Project.  One of them commented that Daddy’s project had science fair written all over it!

Being interested in and caring about the outdoors is exactly as far away as your back door.  All it takes is a modest amount of personal involvement.  After that, sit back and see where it takes you.  Find out what interests you most.  What you will discover after awhile is that it’s all pretty interesting, all quite beautiful, and that the world absolutely would be a sadder, poorer place without the outdoors.

Ready to take that first step?

Monday, April 28, 2014

Demitarians Unite!


April 27, 2014 – A report that makes a very thorough assessment of the environmental gains to be made by reshaping our farming methods was issued last Friday. The study was authored by scientists at two consulting firms: Climate Focus (CF) and California Environmental Associates (CEA).  It was funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance, a coalition of major U.S. foundations.  Strategies studied were numerous; they include managing soil nutrients, halting deforestation, reductions in animal husbandry, using less fertilizer, storing carbon in croplands, and converting manure into compost and biogas through anaerobic digestion.  Consumers, for their part, need to eat less meat and reduce food waste.  A “demitarian” – a term I’d never heard before - is someone who cuts their consumption of red meat in half.

Countries poised to make the biggest contributions in this area are, no surprise, big ones: Brazil, China, India, the EU, and the United States.  According to the report, yearly greenhouse gas emissions for which agriculture is responsible could be reduced by 50 to 90 percent by 2030 if redirected policies are put in place.  Agriculture produces 20 percent of all greenhouse gases.

A major portion of these gases is produced by livestock.  This is where Americans have an especially important role to play, since, even after reducing our beef consumption, we still lead the world in that dietary habit.  China must also find a way to curb rampant increases in beef eating.  Amy Dickie, of CEA, pointed out that  “Steering the Chinese diet in a more climate-friendly direction would yield enormous benefits for the country’s health and food security, as well as the global climate.”  (Anything the Chinese undertake is magnified in effect by their huge population.)

Elsewhere, great advances can be made in food storage and cooling.  Refrigeration is not commonly available in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, where it is – plainly – badly needed.  Farmers in Southeast Asia must also learn about reducing methane emissions given off in their rice fields.  China, once again, has an important role to play by changing the way they grow their food.  Chinese farmers use too much fertilizer, and could easily cut its use by 30 to 60 percent without damaging production.

There is yet another part to be played by agriculture in reducing the likelihood of climate chaos, and that is the storage of carbon in farmland, pastures, and agroforests.  Brazil, for example, could adopt silvopastoral systems (combining crops, trees, and livestock) and improve the quality of its pasture grass, thereby sequestering carbon and limiting deforestation.  You may know this approach to farming as permaculture.

Whatever you call it, it’s time to get busy!



With thanks to the Thomas Reuters Foundation and science20.com.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Fungal Forest Fire


April 21, 2014 – Life just got more interesting.  A fast-spreading wheat rust has scoured farmers’ fields from Africa to Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.  Wheat is the world’s second most important grain crop, after rice.  This modern epidemic began in North America’s wheat belt back in the 1950s, when the fungus that causes wheat rust destroyed 40 percent of the crop.  Since that time it has traveled to other parts of the world.  In response, rust-resistant varieties of wheat were developed.

A new era dawned in 1999, when an outbreak in Uganda was found to be the result of a virulent mutation of the wheat rust fungus.  According to Dr. David Hodson of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Addis Ababa, the mutation causes “large-scale destruction in a very short period of time over very large cultivated areas.”  The speed with which the fungus spreads can be likened to a forest fire, says Hodson.  Its wind-borne spores, which reproduce in the millions, are each capable of starting a new infestation.

Climate change has been found to be part of the mix.  Two forms of the fungus have spread very rapidly, due to their ability to adapt to warmer growing conditions.   Countries previously unaffected by the rust are now experiencing outbreaks that have reached epidemic proportions, especially in several nations in North Africa and South Asia.  Climate change is further expected to shift the range of distribution of other diseases and pests.

The following is a list of fungi, pests and diseases that could be potentially exacerbated by climate change.  It is lifted directly from The Independent.

Asian Soybean Rust affects the soya crop in Brazil, the world’s biggest producer.  There are more than 244 confirmed cases this year.  Industry spending on insecticides and fungicides is expected to reach $11 billion.

Cocoa Pod Borer Disease: Cocoa bean production in Indonesia, the world’s third-largest producer, is likely to dip 2 percent to 410,000 metric tons for 2013-2014, according to the International Cocoa Organization.  The fall is in part due to a tiny, mosquito-sized moth which attacks the plant.

Potato Blight is a fungus-like organism that thrives in damp, humid conditions.  The speed with which blight infection occurs and the devastating impact on the crop make it the biggest threat to the six million tons of potatoes produced in the UK each year.

Coffee Leaf Rust is an orange-colored fungus that has swept through coffee fields from Mexico to Panama.  The epidemic is affecting the livelihoods of more than two million people and causing the loss of 500,000 jobs.

Banana Fungus (TR4): This soil-borne disease is threatening banana crops in North America, Europe, Southeast Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.  The value of traded bananas worldwide totals $8.9 billion.



With thanks to www.independent.co.uk.






Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Time to Transition


April 14, 2014 – Alex Smith, of Radio Ecoshock, recently conducted a thoughtful interview with Dr. David Korowicz of Dublin.  Honestly, the adjective hair-raising would be far more accurate, in light of the fact that Korowicz dares to examine, in all its particulars, how the world as we know it will come apart at the seams.  He calls it rapid collapse.

Korowicz begins by studying a micro version of global collapse, that is, the economic disaster suffered by his own country of Ireland almost six years ago.  He believes that the Irish were able to put the pieces back together, at least in part, because Ireland is a small country where people feel personally involved with the day-to-day running of national matters.  This engenders societal trust, and a feeling that, with effort, things can once again be made right.  The Irish economy is broad-based, with a manageable level of poverty.  Since poverty is a leading cause of corruption, problems like nepotism, bribery, and tax avoidance didn’t need fixing.

On a broader scale, the world has become extremely interdependent, with many countries importing increasing amounts of food and energy.  In the wake of globalization, nations aspiring to developed-world status eagerly take on more and more debt, while at the same time encouraging their populations to want and expect all the material benefits enjoyed by richer countries.  Self-reliance has gone by the wayside.  Awareness of escalating vulnerability seems lacking, though as individuals it seems highly unlikely we would willingly turn over our food supply to unknown others.

Along with our increased dependency on far-away suppliers goes an inability to guard even that most essential element of modern civilization, electrical supply.  Easily disabled by either climate chaos or terrorists, even the United States is unable to keep its grid secure.  Vulnerability is further exacerbated by just-on-time delivery of food, medicine, building and repair supplies and tools, and other extremely valuable items.  As if all this weren’t enough, our continued demand for faster and faster service makes the whole system wobble a bit as it attempts to maintain a precarious balance.

Here’s what Korowicz thinks: we’re primed and ready for economic failure.  He believes the banks are headed for collapse, that we are currently enjoying an all-too-brief hiatus from reality (though the poor and waiting-to-be-poor unemployed would tell him different).  New currencies will be tried, most will fail, credit will completely dry up, and at that point the supply chain will stop functioning.  With only enough of everything to last a few days, the results could be horrific.

At some point, sad to say, global warming will also enter the picture, with further challenges to our high-speed, interdependent way of life.  Korowicz believes it is inevitable that, for a time, cascading failure will demoralize unfed millions.  Millions who have grown a great deal poorer.  Governments will no longer be able to help their distressed populations.  Pandemics may enter the mix as well.  Those who can will have to relearn how to survive. 



With thanks to radioecoshock.org.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Know Your Limits



April 10, 2014 – I wrote this article a little while ago, and Transition Voice hasn’t used it.  I think it’s useful, so I thought I’d publish it here.


Know Your Limits                       

There is a growing consensus that 2 degrees Celsius of global warming will be too much (http://www.livescience.com/41690-2-degrees-of-warming-too-much.html ).  As the winter of 2013-2014 gradually winds down, we see the evidence of what less than 1 degree of warming can do all around us.  The costs have yet to be tallied, but there is universal acknowledgement that budgets were virtually meaningless this winter.  In order to keep the United States functioning at a level anywhere near normal, states and corporations had to break the bank.  The alternative was inconceivable.

Yet merrily we roll along, calmly averring that there is still time before the climate will begin to wreak major havoc.  The notion that 2 degrees of warming are somehow “ok” has become foundational to both national and international planning.  After all, the thinking goes, that amount of warming is what scientists have told us will be acceptable, right?

Dr. Who?
That’s certainly what I thought, anyway.  It is with more than a small degree of chagrin that I must tell you that 2 degrees of warming was first presented to the waiting world as “safe” by none other than an economist.  Yes, that says economist, not ecologist.  One W.D. Nordhaus, to be exact.  Yale Professor Nordhaus wrote in 1977 that “if there were global temperatures more than 2 or 3C above the current average temperature, this would take the climate outside of the range of observations which have been made over the last several hundred thousand years.”  In fact, that large an increase in temperature would be well outside of the natural limits known to have governed the climate during the past 10,000 years, during which period of time agriculture and civilization developed.

Furthermore, Dr. Nordhaus stated as recently as 2009 that 700 ppm (!!) of carbon dioxide or its equivalent in the atmosphere would not cause irreversible harm to our planet (http://thebiggestlieevertold.wordpress.com/2010/12/10/part-1-expose-the ).  He goes on to insist that trying to keep warming below 2.6 C would precipitate economic catastrophe.  Goodness, we wouldn’t want that …

A Wee Bit of Climate Chaos
For the record, 1C was first cited as the acceptable limit for climate-change induced warming in 1990 by the United Nations Advisory Group on Greenhouse Gases.  The Advisory Group was an amalgamation of three international climate change heavyweights: the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU).  In their report (http://www.scribd.com/doc/121702780/Responding-to-Climate-Change-Tools-For-Policy-Development-Part-I-of-II), the Advisory Group wrote that “beyond 1 C there might be rapid, unpredictable and non-linear responses that could lead to extensive ecosystem damage.”

                                                                                   
I don’t know about you, but these non-linear responses are beginning to wear me out.