A few days ago, scientists reported that the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere passed a long-feared tipping point of 400 parts per million — an amount that hasn’t been present since 3 million years ago. During the roughly 8,000 years that human civilization has existed, CO2 levels were stable; it’s only been since the Industrial Revolution, less than 200 years ago, that heat-trapping gases rose by 41% to reach this record breaking level — and there’s no indication that the rate of increase will stop. The last time we had this much gas was the Pliocene Epoch, a period characterized by hotter climates, much smaller ice caps, more chaotic weather patterns, and sea levels as much as 60 to 80 feet. We’re likely in for an “interesting” few decades.
The last known rhinoceroses in Mozambique have been wiped out by poachers apparently working in cahoots with the game rangers responsible for protecting them, it has emerged.
Happy Earth Day everyone. Even with greater environmental awareness and a growing sense of global community, it’s still difficult to be conscious about being part of a greater and more fragile system. It’s not easy safeguarding both this planet and its denizens — human and otherwise — but it’ll be far less easy to live in a ruined and degraded planet.
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Compared with grains, tubers are inherently more productive. If the head of a wheat or rice plant grows too big, the plant will fall over, with fatal results. Growing underground, tubers are not limited by the rest of the plant. In 2008 a Lebanese farmer dug up a potato that weighed nearly 25 pounds. It was bigger than his head.
Many researchers believe that the potato’s arrival in northern Europe spelled an end to famine there. (Corn, another American crop, played a similar but smaller role in southern Europe.) More than that, as the historian William H. McNeill has argued, the potato led to empire: “By feeding rapidly growing populations, [it] permitted a handful of European nations to assert dominion over most of the world between 1750 and 1950.” The potato, in other words, fueled the rise of the West.
Equally important, the European and North American adoption of the potato set the template for modern agriculture—the so-called agro-industrial complex. Not only did the Columbian Exchange carry the potato across the Atlantic, it also brought the world’s first intensive fertilizer: Peruvian guano. And when potatoes fell to the attack of another import, the Colorado potato beetle, panicked farmers turned to the first artificial pesticide: a form of arsenic. Competition to produce ever-more-potent arsenic blends launched the modern pesticide industry. In the 1940s and 1950s, improved crops, high-intensity fertilizers and chemical pesticides created the Green Revolution, the explosion of agricultural productivity that transformed farms from Illinois to Indonesia—and set off a political argument about the food supply that grows more intense by the day.
The ocean abyss is truly our last frontier outside of space.
Monsanto is no stranger to patent battles: ThinkProgressreports that the company devotes $10 million per year and 75 staffers to investigating and prosecuting farmers for patent violations. It has also sued more than 400 farmers over the last 13 years for patent infringement.
The Obama administration reportedly backs Monsanto, and urged the court to stay out of this case because it could have implications for patenting other products that can reproduce in fields like nanotechnology and genetics.
I find the first picture disheartening.
Floating patches of humanity’s garbage have become a permanent feature in the world’s oceans and a new discovery in the South Pacific shows that this woeful trend has worsened, not improved, since the phenomenon was first discovered nearly two decades ago.
As new research by the 5 Gyres Institute shows, the existence of a new plastic island has been found swirling with junk in ocean currents running near Easter Island in the South Pacific, marking the first documented garbage patch in the Southern Hemisphere.
The new study, published in the journal Marine Pollution Bulletin, documents the first evidence of a defined oceanic “garbage patch,” an accumulation zone of plastic pollution, floating in the area designated as the South Pacific subtropical gyre.
Conducting the first ever sampling of the southern gyre, the research team, led by 5 Gyres Institute Executive Director Dr. Marcus Eriksen, “recorded increased density of plastic pollution with an average of 26,898 particles per square kilometer, and a high of 396,342 km/m2 in the center of the predicted accumulation zone [based on ocean current models].”
“Without a doubt, we have discovered a previously unknown garbage patch in the South Pacific Subtropical Gyre,” said Dr. Eriksen.
Also, a recent investigation by a team of Australia researchers found that “humans have put so much plastic into our planet’s oceans that even if everyone in the world stopped putting garbage in the ocean today, giant garbage patches would continue to grow for hundreds of years.” No matter where plastic garbage enters the ocean, the group said, it will inevitably end up in any of the five ocean basins.
Not that we should be complacent, however. In any case, we could perhaps harness the genes of these resilient corals and engineer stronger ones. But that may take time, funding, and public support - all of which are sadly in short supply.
One of the biggest challenges is that we lacked long-term data,” said John P. Smol, the paper’s lead author and a professor of biology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. “So some in industry have been saying that the pollution in the tar sands is natural, it’s always been there.”
The researchers found that to the contrary, the levels of those deposits have been steadily rising since large-scale oil sands production began in 1978.
Samples from one test site, the paper said, now show 2.5 to 23 times more PAHs in current sediment than in layers dating back to around 1960.
“We’re not saying these are poisonous ponds,” Professor Smol said. “But it’s going to get worse. It’s not too late but the trend is not looking good.” He said that the wilderness lakes studied by the group were now contaminated as much as lakes in urban centers.
What will it take to get the world to take action on this issue? Even if we wait for all those people to die before being woken up to the issue, by then, the damage may be irreperable.
A new study estimates that just four million wind turbines would be able to fuel half of the planet’s energy needs. And if that number seems like a lot, think about how many cars are sold every year worldwide. Could wind power also be a key issue in this election season in some states like Iowa that are investing heavily in wind energy and looking for politicians who believe in helping out with energy tax credits?