Food gardens in Honduras

SUBHEAD: The garden is organic and requires no ploughing, keeping all the carbon stored by trees and soil intact. By Wayne Roberts on 6 September 2012 for Energy Bulletin - ( Image above: A tropical food forest in Thailand. From (

The drought that is parching the harvest in several of the world’s most productive breadbaskets is the summer’s hottest global food story – and chillingly accompanies the season’s hottest archaeological finding.

Archaeology, by the way, no longer relies on digging for pottery and bones in caves and valleys. It can also use computer-generated climate models, and one of these has allowed desk scientists to break one of the great historical mysteries of the Western hemisphere: the sudden collapse of the Mayan empire of Central America roughly 1,300 years ago.

Turns out, according to U.S. climate modeller Benjamin Cook, that chopping down the region’s forests to grow corn and burn lime to make cement-style blocks for temples caused a drought.

Once the region lost its dark forest canopy, which absorbed the sun’s heat, that heat bounced back into the atmosphere, evaporating the clouds that used to drop the rain needed for an empire entirely dependent on corn.

History seems to be repeating itself for the second of the Western hemisphere’s great empires entirely dependent on a food supply centred around corn and an energy system bent on deforestation.

But what I saw in Honduras last week confirms there is life after plantation-style fields of corn. It just takes a complete rethink of the idea that forests are about wilderness and fields are about food.

So here’s the new paradigm: while green city planners push the notion that urban trees are aesthetic, psychologically calming and good for air quality, they may be only half right. The new appreciation, which looks really old, comes from groups like T.O.’s Not Far from the Tree, which views trees not just as a way to relate to nature but as actual food security providers.

I saw evidence of the proposition that a tree can produce as much food as a small garden in the mountain ranges around Yorito, Honduras.

If Yorito, a two-hour drive north of the capital, gets on the tourist map for forest gardens, it will be the town’s first exposure to the wider world. The nearby mountain villages I visited are another two-hour lurching jeep drive over rib-crunching dirt and gravel roads. (Note to self: never berate high-quality country roads again.)

In Yorito I meet one of the town’s leading micro-entrepreneurs, Nelba Velasquez, who offers us and other visitors excellent meals in her living room restaurant, much of the food from her quarter-acre forest garden.

The first thing I notice in that garden is that the temperature drops about 5 degrees, not just from the shade of the trees but also the from the evaporation of cool water from broadleaf trees. Here, in one overgrown parcel of land, is a beautiful and scrumptious answer to climate chaos, hunger and the chronic-disease pandemic created by deficiencies of micronutrients suffered by rich and poor alike.

Here is my count of what fits in her backyard besides a hammock, a clothesline, a baking oven for bread, a catchment basin for rainwater, two heaps of Japanese-style super-powered compost called bokachi, a woodpile, a raised-bed vegetable garden and a showroom for landscape plants: four avocado trees, two specimens of two different kinds of guava trees, a papaya tree, a mandarin orange and a lemon tree, a tree bearing yellow Nanci berries for juice, a plum tree, 60 coffee plants, a tamarind and an allspice tree.

Did I almost forget to mention 10 varieties of banana?

The entire garden is organic and requires no ploughing, which keeps all the carbon stored by trees and in the soil intact, a powerful measure to mitigate global warming.

Velasquez attributes this diversity to a personality quirk. “I always want to diversify everything. My hands are in everything,” she says.

She’s also on the local public health board and is treasurer of her local “cial” (farmer research team), which promotes seed diversity as a tool of empowerment for low-income communities. Forest gardens and fruit trees sprout among the hilltops dominated by beans and corn wherever cial chapters flourish.

This kind of growing is, I believe, also the next big thing in North America’s local food movement. Seattle claims to have done it first. The folks in Toronto tending the apples, plums, apricots and sweet cherries in the Ben Nobleman Community Orchard are on the same page. And viewing trees as food sources adds a distinct value and puts a new spin, and new responsibility, on Toronto’s poorly funded tree-planting programs.

As my solar engineer friend Greg Allen likes to say, we don’t need a prophet to lead us out of the wilderness; we need a prophet to lead us back to the wilderness.


Time to Take Inventory

SUBHEAD: In case of a crisis, whether related problems with weather, finance, or transportation, will you have food?  

By Sharon Astyk on 6 September 2012 for Casaubon's Book - (


Image above: Cutaway diagram of root cellar. From (

End of summer is a really good time to sit down and look at your preparations and your food storage and take inventory. What have you put by? What do you still need more of? What did you use over the last year? What did you have too much of? Whither from here? September is National Emergency Preparedness month, so now is the time to think – am I ready for the next crisis (do you even have to ask whether there will be one?)

If you’ve been working on this, but you don’t feel you are ready, here are some questions to ask yourself, and some possible remedies if things aren’t where you want them to be yet.

1. Do I have staple foods that I can rely on as the basis of my meals? A staple is a nutritious starch that contains some protein as well, and that can meet most of your needs. It could be a grain – many Americans rely on bread for our staple starch. But it can also be oatmeal, corn (if you are primarily relying on corn, it must be corn that is nixtamalized, so that you won’t get a major nutritional deficiency – you only have to worry about this if you are mostly eating corn, not if you eat an occasional meal of tortillas – so if you are storing whole corn, know how to process it, and if you are buying cornmeal, buy masa, not plain corn meal), barley, quinoa – or root crops. You can also rely primarily on potatoes, sweet potatoes, rutabagas, turnips and other roots, or a combination of those.
You can order bulk grains online or through a coop or whole foods. This time of year, you can often get a 50lb sack of potatoes or sweet potatoes quite cheaply. Ethnic markets often have good deals on grains as well. Don’t forget popcorn and pasta.

Here are a couple of posts about staple foods:

2. Do I have protein foods that can supplement my staples? This is not as important as the staples – if you had to, you could get along quite well with just a starch for a while (many people all over the world are forced to do that by high food prices most of the time), but you wouldn’t enjoy it. And diabetics, hypoglycemics and others would struggle with this. For most people with normal diets, you need about 1/3 to 1/4 protein dense foods.

What are some choices here? The traditional choice is some kind of legume – beans, split peas, lentils, cowpeas. You could buy dry milk – mixed with oatmeal, or into flour in a dairy bread recipe, that would be enough to sustain you, but it gets kind of boring. You could can your own meats and fish, or buy pre canned meat and fish that your family likes if you like meat. You could also add seeds – sunflower, flax, pumpkin seeds, or nuts like almonds or filberts. Powdered eggs don’t taste very good, but they will allow you to bake, and add necessary protein. Or perhaps you have eggs, if you just store enough chicken feed. What you do is up to you and your budget. Think about foods you know your family will eat and that they like.

3. Do I have some fruits and vegetables to add flavor, fiber and nutrition? The two hardest to cover vitamins are vitamin C and A. So choosing C and A rich fruits and vegetables to add to your storage reduces the danger of both nutritional deficiency and constipation. For vitamin A, canned pumpkin, squash or sweet potatoes, or fresh stored orange vegetables are the best option. For vitamin C, dried elderberries or rose hips are an excellent source. You can and should also have some seed that can be sprouted for fresh green vegetables if you live in a place where you can’t easily go out and forage a safe, unsprayed supply of greens (dandelions, plantain, chicory, etc…) all year ’round. Or you should have them if you don’t know how to recognize those foods. Wheat seeds are easy to sprout, but you might prefer broccoli, radish or others. These can be bought online or at a supermarket or health food store. I would recommend more vegetables and fruits as well – either dried, canned or kept in cold storage.

Now is the perfect time to dry and can fresh fruits, garden vegetables, even greens that are in abundance at local markets and in your garden (and wild in your yard). In an emergency, you will be grateful for all the dietary diversity you can get.

4. Fat. You need some cooking oil. You probably already have preferences on this, but most oils will keep a couple of years in a cool dark place. Oh, and everyone will probably want some salt (salt is necessary for life, so buy a few boxes) and sweetener. These are cheap and useful at making food palatable. Add in as many inexpensive spices as you can afford, or as many home-dried herbs as you can gather. These make the difference between survival and misery. You may want some condiments as well – soy sauce, tobasco, homemade salsa, nuoc mam, berbere, harissa, chutney, etc… Almost all of these can be made at home or purchased.

4. Do I have the basic ingredients of making meals we eat? Think about what you actually eat for breakfast, lunch and dinnner. Do you like granola? Well, then you need some oats, nuts or seeds for crunch, maybe a bit of honey and oil. Can you not imagine a meal without bread? Make sure you have yeast and salt. Think about what you need in terms of the things that make you happy.

5. Do I have water stored? This is an easy one – go raid your neighbor’s recycling bins for soda bottles and fill the bottles with water. If you don’t plan to rotate them every few months, add a drop of bleach to each one. All done. Now make sure you have something to flavor the water, because stored water tastes a little icky – you can get tang, which has vitamin C, tea, coffee, or just go pick some mint to add to your water and hang it up to dry. Think again about what you need to feel good.

6. Do I have multivitamins at a minimum? What about other supplements that I might need? Our family keeps not only multivitamins for kids and adults, but also vitamins C, D and E. Do I have a reliable way of getting necessary medications? How about copies of your prescriptions and extra medication for emergencies?

7. What about basic hygeine items? Think soap, shampoo, toothpaste and tooth brushes, vinegar or some other cleaner, laundry detergent or borax, as well as toilet paper. You can substitute for some of these – you can use diluted Dr. Bronner’s soap for almost all these needs, baking soda in place of tooth paste, and use cloth for toilet paper if need be, but if these items will make you happier and more comfortable, store them. Make sure you have plenty of soap! Washing hands will be essential.

8. If my basics are covered, are there luxury items I’d like to add? Are there things my family needs or wants that would be useful? If the crisis overlaps holidays or festivals that are important to me, are there ways of storing items to allow us familiar treats or special foods?
Have I prepared for household pets and livestock? Do I have adequate food for them, or ways of making a nutritious diet for them out of my stored staples?

9. Do I have warm clothes, blankets, a way of heating myself, my home and/or food? Some way to cook the beans and grains? Do I have flashlights and batteries, a cell phone charger? How will I cook, bathe and do laundry without power? That is, am I ready for an emergency? My claim is not that we are facing an immanent one, but that we’ve already seen an increase in emergencies, and a slow down in our response to them – being able to take care of your own needs.
Am I prepared to deal with basic medical needs, or to handle an acute situation when I cannot reach a hospital or when they are overflowing? Do I have a book on first aid, or better yet, have I taken basic first aid, CPR and medical response classes? Do I have a good first aid kit? Does my household have a supply of basic OTC medications, and perhaps a broad-spectrum antibiotic (and the wisdom to use it only when truly necessary?) Do I know how to handle the range of basic injuries? Check out Chile’s first aid kit info:

10. Do I have mental health needs met? That is, can I handle the stress of a difficult period – a job loss, service loss or other crisis? Do I have ways to keep busy, to feel productive? Do we have games and educational materials to keep kids entertained and learning? Does my family have the habit of supporting each other through difficult times – do I have a strategy for dealing with stress productively? Do we have ways to have fun – music, games, sports equipment, books whatever our family likes to do? Can I not panic, and keep a sense of perspective.

Again, none of this should panic you. Answering “not yet” to some of these is not the end of the world. In fact, all of us, including me, probably have to say “not yet” at least somewhere. It should simply move you towards the next step, and the next.

Food & Climage Change

SUBHEAD: UN talks aimed at tackling climate change are due to close in Bangkok this week with little sign of progress. By Staff on 5 September 2012 for the Energy Bulliten - ( Image above: A third world farmer passing a dry field. From (

A new report released Wednesday says that the full impact of climate change and extreme weather events on global food prices is being underestimated and warns that without a more acute understanding of how global warming threatens agricultural systems and economies, governments will be unable to prepare for future disasters.

Climate change will drive up prices of wheat, maize and many other foods traded internationally, Oxfam warns. (Photograph: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images) Extreme Weather, Extreme Prices, the report from Oxfam International, takes an innovative and focused look at how extreme weather events—such as widespread droughts and large floods—could drive up future food prices. Previous research on the economic impact of climate change on food systems has tended to consider more gradual impacts, such as incremental temperature increases and changing rainfall patterns.

“As emissions continue to soar, extreme weather in the US and elsewhere provides a glimpse of our future food system in a warming world. Our planet is heading for average global warming of 2.5–5°C this century. It is time to face up to what this means for hunger and malnutrition for millions of people on our planet,” said Oxfam’s Climate Change Policy Adviser Tim Gore.

Oxfam released its report amid their ongoing GROW campaign, designed to highlight the injustice of the global food system and offer solutions to create one that is more equitable, efficient, sustainable and humane.

Looking at a host of possible scenarios for the year 2030, the research warns that by that date the world could be even more vulnerable to the kind of drought happening today in the US, with dependence on US exports of wheat and maize predicted to rise and climate change increasing the likelihood of extreme droughts in North America.

This year, the US and India are facing nationwide droughts and major crop loss. Oxfam predicts that these trends will continue elsewhere and that the impact of such events will worsen as food price "shocks" devastate the world's poorest people.

The research also finds:

  • Even under a conservative scenario, another US drought in 2030 could raise the price of maize by as much as 140 per cent over and above the average price of food in 2030, which is already likely to be double today’s prices.
  • Drought and flooding in southern Africa could increase the consumer price of maize and other coarse grains by as much as 120 per cent. Price spikes of this magnitude today would mean the cost of a 25kg bag of corn meal – a staple which feeds poor families across Africa for about two weeks – would rocket from around $18 to $40.
  • A nationwide drought in India and extensive flooding across South East Asia could see the world market price of rice increase by 25 per cent. This could see domestic spikes of up to 43 per cent on top of longer term price rises in rice importing countries of such as Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country.

“Rising temperatures and changing rainfall patterns hold back crop production and cause steady price rises," Gore said. "But extreme weather events – like the current US drought – can wipe out entire harvests and trigger dramatic food price spikes."

“We will all feel the impact as prices spike but the poorest people will be hit hardest.

“The huge potential impact of extreme weather events on future food prices is missing from today’s climate change debate. The world needs to wake up to the drastic consequences facing our food system of climate inaction."

As the Guardian reports, Oxfam's warning "comes as UN talks aimed at tackling climate change are due to close in Bangkok on Wednesday with little sign of progress, while tomorrow the Food and Agriculture Organisation is due to publish further information on how the worst US drought in 60 years is impacting on global food prices."


Arctic Death Spiral

SUBHEAD: Experts warn ‘Near Ice-Free Arctic In Summer’ in a decade if current volume trends continue. By Joe Romm on September 2012 for Think Progress - ( Image above: The Western Antarctic Peninsula is one of the fastest warming places on the planet. From ( The sharp drop in Arctic sea ice area has been matched by a harder-to-see — but equally sharp — drop in sea ice thickness. The combined result has been a collapse in total sea ice volume. Many experts now say that if recent volume trends continue we will see virtually ice-free conditions sometime in the next ten years. And that may well usher in a permanent change toward extreme, prolonged weather events “Such As Drought, Flooding, Cold Spells And Heat Waves.” It will also accelerate global warming in the region, which in turn will likely accelerate both the disintegration of the Greenland ice sheet and the release of the vast amounts of carbon currently locked in the permafrost. The European Space Agency’s CryoSat-2 probe confirms what the Pan-Arctic Ice Ocean Modeling and Assimilation System (PIOMAS) at the Polar Science Center has been saying for years: Arctic sea ice volume has been collapsing faster than sea ice area (or extent) because the ice has been getting thinner and thinner. In fact, the latest satellite CryoSat-2 data shows the rate of loss of Arctic sea ice is “50% higher than most scenarios outlined by polar scientists and suggests that global warming, triggered by rising greenhouse gas emissions, is beginning to have a major impact on the region,” as the UK Guardian reported last month:
If the current annual loss of around 900 cubic kilometres continues, summer ice coverage could disappear in about a decade in the Arctic.
I have focused on sea ice volume for the past 6 years, since I was fortunate enough to hear Dr. Wieslaw Maslowski of the Oceanography Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in a 2006 American Meteorological Society seminar. He reported that models suggested Arctic ice volume had dropped sharply since the mid 1990s. He then made an alarming forecast:
If this trend persists for another 10 years–and it has through 2005–we could be ice free in the summer.”
That was in 2006, so he was talking about the possibility of being ice free in 2016. Looking at volume and thickness helped me avoid the mistake that so many others made in thinking that the sea ice “recovered” after the 2007 minimum in sea ice extent. The scientific literature and actual observations continued to vindicate Maslowski’s projection. Since Maslowski’s warning appears to now have been vindicated by the CryoSat-2 data, I asked him for a comment. He said he didn’t want to comment on that data specifically until he’s seen the published results — since there are many inherent uncertainties involved. But he then added:
Regardless of all these uncertainties and for the record, if any of these estimates of arctic sea ice volume decline is close to reality, a near ice-free Arctic in summer can happen not in 2100, 2050 or 2037 but much sooner. One of the main reasons I believe it will happen sooner (i.e. the trend of sea ice volume decline will continue) is that with the shrinking sea ice cover in summer the Arctic Ocean increases its net annual heat content through absorption and redistribution, especially in the upper water column, below the surface mixed layer. This constitutes a positive feedback to sea ice melt in addition to ice-albedo and other feedbacks, mainly because it can affect the sea ice cover year around, including in winter through upward heat entrainment and reduction of ice growth. The warmer Arctic Ocean can also affect air temperatures and circulation, not only during freeze-up but also in winter and spring. Observational evidence (Jackson et al., 2010 and 2011) suggests increasing sub-surface temperatures and over increasing area in the Canada Basin through 2009, which independently of models supports the argument about the increasing upper ocean heat content. I do realize that the above sounds ‘alarmist’ and I’ve heard such criticism more than once before but I believe it’s my obligation to make sure that this message is heard by the policymakers and general public.
Maslowski did not make a new timing prediction, but instead directed me to a recent article he was lead author on, “The Future of Arctic Sea Ice,” in Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences. That article estimated a loss of 1,120 cubic kilometres per year from 1996 to 2007, quite close to the recently reported CryoSat-2 measurements. It continued:
Given the estimated trend and the volume estimate for October–November of 2007 at less than 9,000 km3 (Kwok et al. 2009), one can project that at this rate it would take only 9 more years or until 2016 ± 3 years to reach a nearly ice-free Arctic Ocean in summer. Regardless of high uncertainty associated with such an estimate, it does provide a lower bound of the time range for projections of seasonal sea ice cover.
This is the same estimate Maslowski made in 2006, although he has couched it more conservatively here and has explained that he wouldn’t be surprised if some summer ice lingers above Greenland and Eastern Canada into the 2020s. That’s why he uses the term “nearly ice-free.” What’s interesting is that the volume trend has in fact continued according to PIOMAS and CryoSat-2. Many other experts are warning that we have effectively passed the point of no return and nearly ice-free are imminent. Fen Montaigne, senior editor of Yale e360, reports:
Peter Wadhams, who heads the Polar Ocean Physics Group at the University of Cambridge and who has been measuring Arctic Ocean ice thickness from British Navy submarines, says that earlier calculations about Arctic sea ice loss have grossly underestimated how rapidly the ice is disappearing. He believes that the Arctic is likely to become ice-free before 2020 and possibly as early as 2015 or 2016 — decades ahead of projections made just a few years ago.
Mark Drinkwater, mission scientist for the European Space Agency’s CryoSat satellite and the agency’s senior advisor on polar regions, said he and his colleagues have been taken aback by the swiftness of Arctic sea ice retreat in the last 5 years. “If this rate of melting [in 2012] is sustained in 2013, we are staring down the barrel and looking at a summer Arctic which is potentially free of sea ice within this decade,” Drinkwater said in an e-mail interview.
Wadhams told the BBC how much warming is accelerated by just replacing the reflective white ice with the more absorptive open ocean:
Prof Wadhams calculates that this increased absorption of the sun’s rays is “the equivalent of about 20 years of additional CO2 being added by man”. The Cambridge University expert says that the Arctic ice cap is “heading for oblivion.”
Not every expert thinks the Arctic will be necessarily be nearly ice free by 2020. And Dr Seymour Laxon who has been working on the CryoSat-2 data said this of the 2020 projection:
Laxon urged caution, saying: “First, this is based on preliminary studies of CryoSat figures, so we should take care before rushing to conclusions. In addition, the current rate of ice volume decline could change.” Nevertheless, experts say computer models indicate rates of ice volume decline are only likely to increase over the next decade.
But whenever the nearly ice free conditions occur (and I’ve long been in the camp that says it’ll be by 2020), those who think we have not effectively crossed a point of no return — those who think we are not in a death spiral — are not paying attention to the thickness and volume analysis. As Yale e360 reported:
Jay Zwally, chief cryospheric scientist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center and an observer of Arctic ice for 40 years, places little stock in the likelihood of a reversal of disappearing Arctic ice. New satellite technology has given scientists the ability to measure the height of sea ice above the water, and hence ice volume. Those measurements, he said, have vividly underscored that Arctic sea ice is in a swoon. For example, a recent analysis of data from CryoSat and NASA’s ICESat satellite estimates that the volume of sea ice in a large area of the central Arctic Ocean has plummeted in late winter — February and March — by nearly half in just eight years, from an estimated 13,000 cubic kilometers in 2004 to 7,000 cubic kilometers in 2012. We’ve gone through a tipping point, and of all the things a tipping point applies to, sea ice is the most appropriate, because the idea is when it goes below a certain thickness it doesn’t go back under present conditions,” said Zwally. “People can get hung up on the specifics and lose track of the big picture, which is that it’s getting worse and it’s going to get [even] worse.”
And that has serious consequences for every person on this planet and countless future generations. .

Nature - a system of systems

SUBHEAD: Nature has news for IBM. The planet is already far smarter than any human engineer.

By Rex Weyler on 22 August 2012 for Greenpeace -  

"The major problems in the world are the result of the difference between how nature works and the way people think."
- Gregory Bateson, An Ecology of Mind

Image above: A banner of IBM "Smart Planet" ad banner in some inhumane faceless hub airport concourse. This hideous ad campaign is by Ogilvy And Mather Worldwide. One can almost smell the jet fuel exhaust and burnt rubber outside the window of this air-conditioned hamster tube. Note ad copy reads "Food tells truck drivers how fresh it is." (response - what if the truck can't afford to fill its tank?). It goes on to say "Store shelves know exactly what customers want" (response - What if the shelves are empty?). Of course, the IBM tagline is; "Let's Build a Smarter Planet" (response - How about a smarter people?).

Piecemeal ecology does not work.

Forty years have passed since the founding of Greenpeace and the first UN environment meeting in Stockholm, fifty years since the groundbreaking Silent Spring by Rachel Carson, and 115 years since Svante Arrhenius warned that burning hydrocarbons would heat Earth’s atmosphere.

Today, we have more environmental groups and less forests, more “protected areas” and less species, more carbon taxes and greater carbon emissions, more “green” products and less green space. These failures are not necessarily the fault of environmental groups, who have helped slow down the destructive impacts the industrial juggernaut, but the failures do demonstrate that all our collective efforts are not yet remotely enough.

For example, observing the “Living Planet Index” of species diversity, we find that after 1980 – even with the creation of new endangered species regulations, parks, and protected areas – terrestrial and marine species have declined. For the last thirty years, even with a massive increase in wilderness groups, species diversity has plummeted and the rate of decline has accelerated.

Likewise, as we gain 30% energy efficiency in heating buildings, we double the average space-per-person and then add more people, resulting in 300% more space to heat. The Rio+20 Conference proved once again that government conferences change nothing. After thirty years of climate deals, we have more CO2 emissions each year, not less. After forty years of international ocean dumping bans, the oceans are more toxic and more acidic, not less.
Paper parks & false hopes
“...leave a margin, a sanctuary, where some of life’s beauty can take refuge.” 
-- Roman Gary, The Roots of Heaven.

In July 2011, Camilo Mora, from University of Hawaii and Dalhousie University, and Peter F. Sale, from the UN University in Ontario, Canada, published “Ongoing global biodiversity loss and the need to move beyond protected areas.”

Their report shows that since 1965, land based “Protected Areas” (PAs) have grown by 600% to 18 million square-kilometers. Marine PAs have grown by 400% to about 2.1 million sq-km. However, in both cases – on land and in oceans – biodiversity has declined, and the rate of decline has increased. Since 1974, terrestrial biodiversity has plummeted by about 40% and since 1990, in twenty years, the marine index has declined by 21%.

Mora and Sale site problems with the size and management of the protected areas, failure to protect enough area for home ranges and dispersal, and growing threats to large scale ecosystems. Such threats trace back to growing human populations and consumption demands on environments.

The authors support the establishment of protected areas but warn that these areas alone will not stop biodiversity decline without larger, systemic programs. Mora points out that most protected areas are really just “paper parks” in name only, but not truly protected.

Sale says flatly, “Protected areas are a false hope in terms of preventing the loss of biodiversity.” He points out that the 2010 global biodiversity protection agreement signed in Nagoya, Japan pledged to preserve 17 % of land area and 10 % of oceans. Sale says it is “very unlikely those targets will be reached,” due to the growth of human demand for every available resource. Furthermore, “Even if those targets were achieved, it would not stop the decline in biodiversity.”

In “paper parks,” plants and animals disappear to poachers, development, and industrial pressure for logging and mining. Often, without adequate enforcement, industrial developers simply ignore protection rules. Similarly, in the 1980s, environmentalists fought for and won international bans on pelagic whaling and toxic dumping, yet we continue to fight to enforce the bans as they are routinely ignored by whalers and the toxic waste industries.

Furthermore, park boundaries cannot restrain pollution and global warming impacts. Typically, when a forest or coral reef is protected, the neighbouring area is overharvested by industry and often decimated, breaking natural ecosystem links. Finally, this study points out that ecosystems require appropriate scale to allow for variations in ecological diversity, richness, abundance, synergies, and co-dependence.

Even so, Mora, Sale and many other biologists and ecologists have warned that we cannot stop biodiversity decline without putting limits on human population and consumption growth. “There is a clear and urgent need for additional solutions,” the authors warn, “particularly ones that stabilize ... the world’s human population and our ecological demands.”


“The hard part about change is, actually have to change.” Jon Cooksey, director, How to Boil a Frog.

In practice, human efforts to protect and restore Earth’s ecological health have focused on a “species” or a “habitat” or some thing that needed protection. But this has failed to account for the fundamental nature of living systems. Earth’s ecology is not a collection of things. Rather, Earth’s ecology operates as interlocking, co-evolving systems, driven by feedbacks and interactions. The systems remain always dynamic, never completely stable, and always correcting for instability, the way a hummingbird adjusts in flight or a human bicycler maintains balance.

Every subsystem in Nature interacts with others. Nothing exists alone in nature. Nothing survives alone in Nature. We talk about a “tree” and “soil” and “atmosphere,” for convenience, but none of these exist as they do without the others. There is no absolute division among these elements of the system. Indeed, biological and physical sciences do not describe “things.” Science describes relationships. “All division of the world into things,” warned Gregory Bateson, “is arbitrary.”

Global environmental strategies to date reveal isolated efforts but systemic failures. As planners and implementers of ecological wisdom, we have not yet grasped the complexity of systems, the rules, demands, and feedback mechanisms of complex living systems.

In short, human environmentalism has yet to embrace Earth’s biosphere as a living process. The biosphere itself exists nested in a geosphere and solar system, which generate materials and energy and information for all the subsystems. Deep within the biosphere, communities, families, organisms, organs, and cells represent finer subsystems.

An ecosystem represents a living system at the highest level of complexity we can imagine, and far beyond our ability to fully describe, manage, or predict. An ecosystem is not a thing. It is a web of relationships, a dynamic co-evolution of systems and subsystems, all nested within each other. Each subsystem draws matter, energy, and information across boundaries from more fundamental systems; decodes information and makes decisions; and passes new information, products, and waste, back into the larger systems. Nature works as a continuum. Ecosystems are not “managed” by any of the parts, and as far as human science knows, no ecosystem ever will be.

Ecosystems evolve patterns of relationship, which we call “rules,” but do not pre-determine outcome. Rather, the rules of nature’s “game” create trends and variations on themes. The variations and patterns that can repeat and replicate themselves become “alive” but they are never just “things.” Every subsystem within an ecosystem – from cell to society – remains a co-dependent process, interconnected with other dynamic processes.

In living systems, the continually altering flows of matter, energy, and information, reach states that ecologists call “dynamic equilibria” during which system instabilities oscillate within mutually supportive limits – a body, a forest, a neighbourhood of species – for long periods of time. During such equilibria, randomness among the interactions give rise to new patterns, radical novelty, called by systems analysts “emergent behaviour,” a new pattern, which can influence the system to new directions.

Since co-evolving systems include random factors – as do chess games or hurricanes – they are not entirely predictable, even if one knows the rules. Thus – and this our society needs desperately to embrace – systems themselves evolve, and new relationships almost always include unintended consequences. Each subsystem – organ, body, society – within an ecosystem co-creates a complex web of processes with its neighboring subsystems. Nature is a web of relationships. Our ecological efforts need to recognize and protect these complex relationships.

One strength of the human species is our acute ability to learn. Our society appears steeped in denial, but we can learn from our ecological mistakes. Our “solutions” to the challenges of ecology on a crowded planet have not yet been successful. “We’re winning a lot of battles,” Greenpeace Executive Director Kumi Naidoo said at the 40th anniversary of Greenpeace, “but we’re still losing the war.” Sadly, this is true. Every day, our planet is poorer, with less forests, less species, less fresh water and arable soil, and more desserts, more toxins, and more CO2 in the atmosphere. To reverse this, we need to learn about the systems in which we live.

A recent ad campaign from International Business Machines (IBM) imagines innovations to create “a smarter planet.” But Nature has news for IBM. The planet is already far smarter than any human engineer. We cannot manage Nature. Rather, we need to apprentice ourselves to Nature, to learn how Nature solves dilemmas and sorts out imbalances.

For every species other than humans, the biggest environmental issue on Earth is Humanity. If we don’t change our ways, seriously and thoroughly change, then nature will eventually leave us behind and carry on without us.

Tatooino is not alone

SUBHEAD: We are discovering more double stars. Some have planetary systems as in Skywalker's home Tatooini.  

By Jan TenBruggencate on 2 September 2012 for Raising Islands - 

Image above: Jabba the Hut's palace on the desert planet Tatooini during a double star sunset. From (
The University of Hawaii managed to write about the discovery of planets around a binary star system without once mentioning the iconic planet, Tatooine.
Partly, that might be because there is far more about the new discovery than just the fact that a planet exists around two stars spinning in their own tight orbit. In this case, two planets (maybe three) around the two stars.
Tatooine, of course, is the desert planet in the Star Wars film series, which is the home planet to both Anakin and Luke Skywalker. In many of its scenes, Tatooine’s twin suns are displayed above the horizon.
University of Hawaii astronomer Nader Haghighipour was part of a team that discovered what they called Kepler-47, naming it after the Kepler space observatory, which was launched in 2009. The funding for the team’s work came from NASA and the National Science Foundation.
The team announced the finding at the triennial International Astronomical Union meeting in Beijing, and published it in Science—under the daunting title: “Kepler-47: A Transiting Circumbinary Multiplanet System.” The abstract is here.
What’s cool about this?
Binary star systems are cool, although this is not the first one that’s been found.
That this binary star system has a complement of planets is cool—first time that’s been seen. It proves that it’s possible for a solar system to exist around twin suns. The stars of Kepler-47 orbit each other roughly weekly—every 7.5 days.
And ultimate cool for science fiction fans and astronomers is one of the planets is within the stars’ habitable zone, meaning liquid water could exist on their surfaces. The question still unanswered is whether this planet even has a surface on which to have liquid water. It could be a gas giant like Jupiter—but maybe not.
The inner planet is smaller, three times Earth’s radius, and spins a full orbit around its suns in 49 days. The other—the one in the habitable zone—is Jupiter-sized at 4.6 times Earth’s radius and orbits every 303 days—not far from Earth’s 365.
And there may be a third planet, although the evidence isn’t yet strong enough to say for sure.

DNA junk and health

SUBHEAD: Human DNA ‘Junk’ and not just genes, but now seen as levers controlling our future health By Elizabeth Lopatto on 6 September 2012 in Bloomberg News - ( Image above: DNA "junk" may make up 80% of our human genome. From original article.

Almost a decade after the U.S. human genome project was completed, scientists say they have mapped the underlying regulatory system that switches DNA on and off, potentially spurring a wave of new research into the molecular basis of complex diseases such as Type 1 diabetes.

Many parts of DNA previously termed “junk” by scientists are, instead, levers that control the genetic activity that can lead alternately to health or illness, according to reports published simultaneously in the journals Science and Nature by the Encode international consortium.

Scientists previously thought that only genes, small pieces of DNA that make up about 1 percent of the genome, have a function. The new findings show that an underlying circuitry exists in which 80% of the DNA code within each human cell can contribute to disease. This may be why large studies targeting gene variants haven’t identified treatable causes for many complex maladies, the scientists said. The circuitry can be disrupted at several individual waypoints.

“This takes us from a concentration on individual genes to the whole genome,” said Eric Topol, professor of translational genomics at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California, in a telephone interview. “This series of articles is amazing, it’s a blitz of information.”

The science consortium identified about 4 million genetic switches, though the researchers expect the number will rise as more discoveries are made, said Ewan Birney, the associate director of the Cambridge-based EMBL-European Bioinformatics Institute in the U.K. The circuitry identified by the group regulates about 20,000 genes, he said in a conference call.

DNA Encyclopedia

Encode, short for The Encyclopedia of DNA Elements, was started in September 2003, just five months after the U.S. Human Genome Project was declared over. Its broad goal was to identify all elements in the genome that had a function.

The $288 million project, funded by a unit of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, eventually gathered 443 scientists from more than 30 institutions worldwide into the consortium that made the announcements. More than 1,600 experiments on 147 types of tissue were performed.

“It was an extraordinary group response right from the start,” said Tim Hubbard, who leads the Cambridge-based Vertebrate Genome Analysis Project at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in the U.K. “We had a map, but we needed insight into the function of each part of the genome.

‘‘I can’t say there was one person who drove it,’’ he said. ‘‘I think the model provided by the Human Genome Project and the role of the Internet intersected at a certain point to bring many voices together to say this is what we need to do next. It was unusual then, but becoming less so now.’’

Material Range

Six of the studies published yesterday appeared in Nature and two in the journal Science. Several more appeared in Genome Research and Genome Biology, showing the extraordinary range of the material being presented.

The Encode results demonstrate the importance of DNA feedback mechanisms that the genome uses to control itself, said John Stamatoyannopoulos, a study author and associate professor of genome sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle.

While the vast majority of human DNA doesn’t make cellular proteins, the new results suggest they may create the RNA molecules that help regulate when a gene turns off and on, and creates specific types of proteins. Additionally, the non-coding DNA also may boost or muffle a gene’s expression.

‘‘It’s like a brain in every cell,” Stamatoyannopoulos said in a telephone interview.

Gaining Insight

Scientists studying individual genes and proteins will be able to use the Encode data to gain more insight into regulatory mechanisms in their individual areas of research, said Stephen Elledge, a geneticist at Harvard Medical School in Boston. The data will help researchers better understand how regulatory changes underlying genetic activity might affect people’s risk or severity of disease, he said

Genome-wide association studies are done by scanning the genome for many people to find variations linked to disease. About 93 percent of the variants found in this research hasn’t involved genes that code for proteins, and few explain the bulk of most complex diseases, Stamatoyannopoulos said.

His study, published in Science, found that 76 percent of these disease-associated variants existed within or near regulatory DNA, suggesting a more complex cause may exist. His group also determined many complex disease share some genomic switches, including autoimmune diseases such as asthma, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Type 1 diabetes and lupus.

‘Hidden Instructions’

“We knew that hidden out there were instructions for turning things off and on and understanding that process was necessary for understanding disease,” Stamatoyannopoulos said.

In a paper in Nature, Job Dekker, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts, and his team demonstrated using three-dimensional models that many regulatory regions work by directly touching genes when folded.

The Human Genome Project was a 13-year research effort to identify the approximately 20,000 genes in human DNA, and determine which sequences of the chemical base pairs make up DNA. The research allowed scientists to understand the sets of genetic instructions found in human cells. In people, the genome is 23 pairs of chromosomes.

The newest results take that road map further.

“This is a story of comprehensiveness,” said Thomas Gingeras, one of the study authors and the head of functional genomics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on New York’s Long Island. “Now we have a large number of these regulatory regions and a sense of when they’re activated.”


Weather Girl Goes Rogue

SUBHEAD: Great video by "Deep Rogue Ram" A true communication masterpiece; and it is going viral!

 By Ugo Bardi on 5 September 2012 for Cassandra's Legacy - 

Image above: Pippa show area of Arctic Sea ice missing this summer. From video below.

This video published on Sep 3, 2012 by
Arctic ice cover just reached its lowest point in recorded history. Weather girl Pippa goes off script and drops some science. For more, check out Filmed at Strut Studios in Vancouver: and starring @pippa_mackie and @kainagata. Written by @heatherlibby.

Video above: Weather girl goes off-script to deliver a reality forecast. From (


Millerbird Magic

SUBHEAD: A heroic tanslocation of birds from Nihoa to Laysan island is successfully completed. By Jan TenBruggencate on 4 September 2012 for Raising Islands- ( Image above: Millerbird in release cage just before being set free on Laysan Island. From (
A second group of Nihoa millerbirds has been successfully moved from Nihoa to Laysan—both islands in the northwestern end of the Hawaiian archipelago.
The movement assures the species of a second breeding population, improving its potential for survival.
Biologists collected, shipped by boat from Nihoa to Laysan, and released 26 millerbirds in mid-August, in a joint effort of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), American Bird Conservancy (ABC), and other organizations. Twenty-four millerbirds were moved to the island in 2011, and those first birds have already produced 17 chicks.
“So far, everything has gone extremely well for the birds,” said millerbird expert and University of Hawai`i biologist Sheila Conant. “They were captured without incident; they made it through the boat ride in good health; we had no problems attaching transmitters to them; and they have now been released to their new habitat without a hitch. So we are thrilled with the way this phase has gone.”
Image above: Team pose for photo after successfulmillerbird release on Laysan Island. From (
Millerbirds eat insects. The little (one-ounce) birds forage in the low shrubs and bunchgrasses of the islands. They are relatives of a class of birds known as old world warblers. BirdLife International has more information here.
This species is not new to Laysan. A subspecies, the Laysan millerbird, existed on Laysan until introduced rabbits helped denude the island of much of its vegetation, and the habitat destruction killed off the birds. Laysan’s rabbits have long since been removed and the native vegetation is being restored.
Scientists are assuming that the 50 birds translocated in the 2011 and 2012 projects will provide a sufficient founder population to allow a healthy self-sustaining population to develop, said Don Palawski, Acting Fish and Wildlife Service Superintendent of the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument, which encompasses the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands.
Work during the first year of Nihoa millerbird presence on Laysan suggests that the habitat is appropriate for them, and there is sufficient food.
Laysan is an extremely isolated island, without an airfield or harbor. Researchers arrive at the island on small boats from research vessels anchored offshore. Winter access is generally not possible due to surf, but one researcher will remain on the island through the winter season to keep tabs on the birds.
The Fish and Wildlife Service web page on its millerbirdwork is here.
See also: Ea O Ka Aina: Nihoa Millerbirds 8/10/12 .

Some Significant Change

SUBHEAD: As we humans blunder on, the plants and animals are already preparing for some significant change. By Joan Conrow on 4 September 2012 for Kauai Eclectic - ( Image above: The Botero Gallery Bar in a courtyard of the Grand Wailea Hotel on Maui. From ( I’m on Maui, the place that Kauai is always saying it doesn’t want to be, and we don’t, in terms of the super upscale resorts and vacation home communities that are not just gated, but walled, and the tacky strip malls that have sprung up around Kahului and Kihei. Still, there’s a lot to love about this place, like Haleakala, which revealed itself under sunny skies and conditions clear enough to see the summits of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa. And I always enjoy being able to see the other islands, like red-scarred Kahoolawe, the gentle blue mound of Lanai and the little brown lump of Molokini, all of which are visible from the beach where I swam in clear waters this morning as a big honu moseyed by. Not so nice is the line of windmills marching like a white fence up the otherwise barren West Maui mountains. They’re ugly, and intrude on nearly every view plane, prompting me to wonder where on Kauai we might be willing to tarnish the landscape with similar structures. It seems they could’ve at least been painted bluish-brown to blend in with the terrain. It’s been interesting, with my sister visiting, to experience the world that tourists inhabit. Everyone has been super nice, though surely those who work in the visitor industry on Kauai could come up with something other than the hackneyed, “So where are you from?” On Maui, the set phrase seems to be, “Are you having a good day?” In checking out the big resorts — we stayed two nights at the Hyatt on Kauai and cruised through the massive and opulent Grand Wailea here on Maui, as well as the Four Seasons — I’m stunned at what is required to keep these places functioning. The electricity, the water, the staff, the supplies. It’s absolutely astounding. And I keep thinking, when I look at the size of some of these places, the thousands of rooms that must be filled to keep it all going, are there really that many people willing and able to plunk down $600 to $700 per day for lodging and meals? Realistically, how much more can the visitor industry in Hawaii expect to grow, especially on the high-end side? I’m not a shopper, but my sister is, so I’ve had a chance to see what’s being sold, and for how much. North Shore Kauai seems to be catering to folks who have the cash to spend $70 on a simple cotton nightgown and $110 for a pair of yoga pants. Even Hanalei Liquor, long the last throwback to the downscale days of old, has gotten a major exterior renovation. Here on Maui, we walked through the Shops at Wailea, a two-story mall where all the shops had their doors wide open, billowing icy AC into the desert-like air. Alongside brand name retailerers like Tiffany’s and Rolex, where the clerks looked miserably bored, there were smaller shops selling the usual schlocky tourist crap. I couldn’t help but notice a new clothing line that announces, “Hawaii, established 1959.” WTF? The women’s bathroom in that tony mall had more stalls than the lua at Lihue Airport, prompting me to again wonder, are there really that many well-heeled shoppers in this one corner of Maui? We certainly haven’t encountered any crowds, and some of the resorts look like they’re less than half-full. My sister attributes it to the off-season. I think it’s more likely the off-economy, and I feel for all the workers who depend on tips when the visitor count is low. In the Wailea-Makena area of Maui, the manicured green golf courses and lush resort landscaping stands in sharp contrast to the goat-nibbled keawe trees and sun-scorched grass of the vacant lots that don’t have irrigation and I wonder, where are they getting all this water? What streams are being de-watered, diverted, to make the desert verdant? Mostly, though, I can’t help but feel like it’s all an illusion, an unsustainable dream of paradise that we keep pretending can be carried on forever, perpetually expanded. Which brings me to a tour we took of the Allerton Gardens on Kauai, where our guide, a man named Frank, pointed out a mango tree that was in its second fruiting, and simultaneously flowering. “We’ve never seen anything like it,” he said. “No one can explain it.” A woman noted the same thing was happening in South Florida, and I felt the creep of chicken skin as I wondered, is it akin to crisis blooming, a phenomenon that occurred after Iniki, when the plants burst into flower out of season because they thought they were dying after being buffeted by intense winds, stripped of their leaves? Later, I got an email about how the first whale of the season had been spotted in late August off the Big Island — the earliest that whales have returned here in recorded history, and I thought, as we humans obliviously blunder on, the plants and animals are already preparing for some significant change. Because surely they know better than we what's really going on. .

Cassava Chips Life Cycle

SUBHEAD: Harvesting and growing cassava trees to make baked chips for your own dips.  

By Juan Wilson 4 September 2012 for Island Breath -  

Image above: The goal - a fresh guacamole ready to be devoured with hot crisp cassava chips. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

[Author's note: Cassava contains cyanide. The amount varies widely and should be considered when using cassava in your diet. With the right variety and use there is little risk. With even the more dangerous varieties, simply soaking, cooking or fermenting the peeled root is all that is usually needed to make them safe. "Societies that traditionally eat cassava generally understand some processing (soaking, cooking, fermentation, etc.) is necessary to avoid getting sick.[36]See (]

We love eating dips and chips. For years we've been making baba ghanoush with our own eggplant and guacamole with or own avocados. Until recently we've scooped up these delicious dips from commercially packaged chips made of corn, rice and taro.

 Now we are experimenting with making our own chips with cassava. The results have been successful enough to now share. This article will also include our experience with the whole life cycle needed to reproduce the cassava.

Image 1 above: A cassava tree with a 2" trunk ready for harvesting. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

To make chips you first select the tree you will use. Cut it down and be careful not to destroy the smaller branches (1/2" in diameter). Use a mattock to clear the ground around the tree until you detect reaching the tops of the laterally arrayed root lobes. They should be about as big around as a good sized potato chip.

Image 2 above: Flooding hole above cassava root structure. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.
 I usually then flood the hole around the stump to soften the earth. Then using a hoe and pick carefully clear around the roots as required to free them without breaking them into little pieces.

Image 3 above: An example of a full harvest of cassava root structure from a single tree. From (

A perfectly cleared root structure looks something like this image above and can have almost a dozen good sized lobes.

Image 4 above: Some of the root lobes unearthed from hole. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

 Once you have the lobes out of the ground wash them of all dirt. One good sized lobes can make a serving for two. Use a scrubby as needed.

Image 5 above: Cassava branches ready for replanting. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

You will use the downed cassava tree for reproduction. Cassava can be reproduced by merely sticking a green branch from the downed cassava tree into the ground. Lop off as many of the the smaller branches as you want to grow more trees. One tree can easily start another dozen.

Image 6 above: A cassava sapling planted from a branch at six months old. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

To start them mere dig or puncture a small hole in good soil and push the branch into it. The leaves will fall from the branch. Keep the area around the branch from drying out for any long period, but otherwise little or no maintenance is required. Once new leaves start the plant can be left alone. If the new leaves droop water the sapling. You'll get a better harvest if the soil is somewhat loose and free of rocks. Soil amendments like chicken droppings and compost can help, but you should find cassava an eager grower.

Image 7 above: A peeled cassava root partially sliced for chips. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

After the lobes are thoroughly washed cut the tips off. There will likely be some brown outer skin over some partially exposed white under skin. Use a knife tip the break away the outer white skin. It should peal away evenly and without great effort. It's the inner white core we will use for the chips. We bought a small electric meat slicer for about $30 from Walmart for slicing chips.

Slicing chips thinly and evenly is very important. Too thick and they won't be like chips after they are cooked. If they are uneven and some will be burned and some damp out of the oven. Try slicing the chips as thin as you can and maintain a full uniform cut across the cassava root. If you have several root lobes I suggest you slice them all and freeze the results in one quart plastic bags to serve two. Several bags should result from one harvest.

Image 8 above: Baking tray being loaded with seasoned root slices. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

When we are about to bake chips we oil them. I've tried two methods that work. One way is to dampen two layers of paper towels with extra virgin olive oil. Lay the chips on the oily towel and press down lightly. Then turn the chips over and repeat a light pressing into the towel. Season the exposed oily side of the chips lightly to taste with garlic powder and crushed see salt.

Then two oven cookie sheets with the oily towels and lay out the chips in the pans. The other way is to buy a can of spray-on extra virgin olive oil that is available at Big Save under Pam and Western Family brands. Spray oil lightly on the cookie sheet. Place the cassava slices closely together on the sheet. Lightly spray the slices and season. Turn them over and lightly spray them again. Season to taste.

Image 9 above: Two trays of chips cooling before serving. Photos by Juan Wilson unless noted.

Place the two cookie sheets into the oven at 300-325ºF. Toast for 15 minutes. Turn the chips over and Toast for another 15 minutes. This part can be quite tricky. Much is dependent on how thick the chips are. Until you are confident of the results watch the toasting closely. Enjoy!


Game Over? or Overtime?

SUBHEAD: Arctic sea regions as wide as one kilometer are “frothing” from previously frozen methane.  

By Albert Bates on 4 September 2012 for The Great Change -  

Image above: Pretty? The stuff of our nightmares - a methane hydrate gas crystal. From original article. For more illustrations see that post.

As we reported two years ago, an international group of scientists, the Arctic Methane Emergency Group has been sailing into the Arctic waters around Norway and Russia to take samples of methane bubbling from ocean clathrates — frozen methane deposits on the sea floor. Some of their findings, very preliminary, are now making their way into the blogosphere, but like many, we await peer-review published articles or discussion in the next IPCC report — AR5 — due in 2014, before we draw hard conclusions.

The preliminary reports, if they can be believed, are frightening.

One report last February was titled, “Global Extinction within one Human Lifetime as a Result of a Spreading Atmospheric Arctic Methane Heat wave and Surface Firestorm.” Its author, Malcolm Light, predicted, “This process of methane release will accelerate exponentially, release huge quantities of methane into the atmosphere and lead to the demise of all life on earth before the middle of this century.”

Light wrote:
“The warning about extinction is stark. It is remarkable that global scientists had not anticipated a giant buildup of methane in the atmosphere when it had been so clearly predicted 10 to 20 years ago and has been shown to be critically linked to extinction events in the geological record (Kennett et al. 2003). Furthermore all the experiments should have already been done to determine which geoengineering methods were the most effective in oxidising/destroying the methane in the atmosphere in case it should ever build up to a concentration where it posed a threat to humanity. Those methods need to be applied immediately if there is any faint hope of reducing the catastrophic heating effects of the fast building atmospheric methane concentration.”

Light’s proposed geoengineering solution is to piggyback on the Air Force’s HAARP high energy communications network to broadcast a 13.56 MHZ pulse to transform methane in the stratosphere and troposphere to nanodiamonds and hydrogen. Other geoengineering proposals include genetically engineered methanotrophic bacteria that eat methane in soil and air and iron-based catalysts that can oxidize high concentrations of methane in ocean water and raindrops.

All of this seems a bit frantic and desperate, enough to push the skeptical scientist in us to ask, “Are we really there yet?”

Some arctic sea regions as large as one kilometer in diameter are indeed “frothing” from massive gas releases from previously frozen CH4 deposits. Beginning in 2010, Igor Semiletov of the Russian Academy of Sciences said his research team discovered more than 100 plumes, and estimates there are “thousands” over a wider area, extending from Russian mainland to East Siberian Arctic Shelf.

“Earlier we found torch-like structures, but only tens of meters in diameter. This is the first time we found continuous, powerful, impressive seeps more than 1,000 meters in diameter. It’s amazing. We carried out checks at 115 stationary points and discovered methane of a fantastic scale—on a scale not seen before,” Semiletov said.

In our March 2010 post, “Various Bubblings,” we wrote:
Of course, as we have noted here before, warmer oceans, methane from permafrost and clathrate bubblings are all tipping points that accelerate climate change and are multiplicative - 2 or 3 orders of magnitude times anthropogenic emissions, once their threshold is crossed. Earth, meet Venus. The toxic gas fireballs rolling across Kansas, destroying and poisoning everything in their path, are described in Peter Ward’s book, Under a Green Sky. As Wallace Broecker says, “The climate is an angry beast, and we are poking it with sticks.”
Atmospheric CH4 concentrations have risen more in the past 4 years than in the previous 20. Methane has a much shorter lifespan in the atmosphere than CO2, but it is 50 to 70 times (in the short term 100x) more potent as greenhouse gas. It doesn’t go away when it decays, either. It oxidizes into CO2.

The last IPCC assessment (AR4) concluded that the risk of a melting clathrate event triggering a sudden shift to a much warmer planet is minimal. A sustained increase in sea temperature will warm its way through the sediment eventually, and cause even the deepest, most marginal clathrates to start to break down, but it will typically take of the order of a thousand years or more for the temperature signal to get through.

One exception, however, may be in clathrates associated with the Arctic Ocean, where water is shallower and clathrate ice crystals are stabilized by lower temperatures rather than higher pressures. Recent research carried out in 2008 in the Siberian Arctic has shown millions of tons of methane being released, apparently through perforations in the seabed permafrost.

Shakhova et al. (2008) estimate that not less than 1,400 Gt of carbon is presently locked up as methane and methane hydrates under the Arctic submarine permafrost, and 5–10% of that area is subject to thawing. They conclude that “release of up to 50 GtC of predicted amount of hydrate storage [is] highly possible for abrupt release at any time.” That would increase the methane content of the planet’s atmosphere by a factor of twelve, equivalent in greenhouse effect to a doubling in the current level of CO2.

Another wild card in the clathrate deck is whether a near-term effect would be global cooling, not warming. Sudden concentrations of flammable methane could bring about explosions and fireballs that would produce lots of smoke and dust, which would lead to global dimming, comparable to nuclear winter. The evolution of dust and smoke, if it caused global cooling, would likely only last a short time before the particulates washed out of the atmosphere. Elevated temperature forcing from levels of methane and the derivative carbon dioxide would then take over. The greatest consequence, apart from incineration of coastal cities, would be an alternating series of extra cold and extra warm years, arguably more devastating to crop production than a trend in one direction or the other.

Professor Gregory Ryskin, in a paper published in Geology in 2003, concluded:
The consequences of a methane-driven oceanic eruption for marine and terrestrial life are likely to be catastrophic. Figuratively speaking, the erupting region “boils over,” ejecting a large amount of methane and other gases (e.g., CO2, H2S) into the atmosphere, and flooding large areas of land. Whereas pure methane is lighter than air, methane loaded with water droplets is much heavier, and thus spreads over the land, mixing with air in the process (and losing water as rain).
The air-methane mixture is explosive at methane concentrations between 5% and 15%; as such mixtures form in different locations near the ground and are ignited by lightning, explosions and conflagrations destroy most of the terrestrial life, and also produce great amounts of smoke and of carbon dioxide. Firestorms carry smoke and dust into the upper atmosphere, where they may remain for several years; the resulting darkness and global cooling may provide an additional kill mechanism.
Conversely, carbon dioxide and the remaining methane create the greenhouse effect, which may lead to global warming. The outcome of the competition between the cooling and the warming tendencies is difficult to predict.

Another significant contributor to atmospheric methane is fracking — the explosive fracturing of geological formations to release oil and natural gas (see illustration). While difficult to quantify, we can expect a significant bump from this source for at least the next few decades, just from wells already completed. And once the bottle is uncorked, you can’t put another cork back in.

U.S. shale gas production is projected by EIA to increase over the 2012–2035 period by 3 million barrels of oil equivalent (Mboe) per day (it currently contributes 700,000 boe/d, and a recent Harvard study projects the 2020 shale gas potential contribution to be 49 Mboe/d). The USGS estimates that the Green River Formation alone holds 3 trillion boe, “around half of which is deemed recoverable.” Which is not to say that which is not deemed recoverable won’t also find its way to the atmosphere. Then add European fracking, Asian fracking, and Middle Eastern fracking, and what do we get?

We’re fracked.

A recent item from New Scientist highlighted the clathrate issue but unfortunately provided more smoke than light. The August 17 report described research led by Graham Westbrook of the University of Birmingham and Tim Minshull of the National Oceanography Centre, Southampton (Geophysical Research Letters, DOI: 10.1029/2009GL039191). Their team sailed into the west of the Svalbard archipelago, which lies north of Norway, where they found CH4 plumes being heated by the West Spitsbergen current, which has warmed 1 °C over the past 30 years. The methane being released from hydrates in the 600 km2 area added up to 27 kilotons/year, which suggests that the entire hydrate deposit around Svalbard could be releasing 20 megatonnes a year. Globally, extrapolating to all shallow, cold ocean areas, that translates to around 0.5-0.6 GtC/yr, or about 10% of fossil fuel emissions.

Said New Scientist, “Methane hydrate could be used as a new, somewhat greener fossil fuel, but extracting the methane without releasing any into the atmosphere remains a challenge.”


The pity is, no one is even trying to extract fossil energy without releasing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, or offsetting them with net sequestration reverses like carbon farming. Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan are climate deniers. Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming. When he wasn’t busy sponsoring the Akin plan to distinguish “legitimate rape,” he voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting greenhouse pollution, to eliminate White House climate advisers, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters like the drought devastating his home state, and to eliminate the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).

Barack Obama offers no better choice. He wants to expand fracking and build a pipeline to carry the gooey tar sands through nine states, even though a spill into the Kalamazoo River has yet to be cleaned because no-one knows how to remove tar from a river.

So what are we left with? Jill Stein, MD, Green Party candidate. She hasn’t got a chance, but she does have a microphone. She was arrested at a sit-in in Philadelphia earlier this month when she protested Fannie Mae housing foreclosures. The Green Party’s platform is more forward-looking if a bit naïve:

  • Strong International Climate Treaty
  • Economic Policy for a Safer Climate
  • Repay Our Climate Debt
  • More Efficiency and Conservation
  • Clean, Green Energy and Jobs
  • Clean, Green Agriculture
  • Encourage Conservation and a Significant Decrease in our Energy Consumption
  • Institute National Energy Efficiency Standards
  • Move Decisively to an Energy System Based on Solar, Wind, Geothermal, Marine, and other Cleaner Renewable Energy Sources
  • End the Use of Dirty and Dangerous Energy Sources
  • Plan for Decentralized, Bio-Regional Electricity Generation and Distribution
  • De-Carbonize and Re-Localize the Food System
  • Electrify the Transportation System
  • Transition to Non-nuclear Energy Future

  • Contrast that with the Republican platform:
    We strongly oppose all efforts of the extreme environmental groups that stymie legitimate business interests. We strongly oppose those efforts that attempt to use the environmental causes to purposefully disrupt and stop those interests within the oil and gas industry. We strongly support the immediate repeal of the Endangered Species Act. We believe the Environmental Protection Agency should be abolished. We encourage a comprehensive energy policy that allows more development of domestic energy sources and reduces our need for foreign energy. Energy policy should be cooperative, economically viable without taxpayer funded subsidies, and environmentally safe, but not restricted by overzealous environmental activism. We support immediate removal of government barriers to free market solutions to production and distribution of energy including restrictions on:
    • drilling and production operations on public and private lands and waters
    • refineries
    • electric power generation and distribution
    • federal gas mileage standards (CAFÉ standards) and fuel blends
    We support the elimination of the Department of Energy. We support the immediate approval and construction of the Keystone XL and other pipelines that will reduce our reliance on imported oil and natural gas from unstable or unfriendly countries. We support land drilling and production operations including hydraulic fracturing. We support the repeal of legislation mandating ethanol as fuel additives and/or primary fuel.
    We have not provided the Democratic Party’s Platform because, although it has not been adopted yet, would essentially do the same as the Republican’s while trying to look and sound just like the Green’s. It is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. At least the Green Party wears its own wool.
    So, given a choice between tweedledum and tweedledumber, we choose neither. We plan to vote Green.

    The Future of Work

    SUBHEAD: New technology will destroy more jobs than it creates. That may be an opportunity for positive change.  

    By Charles Hugh Smith on 3 September 2012 for Of 2 Minds - 

    Image above: Painting "The Ride Home" by Mark Bryan, 2005. From (
    Technology and the Web are destroying far more jobs than they create. We will need to develop a "Third Way" based on community rather than the Market or the State to adapt to this reality.
    What better day to ponder the future of work than Labor Day? Long-time correspondent Robert Z. recently shared an essay on just this topic entitled Understanding the 'New' Economy. The underlying political and financial assumption of the Status Quo is that technology will ultimately create more jobs than it destroys. Bob's insightful essay disputes that assumption:

    Over the past 15 years, the global economy has experienced structural changes to a degree not seen in nearly 150 years. Put simply, the Industrial Revolution of the 1800s has given way to a post-industrial economy. In this post-industrial economy, technology has now evolved to the point where it destroys more jobs than it creates. Still, most people are Luddites to some extent. Human nature is to resist dramatic change, either actively or passively, until we have no other choice.
    If you don’t believe that, just listen to our presidential candidates. Both Mitt Romney and Barack Obama will give us happy talk about maintaining entitlement benefits (e.g., Medicare and Medicaid) that cannot possibly be sustained. They will talk about energy self-sufficiency. They will talk about creating jobs. They will tell us that we can somehow ‘grow’ our way out of our economic distress.
    But neither candidate will admit that technology now destroys more jobs than it creates, because to do so would be to commit political suicide. The fact is that none of the happy talk will ever come true. Instead, the Federal Government, with the tacit approval of both major political parties, continues to run trillion-dollar-plus deficits year after year in a futile attempt to spend our way out of our economic problems and to sustain an economic model that cannot be sustained.
    Those who believe that bringing manufacturing back to the US will also bring back jobs are trying to fight a war that has already been fought and lost. Why? The answer is technology. It’s actually a fairly simple process now to bring production of many items back to the US, simply because of automation and robotics. A factory filled with robots can operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year, so long as the raw material inputs keep flowing into the factory. Robots don’t take breaks, don’t make mistakes, don’t call in sick, don’t take vacations, don’t require expensive health insurance, and don’t receive paychecks.
    A fully automated robotic manufacturing facility might require only 100 workers, while a traditional assembly line facility might utilize 3,000 workers. That’s a huge difference in the number of jobs. The simple fact is that most of the lost manufacturing jobs are never coming back. What about all the marketing, administrative, accounting, and IT jobs that we think can’t be outsourced or automated? Well, retail enterprises now tailor any number of special offers directly to individual customers by mining data from reward programs.
    That doesn’t take an expensive ad budget or a huge marketing department, since it’s all automated. Have you ever noticed that most of the advertising you see while you surf the Web is tailored to things you might be interested in buying? That’s all automated – huge numbers of marketing professionals are just not needed. In the accounting world, ‘lean accounting’ attempts to streamline accounting processes and eliminate accounting inefficiencies.
    A byproduct of ‘lean accounting’ is often greater use of technology and a significant reduction in the number of accountants and accounting clerks. In the IT (Information Technology) sector, computer algorithms for high-frequency stock trading (HFT) have become so complex that specialized software now writes new HFT programs and algorithms. That reduces job opportunities for programmers.
    The net result of all these examples is not job creation. It’s job destruction. How about government jobs and government-related jobs? Well, think about the US defense budget. It’s a huge example. We surely do not need as many tanks and fighter jets as we used to, now that we have remote-controlled drones to do many of the jobs required. And with the availability of these drones, we might not need as many aircraft carriers, ships, or military personnel either. What about the Post Office? Do we really need daily mail service in an electronic world?
    The point is that as we let go of old methodologies, whether in the private sector or in government, huge numbers of jobs simply disappear. As a society, we need to admit that ‘free-market’ capitalism is not going to bring back these lost jobs. Thanks to technology, society is capable of meeting basic human needs (food, clothing, shelter, transportation) with far fewer workers percentage-wise than were needed in the past. But as a society, we also need to admit that socialistic solutions won’t work either, simply because human nature is to take care of ourselves and our families first.
    Once we have provided for ourselves and our families, very few of us are both willing and able to provide for every stranger that might knock on our door seeking assistance. As a nation, we must at some point address any number of major economic issues, including the massive overhang of debt (public and private) that cannot possibly be repaid and demands for future entitlement payments that cannot possibly be met. As a society, we ought to admit that we cannot borrow our way to prosperity. Unless interest rates are zero forever and creditors are willing to forego scheduled repayments forever, borrowing our way to prosperity is a mathematical impossibility.
    One point is certain. Even if we find the political will to deal with the mathematics of our economic problems, we will never find long-term solutions to our economic issues until we recognize the profound economic changes wrought by technological advances. This is especially true with respect to our traditional view of a job and a paycheck. While it is true that new opportunities will always exist, these opportunities may not be as plentiful as the jobs of the past once were.
    And these opportunities will generally require more advanced skills than many of the jobs of the past. Technology has fundamentally changed the nature of paying work, and it is also one of the major economic issues of our time. About the author: Bob Z., of Vancouver, Washington, is a Corporate Finance executive who retired in 2007 from an upper management position with a Fortune 500 corporation.

    Thank you, Bob, for your forthright appraisal of technology and jobs. The decline in labor's share of the GDP (gross national product) is sobering. Here are some other points to consider:

    1. The build-out of a new technology creates a large but temporary number of jobs. This has been the case for some time: the construction of the railroads created a jobs boom that soon disappeared in a financial bust as rail was over-built and profits were non-existent for many of the extraneous or duplicate lines. Telephony and telecom followed similar arcs, and did the build-out of the Internet infrastructure.
    2. Technology maturation leads to diminishing return on labor as incremental advances in productivity are capital-intensive. Semiconductor manufacturing is a good example; fabrication facilities (fabs) cost upwards of $2 billion each even as the number of workers need to operate the fab declines. Profit margins on many high-technology products are razor-thin, flat-screen displays being a prime example, and diminishing margins further pressure labor costs.
    3. Software is leading the next-generation industrial revolution, automating many tasks that were considered "safe" from automation. As Bob pointed out, this includes securities trading and accounting. (I would add tax preparation for the majority of tax situations.) Can the law, academia and government remain immune? Unlikely.
    4. Although few dare contemplate this, the low-hanging fruit of technology may have already been plucked. Take healthcare as an example: antibiotics and vaccines virtually eliminated many diseases at a very low cost per dose (though some diseases are coming back due to unvaccinated host populations and bacterial adaptation). Antibiotics are "one size fits all" technologies: they act basically the same on every target bacteria and in every host.

      Compare that universality to the spectrum of individual responses to cancer treatments and other medications: one size does not fit all, and many of the most profitable drugs of the past few decades treated symptoms, not the underlying illness. It is increasingly clear that there is no "magic pill" that kills all cancers, or even specific cancers in all patients. Lifestyle diseases such as diabetes appear impervious to "magic bullet" cures, as the causal factors of the disease are complex. The same can be said of diseases of aging and environmental factors. In other words, the notion that tens of billions of dollars in high-tech research will yield "one size fits all" low-cost treatments of complex diseases has been shown to be problematic, and very possibly a fantasy.
    5. The Internet is destroying vast income streams that once supported tens of thousands of jobs in industries from finance to music. Craigslist has gutted the once-immense income stream from newspapers, and web-based marketing has shredded print-media advert page counts. Global competition and pressure to maintain profits and margins relentlessly drive enterprises to slash payrolls.
    6. As I have discussed here many times over the years, the rising costs of taxes, benefits and regulations have squeezed small businesses. In response, many small companies rely on automation and software to perform tasks that until recently required a human worker.

    Those small businesses that cannot prosper via technology are going under, and the risks posed by ever-higher costs have raised entry barriers to starting a small business. These trends are visible in this chart:

    The array of web-based tools available to entrepreneurs now is astonishing. Why take on the risks of hiring people when you can do the work yourself with low-cost web tools and software? For many small enterprises, that is the only way to survive.

    Advanced societies face a dilemma that cannot be solved by more debt or more technology: how to distribute not just the output of the economy, but the work and responsibility so that everyone has an opportunity to contribute and earn their keep.

    Those who have plowed through my books know that I see community as the only viable way forward. Many aspects of human life cannot be turned into a "market opportunity," nor can they be taken over by the insolvent central-planning Central State. Paying people to stay home and rot is not a solution, but neither is paying people more than they produce in competitive markets.

    There is a "Third Way," but we've lost the skills and infrastructure required. Of the three elements of civil society, the Market and the State have crowded out Community. We either re-discover the labor-value of community or we devolve further into a potentially "death spiral" social and financial instability.