A little upside-down theology ...
5I found this to be a great article. It traces the huge social, economic and political consequences of a relatively common event: the arrival of a single invasive species. In this case, it's a bug: the Khapra beetle. Apparently this bug eats the same things we do and is good enough at it to take an entire crop.
What'll it do if it gets here? Eat all our food. The Oakland CPB team leads the nation in Khapra beetle interception (52 busts in 2011, with New York running a close second with 48), but it's also just a few hours away from the Central Valley, one of the most productive agricultural regions in the world.
Agriculture was one of the first global industries. Crops planted far from the places where they originally evolved, but in climates similar to the ones they were from, did phenomenally well, often until they became weeds. This is why most of the world's bananas are grown in Latin America, rather than Southeast Asia, and why most of the world's almonds are grown in California, not the Middle East. Comparative advantage is rooted in plant biology.
Invasive pests are the hidden whammy folded into this scenario. When separated from all of the creatures that have evolved to eat it, a crop flourishes-like Superman shot out of Krypton and into the American Midwest. When a crop is reunited with one of its worst pests, though, it's like Superman meets Kryptonite all over again. The Khapra beetle evolved somewhere in South Asia, in the same region where rice was first cultivated. USDA-APHIS estimates that 67 percent of the continental U.S. also has a climate suitable for the beetle.
Countries trade food for a variety of reasons. Some countries do it for purely economic reasons-India grows some delicious rice, in a country where wages are cheap. Other countries trade food for diplomatic reasons-Japan has warehouses full of American rice, for instance, because they promised to buy it years ago in World Trade Organization negotiations .
As more food crosses borders than ever before, biology is complicating both finance and diplomacy. The number of invasive plants, insects, and pathogens intercepted by CBP has nearly doubled in the last decade. It's an upswing that prefigures a more complex economics of the future, and one that takes into account such questions as "How much do we stand to gain by importing this rice? How much do we stand to lose if importing this rice brings over an insect we have to spend millions of dollars to get rid of?"
Funny how that works ...Last edit by heron on Mar 2, '12
2Mar 2, '12 by aknottedyarnAh, then when the bug is here and doing it's best to do it's worst a huge chemical company will develop a new chemical, lethal to that bug. They will sell it to the corporate farms they also own as part of their conglomerate. There farms will spread it using vast amounts of fuel in their huge tractors. It will run off into the water supply where it will cause extensive damage to genes and chromosomes.
The bug will move to "greener pastures". Small farmers will not have the cash flow to be able to purchase the expensive new chemical, it may destroy the variety of crops a small farmer uses to protect the land, and will get into the water supply even if not used by the small farm. Water for irrigation can turn toxic, beneficial plants and animals may be negatively impacted by the new lethal chemical.
Stockholders of the chemical company will cheer and brag about their low tax rate compared to their secretary.
And so it goes.
0Mar 2, '12 by aknottedyarnThe people are scratching, as performed by Pete Seeger - YouTube
The scenario reminds me of this song sung by Pete Seeger.
2But the bug will win.
They often do ... just ask any gardener about Japanese beetles or Southern farmer about kudzu. Wonder what the bug will do with all those roundup-ready weeds. Plants, bugs and germs breed a whole lot faster than we do, so they can evolve faster, too.
Think round-up-ready crops like corn that have already bred round-up resistant superweeds. Who's paying for all those huge tractors and tons of fuel and synthetic chemicals? It would also be interesting to study the incidence of, say, birth defects or cancer among factory farm workers.
Think multi-drug resistant organisms like MRSA and factory farms. Who's paying for all those prescriptions, surgeries, rehab, etc? Drug-resistant strains of staph have been an expensive pain in nurses' butts for at least fifty years. Do we really want more of them?
What would happen to food prices if the world's bread basket got infested? Who would pay to repair or mitigate the damage? Can we afford that? Those are some loaded questions that need to be asked.
Who benefits from making sure we don't ask those questions?
Ironically, it was conservative business people who taught me to ask those questions in the first place. That's why I think they need to be as much a part of the environmental conversation (political environment?) as biologists.Last edit by heron on Mar 2, '12
0The view from the left:
Citing concern that routine use on factory farms will push pathogens to develop resistance to these antibiotics, the FDA has banned certain uses of them. Now before I show just how limited this move is in the grand scheme, I have to stress its historical significance. For 34 years, the agency has been wringing its hands over the dangers of farm antibiotic abuse, all the while doing precisely nothing about it (save for appointing committees and issuing polite requests for "judicious" use). Now it's actually regulating. The Pew Campaign on Human Health and Industrial Farms, which advocates a ban on routine antibiotic use, praised the move Wednesday as an "important first step" in addressing the problem.
But make no mistake: This is just a first step, and nothing more. It turns out that cephalosporins make up a tiny--and shrinking--percentage of the antibiotics used in factory farms.
1From the archives of the Environment News Service.
Antibiotic Resistance Tracked From Hog Farms to Groundwater
CHAMPAIGN, Illinois, August 22, 2007 (ENS)
The routine use of antibiotics in swine production can have unintended consequences, with antibiotic resistance genes sometimes leaking from waste lagoons into groundwater, according to new research from the University of Illinois.
Researchers report that some genes found in hog waste lagoons are transferred, "like batons," from one bacterial species to another. This migration across species and into new environments sometimes dilutes, and sometimes amplifies, genes conferring antibiotic resistance, they say.
The new report, in the August issue of "Applied and Environmental Microbiology," tracks the passage of tetracycline resistance genes from hog waste lagoons into groundwater wells at two Illinois swine facilities.
... The researchers extracted bacterial DNA from lagoons and groundwater wells at two study sites over a period of three years. They screened these samples for seven different tetracycline resistance genes.
They found fluctuating levels of every one of the seven genes for which they screened in the lagoons, and they found that these genes were migrating from the lagoons to some of the groundwater wells.
... The migration of antibiotic resistance from animal feeding operations into groundwater has broad implications for human and ecological health.
There are about 238,000 animal feeding operations in the United States, which collectively generate about 500 million tons of manure per year.
Groundwater make up about 40 percent of the public water supply, and more than 97 percent of the drinking water used in rural areas.
2Mar 3, '12 by heronI've been wondering about this for a few years. When large ice sheets melt, a whole lot of weight shifts around. What kind of effect is this having on seismic activity where those ice sheets used to be?
GPS measurements reveal that the crust beneath the Greenland ice sheet is already rebounding in response to rapid melting, providing the potential — according to researchers — for future earthquakes, as faults beneath the ice are relieved of their confining load. The possibility exists that these could trigger submarine landslides spawning tsunamis capable of threatening North Atlantic coastlines. Eastern Iceland is bouncing back too as its Vatnajökull ice cap fades away. When and if it vanishes entirely, new research predicts a lively response from the volcanoes currently residing beneath. A dramatic elevation in landslide activity would be inevitable in the Andes, Himalayas, European Alps, and elsewhere, as the ice and permafrost that sustains many mountain faces melts and thaws.
Across the world, as sea levels climb remorselessly, the load-related bending of the crust around the margins of the ocean basins might — in time — act to sufficiently “unclamp” coastal faults such as California’s San Andreas, allowing them to move more easily; at the same time acting to squeeze magma out of susceptible volcanoes that are primed and ready to blow.
2Mar 3, '12 by heronCHICAGO, Illinois, March 2, 2012 (ENS) - Community organizers in Chicago are celebrating a victory that has been 10 years in the making - the closure of two of the oldest, most polluting coal-fired power plants in the country - both in residential neighborhoods. Some 60 organizations and groups worked with communities affected by air pollution to make Chicago a coal-free city.
Midwest Generation, a subsidiary of Edison International, announced Wednesday that it will retire its two Chicago power plants as the result of an agreement with Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the City of Chicago in consultation with aldermen and community groups.
...Pollution from these two plants has caused up to $1 billion in health and environmentally-related damages since 2002, according to a 2010 report by the Environmental Law and Policy Center.
But Midwest would rather shutter the plants than clean them up. Citing environmental regulations that take effect through 2015, Pedro Pizarro, president of Midwest Generation's parent company, Edison Mission Group, said Wednesday, "Unfortunately, conditions in the wholesale power market simply do not give us a path for continuing to invest in further retrofits at these two facilities."
... "Pilsen is a vibrant, working class, immigrant community, but we are plagued by the damaging health effects of the Fisk coal plant. It is time for the plant to go," said Pilsen resident Jerry Mead-Lucero.
In December, the U.S. EPA found that the air in a section of Pilsen contained unsafe levels of brain-damaging lead. Pilsen is one of only five new "non-attainment areas" for lead in the country. "Pilsen has a lead emergency and can't wait," said Pilsen resident Ruben Franco.
..."This agreement means a cleaner, healthier environment for the communities around these coal plants," said NAACP President and CEO Benjamin Todd Jealous. "Environmental justice is a civil rights issue, and the NAACP is committed to strong regulation and monitoring of toxic coal emissions. For too long, Fisk and Crawford have been literally choking some of Chicago's most diverse neighborhoods, and some of its poorest."
3Mar 4, '12 by heronEver notice the endless procession of television ads praising the value of fracking, or the amazing number of D.C.-based “institutes” and “foundations” promoting the controversial drilling method, despite growing scientific evidence that this sort of natural gas extraction is poisoning the water table and leaking carcinogenic chemicals into the environment?
Many of the pro-fracking think tanks, like the Heartland Institute and the American Legislative Exchange Council, are funded by the petrochemical conglomerate Koch Industries. To get a better idea of why Koch-funded organizations are so desperate to force fracking on local communities, Republic Report has compiled the ways in which Koch Industries has monetized the fracking business.