A little upside-down theology ...

  1. I 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?"
    I bolded the last sentence because it precisely illustrates why environmentalist thinking has been so thoroughly demonised over the greater part of the last century. Somehow, the people who stand to gain the most from bringing over the rice are long gone when it's time to spend millions to get rid of the bug that came with it.

    Funny how that works ...
    Last edit by heron on Mar 2, '12
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  3. by   TopazLover
    Ah, 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.
  4. by   TopazLover
    The people are scratching, as performed by Pete Seeger - YouTube

    The scenario reminds me of this song sung by Pete Seeger.
  5. by   heron
    But 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
  6. by   heron
    The 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.
  7. by   heron
    From 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.
    Antibiotic Resistance Tracked From Hog Farms to Groundwater
  8. by   heron
    Last edit by heron on Mar 2, '12 : Reason: double post
  9. by   heron
    I'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.
    Climate change will shake the Earth — literally | Grist
  10. by   heron
    CHICAGO, 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."
    Decade-long Grassroots Campaign Shuts Two Chicago Coal Plants
  11. by   heron
    Ever 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.
    Seven Ways Koch Industries Is Monetizing The Fracking Business - Republic Report
  12. by   heron
    It's been interesting to think about this religious freedom argument. Here's one view from the feminist left. Scary stuff:

    ... The discussion of women that has erupted in the political arena -largely due to the GOP's long-term strategy of focusing on wedge issues to distract voters from their economic interests - have given many of us visions of Margaret Atwood's dystopian novel The Handmaid's Tale. In the world Atwood conjured, the religious right has triumphed and women are made into reproductive slaves.

    But I don't think it's going to happen. Because in order to get there, conservatives will have to give up capitalism, a system to which the money men who ultimately call the shots in the GOP are most enthusiastically dedicated. Ironically, it was in the Victorian period--right as all the religious sentimentality was reaching a pitch-- that the American economy was transforming into the most aggressive capitalist system in the world. The Calvinist religious tradition receded and in its place emerged a Protestant consumer culture that was beginning to center upon women, who found themselves in a period of sociological transition in which their cultural influence was increasing. At the beginning of the 19th century, for example, a female writer was an aberration. By the end of the century, women writers were flooding the market for popular literature. They were using the very sentimentality that had been deployed to keep them in their place to widen their sphere.
    Corseted Minds: Does Fear of Irrelevance Send Conservative Men Fleeing to the Victorian Age? | News & Politics | AlterNet

    Here's the final two paragraphs:

    As Joyce Appleby explains in her book The Relentless Revolution, it was capitalism that helped let the Angel out of the house, driving the medical breakthroughs that made the development of reproductive technology possible. And it was capitalism that withered away the bonds of power between men and women that for millennia had been based on male religious authority, and replaced them with bonds based on economic value. The priest no longer determined what women are for. The advertisements in Vogue, maybe. But not the priests. This is the postmodern paradox that conservatives must contend with. And it's driving them absolutely bonkers just now.

    Nostalgia for a simpler time is a form of dragging your heels. It's a protest against something to which you have already partly capitulated. The demise of patriarchal structures, which ultimately derive their authority from religious systems, has been in progress for a while, and it will continue. The tragedy for conservatives is not this demise, but their failure to imagine a viable, dynamic and diverse culture in its place. A place in which men and women do not ask what the other is for.
    I'm not sure I agree, but it's a great read anyway.
  13. by   TopazLover
    Rebel with a Cause: Foodie Elitism | HandPicked Nation
    How Should We Respond When We're Called Elitists Because We Buy More Expensive, Local Food?

    Because high-quality local food often carries a higher price tag than food generated by the industrial system, the charge of elitism coming from industrial foodists is often vitriolic, and embarrassed foodies agonize over the label. For all their positive energy surrounding food, I’ve found latent guilt among this group – guilt for paying more for local food when others are starving, guilt for caring about taste when others would happily eat anything. Instead of cowering in self-guilt, let’s confront the issue of prices head on.

    We can all do better. If we can find money for movies, ski trips, and recreational cruises, surely we can find the money to purchase integrity food. The fact is that most of us scrounge together enough pennies to fund the passion of our hearts. If we would cultivate a passion for food like the one we’ve cultivated for clothes, cars, and entertainment, perhaps we would ultimately live healthier, happier lives.

    Not sure if this is part of this discussion. I found it to be right on target. If we need to eat to live then we need to eat the best possible, to live the best possible. There are many great articles about eating local, garden to table, or farm to table eating.

  14. by   heron
    In honor of International Womens' Day, here's a look at the global effect of the current holy war against womens' reproductive health care:

    Ms. Magazine | 7 Billion Reasons | Summer 2011

    Some 215 million women in the global South who want to avoid pregnancy are still not using an effective method of contraception–and that's a conservative estimate, as it only counts married women. Supplies of contraceptives are inadequate and unevenly distributed–often inaccessible due to cost, social stigma and taboos, restrictions and inadequate information. "Many Afghan women know about family planning, birth spacing and contraceptives. They need to have access to them," says Dr. Suraya Dalil, Afghanistan's acting minister of public health.

    In part as a result of unwanted and early pregnancy, hundreds of thousands of women die each year in pregnancy and childbirth. More than 20 million unsafe abortions take place annually, causing tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths and untold injuries. An estimated 2 million women live with obstetric fistula, a debilitating condition that, if untreated, leaves women–often young women, whose bodies are too immature to give birth safely–incontinent and stigmatized.
    Half of the world–more than 3 billion people–lives on less than $2 a day. One in 7 live in hunger and without access to clean, safe drinking water. More than a third of those on the planet lack access to an adequate sanitation facility. As Ms. readers will understand, women and girls suffer most acutely from such deprivation.

    Throughout the global South, millions of girls leave school each year to tend to household chores, care for their families and, tragically, to marry too young and give birth. At current rates, over the next decade, an estimated 100 million girls will marry before their 18th birthday–leaving them at great risk of domestic violence, HIV infection and early pregnancy. The latter is the leading cause of death worldwide for females ages 15 to 19.