There’s a population crisis all right. But probably not the one you think

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George Monbiot e

While all eyes are on human numbers, it’s the rise in farm animals that is laying the planet waste @GeorgeMonbi

This column is about the population crisis. About the breeding that’s laying waste the world’s living systems. But it’s probably not the population crisis you’re thinking of. This is about another one, that we seem to find almost impossible to discuss.

You’ll hear a lot about population in the next three weeks, as the Paris climate summit approaches. Across the airwaves and on the comment threads it will invariably be described as “the elephant in the room”. When people are not using their own words, it means that they are not thinking their own thoughts. Ten thousand voices each ask why no one is talking about it. The growth in human numbers, they say, is our foremost environmental threat.

limate summit approaches. Across the airwaves and on the comment threads it will invariably be described as “the elephant in the room”. When people are not using their own words, it means that they are not thinking their own thoughts. Ten thousand voices each ask why no one is talking about it. The growth in human numbers, they say, is our foremost environmental threat.

At their best, population campaigners seek to extend women’s reproductive choices. Some 225 million women have an unmet need for contraception. If this need were answered, the impact on population growth would be significant, though not decisive: the annual growth rate of 83 million would be reduced to 62 million. But contraception is rarely limited only by the physical availability of contraceptives. In most cases it’s about power: women are denied control of their wombs. The social transformations that they need are wider and deeper than donations from the other side of the world are likely to achieve.

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At their worst, population campaigners seek to shift the blame from their own environmental impacts. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that so many post-reproductive white men are obsessed with human population growth, as it’s about the only environmental problem of which they can wash their hands. Nor, I believe, is it a coincidence that of all such topics this is the least tractable. When there is almost nothing to be done, there is no requirement to act.

Such is the momentum behind population growth, an analysis in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences discovered, that were every government to adopt the one-child policy China has just abandoned, there would still be as many people on Earth at the end of this century as there are today. If 2 billion people were wiped out by a catastrophe mid-century, the planet would still hold a billion more by 2100 than it does now.Advertisement

If we want to reduce our impacts this century, the paper concludes, it is consumption we must address. Population growth is outpaced by the growth in our consumption of almost all resources. There is enough to meet everyone’s need, even in a world of 10 billion people. There is not enough to meet everyone’s greed, even in a world of 2 billion people.

So let’s turn to a population crisis over which we do have some influence. I’m talking about the growth in livestock numbers. Human numbers are rising at roughly 1.2% a year, while livestock numbers are rising at around 2.4% a year. By 2050 the world’s living systems will have to support about 120m tonnes of extra humans, and 400m tonnes of extra farm animals.

Raising these animals already uses three-quarters of the world’s agricultural landA third of our cereal crops are used to feed livestock: this may rise to roughly half by 2050. More people will starve as a result, because the poor rely mainly on grain for their subsistence, and diverting it to livestock raises the price. And now the grain that farm animals consume is being supplemented by oil crops, particularly soya, for which the forests and savannahs of South America are being cleared at shocking rates.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but were we to eat soya rather than meat, the clearance of natural vegetation required to supply us with the same amount of protein would decline by 94%. Producing protein from chickens requires three times as much land as protein from soybeans. Pork needs nine times, beef 32 times.

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A recent paper in the journal Science of the Total Environment suggests that our consumption of meat is likely to be “the leading cause of modern species extinctions”. Not only is livestock farming the major reason for habitat destruction and the killing of predators, but its waste products are overwhelming the world’s capacity to absorb them. Factory farms in the US generate 13 times as much sewage as the human population does. The dairy farms in Tulare County, California, produce five times as much as New York City.

Freshwater life is being wiped out across the world by farm manure. In England the system designed to protect us from the tide of slurry has comprehensively broken downDead zones now extend from many coasts, as farm sewage erases ocean life across thousands of square kilometres.

Livestock farming creates around 14% of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions: slightly more than the output of the world’s cars, lorries, buses, trains, ships and planes. If you eat soya, your emissions per unit of protein are 20 times lower than eating pork or chicken, and 150 times lower than eating beef.Advertisement

So why is hardly anyone talking about the cow, pig, sheep and chicken in the room? Why are there no government campaigns to reduce the consumption of animal products, just as they sometimes discourage our excessive use of electricity?

A factory farm in Missouri, USA
 A factory farm in Missouri, USA. ‘Why is hardly anyone talking about the cow, pig, sheep and chicken in the room?’ Photograph: Daniel Pepper/Getty Images

survey by the Royal Institute of International Affairs found that people are not unwilling to change diets once they become aware of the problem, but that many have no idea that livestock farming damages the living world.

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It’s not as if eating less meat and dairy will harm us. If we did as our doctors advise, our environmental impacts would decline in step with heart disease, strokes, diabetes and cancer. British people eat, on average, slightly more than their bodyweight in meat every year, while Americans consume another 50%: wildly more, in both cases, than is good for us or the rest of life on Earth.

But while plenty in the rich world are happy to discuss the dangers of brown people reproducing, the other population crisis scarcely crosses the threshold of perception. Livestock numbers present a direct moral challenge, as in this case we have agency. Hence the pregnant silence.

Capitalism is destroying the Earth. We need a new human right for future generations

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George Monbiot

The children on climate strike are right: their lives should not be sacrificed to satisfy our greed @GeorgeMonbiot

The young people taking to the streetsfor the climate strike are right: their future is being stolen. The economy is an environmental pyramid scheme, dumping its liabilities on the young and the unborn. Its current growth depends on intergenerational theft.

At the heart of capitalism is a vast and scarcely examined assumption: you are entitled to as great a share of the world’s resources as your money can buy. You can purchase as much land, as much atmospheric space, as many minerals, as much meat and fish as you can afford, regardless of who might be deprived. If you can pay for them, you can own entire mountain ranges and fertile plains. You can burn as much fuel as you like. Every pound or dollar secures a certain right over the world’s natural wealth.

But why? What just principle equates the numbers in your bank account with a right to own the fabric of the Earth? Most people I ask are completely stumped by this question. The standard justification goes back to John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government, published in 1689. He claimed that you acquire a right to own natural wealth by mixing your labour with it: the fruit you pick, the minerals you dig and the land you till become your exclusive property, because you put the work in.

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This argument was developed by the jurist William Blackstone in the 18th century, whose books were immensely influential in England, America and elsewhere. He contended that a man’s right to “sole and despotic dominion” over land was established by the person who first occupied it, to produce food. This right could then be exchanged for money. This is the underlying rationale for the great pyramid scheme. And it makes no sense.

For a start, it assumes a Year Zero. At this arbitrary point, a person could step on to a piece of land, mix their labour with it, and claim it as theirs. Locke used America as an example of the blank slate on which people could establish their rights. But the land (as Blackstone admitted) became a blank slate only through the extermination of those who lived there.

Not only could the colonist erase all prior rights, he could also erase all future rights. By mixing your labour with the land once, you and your descendants acquire the right to it in perpetuity, until you decide to sell it. You thereby prevent all future claimants from gaining natural wealth by the same means.

Worse still, according to Locke, “your” labour includes the labour of those who work for you. But why should the people who do the work not be the ones who acquire the rights? It’s comprehensible only when you realise that by “man”, Locke means not all humankind, but European men of property. Those who worked for them had no such rights. What this meant, in the late 17th century, was that large-scale landrights could be justified, under his system, only by the ownership of slaves. Inadvertently perhaps, Locke produced a charter for the human rights of slave holders.

Even if objections to this could somehow be dismissed, what is it about labour that magically turns anything it touches into private property? Why not establish your right to natural wealth by peeing on it? The arguments defending our economic system are flimsy and preposterous. Peel them away, and you see that the whole structure is founded on looting: looting from other people, looting from other nations, looting from other species, and looting from the future.

Yet, on the grounds of these absurdities, the rich arrogate to themselves the right to buy the natural wealth on which others depend. Locke cautioned that his justification works only if “there is enough, and as good, left in common for others”. Today, whether you are talking about land, the atmosphere, living systems, rich mineral lodes or most other forms of natural wealth, it is clear there is not “enough, and as good” left in common. Everything we take for ourselves we take from someone else.

You can tweak this system. You can seek to modify it. But you cannot make it just.

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So what should take its place? It seems to me that the founding principle of any just system is that those who are not yet alive will, when they are born, have the same rights as those who are alive today. At first sight, this doesn’t seem to change anything: the first article of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states that “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights”. But this statement is almost meaningless, because there is nothing in the declaration insisting that one generation cannot steal from the next. The missing article might look like this: “Every generation shall have an equal right to the enjoyment of natural wealth.”Advertisement

This principle is hard to dispute, but it seems to change everything. Immediately, it tells us that no renewable resource should be used beyond its rate of replenishment. No non-renewable resource should be used that cannot be fully recycled and reused. This leads inexorably to towards two major shifts: a circular economy from which materials are never lost; and the end of fossil fuel combustion.

But what of the Earth itself? In this densely populated world, all land ownership necessarily precludes ownership by others. Article 17 of the Universal Declaration is self-contradictory. It says, “Everyone has the right to own property.” But because it places no limit on the amount one person can possess, it ensures that everyone does not have this right. I would change it to this: “Everyone has the right to use property without infringing the rights of others to use property.” The implication is that everyone born today would acquire an equal right of use, or would need to be compensated for their exclusion. One way of implementing this is through major land taxes, paid into a sovereign wealth fund. It would alter and restrict the concept of ownership, and ensure that economies tended towards distribution, rather than concentration.

These simple suggestions raise a thousand questions. I don’t have all the answers. But such issues should be the subject of lively conversations everywhere. Preventing environmental breakdown and systemic collapse means challenging our deepest and least-examined beliefs.

• George Monbiot is a Guardian columnist

We’re Not Gluten Intolerant, We’re Glyphosate Intolerant

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“Celiac disease, and, more generally, gluten intolerance, is a growing problem worldwide, but especially in North America and Europe, where an estimated 5% of the population now suffers from it,” researchers wrote in a meta-analysis of nearly 300 studies.

“Here, we propose that glyphosate, the active ingredient in the herbicide, Roundup®, is the most important causal factor in this epidemic,” they add.

The study, published in the journal Interdisciplinary Toxicology in 2013, was completely ignored by the media except for Mother Earth News and The Healthy Home Economist.

Now that glyphosate is getting the attention it deserves, being named as the culprit in a $280 million cancer lawsuit and labeled as a carcinogen by the World Health Organization and the state of California, it may be time to look at the chemical’s role in a related disease:

The symptoms of so-called “gluten intolerance” and celiac disease in are shockingly similar to the symptoms in lab animals exposed to glyphosate, argue the study’s authors Anthony Samsel, an independent scientist who’s served as a consultant to the EPA on arsenic pollution and to the U.S. Coast Guard on chemical hazard response, and Stephanie Seneff, a senior research scientist at MIT.

They point to a recent study on how glyphosate effects the digestive systems of fish. It decreased digestive enzymes and bacteria, disrupted mucosal folds, destroyed microvilli structure in the intestinal wall, and increased secretion of mucin.

“These features are highly reminiscent of celiac disease,” Samsel and Seneff write.

Additionally, the number of people diagnosed with gluten intolerance and celiac disease has risen in tandem with the increased use of glyphosate in agriculture, especially with the recent practice of drenching grains in the herbicide right before harvest, which started in the 1980s and became routine in the 1990s:

While some suggest the recent surge in celiac disease is due simply to better diagnostic tools (which as you can see above happened around 2000), a recent study suggests it’s more than that.

In 2009, researchers looked for gluten antibodies in frozen immune serum obtained between 1948 and 1954 for gluten antibodies, and compared them with samples from people today. They found a 4-fold increase in the incidence of celiac disease in the younger generation.

As further evidence the researchers make the following points:

“Celiac disease is associated with imbalances in gut bacteria that can be fully explained by the known effects of glyphosate on gut bacteria.”

“Celiac disease is associated with the impairment of cytochrome P450 enzymes. Glyphosate is known to inhibit cytochrome P450 enzymes.”

“Deficiencies in iron, cobalt, molybdenum, copper and other rare metals associated with celiac disease can be attributed to glyphosate’s strong ability to chelate these elements.”

“Deficiencies in tryptophan, tyrosine, methionine and selenomethionine associated with celiac disease match glyphosate’s known depletion of these amino acids.”

“Celiac disease patients also have a known increased risk for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which has also been implicated in glyphosate exposure.”

“The incidence of non-Hodgkins lymphoma has increased rapidly in most Western countries over the last few decades. Statistics from the American Cancer Society show an 80% increase since the early 1970’s, when glyphosate was first introduced on the market.”

“Reproductive issues associated with celiac disease, such as infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects, can also be explained by glyphosate.”

Glyphosate residues in grain, sugar and other crops are increasing recently likely due to the growing practice of crop desiccation just prior to harvest, the researchers say. The secretive, illegal practice has become routine among conventional farmers since the 1990s.

Credit: Healthy Home Economist

Ironically, the practice increases yields by killing the crops. Just before the plants die, they release their seeds in order to propagate the species:

“It goes to seed as it dies. At its last gasp, it releases the seed,” Seneff told The Healthy Home Economist.

Moral of the story? We need to go glyphosate-free, not gluten-free. And that means going organic, especially when it comes to grains and animals who eat those grains. Well, you might need to go gluten-free too for a while, until you’ve healed your gut.

Farmland worm survey reveals worrying results

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Farmland worm survey reveals worrying results

Britain’s first farmland worm survey has revealed that nearly half the fields in England lack sufficient earthworms which may help explain the alarming decline of one of the country’s most loved birds, the song thrush.

The citizen science project, led by Dr Jackie Stroud, a NERC Soil Security Fellow at the Rothamsted Research centre, involved farmers digging for worms in their own fields. It found “most fields have basic earthworm abundance, but 42 per cent of the fields may be over-worked”, thus creating scarcity or absence of surface-dwelling and deep-burrowing worms.   Worms are a vital part of the thrush (and other birds’) diet, and adds to the evidence that they are being affected by a reduction in farmland earthworm populations, along with the loss of hedgerow nesting sites.

The farmers dug a series of 20cm2 pits across their land in the spring of 2018. The average field had 9 earthworms in every spadeful of soil, with top fields having three times that number. One in 10 fields had high earthworm numbers of more than 16 worms per spadeful.  Dr Stroud said the absence of deep-burrowing worms from 16 per cent of fields was of particular concern because they are ‘drainage worms’ with vertical burrows that aid water infiltration and help stop fields getting waterlogged.

She said: “The deep-burrowing worms have slow reproduction rates so recovery in their populations could take a decade under changed management practices. In fact, we know very little about earthworm recovery rates.”

Nearly 60% of the farmers pledged to change their soil management practices. Dr Stroud added that empowering farmers to survey their own soils would save about £14 million in soil health monitoring if rolled out nationally. Stressing the importance of earthworms, Dr Stroud added: “Earthworms play really important roles in plant productivity and are great bird food as well. They are really important in our soil systems. They influence carbon cycling, water infiltration, pesticide movement, greenhouse gas emissions, plant productivity, the breeding success of birds and even the susceptibility of plants to insect attack.”

Decisions made above the ground, whether by farmers or policy makers, influence the billions of earthworms that are engineering the soil ecosystem below the ground.”

See here  for the full survey and report
And here  for information about how important earthworms are in your organic gardenPosted: Monday, 25 February 2019

Cultivation and Application of Green Manure in Paddy Fields of China

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  • Gu. Rong-shen
  • Wen Qi-xiao

CULTIVATION AND APPLICATION OF GREEN MANURE IN PADDY FIELDS OF CHINA Gu Rong-shen (Jiangsu Academy of Agricultural Sciences) Wen Qi-xiao (Institute of Soil Science, Academia Sinica, Nanjing) China has a very long history of cultivation of green manure crops in paddy fields. Early in the third century, there were records of the rotation of rice and milk vetch in the local chronicles*. In the 1940s1950s, a system of rice-green manure crop rotation was employed as an effective measure to increase nitrogen and maintain soil fertility in the region between the Five Ridges (Mt. WUling) in the south and the Changjiang River in the north. Since 1960, thanks to the improvement of fertilization, inoculation of rhizobium and improved cultivation techniques, the milk vetch, vetch, etc. have been introduced successfully into Guangdong and Guangxi provinces to the south of the’ Five Rjdges, and the Huaihe River valley to the north of the Changjiang River. At the same time, following the solution of such problem as survival through winter and summer for Azolla and the selection of more adaptable varieties of green manure crop in North, Northeast and Northwest China respeotively, the total acreage of green manure crop of paddy fields has reached 8 million hectares. This article deals mainly with a general aspect of the research work of green manure in paddy fields in China. THE MAIN VARIETIES AND THEIR REGIONAL DISTRIBUTION The winter green manure crops are the principal part of green manure crops in China, with an area of up to 83% of the total area of green manure crop of paddy field. The area for Azolla cultivation makes up 8.5% of the total area. The ares of summer green manure crops is not more than 500,000 hectares, though distributed widely. Milk vetch is dominant in the winter green manure crops, covering an area of approximately 74.6% of the total area of winter green manure crops. It is characterized by its higher adaptability to wetness and shade in the seedling stage and is conducive to under-crop sowing before the rice is harvested. Its tender and soft stems and leaves are liable to decompose, therefore, the nutrients it contains are more readily available to the rice plant. According to experimental results from Jiangyin County, Jiangsu P1rovince (l), through a submergence for 24 hours, no dead seedlings of milk vetch were found; and in 120 hours, thereRfter, the rate of dead seedlings began to increase with the longer time of submergence (r = 0.9753**). In accordance with the data of Zhejiang Province(2), the seedlings of milk vetch could be survived only under a condition that the_light intensity at the height of 20 cm from the soil surface is more than 3.5% (2500-3000 * “Annals of Guangzhi” by Guo Grong-yi. 207 Institute of Soil Science, Academia Sinica, Proceedings of Symposium on Paddy Soils © Science Press, Beijing and Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1981 Lux, equal to that under a cluster of rice with a yield < 5250 kg/ha); otherwise, the seedlings would either stop in growth or be liable to die. In Jiangsu, a yield of fresh weight of 30 t/ha, has been still obtained from the late rice field with the yield of 4.5-5.0 ton/ha, when the milk vetch is interplanted under the rice plant 40-50 days before harvesting. In the past, azolla was cultured with local varieties belonging to A. imbricata which could not survive over winter without protection in the isothermal area at less than 50 C in January and could not propagate very quickly in spring; therefore, it could not be extensively used for the early rice in the area of double cropping of rice. Recently,~. filiculoides capable of surviving the winter on the natural water surface in the area to the south of the isotherm of 30 C in January has been introduced, with results that the azotase activity of symbiotic blue algae associated with A. filiculoides is 2.7 times higher than that of the local varieties at-150C(3). However, a further extension of cultivation of azolla in paddy field is still restricted by such problems as the method applied, summer surviving and insect injuries, especially Polypedium illinense. Sesbania is characterized by its strong tolerance to wetness. It was reported by Shanghai Academy of Agricultural Sciences that the root system of sesbania developed better under submerged conditions than under upland conditions; and under submerged conditions the weight of nodules per plant, the azotase activity and the dry weight were increased by 137%, 67-80% and 95% respectively as compared with those under upland conditions. Sesbania, if planted between wheat and late rice for about 40 days, will produce fresh plant 7.5 t/ha in weight(4). It is planted either in the interval between early rice and late rice in Guangdong and Fujian or intercropped in the rice seedling beds in Shanghai and may often give a yield of fresh weight of 15 t/ha. Besides milk vetch, there are other important winter green manure crops such as vetches, medic, broad bean. They very in geographical distribution due to their different adaptabilities (Fig. 1). The distribution of azolla is generally similar to that of milk vetch. Sesbania is usually dispersed in the coastal region to the south of latitude 400 N. SOME CULTIVATION TECHNIQUES OF WINTER GREEN MANURE CROPS In dealing with the raising of the yield of winter green manure crops, we use milk vetch as an example, and here is a discussion about it. 1. Suitable Time and Rate of Seeding To postpone the seeding time will lead to the decrease of the yield of milk vetch significantly (Fig. 2). Bur-clover, smooth vetch and vicia cracca are similar to milk vetch in this respect(5). Likewise, excessively early seeding will make the growth of the winter green manure inhibited by its preceding crop, or the germination damaged by high temperature or arid climate; too luxuriance in the growth of green manure in the early stage will aggravate frozen damage in winter. For instance, the safety growth rate of milk vetch in winter in Jiangsu is as follows: 5-12 cm in plant height, with approximately 2-4 branches per plant, coverjng an area of about 80%. In order to reach this growth rate, an accumulated temperature of 550-9000 C above 50 C is needed: therefore, the