The Decider annoyed a lot of people with his dog-whistle claim that
Iraq's current descent into chaos will in the fullness of time look
like a historical "comma". I've concluded he's right: human atrocities
at nearly any level of badness look exceedingly trivial in comparison
to the end of fish -- apparently
on schedule to occur some time in my seventies. The benign and
familiar, relaxing and graceful, beautiful and tasty fish, metaphor for
revolutionary organizing, occupant of our planet for half a billion
years, incubator of the bone, is -- if present trends continue -- on
the way out, as a result of a mere 100 years of superexploitation, or
so sez a team of fancy scientists. (I got the impression their focus
was merely on fishing, and didn't account for, e.g., the acidification
of the seas due to increases in atmospheric CO2, which imperils
shellfish and their plankton; so my armchair estimate is that the
collapse could occur even faster. But what do I know.)
Half a billion years is about 10% of the age of the earth -- hard to
miss on a really big historical scale; by comparison humans have been
around for what, .01% of the age of the earth, and the industrial
assault on fish doesn't show up until the seventh decimal place.
The good news: protecting fisheries can bring their populations
back, and at present "only" about 30% of species are in a "state of
collapse" (at 10% or less of natural populations). One hopes that
around Jan 2009 there will be a US govt with priorities that are not
utterly insane, and thinking people of the world will start to organize
to prevent this calamity.
The enormous increase in agricultural productivity since WWII may
have run its course---but increase in population hasn't, and we're beginning to see the very frightening consequences:
Food supplies are shrinking alarmingly around the globe, plunging
the world into its greatest crisis for more than 30 years. New figures
show that this year's harvest will fail to produce enough to feed
everyone on Earth, for the sixth time in the past seven years. Humanity
has so far managed by eating its way through stockpiles built up in
better times - but these have now fallen below the danger level.
Food prices have already started to rise as a result, and threaten to
soar out of reach of many of the 4.2 billion people who live in the
world's most vulnerable countries. And the new "green" drive to get
cars to run on biofuels threatens to make food even scarcer and more
The UN's Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the US
Department of Agriculture (USDA), which produce the world's two main
forecasts of the global crop production, both estimate that this year's
grain harvest will fall for the second successive year.
[. . .]
The world's food stocks have shrunk from enough to feed the world for
116 days in 1999 to a predicted 57 days at the end of this season, well
below the official safety level. Prices have already risen by up to 20
per cent this year.
[. . .]
Between 1950 and 1990 grain yields more than doubled, but
they have grown much more slowly since. Production rose from around 630
million tons to 1.78 billion tons, but has only edged up in the past 15
years, to around 2 billion tons.
"The near-tripling of the harvest by the world's farmers was a
remarkable performance," says Brown. "In a single generation they
increased grain production by twice as much as had been achieved during
the preceding 11,000 years, since agriculture began. But now the world
has suffered a dramatic loss of momentum."
Apart from increasing yields, there has always been one other way of
boosting production - putting more land under the plough. But this,
too, has been running into the buffers. As population grows and
farmland is used for building roads and cities - and becomes exhausted
by overuse - the amount available for each person on Earth has fallen
by more than half.
There are more than five people on Earth today for every two living
in the middle of the last century. Yet enough is produced worldwide to
feed everyone well, if it is evenly distributed.
It is not just that people in rich countries eat too much, and those
in poor ones eat too little. Enormous quantities of the world's
increasingly scarce grain now goes to feed cows - and, indirectly, cars.
The cows are longstanding targets of Brown's, who founded the
prestigious Worldwatch Institute immediately after the 1974 conference,
partly to draw attention to the precariousness of food supplies. As
people become better-off, they eat more meat, the animals that are
slaughtered often being fed on grain. It takes 14kg of grain to produce
2kg of beef, and 8kg of grain for 2kg of pork. More than a third of the
world's harvest goes to fatten animals in this way.
Cars are a new concern, the worry arising from the present drive to
produce green fuels to fight global warming. A "corn rush" has erupted
in the United States, using the crop to produce the biofuel, ethanol -
strongly supported by subsidies from the Bush administration to divert
criticism of its failure to ratify the Kyoto Protocol.
Just a single fill of ethanol for a four-wheel drive SUV, says
Brown, uses enough grain to feed one person for an entire year. This
year the amount of US corn going to make the fuel will equal what it
sells abroad; traditionally its exports have helped feed 100 - mostly
poor - countries.
From next year, the amount used to run American cars will exceed
exports, and soon it is likely to reduce what is available to help feed
poor people overseas. The number of ethanol plants built or planned in
the corn-belt state of Iowa will use virtually all the state's crop.
This will not only cut food supplies, but drive up the process of
grain, making hungry people compete with the owners of gas-guzzlers.
Already spending 70 per cent of their meagre incomes on food, they
simply cannot afford to do so.
Brown expects the food crisis to get much worse as more and more
land becomes exhausted, soil erodes, water becomes scarcer, and global
warming cuts harvests.
The Sequoia Task Force of the Sierra Club is protesting
the Forest Service's decision to allow commercial logging to go forward in
a logging project that is TODAY bulldozing huge swathes and removing ancient
trees, many several centuries old, on ridgetops adjacent to five giant sequoia
groves in the Giant Sequoia National Monument. This timber sale is called the
Saddle Fuels Reduction Project and is all about removing big trees, not about
fire control. This project will take more than 5 Million Board Feet of big
timber! We have asked for an immediate halt to this project!
As Harper's reported over the Summer, the crowns of the trees in these ancient groves contain totally idiosyncratic ecosystems -- trees growing out of huge clots of soil blown up and trapped, odd sorts of small mammals and amphibians never found at ground level -- most aspects of which are completely unknown to science. Logging destroys these ecosystems. The crowns of any plantation forests which will replace old growth trees will be completely sterile, a "redwood desert", as these ecosystems take centuries to develop. Such barbarism!
Militarism, shortsightedness, secrecy, callous indifference toward the environment, wanton destruction of ocean life . . . all wrapped up in an odious, puss-filled blister-causing, crusted gel containing corroding artillery shell!
A clam dredging operation off the coast of Atlantic City, N.J., in 2004 pulled
up an old artillery shell.
The long-submerged, World War I-era explosive was filled with a black, tar-like
Bomb disposal technicians from Dover Air Force Base in Delaware were brought
in to dismantle it. Three of them were injured, one hospitalized with large,
pus-filled blisters on his arm and hand.
The shell was filled with mustard gas in solid form.
What was long-feared by the few military officials in the know had come to
pass: Chemical weapons that the Army dumped at sea decades ago had finally ended
up on shore in the United States.
While it has long been known that some chemical weapons went into the ocean,
records obtained by the Daily Press of Newport News, Va., show that the previously
classified weapons-dumping program was far more extensive than has ever been
The Army now admits in reports never before released that it secretly dumped
64 million pounds of nerve and mustard gas agent into the sea, along with 400,000
chemical-filled bombs, land mines and rockets and more than 500 tons of radioactive
waste either tossed overboard or packed into the holds of scuttled vessels.
A Daily Press investigation also found:
These weapons of mass destruction virtually ring the country, concealed off
the coasts of at least 11 states: six on the East Coast, including New Jersey
and Maryland, two on the Gulf Coast, and in California, Hawaii and Alaska. Few,
if any, state officials have been informed of their existence.
The chemical agents could pose a hazard for generations. The Army has examined
only a few of its 26 dump zones, and none in 30 years.
The Army can't say exactly where all the weapons were dumped from World War
II to 1970. Army records are sketchy, missing or were destroyed.
More dump sites probably exist. The Army hasn't reviewed records from the World
War I era, when ocean dumping of chemical weapons was common.
"We do not claim to know where they all are," said William Brankowitz, a
deputy project manager in the U.S. Army Chemical Materials Agency and a leading
authority on the Army's chemical weapons dumping. "We don't want to be cavalier
at all and say this stuff was exposed to water and is OK. It can last for a
very, very long time."
A drop of nerve agent can kill within a minute. When released in the ocean
it lasts up to six weeks, killing every organism it touches before breaking
down into its nonlethal chemical components.
Mustard gas can be fatal. When exposed to seawater it forms a concentrated,
encrusted gel that lasts for at least five years, rolling around on the ocean
floor, killing or contaminating sea life.
Sea-dumped chemical weapons may be slowly leaking from decades of saltwater
corrosion, resulting in a time-delayed release of deadly chemicals over the
next 100 years and an unforeseeable environmental impact. Steel corrodes at
different rates depending on the water depth, ocean temperature and thickness
of the shells.
That was the conclusion of Norwegian scientists who in 2002 examined chemical
weapons dumped off Norway's coast after World War II by the U.S. and British
Overseas, more than 200 fishermen over the years have been burned by mustard
gas pulled on deck. A fisherman in Hawaii was burned in 1976 when he brought
up an Army-dumped mortar round full of mustard gas.
Although it seems unlikely the weapons will begin to wash up on shore, last
year's discovery that a mustard gas-filled artillery shell was dumped off the
coast of New Jersey was ominous for several reasons.
It was the first ocean-dumped chemical weapon to make its way to shore in the
It was pulled up with clams in relatively shallow water only 20 miles off the
coast of Atlantic City. The Army had no idea chemical weapons were dumped in
Most alarming: It was found intact in a residential driveway in Delaware.
It had survived being dredged up and put through a crusher to create cheap
clamshell driveway fill sold throughout the Delmarva Peninsula in Delaware and
Decades of Dumping
The United States never used chemical weapons in war but amassed a huge stockpile
to be unleashed if enemy forces used them first. Their existence was a known,
ultimately successful, deterrent.
The Army's secret ocean-dumping program spanned at least three decades, from
1944 to 1970.
The dumped weapons were deemed to be unneeded surplus. They were hazardous
to transport, expensive to store, too dangerous to bury and difficult to destroy.
In the early 1970s, the Army publicly admitted it had dumped some chemical
weapons off the U.S. coast. Congress banned the practice in 1972. Three years
later, the United States signed an international treaty prohibiting ocean disposal
of chemical weapons.
Only now have Army reports come to light that show how much was dumped, what
kind of chemical weapons they were, when they were thrown overboard, and rough
nautical coordinates of where some are located.
Extreme weather events -- including heat waves, floods and drought
-- are likely to become more common over the next century in the United
States because of human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, according
to a new study by Purdue University researchers.
which is being published online this week in the Proceedings of the
National Academies of Science, examines how heat-trapping gases linked
to climate change may intensify precipitation, drought and other
weather conditions. Instances of extreme heat will probably increase
throughout the country, the scientists concluded, and many areas will
experience heavier downpours even if rain becomes less frequent.
would be thrilled to be wrong," said Noah S. Diffenbaugh, a climate
scientist at the Purdue Climate Change Research Center and the
university's department of earth and atmospheric sciences. "It's
definitely going to be more extreme hot temperatures."
four-person research team, which included two scientists from the Earth
Systems Physics Group at the Abdus Salam International Center for
Theoretical Physics in Trieste, Italy, compared U.S. weather patterns
from 1961 to 1985 with models of future weather patterns from 2071 to
Under this scenario, which assumes the amount of carbon
dioxide in the air will roughly double over the next 100 years, the
coldest days of the year in the Northeast will be as much as 18 degrees
Fahrenheit warmer, and the temperatures currently experienced on the 18
hottest days of the year in the Washington area will prevail for two
The Southwest will become drier and hotter, the paper
predicts, while the Gulf Coast will become warmer and experience less
frequent, but more intense, rains.
Sweden's new funeral rite - bodies freeze-dried, powdered and made into tree mulch.
A town in Sweden plans to become the first place in the world where corpses will be disposed of by freeze-drying, as an environmentally friendly alternative to cremation or burial. Jonkoping, in southern
Sweden, is to turn its crematorium into a so-called promatorium next year.
Swedes will then have the chance to bury their dead according to the pioneering method, which involves freezing the body, dipping it in liquid nitrogen and gently vibrating it to shatter it into powder. This
is put into a small box made of potato or corn starch and placed in a shallow grave, where it will disintegrate within six to 12 months. People are to be encouraged to plant a tree on the grave. It would feed off the compost formed from the body, to emphasise the organic cycle of life.
The technique was conceived by a Swedish biologist,
Susanne Wiigh-Masak, 49, who said: "Mulching was nature's original plan
for us, and that's what used to happen to us at the start of humanity -
we went back into the soil.
"But we need to tell
people in this day and age that this can once again be a dignified and
comfortable option." According to Mrs Wiigh-Masak's method, which she
has called "promession" - the promise to return to the earth what
emerged from the earth - the dead body is frozen and dried, using
A mechanical vibration then causes the body to fall apart within 60 seconds before a vacuum removes the water.
Then a metal separator picks out metals such as artificial hips and dental fillings.
motivation for converting its crematorium into a promatorium is mainly
practical. According to European environmental laws, it faced a
multi-million pound bill for the installation at its 50-year-old
crematorium of a new gas-cleaning system and furnace.
The alternative was the much cheaper conversion and a more environmentally friendly procedure.