Ecology Action
submit search

May 2005: Notes of Interest

Newsletter Home


This information was posted on the Internet: some of the conclusions that were presented at a two-day Royal Society meeting, "Food Crops in a Changing Climate," attended by "leading scientists in the fields of meteorology, climate science and agriculture, to report on the latest research."

It had been thought that greenhouse gas might act as a fertilizer to increase plant growth. However, large-scale experiments have now been conducted in the open air, rather than in laboratories, using a new technology called Free-Air Concentration Enrichment. These experiments treat large areas of crop with elevated levels of CO2 and ozone. "Growing crops much closer to real conditions has shown that increased levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will have roughly half the beneficial effects previously hoped for in the event of climate change. In addition, ground-level ozone, which is also predicted to rise but has not been extensively studied before, has been shown to result in a loss of photosynthesis and 20 percent yield loss." (Steve Long, Illinois University) "Additionally, studies in the UK and Denmark show that just a few days of hot temperatures can severely reduce the yield of major food crops, such as wheat, soya beans, rice and groundnuts, if they coincide with the flowering of these crops. These results suggest that there are particular thresholds above which crops become very vulnerable to climate change."

Another article on the same subject is "The Irony of Climate" by Brian Halweil in the March/April 2005 issue of World Watch magazine. We reprint here a few segments of this much longer article. If readers are able to access this magazine, the article has very interesting pictures titled "Desertification in China."

"Archaeologists believe that the shift to a warmer, wetter, and more stable climate at the end of the last ice age was key for humanity's successful foray into food production. Yet, from the American breadbasket to the North China Plain to the fields of southern Africa, farmers and climate scientists are finding that generations-old patterns of rainfall and temperature are shifting."

A researcher at the University of Florida "found that while a doubling of carbon dioxide and a slightly increased temperature stimulate seeds to germinate and the plants to grow larger and lusher, the higher temperatures are deadly when the plant starts producing pollen. . As plant researchers refine their understanding of climate change and the subtle ways in which plants respond, they are beginning to think that the most serious threats to agriculture will not be the most dramatic: the lethal heatwave or severe drought or endless deluge. Instead, for plants that humans have bred to thrive in specific climatic conditions, it is those subtle shifts in temperatures and rainfall during key periods in the crops' lifecycles that will be most disruptive."

"In essence, farms will best resist a wide range of shocks by making themselves more diverse and less dependent on outside inputs. . And they will tend to be less reliant on fertilizers and pesticides, and the fossil fuel inputs they require. . In other words, as climate tremors disrupt the vast intercontinental web of food production and rearrange the world's major breadbaskets, depending on food from distant suppliers will be more expensive and more precarious. It will be cheaper and easier to cope with local weather shifts, and with more limited supplies of fossil fuels, than to ship in a commodity from afar."

According to Alberto Cardenas, Secretary of Mexico's Department of the Environment and Natural Resources (SEMARNAP), at least 47.7% of the country's land has become eroded and the rest is in danger of desertification, much of it the result of deforestation and harmful agricultural practices. In 1987 a little over 64 million hectares were affected and today it is 93 million. Cardenas reported that there are areas in the states that are presently affected that will be hard to rescue or where there are no possibilities to do so. He noted they would have to put down a 30- or 40-centimeter layer of soil, a process that would take decades. To help work on this problem SEMARNAP is joining with other related departments of the national government to create a National System to Fight against Natural Resources Degradation.

This information comes from the April/May 2005 issue of Organic Gardening: "Monsanto is buying Seminis, the world's largest producer of fruit and vegetable seeds. . Until now Monsanto has not been a presence in the vegetable seed business. Monsanto's buyout of Seminis creates an ethical dilemma for everyone involved in organics. Many of the Seminis vegetable seed varieties are classics, essential to the planting program of many farmers. Should seed purveyors stop buying from Seminis to protest genetic engineering? Should they have a labeling system so customers can avoid seeds from Monsanto if they want?"

This comes from "The Price of Hunger" in the March/April 2005 issue of World Watch magazine: "For the first time since it began keeping track in the 1970s, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization reported that the number of hungry people around the world has increased. According to the latest edition of the agency's annual State of Food Insecurity, 852 million people go hungry every day, about 18 million more than during the mid-1990s. Put another way, hunger kills more than 5 million children each year, or about one child every five seconds."

A beautiful article by Dr. Vandana Shiva, "The Lessons of the Tsunami", appears in the March 2005 issue of The Ecologist. We briefly summarize the lessons she has drawn from this catastrophe and then reprint verbatim some of her ending thoughts.

First: Areas that were impacted the worst by the tsunami are those coastal regions that have been developed "for hotels and holiday resorts, shrimp farms and refineries. Mangroves and coral reefs, which previously acted as protective barriers in the face of storms, cyclones, hurricanes and tsunamis, have been relentlessly destroyed."

Second: "A world that puts markets and profits before nature and people is ill-equipped to deal with such disasters."

Third: This "tsunami is a foretaste of other environmental disasters in the making."

Finally: "The public good and the social responsibility of governments cannot be sacrificed for private profit and corporate greed."

"The tsunami reminds us we are not mere consumers in a marketplace driven by profits: we are fragile, interconnected beings inhabiting a fragile planet. The tsunami reminds us that we are all interconnected through the earth. We are earth beings: compassion, not money, is the currency that connects us. Above all, it brings a message of humility: that in the face of nature's fury, we are powerless. The tsunami calls on us to give up arrogance and to recognize our fragility."



Ecology Action has been a small 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization since 1971.

©2006 Ecology Action.

Memberships/Contributions | Site Map