Forest-destroying palm oil powers cars in EU. Surprised?

GR:  The human efforts to destroy the Earth are like the moves of a chess grand master–always catching us by surprise.

Marlowe Hood:  “Palm oil produced on tropical plantations that drive deforestation has become a major biofuel for vehicles in the European Union, industry figures released Tuesday by an environmental group revealed.

“In 2014, nearly half of the palm oil used in Europe wound up in the gas tanks of cars and trucks, according to data compiled by the EU vegetable oil industry association Fediol, and obtained by Brussels-based NGO Transport & Environment.

“Second only to rapeseed as a biofuel, overall palm oil use in EU countries jumped six-fold from 2010 to 2015, accounting for a 34 percent increase in biodiesel consumption during that period, the figures showed.

“Palm oil is also found in food, animal feed and cosmetics, but use in these sectors has dropped in Europe, in part due to pressure from environmental groups on major corporations.

“Up to now, how palm oil was distributed across products in the EU was not known.

“We now know why the industry is withholding these numbers,” said Jos Dings, executive director of Transport & Environment.”They show the ugly truth of Europe’s biofuel policy, which drives tropical deforestation, increases transport emissions, and does nothing to help European farmers,” he said in a statement.

Source: Forest-destroying palm oil powers cars in EU: report


Extreme weather increasing level of toxins in food, scientists warn | The Financial Express

GR:  With increasing levels of pesticides and natural toxins, the Earth factory farm won’t be producing healthy food.  Shortened life spans in the human future?

“As they struggle to deal with more extreme weather, a range of food crops are generating more of chemical compounds that can cause health problems for people and livestock who eat them, scientists have warned.

“A new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) says that crops such as wheat and maize are generating more potential toxins as a reaction to protect themselves from extreme weather.But these chemical compounds are harmful to people and animals if consumed for a prolonged period of time, according to a report released during a United Nations Environment Assembly meeting in Nairobi.

“Crops are responding to drought conditions and increases in temperature just like humans do when faced with a stressful situation,” explained Jacqueline McGlade, chief scientist and director of the Division of Early Warning and Assessment at UNEP.

“Under normal conditions, for instance, plants convert nitrates they absorb into nutritious amino acids and proteins. But prolonged drought slows or prevents this conversion, leading to more potentially problematic nitrate accumulating in the plant, the report said.”  Source: Extreme weather increasing level of toxins in food, scientists warn | The Financial Express


Alexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)

Humboldt’s Importance

Alexander von Humboldt was the most influential man of his age.  His contributions helped unify our understanding of nature and how human alterations could lead to dangerous changes.  Heads of government, scientists, engineers, artists, and authors were inspired by and consulted with him on a range of topics. Around the world, there are more cities, parks, mountains, and rivers named for Humboldt than anyone else that ever lived.

 Dr. Ulloa Ulloa (front, left) and field assistants at the Humboldt statue on Chimborazo in 2009.

Dr. Ulloa Ulloa (front, left) and field assistants at the Humboldt statue on Chimborazo in 2009.

Humboldt’s strengths were his curiosity, his tireless desire to record his experiences, his ability to see connections, and his ability to write about objective facts with lyrical prose.  He described nature as a web of life, noting and mapping the plant and animal changes with elevation on Mount Chimborazo in Ecuador a century before C. Hart Merriam mapped life zones in central Arizona.  He invented isotherms, the lines on maps connecting areas of equal temperatures, and he warned that human destruction of nature was having widespread consequences.  He described the drop in stream flow, lake level, and general climate change resulting from cutting forests and diverting streams for monoculture farming.  Humboldt influenced and inspired Goethe, Darwin, Hooker, Bolivar, Thoreau, Muir, and many more.  Without Humboldt’s books, Darwin might never have gone to sea, South America might have remained a slave-holding Spanish colony for another century, and nature conservation might have lagged even farther behind human alteration of the land.

Humboldt1805-chimborazo-live zones

Humboldt’s zonal flora and fauna map of Chimborazo.

I am delighted to report that my grandson born in October, 2014 bears the name Alexander.  Alex’s birthplace is just 15 miles west of my home in Humboldt, AZ.

The essay introduced below provides links to some the books by and about Humboldt.  The one by Andrea Wulf is one of my all-time favorite biographical works.

Humboldt and Bonpland’s Essai sur la géographie des plantes and its significance

By: Randy Smith, Image Technician | Metadata Librarian. Peter H. Raven Library, Missouri Botanical Garden

“Over 210 years after Alexander von Humboldt and Aimé Bonpland’s work titled Essai sur la géographie des plantes was published, climate science, book conservation, and botanical research have converged around this 1805 work. This book was digitized and made available in 2008 by the Missouri Botanical Garden for the Biodiversity Heritage Library.

Modern science meets historic data

“In 2015, scientists published a paper detailing their findings as they retraced the path that Humboldt and Bonpland took on their ascent up the dormant volcano, Chimborazo, in Ecuador. The paper, “Strong upslope shifts in Chimborazo’s vegetation over two centuries since Humboldt,” utilized the data and map contained in Essai sur la géographie des plantes and presented modern data from the same locations as detailed in Essai to reveal the effects of climate change on the volcano.

“As Stephen T. Jackson writes in the 2009 book, Essay on the geography of plants, the significance of Humboldt and Bonpland’s work describing their ascent up Chimborazo lies in the detailed data they collected at various elevations. Jackson and historian Andrea Wulf have noted that while most people have forgotten Humboldt, his significance in unifying early scientific disciplines into an inter-connected web of life cannot be understated. Measurements taken on Chimborazo include light intensity, temperature, barometric pressure, and gravitational force. Descriptions of the flora and fauna at various levels of Chimborazo were described and illustrated on the map contained with Essai sur la géographie des plantes.”  Continue reading.

Grassland harvest could conserve resources, benefit farmers, and curb government spending

The USDA’s Farm Service Agency established the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) 30 years ago in an effort to improve water quality, reduce soil erosion, and increase habitat for sensitive wildlife species. The program pays rent to farmers in exchange for land to be taken out of row crop production and planted with species that improve environmental quality. Thereafter, the land and its cover crop are to be left essentially untouched for the duration of the 10- to 15-year contract. But what if the biomass from CRP land could be harvested as a source for bioenergy? A team led by University of Illinois researchers set out to determine potential biomass yield and economic benefits of using CRP land to meet government mandates for ethanol production.

“In 2008, we started long term research at the field scale. We wanted to estimate CRP biomass yield and best management practices, including nitrogen application rates and harvest timing, to maximize yield,” notes the study’s principal investigator, U of I agronomist D.K. Lee.  From:

GR:  Jeeze!  Here is another example of the never-ending search for a way to make a profit off the land without regard for wildlife or soil ecology.

Improving Agriculture for Human Food Production (Dax Olfindo, Philippines)

“The Philippines is at the forefront when we talk about biodiversity, as it is one of the Megadiverse Countries; countries that are inhabited by most of the earth’s species. Location, climate and topography are the key factors as to why this country is abundant with life; and we’re not talking about plants and animals alone. Ranked 9th (for countries with population exceeding 10 million) and 38th overall, this Southeast Asian nation is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. With great number of people, comes great responsibility; feeding them.

“Blessed with conditions that are favorable to a wide host of species, this country has failed to take advantage of this fact; lagging behind in food production. Most of our farmers dream of moving closer to the city in order to find better paying jobs. This has resulted to untended lands, that otherwise could have been producing food. Some of these farmers have found success, most of them however fail. I know that this phenomenon is not unique to the Philippines and we need to reverse this trend soon. If we don’t do anything about it, there will be no more farmers left and we will all face a major crisis.”   From:

GR:  The lofty goal to produce more food could have short-term benefits for people.  Long term, however, population growth, land degradation, and climate change will destroy any hope for a better life.  What is important now for the Philippines and all other countries is to stop (yes, that’s stop) greenhouse gas emissions, and start reducing the human population and its need for food.

‘Frightening’ findings foretell ills for ecosystems

“When it comes to determining the causes negatively affecting the biodiversity of our ecosystems, a new interdisciplinary study at Western is putting numbers behind the devastation. And it’s not good.

“The study’s lead author, recent PhD graduate Beth Hundey (Geography), showed, for the first time, that 70 per cent of nitrates in high mountain lakes in Utah are from human-caused sources – with fertilizers having, by far, the most impact at 60 per cent, along with another 10 per cent caused by fossil fuels. The research suggests these findings could apply to other mountain ranges in western North America.”

GR:  Putting fine points on specific human impacts is truly important, but we also need to search for ways to pierce the polluters’ political armor. We need to act, and we need to do it now.

Groups Sue Over North Carolina’s Ag Gag Law, Saying It Violates The Constitution

“Last year, North Carolina made it nearly impossible for citizens to legally gather evidence on and report instances of wrongdoing — animals being mistreated by farm workers, for instance, or pollution being dumped into a stream. Now, a group of organizations is suing over the law, saying it tramples on North Carolinians’ constitutional rights.

“In the lawsuit, filed this week against North Carolina’s attorney general, the groups allege that North Carolina’s House Bill 405 “attacks the core values embodied by the federal and state constitutional protections of speech and the press” and “should be declared unconstitutional under the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution.” The law in question allows business owners to sue people who take photos, video, or any other data from their property without their consent. That in and of itself presents constitutional questions, but it’s the law’s breadth that’s so concerning, said lead council for the case David Muraskin.

“This is a law designed to gag North Carolinian citizens,” Muraskin, a food safety and health attorney at Public Justice, said. “If you have a parent in a nursing home or a child in daycare, you should be concerned about this law.”

GR:  If you suspect someone’s behavior is dangerous you should report it.  But if you see potentially dangerous or illegal activity by a farmer in North Carolina, you can go to jail for reporting it.

Growing demand for rice and palm oil ‘driving mangrove deforestation’

“Over 100,000 hectares of forest cover lost in South-East Asia between 2000 and 2012, study finds.”  from:

GR:  This is why humans have to go.


Health and biodiversity restored? How farming can rediscover its long-lost roots

“As industrial agriculture continues to erode our wildlife, Dave Goulson challenges the methods and objectives of ever-increasing food production. We need to move towards sustainable, evidence-based farming systems that produce healthy food, rather than allowing the agrochemical industry to reshape our farming, countryside and nutrition to its quest for profit.

“In our rush to increase yields, based on an ill-conceived notion that this is needed to feed the world, we run the risk of irrevocably damaging our environment and hence our food production system.

“Modern intensive farming produces plentiful, cheap food but is reliant on heavy use of agrochemicals and is a major driver of the ongoing collapse of wildlife populations.
Taxpayers pay billions each year to support this system, with the bulk of this money going to the biggest, richest farming operations.” From:

GR:  This excellent article argues well for sustainable agriculture, but it overlooks the most significant problem.  It describes the failures of factory farming, and it discusses how we can shift to better practices.  It does not mention population.  The article aims at long-term solutions, but of course, everything eventually fails without population control.

China’s biodiversity declines as human demands grow

Since 1970, China’s terrestrial vertebrates have declined by half, while the nation’s Ecological Footprint has more than doubled, reveals WWF’s Living Planet Report China, 2015, a flagship research report on the country’s demand on nature.

“The fourth issue of the report, themed “development, species and ecological civilization”, tracked 2,419 representative populations of 682 vertebrates’ species in China and found that almost half of China’s terrestrial vertebrates have vanished in the last 40 years.

“Habitat loss and nature degradation by human activities and development are the most significant threats to biodiversity in China. Over-hunting and climate change are also significant threats to amphibians, reptiles and mammals.”  From:

GR:  Lots of nonsense in this article about sustainable development.  An even more nonsensical concept now that China has left the one-child policy behind.