The line from drought to war is not nearly as straightforward, though on the surface it doesn’t seem to involve any leaps of faith. It makes sense that a severe drought would lead to massive crop failure, and that in a country heavily dependent on agriculture the results would be disastrous.
The drought lasted several years and forced hundreds of thousands of poor farmers off their lands and into cities that were already overcrowded by refugees (1 million or so, by most accounts) from the war in neighboring Iraq.
However, the drought alone may not have been what forced the farmers from their land. The cancellation of diesel and fertilizer subsidies also had a crippling effect on the farmers. Political, economic and technological forces at work in the modern world also play a major role in economical collapse.
Despite the much-touted health benefits of fish, consumers may be getting more than just lean protein in their servings of seafood. Researchers have found that around a quarter of the fish in markets in Indonesia and California contained plastic or fibrous material in their gut. This study is one of the first to make a direct link between plastic and the food which end up on the plates of consumers.
We already know that eating fish comes with risks of ingesting metals like mercury and lead, or pesticides like DDT. Scientists don’t currently know whether or what amount of plastics in fish poses a threat to human safety. They do know, however, that plastics are associated with a cocktail of chemicals, some of which are carcinogenic, and some of which disrupt our hormone system. Once they enter the ocean, plastics can also become a sponge for other contaminants like pesticides and industrial chemicals.
According to PHY ORGS the researchers emphasize that the debris are found in the animals’ guts. That suggests people are likely to ingest the debris only if the animal is eaten whole, like sardines and anchovies. The team is still studying whether chemicals in the material can transfer into the meat.
The presence of tiny plastic particles, or microplastics, is a growing problem worldwide. A team of scientists estimated that eight million metric tons of plastic waste enters the world’s oceans each year, and predicted that that number will increase over the next decade.
Reducing plastics in the ocean will require a concerted, multi-pronged effort and interventions might include banning plastic microbeads in personal care products, working with big plastic producers to search for alternative materials, or even possibly putting fiber filters on washing machines.
In species from alligators to humans, males are being born less frequently than they were before. Environmental experts are examining the link between man-made chemicals and their role as endocrine disruptors.
Exposure to phthalates, a common class of petrochemicals, can happen through air, water or food. They are contained in cosmetics, cleaning products and consumer goods from wall paper to toys. Some types of phthalates are not only carcinogens, but they are also known endocrine disruptors. Glyphosate, one of the most common and highly used herbicides is found in trace amounts in nearly every food item that is made from genetically modified crops. This endocrine disruptor is especially toxic to human cells in vitro.
Sperm counts worldwide have been cut in half, male infertility has increased, and testicular cancer rates have doubled. These endocrine disruptors interfere with male hormonal system and are playing have havoc with the basic building blocks of male sexual development.
Many central Florida lakes are heavily polluted with a mixture of pesticides, nutrients and fertilizer – many chemicals are old chemicals like DDT that are persistent. Scientists studying alligators in central Florida have found evidence that pesticides have the ability to alter the development of testes as well as lower the testosterone levels of the males similar to those of females. Sexual organs of male alligators nesting in these lakes are 1/3 their normal size and reproduction rate is 90% below average.For several weeks after conception the embryo is neither male nor female. Sex hormones determine whether the fetus will be a boy or a girl. In the 7th week of pregnancy the male reproductive tract begins developing. Chemical exposure is likely behind a 200% increase in male genital birth defects. After birth the infant is further exposed to chemicals in mother’s milk. Blood and urine samples show that contaminates are not only in the child at birth, but they stay in the child.
The falling male birthrate is a global phenomenon. There are 20 heavily industrialized nations where male births have mysteriously declined. Since 1970 this has added up to almost 3,000,000 fewer baby boys. Virtually all of the products linked to male reproductive problems are made from petroleum and of the 80,000 chemicals in use 85% have never undergone testing for the impact on the human body.
Synthetic chemicals may be the threat linked to the survival of our species.
Introduced to Malheur Lake as early as the 1920s, likely as a food source for people living in the arid region, the invasive carp have now taken over the lake.
Historically, Malheur Lake was utilized by up to 35% of the Pacific Flyway’s canvasback population, was the second most important redhead production site in the West, and at its peak produced, over 100,000 ducklings annually. Currently the refuge has only 5-10 percent of the productive bird habitat it provided before carp were introduced.
The estimated carp population in the refuge has grown into the millions. The carp sift through the mud searching for insects and aquatic plants to eat; uprooting plants and creating silt plumes in the process. Malheur Lake is void of the plants that provide food, shelter, and nesting grounds for waterfowl and other migratory birds.
Chemical treatments, barriers and traps, and water management have been used in an attempt to eradicate the carp. Unfortunately they only resulted in very short term habitat improvements, and the carp continue to return.
Malheur National Wildlife Refuge has entered into an agreement with Silver Sage Fisheries and Nutrient Company to catch and process invasive carp. The company would eventually like to use the carp as a food product or fish oil, but it currently has its sights set on turning them into fertilizer.
During a trial using fishing nets, fishermen caught more than 40,000 pounds of carp. The test project is expected to cost $500,000 the first year. The carp removed from the Lake will be processed into organic fertilizer for application on nearby organic croplands.
The sun is shining. The temperatures are rising. A trip to the park is imminent. All of the end pieces of bread saved during the long winter is gathered and ready for the trip. Strolling along the water’s edge the ducks are just waiting to receive some of the bounty, they are so used to being thrown scraps that they follow me to an empty bench where I sit and quickly become their favorite visitor as crumb after crumb is tossed.
It is just amazing to watch the birds run from crumb to crumb trying to get as much as they can. I smile. There is something captivating about feeding wildlife.
Of course, until now I had not realized the harm I may actually be causing. Those “wild” ducks shouldn’t be following me around; that is unnatural behavior – they should fear me. The food I am tossing to them is low in protein and are very poor substitutes for natural foods such as aquatic plants, natural grains, and invertebrates.
This artificial feeding causes inbreeding, delayed migration, overcrowding, disease, deformity and water pollution. Some parks maintain a strict “no feeding” area to watch the birds while some places still offer such an activity. The key to feeding the ducks properly is to provide food that is nutritious to waterfowl such as special duck pellets or seedless grapes cut in half, shredded kale, Swiss chard or romaine lettuce, and grains, including wheat, barley and oats. These are all healthy food sources that will appeal to most waterfowl.
Of course it is not just about the birds. Water pollution is a big issue in regards to feeding the ducks. Decomposing bread creates bacteria and attracts vermin, especially rats, whose urine transmits Weil’s disease, which can be deadly to people. Rotting bread exacerbates naturally occurring surface algae – which can give off toxins damaging to fish populations and create a stench for humans – by releasing more nitrates and phosphates. It also denies sunlight to underwater plants. And the bread eaten by birds creates more feces, which has the same effect.
In 2013 U.S. officials applied about 17 million tons of salt to roads. Salt lowers the freezing temperature of water and thus melts street-clogging snow and ice. But its public safety benefits do come with some ecological drawbacks.
Salt not only damages metal and concrete, it contaminates drinking water, kills vegetation, and accumulates in streams, lakes, reservoirs, and groundwater, harming aquatic plants and animals. As much as 70% of salt spread on roadways stays within the watershed.
Now that we know where the salt goes, where does it come from?
The U.S. is the second-largest road salt producer worldwide after China, but we also import a good deal of the salt it uses to coat its streets. At 12 million tons per year, America is the biggest salt importer in the world. Most salt imports come from Canada and Chile.
Rock salt is formed in the ocean. The chlorine coming from the volcanoes at the bottom of the ocean mixes with the sodium washing off the continents with rainwater to create salt. There is a lot of salt in the oceans, but it is only about 3½% of the worlds salt supply. Areas with thick salt deposits was probably one where an ocean was, but has since evaporated.
There are more microorganisms in and on a “person” than there are “human cells.” Along with a few pounds of bacteria — trillions of microbes — an even larger number of viruses live in and on the human body. Some of which change the way we think and feel, and even the way we interact with others.
A group of scientists from Johns Hopkins and the University of Nebraska have discovered a new virus that is living in the mouths and throats of people participating in a study. While in itself not so noteworthy, but the fact that it was thought that it could only affect algae makes it interesting.
While conducting a separate experiment, the scientists found the virus living in 40% of a small number of people tested. The virus, called ATCV-1, is a chlorovirus, a family of viruses that infect plants. This virus affects algae in lakes all over the world. As far as researchers knew before this, viruses like this very rarely cross from one kingdom like plants to another, like animals. And even when they do, it’s more likely that they would go from plants to some type of invertebrate, not all the way to a complex animal like a human.
The original study included cognitive tests; the scientists compared the data and saw that people with the virus living in their throats processed visual information about 10% slower than people without the virus. To further test the virus, mice were injected with ATCV-1 and took 10% longer to navigate a maze and spent 20% less time exploring new environments. The infected mice also showed more than 1,000 gene changes in the parts of the brain that are usually considered essential for memory and learning.
Interesting note: the group of people tested was from Baltimore.
Yosemite Valley is a glacial valley in the Sierra Nevada, part of the Yosemite National Park, drawing close to 3.7 million visitors annually. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is virtually an identical twin to Yosemite Valley, but you will never see its stunning rock formations and dramatic waterfalls. With steep valley walls, a narrow outlet and 3,812 feet in elevation, it was the perfect site for a reservoir.
At 5:12am on Wednesday, April 18, 1906 an earthquake of between 7.7 and 8.25 in magnitude struck San Francisco. Fires broke out and destroyed nearly 80% of the city as the already inadequate water supply failed. If San Francisco wanted to rebuild, it was apparent that a new source of water was badly needed.
Using the Hetch Hetchy’s Tuolumne River as a water source was proposed 50 years before the earthquake, but the devastation was enough to motivate government officials to authorize the development of the river. Wilderness conservation was at its early stages and to appease the arguments, permission was given to flood the valley under the condition that the power and water it provided could only be used for the public good, with no private profit derived.
The O’Shaughnessy Dam began construction in 1919 and was completed in 1923. Construction of the 137-mile pipeline that would eventually carry the Hetch Hetchy’s water to San Francisco was able to begin, as was the construction of hydroelectric power stations and the lines they would use to transmit that power to the city. Unfortunately, the city of San Francisco ran out of money to fund the project in 1925 – coincidentally as it reached Pacific Gas & Electric’s newly constructed substation, just across the San Francisco Bay.
PG&E announced that the company would temporarily take over the delivery of that power to the city, buying the power from it and selling it back to its citizens at a profit. Legal challenges to the situation began in 1941 and still continue today as it is believed PG&E continues to profit from Hetch Hetchy’s water and power.
This is one of the largest and most successful gravity-fed and power-generating municipal water supply systems in the world today and it was built amidst protest and the argument to remove the dam continues today. The flooding of the valley has not been an environmental disaster as protesters had thought; it provides over 2 million San Francisco residents with clean water and generates 1.6 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually. Many argue that without the reservoir, the Hetch Hetchy would become overdeveloped and overcrowded just as the Yosemite Valley is now.
A $5 billion revival leaves the Milwaukee River cleaner and more valuable.
Buoyed by tougher environmental regulations and $5 billion in improvements, from the building of the deep tunnel system to the removal of dams and reduction in phosphorus, the Milwaukee River is cleaner and more valuable economically and ecologically than at any point in the past 100 years.
But challenges remain. What is the right balance between green space and development? Can water quality be further improved?