Can GMOs Help Feed a Hot and Hungry World?

rsz_plantsThe Nation

Eduardo Blumwald’s genetically modified plants don’t look much like “Frankenfood.” Filling four modest greenhouses in a concrete lot behind Blumwald’s laboratory at the University of California, Davis, the tiny seedlings, spiky grasses, alfalfa, and peanut and rice plants in plastic terracotta-colored pots look exactly like the ordinary varieties from which he and his fellow researchers created them. Blumwald’s lab lies just ten miles from Monsanto’s 90,000-square-foot vegetable seed building, a glassy edifice larger than the hangar for a 747. The Monsanto facility is one of the largest centers in the world for plant breeding and genetic engineering. But in the fourteen years that Blumwald, a professor of cell biology, has worked here studying the DNA of crop plants, he has hardly ever spoken to anyone from Monsanto.

Blue-eyed and round-faced, with a lilting Argentinian accent, Blumwald grows exasperated when he talks about the so-called “Big Ag” companies, which he says have been arrogant in dealing with the public, contributing to a distrust of biotech research. But he also doesn’t appreciate the activists who’ve been challenging not only the Monsantos of the world but the entire field of genetic engineering.

“You want to penalize the multinationals; I have no problem with that,” he tells me in his office at the university’s plant biology building. “But because of your political stance against multinationals, you are going to condemn maybe the only viable solution we have for our future? It’s wrong—absolutely wrong.” [Read more.]

Climate Change Up Close

 

Photo by F Delventhal

Photo by F Delventhal

Ensia

If you’ve ever wondered how much little things really matter, consider the mountain pine beetle. Roughly the size of a grain of rice, the glossy black insect lives only about a year, but a female beetle can travel as far as 30 miles to find a pine tree, where its larvae can hatch and eat the inside of the bark. A throng of beetles can ravage a pine as tall as an eight-story building, as the tree first oozes sap, then its needles turn rusty red. In the past decade, in the pine forests that bristle across the U.S. West and Southwest, from Alaska to southern California, millions of acres of pines have died in one of the worst pine beetle epidemics anyone has ever seen. Foresters have suspected for more than two decades that an explosion of insects was in the cards, based on predictions for global warming. … But global predictions for climate change, though consistent on large-scale trends, weren’t specific enough … [Read more.]

Will global warming leave L.A.’s poor under water?

2014-01-21 12.49Al Jazeera America

LOS ANGELES — A contractor laughed when Robin Rudisill asked, more than five years ago, if she should consider the impact of rising sea levels in her plans for remodeling her taupe-colored three-story house here on the oceanfront walk of Venice Beach. “I was serious,” she said.

Rudisill had moved into the house with her mother, grandmother and daughter a few years after leaving her job as a top financial executive at Bank of America. “I have a lot of people to take care of. I’ve got to figure out how long this place will last,” she said. “He thought that was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard.”

The science has since proved her point. [Read more.]

Can the Stuck-in-Place Economy Help Us Face Climate Change?

YES! Magazine

After I finished high school in the flat, square corn country of central Illinois, I fled—along with many of my fellow classmates. We chased jobs or graduate school in places like San Francisco, New York, or Washington, D.C. I settled in Seattle. It wasn’t until I hit my 30s that I became aware of the social costs of this mobility … .

But in the last couple of years, Americans have begun to change their itinerant ways. Since the mid-1980s, an ever-smaller percentage of people are changing locations. [Read more.]

The Education of Bill McKibben: How the Unlikely Activist Learned to Break the Rules

YES! Magazine

The tasks Bill McKibben set for himself were monumental. Start a genuinely grassroots movement at a time when many big environmental groups focus on mouse-click petitions, fundraising, and lobbying done by professionals. Marshal enough political will to put a finger in the proverbial dike: to hold back climate change, the worst crisis to face society. It has been exhausting work, and to maintain his sense of perspective, he returns again and again to a plot of land he owns in rural Vermont, where a friend has set up a beekeeping business.

McKibben’s latest book, Oil and Honey, chronicles his journey into ever-riskier and more confrontational activism over the past two years.

The Parable of Rupert Murdoch

Murdoch

Photo by DonkeyHotey

The Nation

Although he successfully runs one of the largest media empires in the world, Rupert Murdoch has more detractors than fans. His persona and appearance so evoke the archetype of a villain (rich, ruthless) that some James Bond enthusiasts believe he inspired the evil character Elliot Carver, who tries to provoke a war to gain broadcasting rights in China in the film Tomorrow Never Dies. 

… In the United States, Murdoch’s most controversial media network is, of course, Fox News. But his company, News Corp, also owns numerous television stations, the book publisher HarperCollins, and such iconic publications as The Wall Street Journal. The Guardian has called Fox a “major driving force behind global warming denial,” citing a recent study that said Fox viewers were more likely to distrust scientists and disbelieve the evidence that climate change is happening.

But there is a parallel universe in which Murdoch has even more power over information—the faraway country where the media mogul was born, Australia. [Read more.]

Warning: This Gasoline Is Hazardous to Your Planet

gasoline_stillThe Nation

If oil is really an addiction, would warning labels on gasoline motivate drivers to try to kick the habit?

An organization called Our Horizon wants to label Canadian gasoline pumps with evocative (sometimes graphic) images and information on climate change. (You can watch their promotional video above.) They hope eventually the campaign will become viral and international. But they are starting by encouraging Canadian municipalities to pass local laws requiring the labels.

An obvious question is, could warning labels change the behavior or attitudes of people who drive cars? [Read more.]

Frigid and Sweltering: The New Climate Normal

frigidscreengrab2-tiff

The Nation

Climate change often seems more palpable (and gets more media coverage) at this time of year, after heat waves have hit parts of the country. But polls suggest many members of the public are confused about the connection between climate change and cold weather. As I noted in a post last week, belief in climate change drops among Americans during cold weather and dipped slightly after this past winter. Moreover, climate deniers and right-wing pundits tend to hype winter weather, as if climate models never anticipated another flake of snow.

But a new report produced by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, published on Tuesday in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society, shows that both cold and hot weather in 2012 were heavily under the influence of climate change. [Read more.]