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A combine harvester in a Colorado wheat field. Thomas Barwick / DigitalVision / Getty Images

Footprints in the soil aren’t something you might normally associate with having a big impact on the environment, but soils are delicate ecosystems made up of circulating air and water that nourish organisms and plant roots, scientists from Lancaster University reported in The Conversation.

Too much soil compaction can reduce plant growth, leading to less available food. It can also increase the risk of floods as the earth becomes less porous, speeding up runoff and filling up waterways more quickly.

Footprints in the soil aren’t something you might normally associate with having a big impact on the environment, but soils are delicate ecosystems made up of circulating air and water that nourish organisms and plant roots, scientists from Lancaster University reported in The Conversation.

Too much soil compaction can reduce plant growth, leading to less available food. It can also increase the risk of floods as the earth becomes less porous, speeding up runoff and filling up waterways more quickly.

Imagine if giant footprints, like those of the dinosaurs — or tread from machines of dinosaur mass — were relentlessly pounding or pushing away at the earth, tamping it down until much of the air and water were pressed out. A new study compared the impact of today’s farm machinery on the soil to that of sauropods, the same group of dinosaurs featured in Jurassic Park and the largest to have ever walked upon the Earth. The largest of the sauropods were thought to weigh about 66 tons —  comparable to a modern, fully-loaded combine harvester, Jess Davies, chair professor in sustainability at Lancaster University, and professor of soil science at Lancaster University John Quinton reported in The Conversation.

Compaction can happen within a few seconds when we drive on the soil, but it can take decades for that soil to recover,” said professor of soil management at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences Thomas Keller, who was the study’s lead author, as BBC News reported.

The study, “Farm vehicles approaching weights of sauropods exceed safe mechanical limits for soil functioning,” was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

When soils are subjected to too much pressure, they can become “chronically compacted,” reported The Conversation, and as farm machinery becomes weightier, that pressure intensifies. Over the last 60 years, farming machinery like tractors has become much bigger, and a combine is nearly ten times heavier now than in the 1960s.

“Soil structure emerges as a central trait for many ecological, hydrological, and agronomical functions, serving as a fragile scaffolding for biological activity,” Keller and co-author Dani Or, who is a full professor of soil and terrestrial environmental physics at ETH Zürich, wrote in the study.

Not only has the weight of farm machines increased, so have the sizes of their enormous tires, The Conversation reported. The width of a tire actually reduces the pressure on the soil’s surface and serves to aid in keeping the vehicle from sinking. Due to this spreading out of pressure, surface-level soil compaction hasn’t changed much with the bulking up of farming vehicles; it’s deeper down where issues arise. As whatever is putting pressure on the soil gets heavier, whether it be an animal or a machine, the more the soil will become compressed deeper down.

“The intensification of modern food production with its reliance on efficient agrotechnical practices presents a growing risk to the maintenance of favorable soil structure and poses a threat to the long-term productivity of arable land. Of particular concern is the steady increase in the weight of modern agricultural vehicles that may have already caused chronic subsoil compaction,” wrote Keller and Or.

In the study, the scientists theorized that damage to the soil ecosystem by the sauropods may have been limited by their sticking to familiar pathways.

The heavy toll of today’s bulky farm machinery can result in permanent soil compaction underneath the first 7.87 inches or so, beneath the level of tilling, which can lead to reduced levels of oxygen in the soil, as well as keeping roots from penetrating deeper, reported The Conversation.

Worldwide, the researchers estimated that 20 percent of farmland has a high risk of productivity loss due to compression caused by modern farming machinery. The amount of soil compaction depends on the vehicle, how it’s used and the amount of moisture and kind of soil. Farms in North America and Europe face the biggest risks due to the prevalence of the biggest farm vehicles being used to till large-scale agricultural operations on soil with high levels of moisture.

“Soil can only withstand so much pressure – whether from compaction or other threats such as continual harvesting, erosion or pollution. Humans must act to reduce pressures on soils, or we risk going the way of the dinosaurs,” Davies and Quinton wrote in The Conversation.

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Buffalo Shooter Is the Latest Mass Killer to Use Eco-Fascist Rhetoric

Eco-fascism can be traced back to the racist “blood and soil” doctrine of the Nazi party.

Politics
People mourn at a makeshift memorial in Buffalo, New York on May 18, 2022. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

The 18-year-old who allegedly opened fire on the parking lot of a Buffalo, New York supermarket on Saturday may be the latest mass shooter to be motivated, at least in part, by eco-fascism. 

The shooter, Payton Gendron, left behind a 180-page manifesto in which he blames minorities and immigrants for problems like plastic pollution, air pollution and the climate crisis, The Washington Post reported. Some of his language was plagiarized from the manifesto of a man who opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 and self-identified as an eco-fascist. 

The 18-year-old who allegedly opened fire on the parking lot of a Buffalo, New York supermarket on Saturday may be the latest mass shooter to be motivated, at least in part, by eco-fascism. 

The shooter, Payton Gendron, left behind a 180-page manifesto in which he blames minorities and immigrants for problems like plastic pollution, air pollution and the climate crisis, The Washington Post reported. Some of his language was plagiarized from the manifesto of a man who opened fire on a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand in 2019 and self-identified as an eco-fascist. 

“You could call it a copycat attack,” Syracuse University Ph.D. student Cassidy Thomas, who studies right-wing extremism and environmentalism, told The Washington Post’s Climate 202. “It’s clear that these individuals shared many of the same concerns about overpopulation and environmental degradation.”

Eco-fascism is the coming together of environmental concerns and fascist or far-right beliefs, according to iNews. It can be traced back to the “blood and soil” doctrine of the Nazi party, which held that racial Germans had a special relationship with the land, as Marquette University associate history professor Peter Staudenmaier explained in Ecofascism: Lessons from the German Experience. 

Today, eco-fascists tend to emphasize overpopulation as the primary cause of environmental problems and oppose immigration, according to iNews. The ideology is also linked to white supremacy and the “great replacement theory” that white people will be overtaken by other groups. 

“Very often, if you have somebody on the far right become an environmentalist, [their ideology] slots itself into a hypernationalist, white supremacist worldview, so it fuels the calls to harden borders at the softer end, [and] at the harder end, it can express itself through the idea that climate change is a divine purging,” author and activist Naomi Klein told Teen Vogue. “[Eco-fascism] argues [climate change] is God’s will, that there are too many people anyway, so there’s going to be a great purge and perhaps that’s all for the best. It’s environmentalism through genocide.”

The lethal nature of this ideology has been evident in three recent mass shootings. Brenton H. Tarrant, who killed 51 people at two Christchurch, New Zealand, mosques in 2019, said that he was an eco-fascist and railed against birthrates, The Washington Post reported. The same year, Patrick Crusius used eco-fascist arguments to justify killing 23 people at a Walmart in El Paso, Texas. Crusius, who targeted Hispanics, wrote that, “if we can get rid of enough people, then our way of life can be more sustainable.” Crusius also said he was influenced by Tarrant, according to E&E News.

The latest attack in Buffalo was accompanied by a manifesto posted on 4chan along with video footage of the shooting that killed 10 people. The manifesto embraced the white-supremicist replacement theory and expressed the desire to kill as many Black people as possible, according to The Guardian. This is why police believe the shooter chose a grocery store in a neighborhood with a significant Black population. 

The text also used eco-fascist rhetoric to blame immigration for environmental destruction. 

“For too long we have allowed the left to co-opt the environmentalist movement to serve their own needs,” the manifesto reads. “The left has controlled all discussion regarding environmental preservation whilst simultaneously presiding over the continued destruction of the natural environment itself through mass immigration and uncontrolled urbanization, whilst offering no true solution to either issue.”

The connection between immigration and environmental harm is demonstrably false. Studies have shown no connection between increased immigration and greenhouse gas emissions or pollution, and people born in the U.S. have larger environmental footprints than new immigrants. Further, overconsumption, not population size itself, is what puts a strain on natural resources. 

However, the ideology has risen in recent years as the prominence of Donald Trump and his anti-immigrant rhetoric have dovetailed with environmental concerns, Hampshire College immigration and environment expert Betsy Hartman told The Guardian. 

“For younger people, the more apocalyptic images of climate change can fit into the white supremacist view of apocalypse, too,” she said. “It’s scary how much this person is taking from the Christchurch and El Paso killings, how he’s [incited] by those things. It shows how powerful this has become, given how explicit it is now.”

This rhetoric isn’t limited to the manifestos of mass shooters. More mainstream right wing pundits and politicians have begun to embrace it as well. Tucker Carlson, who is the most-watched host on Fox News, falsely said that immigrants were polluting Washington, DC’s Potomac River in 2019, The Washington Post reported. And Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich (R) filed a lawsuit in 2021 saying the Biden administration had violated the National Environmental Policy Act because it hadn’t studied how immigration could raise emissions. Rightwing political parties in Europe have also used environmentalist rhetoric to justify border controls, according to The Guardian. 

Mainstream environmental groups have taken steps to distance themselves from this rhetoric, while acknowledging that conservation movements have sometimes embraced eugenics in the past. 

“We need to speak out so that our members know that under no circumstances are we buying into this kind of philosophy,” Andrew Rosenberg, director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said in response to the El Paso shooting, as The Washington Post reported at the time. 

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A solar farm at sunset. Milos-Muller / iStock / Getty Images Plus

Solar panels are a popular form of harvesting clean energy, but they aren’t without their limitations. They work best in bright, direct sunlight, so overcast and rainy days can limit energy efficiency. As for nightfall, solar panels can’t work without direct or indirect sunlight — at least for now.

A team of researchers, including researchers from the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW Sydney and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, have made a breakthrough in infrared technology that could lead to the development of solar panels that work at night.

Solar panels are a popular form of harvesting clean energy, but they aren’t without their limitations. They work best in bright, direct sunlight, so overcast and rainy days can limit energy efficiency. As for nightfall, solar panels can’t work without direct or indirect sunlight — at least for now.

A team of researchers, including researchers from the School of Photovoltaic and Renewable Energy Engineering at UNSW Sydney and the ARC Centre of Excellence in Exciton Science, have made a breakthrough in infrared technology that could lead to the development of solar panels that work at night.

The researchers were able to run a successful test on a device, called a thermo-radiative diode, that converts infrared heat into electricity. According to the researchers, the thermo-radiative diode is similar to the technology used for night-vision goggles.

“In the late 18th and early 19th century it was discovered that the efficiency of steam engines depended on the temperature difference across the engine, and the field of thermodynamics was born,” Exciton Science associate investigator and lead researcher Nicholas Ekins-Daukes said in a press release. “The same principles apply to solar power — the sun provides the hot source and a relatively cool solar panel on the Earth’s surface provides a cold absorber. This allows electricity to be produced. However, when we think about the infrared emission from the Earth into outer space, it is now the Earth that is the comparatively warm body, with the vast void of space being extremely cold. By the same principles of thermodynamics, it is possible to generate electricity from this temperature difference too: the emission of infrared light into space.”

For now, the amount of energy produced in the tests is incredibly small compared to solar panel output, about 0.001%. But it does show hope in developing solar panels that can produce energy, even at night. For now, the team is looking to do more research and form industry partnerships.

“We usually think of the emission of light as something that consumes power, but in the mid-infrared, where we are all glowing with radiant energy, we have shown that it is possible to extract electrical power,” Ekins-Daukes said. “We do not yet have the miracle material that will make the thermoradiative diode an everyday reality, but we made a proof of principle and are eager to see how much we can improve on this result in the coming years.”

These aren’t the only scientists looking to create solar panels that operate 24/7. Rune Strandberg, a researcher from Norway, was the first to explore the possibility. Currently, researchers at Stanford University are also testing alternate methods of harnessing thermal energy in the dark.

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