Oxford Study Attacks Regenerative Agriculture — Monsanto Ally?
The British Empire has schooled the world in colonialism, with resulting devastation in India, Africa and the Americas. While the colonies' revolutionary army was successful in defeating the British redcoats more than 240 years ago, today we face a new kind of threat from the United Kingdom.
A University of Oxford think-tank, the Food Climate Research Network (FCRN), has come out with a report, Grazed and Confused, that likens 100-percent grass-fed beef to that produced on a 10,000-cow confined animal feedlot operation (CAFO) like Harris Ranch on Interstate 5 in Central California—calling them basically the same in climate impacts.
Think, for a moment, how absurd that is. One has to wonder why this Oxford think-tank is being so deferential to Monsanto and the GMO/fertilizer industry, which profits via the planet-killing, health-destroying CAFO model.
The Monsanto Connection to Oxford University
It seems that Monsanto has deep and enduring connection to the University of Oxford (UO). Monsanto has paid out to UO through various business ventures more than $50M pounds ($75M US).
Also, Oxford University Press has published a flattering book, written by Robert Paarlberg, full of Monsanto puffery: Food Politics: What Everyone Needs to Know.
In 2006, the Guardian reported that UO professor and Oxford resident Dr. Richard Droll wrote and testified that Monsanto chemicals did not cause cancer, while he "was receiving a consultancy fee of $1,500 a day in the mid-1980s from Monsanto, then a major chemical company and now better known for its GM crops business."
Oxford University has advertised a Monsanto Senior Research Fellowship.
The search function on the FCRN website produces only one link for Monsanto (a very favorable article on CRISPR, a new GMO 2.0 technique). How could a supposed climate independent food research group not be writing about the high impacts of the agrochemical sector within the areas in which it claims expertise, such as health, food access, environment and climate change?
The FCRN website makes the following statement:
Our principles of impartiality, academic rigor, and interdisciplinarity inform our vision of a fair, healthy, and ethical food system that sits within environmental limits.
They fail to mention their university's conflict of interest regarding Monsanto. Why are they silent about Monsanto's role in creating an unhealthy and unethical food system? It's convenient for Monsanto and the giant synthetic fertilizer industry to have this "green credentials" think tank to discredit the small ranchers who have created a soil-health building meat production system that has no use for Monsanto merchandise.
Many of the U.K.'s wealthy families and investors hold vast acreages in Argentina, where cancer rates have skyrocketed in towns near the heavy spraying of Monsanto RoundUp on GMO soy fields. Now perhaps FCRN is just an anti-meat cheerleader. Either way, the report is damaging.
Dazed and Confused
A better title for FCRN's report might be Dazed and Confused, given how unscientific the paper is. It completely discounts the climatic and ecological damage done by the Monsanto and DuPont GMO mono-crop corn and soy supplied to CAFOs.
The authors did not bother to compile a full life-cycle analysis comparing climate impacts of industrial meat to grass pasture meat. They skipped over a 2016 paper published in the peer-reviewed journal Environmental Sciences Europe, which reported that 18.9 billion pounds (8.6 billion kilograms) of glyphosate were used globally. It takes 454 MJ of energy to manufacture 1 kg of glyphosate, one of the most energy-intensive pesticides. Significantly, it requires 5.8 times as much energy to produce a kilo of glyphosate as it takes to produce a kilo of nitrogen. The largest global users of glyphosate are GMO corn and soy grown primarily for cows.
During the entire 127-page report, the terms "soil health," "soil ecosystem," "soil microbes" and "topsoil loss" aren't mentioned at all. And they failed to mention the vast amounts of synthetic nitrogen from fracked, methane-belching wells applied to grow the GMO corn: 300 times more damaging to our climate than carbon.
The distinguished and well-respected U.K. Sustainable Food Trust was also critical of the report, stating:
The report focuses exclusively on greenhouse gas emissions, and while it does accept that grassland can sequester carbon, it fails to understand the vital necessity of returning degraded cropland to rotations that include grass and grazing animals, in order to rebuild carbon and organic matter levels, and the potential of integrating grazing livestock production with crop production in genuine mixed farming systems, to address a wide range of the food system problems currently faced ... The only sustainable way to obtain food from grassland is to graze it with ruminants. With the growing global population it would be irresponsible not to do that.
In one conclusion, the FCRN report states, "Grain-fed intensive livestock systems use less land and so cause less damaging land use change." Yet the destruction of forest and savannah lands in South America for soybean farms to feed CAFO animals is in the millions of hectares. GMO corn and soy are two of the most damaging systems for land and habitat that the world has ever seen.
Our Food Choices Matter
It's a fact, as outlined in the Guardian, that CAFO cows are an ecological disaster.
The CAFO industrial-meat system is a cancer-linked, bee-killing, carbon-busting, soil-destroying, nitrous oxide-emitting, air- and water-polluting, ocean-acidifying human and planetary health disaster. (Learn more about industrial ag's role in destroying the planet's oxygen system).
Millennial moms, generally distrustful of the industrial food system, are now moving to better choices, from pasture-raised meat and dairy products to leading-edge vegan options. Nut milks and cheeses from cashews, coconuts, or almonds are gaining popularity within this age group.
Many Starbucks customers are saying no to industrial-milk lattes and choosing coconut milk, or going to cafés serving organic dairy options.
STARBUCKS, Destroyer of the Seas.
If you care about a livable planet, stop buying industrial, grain-fed meat and milk. We need a "big tent" approach to solving the climate crisis. Some may choose to reduce meat consumption, while others will focus on buying 100 percent grass-pastured meat. Going plant-based and eating little or no meat is another viable dietary option.
Regenerative agriculture is a system of farming principles and practices that increases biodiversity, enriches soils, improves watersheds and enhances ecosystem services. The FCRN authors chose to ignore the growing body of work of regenerative agriculture that shows the many benefits accruing to human and environmental health from changing our farming systems. According to Stanford researchers, the ability of well-managed soils to trap carbon dioxide is potentially much greater than previously estimated and could "significantly" offset increasing global emissions.
See the recent article How to Start a Regenerative Agriculture Movement in Your Community.
How to Start a Regenerative Agriculture Movement in Your Community https://t.co/oITVf39ifr @SoilAssociation @urbangardens— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1507936509.0
The Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes book Cowed: The Hidden Impact of 93 Million Cows on America's Health, Economy, Politics, Culture, and Environment, is a good place to start learning about the impact of cows and meat on the planet. It turns out that taking care of the land leads to better nutrition in the food that's raised. Pasture-raised meat has six times the levels of Vitamin E and several times the Omega-3 and CLA (beneficial fatty acid) levels of industrially raised beef, which often contains drugs and antibiotics numbering in the hundreds.
Why Monsanto Is Freaking Out About the Rise of Grass-Fed Beef
The countries that supply much of the GMO soy used by industrial cattle feedlots in the U.S. and the European Union are Brazil and Argentina. Meanwhile, Monsanto's GMO corn and soy crops in North America are losing market share as the company faces massive lawsuits in the U.S. due to RoundUp's link to cancer.
Clearly, the rising tide of pasture meat replacing CAFO meat is bad for Monsanto's bottom line. Sales of pasture beef have about doubled every year since 2012, as reported in the 2017 report Back to Grass: The Market Potential for U.S. Grassfed Beef:
Grass-fed beef, when produced using regenerative grazing practices, can have many benefits for human health, animal welfare and the environment. Consumers are beginning to recognize this, and demand for grass-fed beef is growing strongly.
Cows eat grass; therefore they don't need to consume vast amounts of GMO corn and soybeans. Less GMO corn planted means less cancer-linked, soil-killing RoundUp being sprayed. If consumers can understand that pasture-raised beef is better for them than CAFO meat, they'll change their buying preferences and sales of beneficial pasture-raised beef will go up, while Monsanto profits from agricultural products with a multitude of negative impacts for animals, humans and the environment will go down.
The German Der Spiegel magazine recently profiled how Monsanto manipulated science in its article, Monsanto Faces Blowback Over Cancer Cover-Up:
A release of internal emails has revealed that U.S. agrochemical giant Monsanto manipulated studies of the company's herbicide, Roundup. Experts believe the product causes cancer—and the consequences for the company could be dire.
And Monsanto's relentless scorched-earth policy is a primary cause of an "ecological Armageddon," with a dramatic 75 percent plunge of insect numbers in past 25 years in German nature reserves. The windshield test shows that splattered insects have almost disappeared—you just don't see them on the road compared to a few decades ago. As insects and pollinators disappear, so will birds. Conventionally grown corn and soybeans for cows are leading us down a dark path—and the end of nature.
German Nature Reserves Have Lost More Than 75% of Flying Insects https://t.co/UMEFa1vnNb @WWF @greenpeaceusa @SierraClub @MichaelEMann @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1508423812.0
FCRN to "the Rescue"
Fake news doesn't happen just in politics. After the Grazed and Confused report came out, it began spreading virally across the web. One headline in the New York Post read: Your Grass-Fed Burger Is Making Climate Change Worse.
To quote from this article:
Environmentally conscious meat eaters have touted grass-fed meat as a solution to help negate the impact of cows on the environment. But unfortunately, it's not that simple. Raising grass-fed cows also leads to deforestation—another big climate change issue—as farmers chop down forests in order to expand their pastures.
The above is a red herring, and the piece as a whole should make Monsanto blush for its brazen spinning of untruths. Vast tracks of Amazon forests are being cleared to grow GMO Monsanto soy for industrial meat (FCRN conveniently left that out of its report).
Grass-Fed Beef Is Powered by Sunlight and Plants
Today, thousands of ranchers across the U.S. and Canada graze cattle on mostly sun-grown grasses that require zero pesticides and few to no fertilizers, deriving water from the sky and soil.
The Circle Ranch in west Texas is restoring high desert rangelands, conserving water and thus improving habitat for all species of birds and animals.
Gabe Brown runs a holistically managed 5,000-acre mixed-crop pasture operation in North Dakota, producing 100 percent grass-fed meat—an approach based on farming and ranching in nature's image. Brown is featured in the video Soil Carbon Cowboys and the forthcoming book Kiss the Ground: How the Food You Eat Can Reverse Climate Change, Heal Your Body, and Ultimately Save Our World by Josh Tickell.
Per Gabe, "One thing that is important to remember is that with approximately 32,000 tons of atmospheric nitrogen above every acre there is really no reason for the use of any synthetic nitrogen. If farmers would diversify crop rotations, add cover crops and grazing, and proliferate nitrogen-fixing bacteria, there would be no reason for the synthetic fertilizer."
Here's some of the good news included in a recent report on the kind of pasture grazing Brown and ranchers like him are doing:
The authors propose that the majority of GHG emissions of many current tillage-based cropping and feedlot-based livestock production systems can be avoided, and even reversed, by ecologically sensitive management of ruminants in mixed crop and grazing agroecosystems through increased carbon sequestration as well as changes in cropping practice. They note the following additional potential benefits: improved soil nutrient cycling, increased soil stability, enhanced watershed function, increased production of healthy food, and enhanced biodiversity and wildlife habitat.
CAFO Meat Powered by Monsanto, Tillage and Oil
The story of CAFO meat begins with Monsanto growing experimental GMO crops on Maui and Kauai islands next to schools and homes, thus subjecting the locals to toxic pesticides (with pockets of birth defects and cancers).
The GMO seeds are grown in Monsanto labs and dipped into bee-killing neonics (banned in the EU) from the German chemical giant Bayer (with which Monsanto is merging). The seeds are then trucked to American farms or shipped to South America by giant ocean freighter along with RoundUp, Monsanto's petroleum-based herbicide.
Farmers growing corn and soy for animal feed apply synthetic fertilizers derived from natural-gas fracked oil that releases huge amounts of nitrous oxide, a potent greenhouse gas pollutant. The fields are then sprayed two to three times with RoundUp, including a coating for the final ripe grain.
The grain is packed onto trucks and freighted to a port where it's loaded onto container ships, then transferred to giant GHG-belching oil extractors that crush the crops using hexane, a toxic byproduct of gasoline production. The hexane-and-RoundUp-laced soy and cornmeal is then transported to the feedlots to be fed to cows packed 5,000 to 10,000 to a pen for fattening, while the oil byproduct is sold to the junk food industry for cookies, crackers, and candies. Imagine the toxin-belching carbon footprint created by these processes.
Highly concentrated decomposing manure from animals packed in small spaces releases methane, ammonia, carbon dioxide, and hydrogen sulfide. And the cows, meant to live in a natural setting and eat grass, grow sick from tight living conditions and poor feed quality unless they're fed a daily ration of antibiotics. Unlike happy cows munching sweet, green grass, those unhappy cow stomachs then belch more GHG emissions.
Yet FCRN fails to mention this Monsanto/DuPont/Chevron/Exxon/fracking ecological nightmare, and instead discredits small ranches growing local meat from local grass without the need for chemical inputs.
The bottom line: No matter what the authors' motives were, they're working to convince people that one's choice of meat doesn't matter, pasture soil health doesn't matter, less RoundUp doesn't matter, reduction in NOX-exuding fertilizer doesn't matter, and better nutrition doesn't matter. The end result is that Oxford University is protecting Monsanto's market share while helping to destroy vast ecosystems and while also boosting cancer levels.
The next time you buy beef or dairy, make sure it's from 100 percent grass-pasture cows.
By Tara Lohan
A key part of the United States' clean energy transition has started to take shape, but you may need to squint to see it. About 2,000 wind turbines could be built far offshore, in federal waters off the Atlantic Coast, in the next 10 years. And more are expected.
Threats to Birds<p>One of the gravest threats facing birds is climate change, according to Audubon, which found that rising temperatures threaten <a href="https://www.audubon.org/2019climateissue" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">nearly two-thirds of North America's bird species</a>. That's why the impending development of offshore wind is a good thing, says Shilo Felton, a field manager in the organization's Clean Energy Initiative, but it also comes with dangers to birds that need to be better studied and mitigated.</p><p>The most obvious risk comes from birds colliding with spinning turbine blades. But offshore wind developments can also displace birds from foraging or roost sites, as well as migratory pathways.</p><p>Along the Atlantic Coast four imperiled species are of top concern to conservationists: the endangered piping plover, red knot, roseate tern and black-capped petrel, which is being considered for listing under the Endangered Species Act.</p><p>"Those four species are of utmost importance to make sure that we understand the impacts," says Felton. "But beyond that there are many species that are protected under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act that could potentially see more impacts from offshore wind."</p><p>Northern gannets, for example, are at risk not just for collision but <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/308703197_Possible_impacts_of_offshore_wind_farms_on_seabirds_a_pilot_study_in_Northern_Gannets_in_the_southern_North_Sea" target="_blank">habitat displacement</a>.</p>
A northern gannet flying along Cape May, N.J. Ann Marie Morrison / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>"There's <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">some evidence</a> that they just won't use areas where turbines are, but that also excludes them from key foraging areas," says Felton. Researchers are still studying what this may mean for the birds. But a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0141113620305304" target="_blank">study</a> published in December 2020 conducted at Bass Rock, Scotland — home to the world's largest northern gannet colony — found that wind developments could reduce their growth rate, though not enough to cause a population decline.</p><p>Other birds, such as great cormorants and European shags, are <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0006320716303196" target="_blank">attracted to wind developments</a> and use the infrastructure to rest while opening up new foraging areas farther from shore.</p><p>"There's plenty of potential for a bird to use a wind farm and still to avoid the turbines themselves," says Felton.</p><p>Birds like pelicans, however, are less versatile in their movements and are at particular risk of collision because of their flight pattern, she says.</p><p>But how disruptive or dangerous offshore turbines will be along the East Coast isn't yet known.</p><p>Federal and state agencies, along with nongovernmental organizations, says Felton, have done good research to try to better understand those potential impacts. "But these are all theoretical, because we don't have a lot of offshore wind yet in the United States."</p>
Threats to Ocean Life<p>Birds aren't the only wildlife of concern. More development in ocean waters could affect a litany of marine species, some of which are already facing other pressures from overfishing, pollution, habitat destruction and climate change.</p><p>Scientists have found that marine mammals like whales and dolphins could be disturbed by the jarring sounds of construction, especially if pile driving is used to hammer the steel turbine platform into the seafloor.</p><p>The noises, though short-lived, could impede communication between animals, divert them from migration routes or cause them to seek less suitable areas for feeding or breeding. Research from Europe found that harbor porpoises, seals and dolphins may avoid development areas during construction. In most, but <a href="https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.1088/1748-9326/7/4/045101" target="_blank">not all cases</a>, the animals were believed to have returned to the area following construction.</p><p>The biggest concern for conservation groups in the United States is the critically endangered North American right whale. There are fewer than 400 remaining, and the species' habitat overlaps with a number of planned wind development areas along the East Coast.</p><p>"Offshore wind is in no way the cause of the challenges the whales face, but it's going to be another pressure point," says John Rogers, senior energy analyst for the Union of Concerned Scientists.</p><p>Researchers aren't sure how right whales will respond to the noise from pile driving.</p><p>"But we are concerned, based on what we know about how whales react to other noise sources, that they may avoid [wind development] areas," says Kershaw.</p><p>And if that displacement causes them to miss out on important food resources, it could be dangerous for a species already on the brink.</p><p>There are a few other potential threats, too.</p><p>Ships associated with the development — more plentiful during construction — also pose a danger. In the past few years cargo ships, fishing boats and other vessels have caused half of all deaths of North Atlantic right whales.</p>
A juvenile right whale breaches against the backdrop of a ship near the St. Johns River entrance. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission / NOAA Research Permit #775-1600-10<p>And after construction, the noise from the spinning turbines will be present in the water at low decibels. "We don't quite know how the great whales will react to those sounds," says Jeremy Firestone, the director of the Center for Research in Wind at the University of Delaware.</p><p>Other marine mammals may also perceive the noise, but at low decibels it's unlikely to be an impediment, <a href="http://www.int-res.com/abstracts/meps/v309/p279-295/" target="_blank">research has found</a>.</p><p>And it's possible that wind development could help some ocean life. Turbine foundations can attract fish and invertebrates for whom hard substrates create habitat complexity — known as the "reef effect," according to researchers from the University of Rhode Island's <a href="https://dosits.org/animals/effects-of-sound/anthropogenic-sources/wind-turbine/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Discovery of Sound in the Sea</a> program. Exclusion of commercial fishing nearby may also help shelter fish and protect marine mammals from entanglements in fishing gear.</p>
Ensuring Safe Development<p>Despite the potential dangers, researchers have gathered a few best practices to help diminish and possibly eliminate some risks.</p><p>When it comes to ship strikes, the easiest thing is to slow boats down, mandating a speed of <a href="https://biologicaldiversity.org/w/news/press-releases/vessel-speed-limits-sought-protect-endangered-north-atlantic-right-whales-2020-08-06/" target="_blank">10 knots</a> in wind development areas, and using visual and acoustic monitoring for whales.</p><p>Adjusting operations to reduce boat trips between the shore and the wind development will also help. A new series of service operating vessels can allow maintenance staff to spent multiple days onsite, says Kershaw, cutting down on boat traffic.</p><p>For construction noise concerns, developers can avoid pile driving during times of the year when whales are present. And, depending on the marine environment, developers could use "quiet foundations" that don't require pile driving. These include gravity-based or suction caisson platforms.</p><p>Floating turbines are also used in deep water, where they're effectively anchored in place — although that poses its own potential danger. "We have concerns that marine debris could potentially become entangled around the mooring cables of the floating arrays and pose a secondarily entanglement risk to some species," says Felton, who thinks more research should be conducted before those become operational in U.S. waters — a process that's already underway in Maine, where a <a href="https://composites.umaine.edu/2020/08/05/diamond-offshore-wind-rwe-renewables-join-the-university-of-maine-to-lead-development-of-maine-floating-offshore-wind-demonstration-project/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">demonstration project is being built</a>.</p><p>If loud noises are unavoidable during construction, noise-reducing technologies such as bubble curtains can help dampen the sound. And scheduling adjacent projects to conduct similar work at the same time could limit the duration of disturbances.</p>
The foundation installation of the off shore wind farm Sandbank using a bubble curtain. Vattenfall / Ulrich Wirrwa / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>Once turbines become operational, reducing the amount of light on wind platforms or using flashing lights could help deter some seabirds, NRDC <a href="https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/harnessing-wind-advance-wind-power-offshore-ib.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">researchers reported</a>. And scientists are exploring using ultrasonic noises and ultraviolet lighting to keep bats away. "Feathering," or shutting down the turbine blades during key migration times, could also help prevent fatalities.</p><p>"We need to make sure that offshore wind is the best steward it can be of the marine ecosystem, because we want and expect it to be a significant part of the clean energy picture in some parts of the country," says Rogers. "We also have to recognize that we're going to learn by doing, and that some of these things we're going to figure out best once we have more turbines in the water."</p><p>That's why environmental groups say it's important to establish baseline information on species before projects begin, and then require developers to conduct monitoring during construction and for years after projects are operational.</p><p>Employing an "adaptive management framework" will ensure that developers can adjust their management practices as they go when new information becomes available, and that those best practices are incorporated into the requirements for future projects.</p>
Putting Research Into Action<p>Advancing these conversations at the federal level during the Trump administration, though, has been slow going.</p><p>"We didn't really have any productive discussions with the administration in the last four years," says Kershaw.</p><p>And when it comes to birds, Felton says the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management's recently completed "draft cumulative environmental impact statement" covering offshore wind developments had a lot of good environmental research, but little focus on birds.</p><p>"Part of that comes from the current administration's interpretation of the Migratory Bird Treaty Act," she says.</p><p>President Trump has been hostile to both wind energy <em>and</em> birds, <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2021/01/05/climate/trump-migratory-bird-protections.html" target="_blank">and finished gutting the Migratory Bird Treaty Act</a> in his administration's the final days, removing penalties for companies whose operations kill migratory birds.</p><p>There's hope that the Biden administration will take a different approach. But where the federal government has been lacking lately, Kershaw says, they've seen states step up.</p><p>New York, for example, has established an <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Environmental Technical Working Group</a> composed of stakeholders to advise on environmentally responsible development of offshore wind.</p><p>The group is led by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, but it isn't limited to the Empire State. It's regional in focus and includes representatives from wind developers with leases between Massachusetts and North Carolina; state agencies from Massachusetts to Virginia; federal agencies; and science-based environmental NGOs.</p><p>New York's latest solicitation for clean energy projects includes up to 2,500 megawatts of offshore wind and <a href="https://www.nyetwg.com/announcements" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">requires developers</a> to contribute at least $10,000 per megawatt for regional monitoring of fisheries and other wildlife.</p><p>Environmental groups have also worked directly with developers, including an agreement with Vineyard Wind — an 800-megawatt project off the Massachusetts coast that could be the first utility-scale wind development in federal waters — to help protect North Atlantic right whales.</p><p>The agreement includes no pile driving from Jan. 1 to April 30, ceasing activities at other times when whales are visually or acoustically identified in the area, speed restrictions on vessels, and the use of noise reduction technology, such as a bubble curtain during pile driving.</p><p>"The developers signed the agreement with us, and then they incorporated, most, if not all of those measures into the federal permitting documents," says Kershaw. "The developers really did a lot of bottom up work to make sure that they were being very protective of right whales."</p><p>Environmental groups are in talks with other developers on agreements too, but Felton wants to see best practices being mandated at the federal level.</p><p>"It's the sort of a role that should be being played by the federal government, and without that it makes the permitting and regulation process less stable and less transparent," she says." And that in turn slows down the build out of projects, which is also bad for birds because it doesn't help us address and mitigate for climate change."</p><p>Kershaw agrees there's a lot more work to be done, especially at the federal level, but thinks we're moving in the right direction.</p><p>"I think the work that's been done so far in the United States has really laid the groundwork for advancing this in the right way and in a way that's protective of species and the environment," she says. "At the same time, it's important that offshore wind does advance quickly. We really need it to help us combat the worst effects of climate change."</p><p><em><a href="https://therevelator.org/author/taralohan/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Tara Lohan</a> is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis.</em></p><p><em style="">Reposted with permission from <a href="https://therevelator.org/offshore-wind-wildlife" target="_blank" style="">The Revelator</a>. </em></p>
- U.S. Offshore Wind Power Blown on Course - EcoWatch ›
- How Renewable Energy Could Power Your State - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Frank La Sorte and Kyle Horton
Millions of birds travel between their breeding and wintering grounds during spring and autumn migration, creating one of the greatest spectacles of the natural world. These journeys often span incredible distances. For example, the Blackpoll warbler, which weighs less than half an ounce, may travel up to 1,500 miles between its nesting grounds in Canada and its wintering grounds in the Caribbean and South America.
Blackpoll warbler. PJTurgeon / Wikipedia<p>We used this information to determine how the number of migratory bird species varies based on each city's level of <a href="https://www.britannica.com/science/light-pollution" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">light pollution</a> – brightening of the night sky caused by artificial light sources, such as buildings and streetlights. We also explored how species numbers vary based on the quantity of tree canopy cover and impervious surface, such as concrete and asphalt, within each city. Our findings show that cities can help migrating birds by planting more trees and reducing light pollution, especially during spring and autumn migration.</p>
Declining Bird Populations<p>Urban areas contain numerous dangers for migratory birds. The biggest threat is the risk of <a href="https://doi.org/10.1650/CONDOR-13-090.1" target="_blank">colliding with buildings or communication towers</a>. Many migratory bird populations have <a href="http://dx.doi.org/10.1126/science.aaw1313" target="_blank">declined over the past 50 years</a>, and it is possible that light pollution from cities is contributing to these losses.</p><p>Scientists widely agree that light pollution can <a href="https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1708574114" target="_blank">severely disorient migratory birds</a> and make it hard for them to navigate. Studies have shown that birds will cluster around brightly lit structures, much like insects flying around a porch light at night. Cities are the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/fee.2029" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">primary source of light pollution for migratory birds</a>, and these species tend to be more abundant within cities <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/gcb.13792" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">during migration</a>, especially in <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landurbplan.2020.103892" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">city parks</a>.</p>
Composite image of the continental U.S. at night from satellite photos. NASA Earth Observatory images by Joshua Stevens, using Suomi NPP VIIRS data from Miguel Román, NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center
The Power of Citizen Science<p>It's not easy to observe and document bird migration, especially for species that migrate at night. The main challenge is that many of these species are very small, which limits scientists' ability to use electronic tracking devices.</p><p>With the growth of the internet and other information technologies, new data resources are becoming available that are making it possible to overcome some of these challenges. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-018-07106-5" target="_blank">Citizen science initiatives</a> in which volunteers use online portals to enter their observations of the natural world have become an important resource for researchers.</p><p>One such initiative, <a href="https://ebird.org/home" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">eBird</a>, allows bird-watchers around the globe to share their observations from any location and time. This has produced one of the <a href="https://doi.org/10.1111/ecog.04632" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">largest ecological citizen-science databases in the world</a>. To date, eBird contains over 922 million bird observations compiled by over 617,000 participants.</p>
Light Pollution Both Attracts and Repels Migratory Birds<p>Migratory bird species have evolved to use certain migration routes and types of habitat, such as forests, grasslands or marshes. While humans may enjoy seeing migratory birds appear in urban areas, it's generally not good for bird populations. In addition to the many hazards that exist in urban areas, cities typically lack the food resources and cover that birds need during migration or when raising their young. As scientists, we're concerned when we see evidence that migratory birds are being drawn away from their traditional migration routes and natural habitats.</p><p>Through our analysis of eBird data, we found that cities contained the greatest numbers of migratory bird species during spring and autumn migration. Higher levels of light pollution were associated with more species during migration – evidence that light pollution attracts migratory birds to cities across the U.S. This is cause for concern, as it shows that the influence of light pollution on migratory behavior is strong enough to increase the number of species that would normally be found in urban areas.</p><p>In contrast, we found that higher levels of light pollution were associated with fewer migratory bird species during the summer and winter. This is likely due to the scarcity of suitable habitat in cities, such as large forest patches, in combination with the adverse affects of light pollution on bird behavior and health. In addition, during these seasons, migratory birds are active only during the day and their populations are largely stationary, creating few opportunities for light pollution to attract them to urban areas.</p>
Trees and Pavement<p>We found that tree canopy cover was associated with more migratory bird species during spring migration and the summer. Trees provide important habitat for migratory birds during migration and the breeding season, so the presence of trees can have a strong effect on the number of migratory bird species that occur in cities.</p><p>Finally, we found that higher levels of impervious surface were associated with more migratory bird species during the winter. This result is somewhat surprising. It could be a product of the <a href="https://www.epa.gov/heatislands" target="_blank">urban heat island effect</a> – the fact that structures and paved surfaces in cities absorb and reemit more of the sun's heat than natural surfaces. Replacing vegetation with buildings, roads and parking lots can therefore make cities significantly warmer than surrounding lands. This effect could reduce cold stress on birds and increase food resources, such as insect populations, during the winter.</p><p>Our research adds to our understanding of how conditions in cities can both help and hurt migratory bird populations. We hope that our findings will inform urban planning initiatives and strategies to reduce the harmful effects of cities on migratory birds through such measures as <a href="https://www.arborday.org/programs/treecityusa/index.cfm" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">planting more trees</a> and initiating <a href="https://aeroecolab.com/uslights" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">lights-out programs</a>. Efforts to make it easier for migratory birds to complete their incredible journeys will help maintain their populations into the future.</p><p><em><span style="background-color: initial;"><a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/frank-la-sorte-1191494" target="_blank">Frank La Sorte</a> is a r</span>esearch associate at the </em><em>Cornell Lab of Ornithology, Cornell University. <a href="https://theconversation.com/profiles/kyle-horton-1191498" target="_blank">Kyle Horton</a> is an assistant professor of Fish, Wildlife, and Conservation Biology at the Colorado State University.</em></p><p><em></em><em>Disclosure statement: Frank La Sorte receives funding from The Wolf Creek Charitable Foundation and the National Science Foundation (DBI-1939187). K</em><em>yle Horton does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.</em></p><p><em>Reposted with permission from <a href="https://theconversation.com/cities-can-help-migrating-birds-on-their-way-by-planting-more-trees-and-turning-lights-off-at-night-152573" target="_blank">The Conversation</a>. </em></p>
By Lynne Peeples
Editor's note: This story is part of a nine-month investigation of drinking water contamination across the U.S. The series is supported by funding from the Park Foundation and Water Foundation. Read the launch story, "Thirsting for Solutions," here.
In late September 2020, officials in Wrangell, Alaska, warned residents who were elderly, pregnant or had health problems to avoid drinking the city's tap water — unless they could filter it on their own.
Unintended Consequences<p>Chemists first discovered disinfection by-products in treated drinking water in the 1970s. The trihalomethanes they found, they determined, had resulted from the reaction of chlorine with natural organic matter. Since then, scientists have identified more than 700 additional disinfection by-products. "And those only represent a portion. We still don't know half of them," says Richardson, whose lab has identified hundreds of disinfection by-products. </p>
What’s Regulated and What’s Not?<p>The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) currently regulates 11 disinfection by-products — including a handful of trihalomethanes (THM) and haloacetic acids (HAA). While these represent only a small fraction of all disinfection by-products, EPA aims to use their presence to indicate the presence of other disinfection by-products. "The general idea is if you control THMs and HAAs, you implicitly or by default control everything else as well," says Korshin.</p><p>EPA also requires drinking water facilities to use techniques to reduce the concentration of organic materials before applying disinfectants, and regulates the quantity of disinfectants that systems use. These rules ultimately can help control levels of disinfection by-products in drinking water.</p>
Click the image for an interactive version of this chart on the Environmental Working Group website.<p>Still, some scientists and advocates argue that current regulations do not go far enough to protect the public. Many question whether the government is regulating the right disinfection by-products, and if water systems are doing enough to reduce disinfection by-products. EPA is now seeking public input as it considers potential revisions to regulations, including the possibility of regulating additional by-products. The agency held a <a href="https://www.epa.gov/dwsixyearreview/potential-revisions-microbial-and-disinfection-byproducts-rules" target="_blank">two-day public meeting</a> in October 2020 and plans to hold additional public meetings throughout 2021.</p><p>When EPA set regulations on disinfection by-products between the 1970s and early 2000s, the agency, as well as the scientific community, was primarily focused on by-products of reactions between organics and chlorine — historically the most common drinking water disinfectant. But the science has become increasingly clear that these chlorinated chemicals represent a fraction of the by-product problem.</p><p>For example, bromide or iodide can get caught up in the reaction, too. This is common where seawater penetrates a drinking water source. By itself, bromide is innocuous, says Korshin. "But it is extremely [reactive] with organics," he says. "As bromide levels increase with normal treatment, then concentrations of brominated disinfection by-products will increase quite rapidly."</p><p><a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15487777/" target="_blank">Emerging</a> <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.7b05440" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">data</a> indicate that brominated and iodinated by-products are potentially more harmful than the regulated by-products.</p><p>Almost half of the U.S. population lives within 50 miles of either the Atlantic or Pacific coasts, where saltwater intrusion can be a problem for drinking water supplies. "In the U.S., the rule of thumb is the closer to the sea, the more bromide you have," says Korshin, noting there are also places where bromide naturally leaches out from the soil. Still, some coastal areas tend to be spared. For example, the city of Seattle's water comes from the mountains, never making contact with seawater and tending to pick up minimal organic matter.</p><p>Hazardous disinfection by-products can also be an issue with desalination for drinking water. "As <a href="https://ensia.com/features/can-saltwater-quench-our-growing-thirst/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">desalination</a> practices become more economical, then the issue of controlling bromide becomes quite important," adds Korshin.</p>
Other Hot Spots<p>Coastal areas represent just one type of hot spot for disinfection by-products. Agricultural regions tend to send organic matter — such as fertilizer and animal waste — into waterways. Areas with warmer climates generally have higher levels of natural organic matter. And nearly any urban area can be prone to stormwater runoff or combined sewer overflows, which can contain rainwater as well as untreated human waste, industrial wastewater, hazardous materials and organic debris. These events are especially common along the East Coast, notes Sydney Evans, a science analyst with the nonprofit Environmental Working Group (EWG, a collaborator on <a href="https://ensia.com/ensia-collections/troubled-waters/" target="_blank">this reporting project</a>).</p><p>The only drinking water sources that might be altogether free of disinfection by-products, suggests Richardson, are private wells that are not treated with disinfectants. She used to drink water from her own well. "It was always cold, coming from great depth through clay and granite," she says. "It was fabulous."</p><p>Today, Richardson gets her water from a city system that uses chloramine.</p>
Toxic Treadmill<p>Most community water systems in the U.S. use chlorine for disinfection in their treatment plant. Because disinfectants are needed to prevent bacteria growth as the water travels to the homes at the ends of the distribution lines, sometimes a second round of disinfection is also added in the pipes.</p><p>Here, systems usually opt for either chlorine or chloramine. "Chloramination is more long-lasting and does not form as many disinfection by-products through the system," says Steve Via, director of federal relations at the American Water Works Association. "Some studies show that chloramination may be more protective against organisms that inhabit biofilms such as Legionella."</p>
Alternative Approaches<p>When he moved to the U.S. from Germany, Prasse says he immediately noticed the bad taste of the water. "You can taste the chlorine here. That's not the case in Germany," he says.</p><p>In his home country, water systems use chlorine — if at all — at lower concentrations and at the very end of treatment. In the Netherlands, <a href="https://dwes.copernicus.org/articles/2/1/2009/dwes-2-1-2009.pdf" target="_blank">chlorine isn't used at all</a> as the risks are considered to outweigh the benefits, says Prasse. He notes the challenge in making a convincing connection between exposure to low concentrations of disinfection by-products and health effects, such as cancer, that can occur decades later. In contrast, exposure to a pathogen can make someone sick very quickly.</p><p>But many countries in Europe have not waited for proof and have taken a precautionary approach to reduce potential risk. The emphasis there is on alternative approaches for primary disinfection such as ozone or <a href="https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/article/eco-friendly-way-disinfect-water-using-light/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">ultraviolet light</a>. Reverse osmosis is among the "high-end" options, used to remove organic and inorganics from the water. While expensive, says Prasse, the method of forcing water through a semipermeable membrane is growing in popularity for systems that want to reuse wastewater for drinking water purposes.</p><p>Remucal notes that some treatment technologies may be good at removing a particular type of contaminant while being ineffective at removing another. "We need to think about the whole soup when we think about treatment," she says. What's more, Remucal explains, the mixture of contaminants may impact the body differently than any one chemical on its own. </p><p>Richardson's preferred treatment method is filtering the water with granulated activated carbon, followed by a low dose of chlorine.</p><p>Granulated activated carbon is essentially the same stuff that's in a household filter. (EWG recommends that consumers use a <a href="https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/reviewed-disinfection-byproducts.php#:~:text=EWG%20recommends%20using%20a%20home,as%20trihalomethanes%20and%20haloacetic%20acids." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">countertop carbon filter</a> to reduce levels of disinfection by-products.) While such a filter "would remove disinfection by-products after they're formed, in the plant they remove precursors before they form by-products," explains Richardson. She coauthored a <a href="https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/acs.est.9b00023" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">2019 paper</a> that concluded the treatment method is effective in reducing a wide range of regulated and unregulated disinfection by-products.</p><br>
Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992, and is still one of relatively few full-scale plants that uses the technology. Courtesy of Greater Cincinnati Water Works.<p>Despite the technology and its benefits being known for decades, relatively few full-scale plants use granulated active carbon. They often cite its high cost, Richardson says. "They say that, but the city of Cincinnati [Ohio] has not gone bankrupt using it," she says. "So, I'm not buying that argument anymore."</p><p>Greater Cincinnati Water Works installed a granulated activated carbon system in 1992. On a video call in December, Jeff Swertfeger, the superintendent of Greater Cincinnati Water Works, poured grains of what looks like black sand out of a glass tube and into his hand. It was actually crushed coal that has been baked in a furnace. Under a microscope, each grain looks like a sponge, said Swertfeger. When water passes over the carbon grains, he explained, open tunnels and pores provide extensive surface area to absorb contaminants.</p><p>While the granulated activated carbon initially was installed to address chemical spills and other industrial contamination concerns in the Ohio River, Cincinnati's main drinking water source, Swertfeger notes that the substance has turned out to "remove a lot of other stuff, too," including <a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-contamination-pfas-health/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">PFAS</a> and disinfection by-product precursors.</p><p>"We use about one-third the amount of chlorine as we did before. It smells and tastes a lot better," he says. "The use of granulated activated carbon has resulted in lower disinfection by-products across the board."</p><p>Richardson is optimistic about being able to reduce risks from disinfection by-products in the future. "If we're smart, we can still kill those pathogens and lower our chemical disinfection by-product exposure at the same time," she says.</p><p><em>Reposted with permission from </em><em><a href="https://ensia.com/features/drinking-water-disinfection-byproducts-pathogens/" target="_blank">Ensia</a>. </em><a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/r/entryeditor/2649953730#/" target="_self"></a></p>
- Most Meat Will Be Plant-Based or Lab-Grown in 20 Years, Analysts ... ›
- Lab-Grown Meat Debate Overlooks Cows' Range of Use Worldwide ... ›
- Will Plant-Based Meat Become the New Fast Food? - EcoWatch ›
One city in New Zealand knows what its priorities are.
Dunedin, the second largest city on New Zealand's South Island, has closed a popular road to protect a mother sea lion and her pup, The Guardian reported.