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If we’re to believe the biomass energy industry, the U.S. Forest Service and a chorus of politicians from both sides of the aisle, we can solve the energy crisis, cure climate change and eradicate wildfire by logging and chipping our national forests and burning them up in biomass power facilities.
The plotline of their story goes something like this: Years of taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression in federal forests (at the behest of the timber industry) has resulted in “overgrown” forests crawling with icky bugs, ticking time bombs ready to burst into flames. And the fix, it just so happens, involves even more taxpayer-funded logging and fire suppression, with the trees forked over to the biomass industry to burn in their incinerators and then the “green” electricity sold to utilities and eventually the public—at a premium.
This “burn the forest before it burns you” propaganda is most prevalent throughout the West, but it’s present anywhere there’s public land, with a total of 45.6 million acres across 94 national forests in 35 states qualifying as “Insect and Disease Area Designations” under the 2014 Farm Bill—money on the stump for the biomass industry.
Saving the Forest from Itself
The Forest Service’s logging-for-biomass agenda has “nothing to do with public welfare or the economy,” according to Carl Ross, executive director of Save America’s Forests, an organization that works to protect U.S. forests. Instead, it is simply a way to justify the existence of an agency whose “multi-billion dollar budget is dependent on cutting trees.” With the lumber industry in contraction due to a dismal housing market and tanked economy, the Forest Service focuses on “sick” forests that can only be “cured” through chainsaw surgery to fuel biomass incinerators.
The concept of logging a forest to “save” it is nothing new. It dates back to President George W. Bush’s Healthy Forest Restoration Act in 2003. However, a recent uptick in national forest logging has accompanied a rash of new biomass incinerator proposals, with politicians and even some environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy, cheering the industry on.
Currently, the majority—though not all—of the trees fueling the hundreds of biomass power plants across the country come from private land. However, as you read this, Colorado’s White River National Forest is being clearcut to feed the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass incinerator in Gypsum and plans are being hatched to hand national forests over to the biomass industry in Washington, California, Arizona, New Mexico, Montana, Minnesota and Virginia.
Fanning the Flames of Fire Hysteria
As any Madison Avenue advertiser knows, the best way to sell a product is to make people afraid not to buy it: If you don’t wear these sneakers you won’t make the team. If you don’t use this shampoo you’ll never get the girl. If your tax dollars don’t fund the logging of public forests, your house will burn down. Inflaming anxieties around wildfire is one of the preferred tools of biomass supporters.
What the industry leaves out, however, is that “fuels reduction” or “wildfire prevention” logging, like any form of logging, degrades forests by compacting soil with heavy equipment and miles upon miles of logging roads, silts watersheds with eroding soils, and kills fish and wildlife. Industry and agency claims that “fuels reduction” plays the same function as wildfire ignore fire’s ecological role of refreshing forest stands, creating wildlife habitat, and returning carbon and nutrients back into the soil. What’s more, logging for biomass can be even more intensive than logging for lumber since it typically removes the high nutrient tops and branches which would otherwise be left in the forest to slowly decompose.
Luckily, science is catching up to common sense by demonstrating that wildfires, including large, “catastrophic” ones, were historically quite common; that large fires are more a product of drought, high temperatures and winds than “fuel” levels; and that the “effectiveness” of logging for wildfire is “not supported by a significant consensus of scientific research,” with the practice unlikely to slow fires, but instead running the risk of spreading them quicker by drying the forest and opening it to wind.
Humoring industry for a moment, even if logging could stop large wildfires and it was desirable to do so, the chance that a particular logged acreage will experience fire in the coming decades is pretty improbable. Cutting a given stand in a national forest on the off-chance that it might burn is like cutting off your thumb so you don’t hit it with a hammer.
Biomass supporters also claim that the mountain pine beetle increases the risk of wildfire, giving us yet another reason to log forests. It’s true that beetles might give some of us the willies, but insects have a crucial job in the forest, killing some trees to open up space for fresh growth. And while it’s true that two to three years after a visit from the mountain pine beetle a tree’s dying needles can make it more flammable, following that brief window, a tree is actually less apt to burn than when it was green and less prone to experience a crown fire.
Naturally, this hasn’t stopped industry from advocating for unscientific “preventative” treatment that involves logging before the beetle even shows up, or afterwards if it does, despite the lack of proof that doing so accomplishes anything. “Most research indicates that there is little or no such relationship between beetle-caused tree mortality and subsequent fire occurrence and severity in lodgepole pine forests,” concludes professor Bill Romme, who teaches forest and fire ecology at Colorado State University, in an article written for NASA’s Earth Observatory. Instead, fire is “controlled primarily by weather conditions” and the amount of fuels, including from beetle kill, is only a “minor influence on fire behavior.”
More research, such as “Effects of Bark Beetle-Caused Tree Mortality on Wildfire,” a report out of Utah State University, demonstrates that “generalizations about the effects of beetle-caused tree mortality on fire characteristics are unwarranted,” while concerns about soil scorching—a favorite boogeyman of the Forest Service—are also overinflated.
Biomass Doesn’t Live Up to Hype
Despite being touted as a “green” energy source by some, biomass energy typically falls short of its many promises.
Enthusiasts argue that biomass provides a valuable, low-carbon source of renewable energy. Trees and food crops grow back, they say, providing a never-ending stockpile of biomass material. Biomass has gotten a lot of attention because it can usually be accessed whenever needed, a benefit not shared with weather-dependent resources like solar and wind. What is more, advocates claim whatever comes out of the smokestack is harmless.
Unfortunately, particularly when it comes to using trees for fuel, most of these arguments just don’t pan out. Burning carbon-storing forests in an incinerator typically emits higher levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases per unit of energy than a dirty coal-fired plant. Not to mention that when you cut down a tree, you take away its future carbon storing potential. Biomass incinerators also produce harmful air pollution (including asthma-inducing particulate matter and carcinogenic Volatile Organic Compounds). And though biomass energy may be available around-the-clock, it simply isn’t a cost-effective source of energy—it is expensive to produce!
Those who want to see what “forest health treatments” feeding biomass incinerators actually look like need go no further than the Ophir Mountain Forest Health and Fuels Reduction Project in Colorado’s White River National Forest. There, 1,600 acres are being clear-cut just outside of Frisco in response to the local mountain pine beetle “epidemic,” which peaked between 2007 and 2009 and has since subsided. All of the trees are fueling the Eagle Valley Clean Energy biomass facility.
West Range Reclamation won a bid to pay $8.6 million to log the White River for 10 years, with much of the wood being sold to the Eagle Valley biomass incinerator. Eagle Valley itself has received $40 million in loan guarantees from the Rural Utilities Service, a portion of an annual $12.5 million matching payment for feedstock transportation from the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (part of the Farm Bill), and a $250,000 biomass utilization grant.
So where will Eagle Valley source its wood after the beetle-killed trees run out? Conveniently, the White River National Forest is proposing new “forest health” projects all the time, such as the recently announced Keystone Vegetation Management clearcutting project, with long-term plans to log 220,000 acres of the White River in total. And after those forests are gone, the Bioenergy Alliance Network of the Rockies wants to harness millions of more acres of national forests across all of Colorado and the rest of the Rocky Mountains.
Backcountry logging won’t get us anywhere. It doesn’t protect people from wildfires, though it does divert funding and attention from strategies that actually can, like making homes “firewise” (as demonstrated by the Forest Service’s own research), and it doesn’t provide a clean, economical, or sustainable source of energy. Ultimately, allowing the biomass industry to decimate our national forests just isn’t worth the impacts to clean water, fish and wildlife, flooding and erosion control, and recreation.
Josh Schlossberg of Boulder, Colorado is editor of The Biomass Monitor, the nation’s leading publication tracking the health and environmental impacts of biomass energy.
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By Tom Duszynski
The coronavirus is certainly scary, but despite the constant reporting on total cases and a climbing death toll, the reality is that the vast majority of people who come down with COVID-19 survive it. Just as the number of cases grows, so does another number: those who have recovered.
In mid-March, the number of patients in the U.S. who had officially recovered from the virus was close to zero. That number is now in the tens of thousands and is climbing every day. But recovering from COVID-19 is more complicated than simply feeling better. Recovery involves biology, epidemiology and a little bit of bureaucracy too.
How does your body fight off COVID-19?<p>Once a person is exposed the coronavirus, the body starts producing <a href="https://www.mblintl.com/products/what-are-antibodies-mbli/" target="_blank">proteins called antibodies to fight the infection</a>. As these <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/27/serological-tests-reveal-immune-coronavirus/" target="_blank">antibodies start to successfully contain the virus</a> and keep it from replicating in the body, symptoms usually begin to lessen and you start to feel better. Eventually, if all goes well, your immune system will completely destroy all of the virus in your system. A person who was infected with and survived a virus with no long-term health effects or disabilities has "recovered."</p><p>On average, a person who is infected with SARS-CoV-2 will feel ill for about seven days from the onset of symptoms. Even after symptoms disappear, there still may be small amounts of the virus in a patient's system, and they should stay <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/steps-when-sick.html" target="_blank">isolated for an additional three days</a> to ensure they have truly <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">recovered and are no longer infectious</a>.</p>
What about immunity?<p>In general, once you have recovered from a viral infection, your body will keep cells called lymphocytes in your system. These cells "remember" viruses they've previously seen and can react quickly to fight them off again. If you are exposed to a virus you have already had, your antibodies will likely stop the virus before it starts causing symptoms. <a href="https://dx.doi.org/10.5114%2Fceji.2018.77390" target="_blank">You become immune</a>. This is the <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK27158/" target="_blank">principle behind many vaccines</a>.</p><p>Unfortunately, immunity isn't perfect. For many viruses, like mumps, immunity can wane over time, leaving you <a href="https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2016/04/160421145747.htm" target="_blank">susceptible to the virus in the future</a>. This is why you need to get revaccinated – those "booster shots" – occasionally: to prompt your immune system to make more antibodies and memory cells.</p><p>Since this coronavirus is so new, scientists still don't know whether people who recover from COVID-19 are <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/faq.html" target="_blank">immune to future infections of the virus</a>. Doctors are finding antibodies in ill and recovered patients, and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/clinical-guidance-management-patients.html" target="_blank">that indicates the development of immunity</a>. But the question remains how long that immunity will last. Other coronaviruses like <a href="https://doi.org/10.1002/jmv.25685" target="_blank">SARS and MERS produce an immune response</a> that will protect a person at least for a short time. I would suspect the same is true of SARS-CoV-2, but the research simply hasn't been done yet to say so definitively.</p>
Why have so few people officially recovered in the US?<p>This is a dangerous virus, so the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being extremely careful when deciding what it means to recover from COVID-19. Both medical and testing criteria must be met before a person is <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/hcp/disposition-in-home-patients.html" target="_blank">officially declared recovered</a>.</p><p>Medically, a person must be fever-free without fever-reducing medications for three consecutive days. They must show an improvement in their other symptoms, including reduced coughing and shortness of breath. And it must be at least seven full days <a href="https://health.usnews.com/conditions/articles/coronavirus-recovery-what-to-know" target="_blank">since the symptoms began</a>.</p><p>In addition to those requirements, the CDC guidelines say that a person must test negative for the coronavirus twice, with the <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/care-for-someone.html" target="_blank">tests taken at least 24 hours apart</a>.</p><p>Only then, if both the symptom and testing conditions are met, is a person officially considered recovered by the CDC.</p><p>This second testing requirement is likely why there were so few official recovered cases in the U.S. until late March. Initially, there was a <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/18/health/coronavirus-test-shortages-face-masks-swabs.html" target="_blank">massive shortage of testing in the U.S.</a> So while many people were certainly recovering over the last few weeks, this could not be officially confirmed. As the country enters the height of the pandemic in the coming weeks, focus is still on <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/hcp/clinical-criteria.html" target="_blank">testing those who are infected</a>, not those who have likely recovered.</p><p>Many more people are being tested now that states and private companies have begun <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/cases-updates/testing-in-us.html" target="_blank">producing and distributing tests</a>. As <a href="https://www.dispatch.com/news/20200406/coronavirus-in-ohio-from-its-rocky-start-testing-for-covid-19-slowly-ramping-up" target="_blank">the number of available tests increases</a> and the pandemic eventually slows in the country, more testing will be available for those who have appeared to recover. As people who have already recovered are tested, the appearance of any new infections will help researchers learn <a href="https://www.statnews.com/2020/03/24/we-need-smart-coronavirus-testing-not-just-more-testing/" target="_blank">how long immunity can be expected to last</a>.</p>
Once a person has recovered, what can they do?<p>Knowing whether or not people are immune to COVID-19 after they recover is going to determine what individuals, communities and society at large can do going forward. If scientists can show that recovered patients are immune to the coronavirus, then a person who has recovered could in theory <a href="https://www.vox.com/2020/3/30/21186822/immunity-to-covid-19-test-coronavirus-rt-pcr-antibody" target="_blank">help support the health care system</a> by caring for those who are infected.</p><p>Once communities pass the peak of the epidemic, the number of new infections will decline, while the number of <a href="https://www.newsweek.com/china-says-passed-peak-coronavirus-epidemic-covid-19-1491863" target="_blank">recovered people will increase</a>. As these trends continue, the risk of transmission will fall. Once the risk of transmission has fallen enough, community-level isolation and social distancing orders will begin to relax and businesses will start to reopen. Based on what other countries have gone through, it will be <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/d41586-020-00154-w" target="_blank">months until the risk of transmission is low</a> in the U.S.</p><p>But before any of this can happen, the U.S. and the world need to make it through the peak of this pandemic. Social distancing works to slow the spread of infectious diseases and <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/what-you-can-do.html" target="_blank">is working for COVID-19</a>. Many people will <a href="https://www.yalemedicine.org/stories/2019-novel-coronavirus/" target="_blank">need medical help to recover</a>, and social distancing will slow this virus down and give people the best chance to do so.</p>
By Elizabeth Claire Alberts
The future for the world's oceans often looks grim. Fisheries are set to collapse by 2048, according to one study, and 8 million tons of plastic pollute the ocean every year, causing considerable damage to delicate marine ecosystems. Yet a new study in Nature offers an alternative, and more optimistic view on the ocean's future: it asserts that the entire marine environment could be substantially rebuilt by 2050, if humanity is able to step up to the challenge.
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Bread has been a source of basic nutrition for centuries, the holy trinity being wheat, maize and rice. It has also been the reason for a lot of innovation in science and technology, from millstones to microbiological investigations into a family of single-cell fungi called Saccharomyces.
Chemical leavening<p>If you like a little heft in your loaf, you will need a leavening agent.</p><p>For those short on time, you can use baking soda. That's a chemical compound of sodium bicarbonate mixed with potassium bitartrate, or cream of tartar.</p><p>Soda breads have their traditions in parts of eastern and central Europe, and in Ireland and Scotland, with Melrose loaves and "farls."</p><p>They can taste a bit bland, though, and are often considered only as an emergency solution on Sundays. No disrespect intended: They taste just fine fresh from the oven.</p><p>Whether it's chemical or more "natural," leavening relies largely on the production of carbon dioxide.</p><p>When you mix an acid, such as vinegar, buttermilk, yogurt or apple cider, with an alkaline compound like baking soda, you get CO2. That CO2 creates bubbles, which in turn capture steam in the oven and allow a bread to rise.</p><p><span></span>But it's better with yeast. Tastes better, too. It just takes more time. </p>
What is yeast?<p>There are yeasts all around us — on grains, in the air, in biofuels. It even lives inside us, but that's not always a good thing.</p><p><a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1090575/pdf/1471-2334-5-22.pdf" target="_blank">Candida yeast</a> can cause infections of the skin, feet, mouth, penis or vagina if it builds up too much in the body.</p><p>One of the most common yeasts, however, is <em>Saccharomyces cerevisiae</em>. That's <a href="https://www.dw.com/en/an-early-beer-archaeologists-tap-ground-at-worlds-oldest-brewery/a-45480731" target="_blank">"brewer's"</a> or "baker's" yeast.</p><p>You can get fresh baker's yeast, often in 42-gram (1.48-ounce) cubes, or as dried yeast (quick action or active, which requires rehydration) in a sachet of 7 grams.</p><p>There's little difference: One is compressed and the other is dehydrated and granulated. But they do the same thing, essentially. </p><p>Some commercial yeast producers add molasses and other nutrients. But natural yeast has plenty of useful nutrients in it anyway, including B group vitamins, so who knows whether it's good or necessary to add them. </p>
How does yeast work?<p>When you mix flour, yeast and water, you set off a veritable chain reaction. Enzymes in the wheat convert starch into sugar. And the yeast creates enzymes of its own to convert those sugars into a form it can absorb.</p><p>The yeast "feeds" on the sugars to create carbon dioxide and alcohol. The yeast burps and farts, releasing gases into the mix, and that creates bubbles to trap CO2. </p><p>It's a vital fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in the flour and helps make your bread more digestible.</p><p>The yeast cells split and reproduce, generating lactic and carbonic acid, raising the temperature and ultimately adding flavor to the mix.</p><p>The longer you leave the yeast to do its thing, the better for your bread. Time is more important than the amount of yeast. </p><p>In fact, that's an enduring question — how much yeast? I'll use 20 grams fresh yeast for 500 grams of flour. Others say that's enough yeast for 1 kilo. If you are converting a dry-yeast recipe to fresh yeast, some bakers advise tripling the weight. So, if a sachet of dried yeast is 7 grams, your fresh yeast is 21 grams.</p><p><span></span>But that also depends on the flours you are using, temperatures in the bowl and the room, and a host of other things. You'll just have to experiment and see. No number of books (and I've read a stack on bread) will help as much as trial and error.</p>
Wild yeast: Sourdough<p>So, good bread needs time. If you have a lot of time, why not move it up a notch and grow wild yeast — a sourdough starter — in your own home?</p><p>A sourdough starter is not to be mistaken (as it often is) for the leaven, or "mother," "sponge," or <em>levain</em>. That's more a second stage, a descendant of the starter. You take a scoop from your starter and add it to another flour and water mixture when you prepare the dough for a new loaf. </p><p>The sourdough process utilizes yeasts naturally present in flour and … yet more time. A longer fermentation process allows a richer lactic acid bacteria <em>lactobacilli</em> or LAB to evolve, and that can be healthy for your gut microbiome.</p><p>It's simple enough to start a sourdough starter. All you need is flour, warm water and time.</p><p>Some suggest equal measures of whole-grain flour and water at 28 degrees Celsius (82 degrees Fahrenheit), some say room temperature — just don't let the water exceed 40 C or the yeasts will die. Some suggest two parts flour to three parts water. But it's up to you whether you want a drier or wetter starter. You will know only through experimentation. </p><p>Some say you should filter tap water to remove chemicals like fluoride and avoid using water that's boiled and then cooled. Others say that really doesn't matter.</p><p>The main thing is, keep it clean and give it time. Days, weeks, months and years.</p>
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