The War on Nature: Geoengineering and the Climate Crisis
By Rachel Smolker and Almuth Ernsting
Will declaring a "climate emergency" help to finally prompt radical action to address climate change? A growing number of campaigners as well as scientists think so and hope that a major wake up call about unfolding climate disasters will spur governments and people into action.
Whether a lack of scary-enough facts about climate change has been holding back real action is questionable. After all, it requires a fair amount of psychological denial to not be alarmed by the escalating heat waves, droughts, floods and destructive megastorms.
Studies about psychological responses to climate change suggest that messages built on fear can cause people to feel disempowered and less likely to take action at all. Still, constantly playing down the scale of the unfolding destruction of climate and other planetary life support systems so as not to be "alarmist" seems somewhat disempowering to me. Personally, we much prefer to hear climate scientist James Hansen speak of a "planetary emergency" (in view of last year’s record low Arctic sea ice cover) than to read excessively cautious comments about uncertainties and the need for more research before concluding what seems obvious, for example that Arctic sea ice is in rapid meltdown and that extreme weather events are already far worse and more frequent than scientists had predicted.
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
Yet, while the language of "climate emergency" may or may not spur more people to action, the crucial question is exactly what type of action is being advocated. James Hansen’s conclusion: “If we burn all the fossil fuels, we create certain disaster" should be beyond dispute. Action on climate change will be futile unless fossil fuels are left underground.
Unlike James Hansen, some academics and campaigners are calling for a very different type of "radical action" in response to the climate emergency. Amongst them is the small but vociferous Arctic Methane Emergency Group (AMEG). AMEG does not mince words about the seriousness of the crisis:
Abrupt climate change is upon us. Farmers are in despair. Food prices will go through the roof. The government’s climate change policy is in tatters. The government should have acted years ago. Now it may be too late.
The abrupt climate change scenario put forward by AMEG is, briefly, as follows:
The rate of warming is greatest in the Arctic and the rate at which Arctic sea ice has been melting is accelerating. The loss of sea ice triggers different impacts which in turn make Arctic meltdown, global warming and extreme weather across the Northern Hemisphere even worse. One of those effects is the release of methane trapped in permafrost, Arctic peat and under the Arctic Ocean. This could release so much methane at once that it would greatly increase the rate of global warming and lead to “unstoppable runaway warming.”
The first part of this analysis should be beyond dispute. However, the prediction of an imminent abrupt and catastrophic methane release from the Arctic is much less widely accepted amongst climate scientists, many of whom predict a slower release, over thousands of years—one which will worsen climate change in the long run but (importantly) not surpass the impacts of our own carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions.
One of the scientists challenging AMEG’s predictions is methane expert, Dr. David Archer who stresses:
The worst case scenario is “what CO2 will do, under business-as-usual, not in a wild blow-the-doors-off unpleasant surprise, but just in the absence of any pleasant surprises (like emission controls).”
Is he right? We have no idea how much of the methane in the Arctic will end up the atmosphere by when. Some recent climate change impacts and findings have turned out to be much worse than what scientists had previously predicted. For example, a recent New Scientist article observed:
We knew global warming was going to make the weather more extreme. But it's becoming even more extreme than anyone predicted.
But the argument regarding AMEG’s claims is not just a speculative argument about what might happen in future. It is also—and primarily—an argument about how we think about climate change and what we want to do about it. In this respect, we unequivocally agree with Archer’s view: Business-as-usual will guarantee the worst possible climate disaster. Arguing about just how bad that worst-case scenario might be seems futile when we should be doing whatever we can to stop greenhouse gas emissions, including fossil fuel burning and ecosystem destruction. This, however, is very different from how AMEG views the climate disaster.
What AMEG most fears is not what humans are doing—it’s the (methane) monsters lurking in nature. Preserving most life on Earth, in their view, thus requires nature to be better controlled and its monsters to be tamed. As AMEG’s Strategic Plan puts it, the "common enemy" that’s to be fought, the underlying cause of abrupt climate change isn’t us, it isn’t the fossil fuel economy—it’s the "vicious cycle of Arctic Warming and sea ice retreat.”
Photo courtesy of Shutterstock
They demand “something akin to a war room” and the war they want governments to fight is a war against nature—and specifically a war against the way in which nature responds when humans drastically alter the planet’s atmosphere by increasing its greenhouse gases. The tools for fighting this war that they suggest we use are a range of geoengineering strategies: Large amounts of sulphur aerosols which they want pumped into the lower stratosphere starting as soon as March/April 2014, the development of new reflective particles to be pumped into the stratosphere in future, marine cloud brightening, chemicals to destroy cirrus clouds, marine geoengineering, weather modification and more.
Changing our own society and economy is ancillary to this quest. Here are the changes which AMEG’s demands in relation to our energy and transport sectors: Postpone drilling in the Arctic, reintroduce a ban on polar flights, relax requirements to clean up "bunker fuels" burnt in ships (because sulphur aerosols have a short-term cooling effect), scrub black carbon but not sulphur dioxide from coal power stations—and that’s it. Burning more coal and diesel is fine, in their view, as long as we emit lots of sulphur dioxide with it. Never mind the illnesses and acid rain caused by sulphur dioxide. Indeed, AMEG members are even, bizarrely, promoting Arctic methane hydrate mining for energy. One of the most widely cited AMEG members, British oceanographer Peter Wadhams, has been criticized by Greenpeace after praising Shell’s credentials for "safely" drilling in the Arctic in front of a Parliamentary Committee.
Not all AMEG members appear this unconcerned about ongoing fossil fuel emissions and some clearly do want to see real emissions reductions—in addition to geoengineering. AMEG is a very mixed group: Some supporters clearly have no financial interests in geoengineering and have joined AMEG purely out of the conviction that AMEG has the most credible answer to climate change. Some are academics who have gained a much greater public profile thanks to AMEG’s campaign—such as Peter Wadhams. And some have major financial interests in geoengineering—including Ken Caldeira. Caldeira, together with David Keith (not listed on AMEG’s website) has received more than $4.6 million from Bill Gates’ personal funds, around half of it for personal research on geoengineering, the other half to fund "research" by other geoengineering advocates. He is also listed as an inventor on a patent for a geoengineering device called StratoShield, held by Intellectual Ventures, a company linked to Gates.
All of them, however, are united in their faith that geoengineering can work and that humans can avert an even greater climate disaster by manipulating the planet’s atmosphere and biosphere. They do not appear concerned about what unilateral action taken by a government to deliberately manipulate planetary systems might mean for democracy and the rights of most of the world’s population. This is perhaps because they are convinced that geoengineering is the only way of keeping the planet habitable (at least for most humans). But this conviction is not derived from scientific knowledge—it is based on unwavering faith in human ability to master and control nature through engineering and technology.
The possibility that their proposals could possibly backfire and end up making climate change even worse, even faster has, it seems, not occurred to AMEG. Yet what the science confirms is that the full impacts of geoengineering on planetary and climate systems are by their nature unpredictable and that they might well render the climate yet more unstable. In a recent joint briefing by Biofuelwatch and EcoNexus, we summarized some of the highest risks of the types of geoengineering promoted by AMEG: Destruction of the ozone layer, acid rain, possible virtually instant and massive disruption of rainfall patterns, especially in the tropics and subtropics (which could mean a failure of the African and Asian monsoon), vegetation die-back which would release yet more carbon—and those are just some of the known risks.
If we want to have any hope of avoiding the worst impacts of climate change, we clearly need radical action—but that radical action must be aimed at stopping the burning fossil fuels and reversing the destruction of ecosystems (including soils). The very last thing we and the planet need is yet another “war room” and a new battle-front in the war against nature.
Visit EcoWatch’s CLIMATE CHANGE page for more related news on this topic.
By Bill Sullivan
Black licorice may look and taste like an innocent treat, but this candy has a dark side. On Sept. 23, 2020, it was reported that black licorice was the culprit in the death of a 54-year-old man in Massachusetts. How could this be? Overdosing on licorice sounds more like a twisted tale than a plausible fact.
The Root of the Problem<p>The unfortunate man who recently succumbed to excessive black licorice consumption is not alone. There are a smattering of similar case reports in medical journals, in which patients experience <a href="https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26380428/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">hypertension crisis</a>, <a href="https://doi.org/10.5414/cn107011" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">muscle breakdown</a> or even death. Adverse reactions are most frequently seen in people over the age of 40 who are eating far more black licorice than the average person. In addition, they are usually consuming the product for prolonged periods of time. <a href="https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcpc2002420" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">In the most recent case</a>, the Massachusetts man had been eating a bag and a half of black licorice every day for three weeks.</p><p>Licorice is a flowering plant native to parts of Europe and Asia. Its scientific name, <em>Glycyrrhiza</em>, is derived from the Greek words "glykos" (sweet) and "rhiza" (root). The aromatic and sweet extract from its root has long been used as an herbal remedy for a wide variety of health maladies, from heartburn and stomach issues to sore throats and cough. However, there is <a href="https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/black-licorice-trick-or-treat" target="_blank">insufficient evidence to support that licorice is effective in treating any medical condition</a>.</p><p>Glycyrrhizin (also called glycyrrhizic acid) is the chemical in black licorice that gives the candy its signature flavor, but it also leads to its toxic effects.</p><p>Glycyrrhizin mimics the hormone <a href="https://www.yourhormones.info/hormones/aldosterone/" target="_blank">aldosterone</a>, which is made by the adrenal glands when the body needs to retain sodium and excrete potassium. Sodium and potassium work together as a kind of cellular battery that drives communication between nerves and the contraction of muscles. Too much glycyrrhizin upsets the balance of these electrolytes, which can raise blood pressure and disturb the heart's rhythm. Other symptoms of excessive licorice intake include swelling, muscle pain, numbness and headache. Examination of the man who died from consuming too much licorice revealed that he had <a href="https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcpc2002420" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">dangerously low levels of potassium, consistent with glycyrrhizin toxicity.</a></p><p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMcpc2002420" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"></a>It should be noted that a number of licorice-based foods do not contain real licorice, but use a flavoring substitute called anise oil, which does not pose the dangers discussed here. In addition, despite its name, <a href="https://www.livestrong.com/article/537724-black-licorice-vs-red-licorice/" target="_blank">red licorice rarely contains licorice extract</a>. Instead, red licorice is infused with chemicals that impart its cherry or strawberry flavor.</p><p>Products that contain real licorice are usually labeled as such, and list licorice extract or glycyrrhizic acid among the ingredients. Be advised that some products, such as black jelly beans or Good & Plenty, are mixtures of different candies that contain both anise oil and licorice extract.</p>
Hidden Dangers That Increase Risk<p>Glycyrrhizin has the distinct licorice flavor and is <a href="https://www.urmc.rochester.edu/encyclopedia/content.aspx?contenttypeid=19&contentid=Licorice" target="_blank">50 times sweeter than sugar</a> and has been used in other types of candy, soft drinks, tea, Belgian beers, throat lozenges and tobacco. This can make it challenging to keep track of how much glycyrrhizin has been consumed, and a combination of these products could trigger adverse effects.</p><p>Some people take dietary or health supplements that already contain licorice, which increases the risk of toxic effects from eating black licorice candy. Certain medications such as <a href="https://doi.org/10.5414/cn107011" target="_blank">hydrochlorothiazide</a> are diuretics that cause increased urination, which can lower potassium levels in the body. Glycyrrhizin also lowers potassium levels, further disrupting the balance of electrolytes, which can produce muscle cramps and irregular heart rhythms.</p><p>People with certain preexisting conditions are more susceptible to black licorice overdose.</p><p>For example, patients who already have low potassium levels (hypokalemia), high blood pressure or heart arrhythmia are likely to have greater sensitivity to the effects of excessive licorice. Those with liver or kidney deficiencies will also retain glycyrrhizin in their bloodstream for longer times, increasing their risk of experiencing its adverse effects.</p>
What to Do?<p>If you're a fan of black licorice, there is no need to ban it from your pantry. Eaten in small quantities from time to time, licorice poses no significant threat to otherwise healthy adults and children. But it is advisable to monitor your intake.</p><p>With Halloween approaching, be sure to remind your kids that candy is a "<a href="https://www.heart.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@global/documents/downloadable/ucm_305557.pdf" target="_blank">sometimes food</a>," especially the black licorice. The <a href="https://www.fda.gov/consumers/consumer-updates/black-licorice-trick-or-treat" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">FDA has issued warnings</a> about the rare but serious effects of too much black licorice, advising that people avoid eating more than two ounces of black licorice a day for two weeks or longer. The agency states that if you have been eating a lot of black licorice and experience an irregular heart rhythm or muscle weakness, stop eating it immediately and contact your health care provider.</p><p>Some scientists have further cautioned against the routine use of licorice in the form of a dietary supplement or tea for its alleged health benefits. A <a href="https://doi.org/10.1177/2042018812454322" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">review article from 2012</a> warned that "the daily consumption of licorice is never justified because its benefits are minor compared to the adverse outcomes of chronic consumption."</p>
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Material Revolutions: Shirts Made from Shellfish, Biodegradable Rum Bottles and Reusable Fast Food Containers
In the age of consumption, sustainability innovations can help shift cultural habits and protect dwindling natural resources. Improvements in source materials, product durability and end-of-life disposal procedures can create consumer products that are better for the Earth throughout their lifecycles. Three recent advancements hope to make a difference.
1. Allbirds Shirts Made From Shellfish<p>Sustainable sneaker start-up <a href="https://www.allbirds.com/pages/apparel" target="_blank">Allbirds</a> is known for its thoughtfulness for consumers and the environment. The four-year-old shoe company has become hugely popular by creating comfortable shoes made from responsibly sourced materials like tencel and wool, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90565358/allbirds-new-clothing-line-includes-t-shirts-made-from-discarded-crab-shells" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>Recently, Allbirds launched its debut apparel line with garments for men and women made with eco-friendly materials that have a low carbon footprint, the report said.</p><p>Introduced along with the line is a new t-shirt material called "TrinoXO," which is made from wool and discarded snow crab shells from Canada's seafood industry, reported <a href="https://www.cnbc.com/2020/10/20/sustainable-sneaker-start-up-allbirds-is-selling-sweaters-t-shirts.html" target="_blank">CNBC</a> and <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/20/business/allbirds-sustainable-apparel/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>. The shells are the "number two discarded resource on earth," Allbirds claims, reported <a href="https://www.menshealth.com/style/a34427585/allbirds-apparel-clothing-line-review/" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Men's Health</a>.</p><p>"Discarded material is the holy grail when it comes to sustainable fibers," Jad Finck, Allbirds head of innovation and sustainability, told Fast Company. "It's far better for the environment than getting raw materials from scratch."</p><p>The shells have antimicrobial properties that keep clothes fresh even after hours of wear, without the need to add "extractive" materials like zinc or silver, Men's Health reported. This allows for longer periods of wear between washes, reducing clothes' environmental footprint.</p><p>"We knew we wanted to be a real brand, and had this vision that we'd be an innovation company first, and a product company second," co-founder Joey Zwillinger told <a href="https://www.vogue.com/article/allbirds-launches-clothing" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Vogue</a>. "And our products would solve problems for people in a natural way, and show the world that you don't have to compromise on the planet for amazing products."</p>
2. Bacardi Biodegradable Rum Bottles<p>By 2023, <a href="https://www.bacardi.com/us/en/" target="_blank">Bacardi</a> rum will be sold in 100% biodegradable bottles, <a href="https://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20201021005281/en/Bacardi-First-in-Fight-Against-Plastic-Pollution-With-100-Biodegradable-Spirits-Bottle" target="_blank">Business Wire</a> reported.</p><p>The alcohol giant is collaborating with Danimer Scientific, a leading developer of biodegradable products, to create the new bottles using the natural oils of plant seeds such as palm, canola and soy, the report said.</p><p>According to <a href="https://sports.yahoo.com/bacardi-to-make-100-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-124436841.html?guccounter=1&guce_referrer=aHR0cHM6Ly93d3cuZ29vZ2xlLmNvbS8&guce_referrer_sig=AQAAAE1Wl8ONNdph3ID8reylzGM8dbX575Mk96Jw6z3kHZaGjKCz_UgQgxH0Q1n3RNCzhOMBEZ7fAIf8iiOXLRtY9VVHNZsmb-w1VOJnGlzIbuwhmoBo_KOV4dba8FoWrkgmmwwCyQZnRoTL0Uda6HQ4pE5ewGWh2pwQzjS3gKAe1ynm" target="_blank">Yahoo Finance UK</a>, the new bottle will biodegrade in a wide range of environments, including compost, soil, freshwater and seawater. After 18 months, the bottle will disappear completely without leaving microplastics.</p><p>"Nodax PHA is one of the most promising eco-friendly materials in the world today because it delivers the biodegradability that consumers demand without losing the quality feel they receive from traditional plastic," said Danimer Scientific chief marketing & sustainability officer Scott Tuten, reported <a href="https://www.thrillist.com/news/nation/bacardi-biodegradable-spirits-bottle-plastic-free-packaging" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Thrillist</a>. "The material provides the best of both worlds, and we look forward to working with Bacardí and incorporating PHA into their iconic packaging."</p><p>Bacardi is also creating a sustainably sourced paper bottle, Yahoo reported.</p><p>The manufacturing of both new bottle types will save energy over petroleum-based plastic ones. Bacardi plans to share the technology with competitors to help in the global fight against <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/plastic-pollution" target="_self">plastic pollution</a>, and aims to be 100% plastic-free by 2030, reported Thrillist.</p>
3. Burger King Reusable Fast Food Containers<p>Fast food giant <a href="https://www.bk.com/" target="_blank">Burger King</a> plans to launch reusable Whopper boxes and soda cups by next year. Partnering with TerraCycle's zero-waste packaging division Loop, Burger King will nudge customers to return the specialized packaging for hygienic washing and reuse, similar to how milk bottles used to be returned, reported <a href="https://www.marketwatch.com/story/can-burger-kings-reusable-packaging-change-fast-food-forever-11603392581" target="_blank">MarketWatch</a>.</p><p>"During COVID, we have seen the environmental impact of <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/air-pollution-food-delivery-plastic-waste-2648454324.html" target="_self">increased takeaway ordering</a>, which makes this initiative by Burger King all the more important," said Tom Szaky, TerraCycle and Loop CEO, according to MarketWatch.</p><p>Customers who don't feel comfortable can opt-out of the service, <a href="https://www.abc10.com/article/entertainment/television/programs/the-buzz-burger-king-to-test-reusable-packaging-in-2021/77-f01f1b70-05b7-436d-9971-a7dd6081249b" target="_blank">ABC News</a> reported. Those who are willing to try will be charged a small deposit upon purchase, and when the packaging is returned, they will receive a refund, reported <a href="https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/22/business/burger-king-reusable-packaging-sustainability/index.html" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">CNN</a>.</p><p>Burger King and TerraCycle are aiming for a container that can be used at least 100 times, reported <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>.</p><p>"The benefit is, you're able to serve your guests without having to create that single-use item in the first place," Matt Banton, global head of innovation and sustainability at Burger King, told <a href="https://www.fastcompany.com/90566995/burger-kings-new-whopper-packaging-isnt-greasy-cardboard-its-reusable" rel="noopener noreferrer" target="_blank">Fast Company</a>. "This product is durable enough to go through the system multiple times, so it's ultimately reducing our environmental impact, and minimizing the amount of single-use packaging that we have to produce as well."</p><p>Burger King has also committed to sourcing 100% of its customer packaging from renewable, recycled or certified outlets, and recycling all customer packaging at its restaurants in the United States and Canada by 2025, reported CNN.</p>
There are many different CBD oil brands in today's market. But, figuring out which brand is the best and which brand has the strongest oil might feel challenging and confusing. Our simple guide to the strongest CBD oils will point you in the right direction.
The ghoulishly named ogre-faced spider can "hear" with its legs and use that ability to catch insects flying behind it, the study published in Current Biology Thursday concluded.
"Spiders are sensitive to airborne sound," Cornell professor emeritus Dr. Charles Walcott, who was not involved with the study, told the Cornell Chronicle. "That's the big message really."
The net-casting, ogre-faced spider (Deinopis spinosa) has a unique hunting strategy, as study coauthor Cornell University postdoctoral researcher Jay Stafstrom explained in a video.
They hunt only at night using a special kind of web: an A-shaped frame made from non-sticky silk that supports a fuzzy rectangle that they hold with their front forelegs and use to trap prey.
They do this in two ways. In a maneuver called a "forward strike," they pounce down on prey moving beneath them on the ground. This is enabled by their large eyes — the biggest of any spider. These eyes give them 2,000 times the night vision that we have, Science explained.
But the spiders can also perform a move called the "backward strike," Stafstrom explained, in which they reach their legs behind them and catch insects flying through the air.
"So here comes a flying bug and somehow the spider gets information on the sound direction and its distance. The spiders time the 200-millisecond leap if the fly is within its capture zone – much like an over-the-shoulder catch. The spider gets its prey. They're accurate," coauthor Ronald Hoy, the D & D Joslovitz Merksamer Professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior in the College of Arts and Sciences, told the Cornell Chronicle.
What the researchers wanted to understand was how the spiders could tell what was moving behind them when they have no ears.
It isn't a question of peripheral vision. In a 2016 study, the same team blindfolded the spiders and sent them out to hunt, Science explained. This prevented the spiders from making their forward strikes, but they were still able to catch prey using the backwards strike. The researchers thought the spiders were "hearing" their prey with the sensors on the tips of their legs. All spiders have these sensors, but scientists had previously thought they were only able to detect vibrations through surfaces, not sounds in the air.
To test how well the ogre-faced spiders could actually hear, the researchers conducted a two-part experiment.
First, they inserted electrodes into removed spider legs and into the brains of intact spiders. They put the spiders and the legs into a vibration-proof booth and played sounds from two meters (approximately 6.5 feet) away. The spiders and the legs responded to sounds from 100 hertz to 10,000 hertz.
Next, they played the five sounds that had triggered the biggest response to 25 spiders in the wild and 51 spiders in the lab. More than half the spiders did the "backward strike" move when they heard sounds that have a lower frequency similar to insect wing beats. When the higher frequency sounds were played, the spiders did not move. This suggests the higher frequencies may mimic the sounds of predators like birds.
University of Cincinnati spider behavioral ecologist George Uetz told Science that the results were a "surprise" that indicated science has much to learn about spiders as a whole. Because all spiders have these receptors on their legs, it is possible that all spiders can hear. This theory was first put forward by Walcott 60 years ago, but was dismissed at the time, according to the Cornell Chronicle. But studies of other spiders have turned up further evidence since. A 2016 study found that a kind of jumping spider can pick up sonic vibrations in the air.
"We don't know diddly about spiders," Uetz told Science. "They are much more complex than people ever thought they were."
Learning more provides scientists with an opportunity to study their sensory abilities in order to improve technology like bio-sensors, directional microphones and visual processing algorithms, Stafstrom told CNN.
"The point is any understudied, underappreciated group has fascinating lives, even a yucky spider, and we can learn something from it," he told CNN.
In 'Road Map for a More Sustainable Future,' NY Regulator Tells Banks to Consider Climate Risks in Planning
By Brett Wilkins
Regulators in New York state announced Thursday that banks and other financial services companies are expected to plan and prepare for risks posed by the climate crisis.