Why Are Climate Groups Only Focused on 50% of the Solution?
To the leadership at Greenpeace, Sierra Club, 350.org, Environmental Defense Fund, Natural Resources Defense Council and all other climate groups:
Your organizations have worked very hard, collectively, to reduce world reliance on carbon-centric oil, gas and coal. Thanks to your work to reduce pollution, we certainly have a healthier planet. High praise is in order for the success of your valiant efforts in the face of corrupt vested interests.
Yet I, along with many others, must still ask: Will your plan win the race against time to avert climate chaos? Anyone paying close attention can see that, even if the world doubles the rate at which it's adopting wind, solar, bike lanes, electric cars and conservation, the excess carbon in our atmosphere and seas will still lead to intense climate chaos. For just one example, the temperature in Phoenix, Arizona, recently reached 117°.
Our society has focused close to 99 percent of our climate efforts on 50 percent of the needed game plan—i.e., reducing the release of atmospheric carbon. Yes, we need to decarbonize our energy. Yet equally important is the need to recarbonize our soils, to sequester the carbon so that we don't reach the tipping point of climate chaos. This is relatively new information for many people.
In his article “Soil Carbon Restoration: Can Biology Do the Job?," Jack Kittredge of the Massachusetts Chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association provides an excellent report on the subject.
A recent EcoWatch article of my own provides an easy-to-understand overview, with links to organizations working on this vital issue.
Sometimes “group think" can stymie networks or organizations. Let me be especially direct. The current “half a game plan" or “50 percent solution" will in fact allow destruction of the planet, as solar, wind and reducing extraction alone cannot slow the carbon emissions fast enough as we surge toward an atmospheric 450 ppm.
The Link Between Monsanto, Industrial Ag and Ocean Health
Monsanto and industrial agriculture are contributing more to climate change than Exxon, Chevron and the entire transportation industry combined. Why keep that a secret? Millions of members of Greenpeace, Sierra Club, 350.org, Environmental Defense Fund and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) care deeply about the Earth, and yet have no clue about the elephant in the room.
The other untold secret is that Monsanto and the corporate media are not telling the world that we're rushing to an ocean apocalypse. I give credit to the NRDC for its 2009 Acid Test: The Global Challenge of Ocean Acidification, a powerful 21-minute video on ocean health narrated by Sigourney Weaver.
And, just as I'm writing this, I see that the NRDC is educating people on improving the cattle-grazing methods that impact our climate. A local Greenpeace chapter is also doing its part. The next time you think about stopping by Starbucks remember that millions of Starbucks lattes sold monthly directly correlate with the carbon-intensive industrial dairy production.
The sea is what makes life on this bountiful planet possible. The oceans are places of vast beauty and mystery. The one-two punch of warming sea temperatures and excess carbon falling from the atmosphere is creating the conditions whereby oceans are becoming too hot and too acidic to sustain ocean health.
A Monster Algae Bloom Takes Over the Pacific Ocean
This summer a giant, toxic algae bloom stretches all the way from Alaska to California. Vera Trainer, a research oceanographer with the Northwest Fisheries Science Center in Washington State, told Reuters, “It's the longest-lasting, highest-toxicity and densest bloom that we've ever seen."
Our acidic oceans (30 percent more so in the last 50 years, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) are making it hard for creatures like lobsters and oysters to form their shells.
Before long, the burning of coal, continued heating of the globe and carpet bombing of industrial-ag greenhouse gas emissions into the ocean will lead to an end of the seas as we know them. Nuclear seepage and plastics are adding to the issue. So far, plankton is dying, starfish are dying and sea lions are dying. Crabs will be next. And, unless we bring carbon into balance, within a few short decades most whales will also perish. This month, 30 dead whales washed ashore in Alaska. Something is very wrong with our oceans.
The climate movement, United Nations and most governments have shaped the climate debate by framing the story as being about how hot the Earth will be, or how high the oceans will rise by 2050. Yet we seem to be ignoring the much greater eco-peril of ocean acidification and the vital role of soil in balancing planetary carbon.
If the whales and dolphins could speak, surely they would implore us to: “Change how you raise your food and produce your energy, so that we can all live in harmony on land and sea."
We see disinvestment campaigns for coal and big oil ... what about Monsanto or Syngenta? The climate groups give Monsanto a pass, shining little or no light on the death and destruction it causes—both in its toxic impact and in its huge contribution to climate change.
500 Million Years of Research and Development
The oceans are dying. We need to balance the carbon cycle and reduce climate chaos without losing any more time. The scientific solution is one already proven by 500 million years of R&D. It's called carbon sequestration. The Soil Story explains this process in an easy-to-follow five-minute animated clip with a sound track by Jason Mraz.
We can readily increase carbon farming—also known as regenerative agriculture. The good news is that hundreds of millions of farmers on small plots the world over already know a thing or two about this ecological farming methodology. Even the U.S. government is already working to help American farmers and ranchers increase soil carbon. Growing sea kelp is another innovative way to sequester carbon.
Collectively, your climate-focused groups annually publish millions of tweets, Instagrams, blogs, Facebook posts and press releases. But what percentage of the content is on that favorite “50 percent of the solution"—stop drilling and install more solar panels—and how much is on the Earth-based solution that returns carbon to the soil where it belongs? (I can tell you: Less than 1 percent proposes the latter solution). Imagine how much progress can be made by shifting your social-media focus to an elegant, win-win solution!
On a positive note, at least Greenpeace and Sierra Club are focusing on protecting ancient forests that sequester carbon. Funding is obviously an important issue. Groups may need to increase budgets, or allocate more to soil and oceans, to address these vital issues.
Becoming a Carbon-Literate Society
Yes, it's high time the climate movement became more carbon-literate. The movement has done so much right, and its millions of participants would love to learn how they can be part of the solution by eating a diet that's regenerative and that returns carbon to the soil. It's a basic rule we learned in preschool: Put things back where they belong. We all have a huge opportunity to share this vital educational message. Paul Hawken's Project Drawdown showcasing a hundred of the best climate ideas including planned grazing.
Many leaders of the growing carbon-farming movement will attend the Soil Not Oil Conference in Richmond, California, on Sept. 4-5, which will be live streamed on the web.
Also, Regeneration International is working on a November 2015 Paris event, to take place shortly before the world climate negotiations summit. Solar advocates and anti-Keystone-pipeline warriors can attend in order to become more carbon-literate, because today the U.S. is the most eco-illiterate society in the history of the Earth.
Soil fertility and natural systems are concepts as foreign to most Americans as the English language is to tribes of the Amazon. Many of these uninformed Americans are members of climate groups who look to your organizations for leadership—look to you to rise above the corporate corruption of Washington, DC, and Brussels, Belgium and provide the world with the wise council that is so desperately needed. We can do this!
Paris, Here We Come
As the CO2 in our atmosphere approaches 450 ppm and many leaders gather in Paris for climate talks, let's focus on a winning plan—one that both decarbonizes our energy and recarbonizes our soil. Some recent good news is that France supports combining food security and carbon sequestration in soils as part of a global Paris agreement to fight climate warming, as French Agriculture Minister Stéphane Le Foll recently announced.
The millennial generation, especially, must wear the mantle of leadership in these efforts, and those of us who are older must help them. The future of our planet is hanging in the balance.
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When Looking Through a Microscope Isn’t Close Enough.<p>For the last few years, <a href="http://www.rokaslab.org/" target="_blank">our team at Vanderbilt University</a>, <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/lab/Gustavo-Goldman-Lab" target="_blank">Gustavo Goldman's team at São Paulo University in Brazil</a> and many other collaborators around the world have been collecting samples of fungi from patients infected with different species of <em>Aspergillus</em> molds. One of the species we are particularly interested in is <a href="https://doi.org/10.1006/rwgn.2001.0082" target="_blank"><em>Aspergillus nidulans</em>, a relatively common and generally harmless fungus</a>. Clinical laboratories typically identify the species of <em>Aspergillus</em> causing the infection by examining cultures of the fungi under the microscope. The problem with this approach is that very closely related species of <em>Aspergillus</em> tend to look very similar in their broad morphology or physical appearance when viewing them through a microscope.</p><p>Interested in examining the varying abilities of different <em>A. nidulans</em> strains to cause disease, we decided to analyze their total genetic content, or genomes. What we saw came as a total surprise. We had not collected <em>A. nidulans</em> but <em>Aspergillus latus</em>, a close relative of <em>A. nidulans</em> and, as we were to soon find out, <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cub.2020.04.071" target="_blank">a hybrid species that evolved through the fusion of the genomes</a> of two other <em>Aspergillus</em> species: <em>Aspergillus spinulosporus</em> and an unknown close relative of <em>Aspergillus quadrilineatus</em>. Thus, we realized not only that these patients harbored infections from an entirely different species than we thought they were, but also that this species was the first ever <em>Aspergillus</em> hybrid known to cause human infections.</p>
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(Left) Candida yeasts live on parts of the human body. Imbalance of microbes on the body can allow these yeasts, some of which are hybrids, to grow and cause infection. (Right) Cryptococcus yeasts, including ones that are hybrids, can cause life-threatening infections in primarily immunocompromised people. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention<p><a href="https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.ppat.1008315" target="_blank">Why certain <em>Aspergillus</em> species are so deadly</a> while others are harmless remains unknown. This may in part be because <a href="https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fbr.2007.02.007" target="_blank">combinations of traits, rather than individual traits</a>, underlie organisms' ability to cause disease. So why then are hybrids frequently associated with human disease? Hybrids inherit genetic material from both parents, which may result in new combinations of traits. This may make them more similar to one parent in some of their characteristics, reflect both parents in others or may differ from both in the rest. It is precisely this mix and match of traits that hybrids have inherited from their parental species that <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/14/science/14creatures.html" target="_blank">facilitates their evolutionary success</a>, including their ability to cause disease.</p>
The Evolutionary Origin of an Aspergillus Hybrid.<p>Multiple evolutionary paths can lead to the emergence of hybrids. One path is through mating, just as the horse and donkey mate to create a mule. Another path is through the merging or fusion of genetic material from cells of different species.</p><p>It is this second path that appears to have been taken by our fungus. <em>A. latus</em> appears to have two of almost everything compared to its parental species: twice the genome size, twice the total number of genes and so on. But unlike other hybrids, which are often sterile like the mule, we found that <em>A. latus</em> is capable of reproducing both asexually and sexually.</p><p>But how distinct were the parents of <em>A. latus</em>? By comparing the parts contributed by each parent in the <em>A. latus</em> genome, we estimate that its parents are approximately 93% genetically similar, which is about as related as we humans are with lemurs. In other words, <em>A. latus</em>, an agent of infectious disease, is the fungal equivalent of a human-lemur hybrid.</p>
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