Thursday, July 5, 2012

Sea ice tracking at record low levels

Figure 3: This map of mean sea level pressure from
15 May 2012 to 15 June 2012 shows a pattern of high
pressure over the Beaufort Sea and a pattern of low
pressure over the Laptev Sea, conditions favorable
to summer ice loss.

Credit: NSIDC courtesy NOAA/ESRL PSD
High-resolution image
June 19, 2012

After a period of rapid ice loss through the first half of June, sea ice extent is now slightly below 2010 levels, the previous record low at this time of year. Sea level pressure patterns have been favorable for the retreat of sea ice for much of the past month.

Overview of conditions
On June 18, the five-day average sea ice extent was 10.62 million square kilometers (4.10 million square miles). This was 31,000 square kilometers (12,000 square miles) below the same day in 2010, the record low for the day and 824,000 square kilometers (318,000 square miles) below the same day in 2007, the year of record low September extent.

Conditions in context
The main contributors to the unusually rapid ice loss to this point in June are the disappearance of most of the winter sea ice in the Bering Sea, rapid ice loss in the Barents and Kara Seas, and early development of open water areas in the Beaufort and Laptev Seas north of Alaska and Siberia. Recent ice loss rates have been 100,000 to 150,000 square kilometers (38,600 to 57,900 square miles) per day, which is more than double the climatological rate.

Sea level pressure favors the advection of ice
A pattern of high pressure over the Beaufort Sea and low pressure over the Laptev Sea has been present for the past few weeks. This pattern is favorable for summer ice loss, by advecting warm winds from the south (in eastern Asia) to melt the ice and transport it away from the coastlines in Siberia and Alaska. The high pressure over the Beaufort leads to generally clear skies, and temperatures are now above freezing over much of the Arctic pack. Snow cover in the far north is nearly gone, earlier than normal, allowing the coastal land to warm faster.   READ MORE

USDA Greenlights Monsanto's Utterly Useless New GMO Corn

| Mon Jan. 23, 2012 1:15 PM PST
You've got to keep an eye on US regulatory agencies in the second half of December. That's when watchdog journalists like me tend to take time off—and regulators like to sneak gifts to the industries they're supposed to be regulating. This year, I was alert enough to detect this gift from the FDA to the meat industry; but the USDA caught me napping. The agency made two momentous announcements on GMO crops, neither of which got much media scrutiny. It deregulated Monsanto's so-called drought-tolerant corn, and it prepared to deregulate Dow's corn engineered to withstand the herbicides 2,4-D and dicamba. More on the later this week.

The drought-tolerant corn decision, which came down on Dec. 21, was momentous occasion, because it marked the first deregulation of a GMO crop with a "complex" trait. What I mean by that is, the other GMOs on the market have simple, one-gene traits: a gene that confers resistance to a particular herbicide, like Monsanto's Roundup Ready seed or a gene that expresses the toxic-to-bugs properties of the bacteria Bt, as in Monsanto's Bt seed. But a plant's use of water is a complex process involving several genes; there's no single "drought tolerant" gene. Generating such traits in plants that succeed in field conditions has been considerably more tricky for the agrichemical giants than than simple traits.
And indeed, Monsanto has staked huge PR capital on its ability to do just that. In a famous 2008 press release, the company declared it would "double yield in its three core crops of corn, soybeans and cotton by 2030, compared to a base year of  2000," using patented seeds that will simultaneously "reduce by one-third the amount of key resources required to grow crops." It placed complex traits like drought tolerance at the center of its effort,  promising seeds that would "result in more production per unit of land, and reduced use of energy, fertilizer and water per unit produced."

The drought-tolerant corn the USDA signed off on in December is the first approved crop of that kind. The trouble is, it doesn't work very well. The USDA acknowledged as much in its Nov. 11 Final Environmental Assessment of the crop. It makes clear that the product's "drought tolerance" extends only to "moderate" drought conditions, and it has the same "minimum water requirements" as conventional corn.

And then it drops this bombshell, citing Monsanto's own field tests:    READ MORE

Congress' Big Gift to Monsanto

| Mon Jul. 2, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
If you want your crops to bear fruit, you have to feed the soil. Few industries understand that old farming truism better than ag-biotech—the few companies that dominate the market for genetically modified seeds and other novel farming technologies. And they realize that the same wisdom applies to getting what you want in Washington, DC.

According to this 2010 analysis from Food & Water Watch, the ag-biotech industry spent $547.5 million between 1999 and 2009. It employed more than 100 lobbying firms in 2010 alone, FWW reports, in addition to their own in-house lobbying teams.

The gusher continues. The most famous ag-biotech firm of all, Monsanto, spent $1.4 million on lobbying in the first three months of 2012, after shelling out $6.3 million total last year, "more than any other agribusiness firm except the tobacco company Altria," reports the money-in-politics tracker Industry trade groups like the Biotechnology Industry Organization and Croplife America have weighed in with $1.8 million and $524,000, respectively.

What fruits have been borne by such generous fertilizing of the legislative terrain? It's impossible to tie the fate of any bit of legislation directly to an industry's lobbying power, but here are two unambiguous legislative victories won on the Hill this month by Monsanto and its peers.   READ MORE

Climate Change Is Already Shrinking Crop Yields

| Wed Jul. 4, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
For years now, people have wondered how climate change will affect farming. How will humanity feed itself during a time of rising temperatures and recurring drought?

Here in the US, we're starting to get a taste of things to come—and it's bitter. Brutal heat is now roiling the main growing regions for corn, soy, and wheat, the biggest US crops. According to Bloomberg News, 71 percent of the Midwest is experiencing "drier-than-normal conditions," and temperatures are projected to be above 90 degrees in large swaths of key corn/soy-growing states Missouri, Illinois, and Indiana through July 7 if not longer.

As a result, Goldman Sachs projects that this year's corn yields will come in 7.5 percent below the USDA's projection of 166 bushels an acre. (Why is a Wall Street behemoth like Goldman Sachs fussing over corn yields? That's another story, altogether, and an interesting one). Accordingly, crop prices are rising steeply, Bloomberg reports.

Of course, we can't tie any individual heat wave to long-term climate trends—there's plenty of random weather variation even in times of climate stability. But we do know that hot, dry weather can stunt plant growth and reduce yields—and we also know that we can expect more hot, dry weather in key growing regions as the climate warms up.

I hope the current heat wave gets policymakers thinking about the effect of climate change on food, because for for a long time, the consensus was that global warming might be more or less neutral for agriculture. Sure, the thinking went, climate change will likely make droughts more common and make some already-hot areas too hot for farming; but it will also lengthen the growing season in cold-winter areas like the US Midwest, perhaps increasing crop yields. Also, all that carbon dioxide we're pumping into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels would be manna to plants, allowing them to grow faster. These factors, many thought, would largely cancel each other out, and mean that climate change would have no great effect on global food production.

But back in 2008, a pair of researchers from the USDA and Columbia University shattered that comforting idea.  READ MORE

The Dog That Voted and Other Election Fraud Yarns

Charts:  UFO Sightings Are More Common Than Voter Fraud

The GOP's 10-year campaign to gin up voter fraud hysteria—and bring back Jim Crow at the ballot box.


On March 21, 2005, a sandy-haired 43-year-old attorney named Mark "Thor" Hearne took a seat under the Greek Revival dome of the Ohio Statehouse to testify before the House Administration Committee. The committee was holding a field hearing on the subject of voter fraud, a hot topic in Congress—and in Ohio, where George W. Bush had eked out a narrow, hotly contested victory over John Kerry the year before.
 Hearne introduced himself as counsel for the American Center for Voting Rights. The Buckeye State, he said, had suffered from "massive" registration fraud during the presidential election. Liberal groups like ACORN and the AFL-CIO were implicated in illegal voter registration schemes. An NAACP operative had paid for fake registrations in crack. Then, after enrolling thousands of phony voters, these same groups had flooded the courts with lawsuits designed to create bedlam on Election Day and prevent fraudulent votes from being discovered. To back up his story, Hearne submitted a 31-page report, signed by more than a dozen Ohio attorneys.
It was a startlingly lurid picture—and the latest chapter in a long-simmering feud between Republicans, who claim that fraud is rampant in US elections, and Democrats, who say such charges are merely an excuse to suppress the vote. Still, there was something different about this episode. It wasn't just a one-off bit of bluster during a bitter recount battle. That would have been politics as usual. Instead, it marked a dramatic widening of the war. This was, after all, a congressional hearing, and Hearne represented an organization dedicated to pushing Republican claims of voter fraud not just during post-election court fights, but everywhere and all the time.   READ MORE

Monday, July 2, 2012

Genetic Engineers Report: GMO Food Is Dangerous

A Thai organic farmer pretends to be dead after eating
GM corn during a protest against the introduction of
genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to Thailand
outside the Government House in Bangkok in 2004.
(photo: Food Freedom)
By Open Earth Source
02 July 12

ren't critics of genetically engineered food anti-science? Isn't the debate over GMOs (genetically modified organisms) a spat between emotional but ignorant activists on one hand and rational GM-supporting scientists on the other?

A new report released today, "GMO Myths and Truths",[1] challenges these claims. The report presents a large body of peer-reviewed scientific and other authoritative evidence of the hazards to health and the environment posed by genetically engineered crops and organisms (GMOs).

Unusually, the initiative for the report came not from campaigners but from two genetic engineers who believe there are good scientific reasons to be wary of GM foods and crops.

One of the report's authors, Dr Michael Antoniou of King's College London School of Medicine in the UK, uses genetic engineering for medical applications but warns against its use in developing crops for human food and animal feed.

Dr Antoniou said: "GM crops are promoted on the basis of ambitious claims - that they are safe to eat, environmentally beneficial, increase yields, reduce reliance on pesticides, and can help solve world hunger.

"I felt what was needed was a collation of the evidence that addresses the technology from a scientific point of view.

"Research studies show that genetically modified crops have harmful effects on laboratory animals in feeding trials and on the environment during cultivation. They have increased the use of pesticides and have failed to increase yields. Our report concludes that there are safer and more effective alternatives to meeting the world's food needs."  READ MORE

Here Are Over One Hundred Products Made From Child Or Slave Labor (GRAPHIC)

It's hard to believe, but true: Still today, many everyday products from around the globe are the result of child and slave labor, according to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Labor.

Now thanks to an infographic from the National Post, we can more clearly see the effects: All together, the infographic counts 130 product-types from 71 countries -- each the result of forced labor, child labor or some combination of the two.

Indeed, slave labor still exists within economic powerhouses like India, China and Brazil, for example. It's not just these two forms of labor that have come under fire lately. China has faced more wide-ranging criticism over its labor practices, especially after reports of poor working conditions and labor law violations at Foxconn, a factory that manufactures electronics for companies such as Apple and Microsoft.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this graphic incorrectly categorized some forms of child labor as forced labor. National Post has updated the graphic.
See the National Post's infographic below to find out which countries are making products by exploiting slave labor:  READ MORE

Slave Labor, Prison Privatization, Prison Industry - ALEC Conservatives push this agenda nationwide!

Privatize, privatize, privatization of anything owned or controlled by the public or taxpayers is again being applied by Conservatives from coast to coast.  Sadly through the manipulations of ALEC and their thousands of legislative and corporate members, this agenda that began way back in the 80's is once again being used to usurp more public assets.  These assets include publicly built prisons, work-release centers, medical care facilities, schools and a myriad assortment of other buildings, programs and initiatives that now exists due to public funding.

ALEC claims that corporations can run and operate these necessary programs and prisons more efficiently than public employees.  They claim this will reduce government staffing and thus government payrolls and somehow make us all safer (corrections), smarter (school voucher programs), our kids better trained to enter the workplace (repeal of child labor laws) and help reduce municipal, city, state and county costs (using inmates in place of public employees).

Like any other pyramid scheme turned lose on society, this one is well funded by the likes of Koch Industries and their owners, Charles and David Koch, AT&T and other communications and telecom companies, PhaRma and related pharmaceutical manufacturers.  It is well advertised to the public through Republican and Conservative PAC's such as Heritage Foundation, Reason Foundation, Americans for Prosperity Foundation,  and includes the professional opinions of researchers and scholars provided by such as the CATO Institute, Manhattan Institute,Foundation for Research on Economics and the Environment, Pacific Research Institute for Public Policy and the Tax Foundation.