A Billion Seeds Of Light  

Posted by Big Gav

The Guardian reports that Britain's Millennium Seed Bank Project has banked its billionth seed.

The chancellor, Gordon Brown, hailed the historic significance of a tiny African bamboo seed today as he helped mark a landmark for a major conservation project.

The seed will be the billionth to be placed in the Millennium Seed Bank - an ambitious project to protect plant species across the globe from the threats of climate change and over-harvesting. It is thought that 60,000-100,000 plant species are under threat worldwide, and the seed bank is designed to provide insurance againt their loss in the wild so they are always available for use in medicines, crop improvements and building materials, among other things.

Today's presentation of the specimen was, said the chancellor, "one of the most important events" to have happened at 11 Downing Street in years. The landmark seed, collected in Mali, west Africa, from the African bamboo oxytenanthera abyssinica, will be formally entered into the Noah's Ark-style bank next month. Over-harvesting and the loss of its natural habitat has led to the species - used to build houses, furniture and baskets and in wine-making - becoming endangered in the region.

The Millennium Seed Bank Project (MSBP) was set up by the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew after the 1992 Rio Earth Summit to deal with this type of issue. It now has the largest wild seed collection in the world, with seeds from more than 18,000 species spanning 126 countries, and works with organisations across the world to try to ensure species survive in their natural environments. By 2010, when the project's current funding runs out, 10% of the world's wild flowering plant species or the equivalent of 30,000 species will be banked. If more money can be raised, the project aims to have 25% of species stored by 2020.

WorldChanging has a post on seedPOD: A "Wikiseedia" for the Future of Food and Farming. See the original for more and links.
Many people advocating a bright green future also strongly support local food systems. But learning what's local and eating accordingly in the 21st century will be a lesson in perennial change, because as the climate changes, agricultural zones shift, and that means what's local now may not be the same stuff that will grow well in your region in ten or twenty years. What's more, in some regions of the world where subsistence agriculture provides a living for large numbers of people, fair, sensitive and smart help adjusting to new realities will need to be provided.

seedpod.jpg We recently were asked to imagine how new models and designs might help us address critical food-related sustainability issues. We chose to tackle this thorny problem of farming and gardening in a changing climate. Here it is, a speculative anticipation of what a model for tracking and trading local knowledge about farming and food in an open, global network might look like. We call it seedPOD. Think of it as a gedankenexperiment, an imagined toolkit to keep seeds moving, farmers thriving and communities fed in the face of massive environmental change. Perhaps it will trigger some interesting thinking out there: at very least, we hope you find it briefly diverting.

SeedPOD includes programs both online and on-site which allow farmers to share their own observations of their land and crops, to advise one another on cultivation strategies for introducing a "new native" species, to save seeds and preserve biodiversity, and to establish a community of peer teachers who can guide each other through the adaptation process.

Citizen Science

Changes in agricultural zones will likely occur faster and more widely in coming years. Before scientists can publish peer-reviewed research or governments can announce official responses, farmers will be developing appropriate solutions on the spot, by necessity. It only makes sense to network those farmers to better distribute their solutions and make them widely accessible.

Fortunately, the rate of Net access distribution around the world may be rising almost as fast as the rate of change in agricultural conditions. By connecting large numbers of participants in both the Global North and Global South, SeedPOD becomes the virtual laboratory in which mass collaboration can yield quick conclusions.

Collaborative Online Agricultural Resource

In tandem with the online exchange, seedPOD will host an open archive of resources which can be augmented and developed through the discoveries made by citizens and farmers. We call it Wikiseedia -- a collaborative, free online agricultural encyclopedia.

Wikiseedia will be presented and continuously translated into a multitude of languages, and SeedPOD will also work to install community internet hubs and wireless versions where access is scarce or nonexistent, so that rural farmers in the developing world can take advantage of these tools, too. Trained scientists will be able to check in on Wikiseedia and the online citizen science lab to gain the most current agricultural information available for inclusion in longer-term research, and to participate in the collaborative editing process, as well.

Think of it as something akin to the Open Architecture Network, for agriculture, bringing together great existing efforts (like the Honey Bee Network) and best practices (like greenbelt efforts in the Sahel) with a platform for sharing undiscovered or newly invented innovations.

Indeed, in an ideal world, such efforts in all disciplines, from architecture to farming to public health to ICT4D, would have such collaborative repositories of knowledge, and all of the efforts would be interoperable and easily dovetailed, so that a person working in a specific context could easily learn how to find and use detailed knowledge from a number of disciplines and projects.

Seed Collection and Savings Banks

Probably the least hypothetical component of the seedPOD toolkit, seed banks already exist all over the world as preventative measures against the loss of barnyard biodiversity. The model collided with future scenarios with the announcement of plans to build a huge doomsday seed vault near the Arctic Circle which would be more secure and stable than existing banks -- able to withstand the more catastrophic possible outcomes of climate change (or war or asteroid impact).

SeedPOD seed banks will be a network of living facilities (rather than sealed vaults) where seeds can be deposited as they become threatened, or taken and planted where they couldn't previously have grown. Though seedPOD is primarily citizen driven, this will be one place where staff will be employed to catalog and archive records of the flow of seeds through the bank, and the locations from which they originate and to which they go. By supporting the existing, highly-stressed seed bank organizations around the world, creating such a network also meets the purpose of preserving existing seed collections.

Innovation Pipeline has a post on Solar’s Next Dimension. They also have posts on the DOE solar energy competition (Sun and Games) and producing ethanol from manure (Cow Power).
Jud Ready, a senior research engineer at Georgia Tech Research Institute, says the team’s goal is to harvest more sunlight with cells shaped like blades of grass. These cells could also mean lighter systems with less space requirements than traditional photovoltaic systems.

The 100-micron-tall cells are built out of millions of vertically aligned carbon nanotubes. Researchers grow the carbon nanotube “towers,” then coat them with cadium telluride and cadmium sulfide, which serve as the p-type and n-type photovoltaic layers. Because the 3D design permits better absorption, the coatings can be made thinner. That boosts efficiency.

There are now supply shortages in the solar market. That has fueled investment. According to a report by research firm New Energy Finance in London, VCs and private equity firms put more than $2.2 billion into clean-energy companies in the first quarter of 2007. That’s a 58 percent increase over the same period the previous year. Solar and biofuels technologies attracted the most capital, garnering $514 million and $205 million, respectively.

The 3D design was described in the March 2007 issue of the journal JOM, published by the Minerals, Metals and Materials Society. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Air Force Research Laboratory, NewCyte and Intellectual Property Partners sponsored the research.

There will be challenges scaling the manufacture of these cells. But one has to believe that receiving photons in 3D is just as enlightening as seeing in 3D.

TreeHugger has a post on some research at Purdue university to improve cellulosic ethanol production. They also note Canada has now banned incandescent light bulbs, as part of an otherwise ineffective environment policy.
Researchers at Purdue have found that when cornstalks are processed to produce ethanol, their particles undergo a change that has not been seen previously. This could pave the way for a viable method of large-scale ethanol production from cellulose. Cellulosic ethanol is better than other current ethanol production processes, because it puts less pressure on food prices. Michael Ladisch, co-author of the research, said, "Cellulosic ethanol would allow industry to expand beyond the limits brought about by corn's other uses, like sweetener production." Previously, cellulosic ethanol has been rather hard to produce, but this research should allow a more economical method to be developed. "This study will help us translate science from the lab to an industrial setting and will help produce cellulosic ethanol economically," Ladisch said. The image shows a cornstalk after the pretreatment developed by the team. The pores on the surface have been opened up, allowing more surface area for the ethanol production process to occur.

Victoria is encouraging companies to explore for geothermal power sources.
Exploration permits have been granted to six companies which will spend more than $77 million over five years looking for "hot rock" or geothermal power sources in Victoria. The permits, the first to be issued in the state, grant exploration rights to an area spanning 80,000 sq km across Victoria's southern region including Melbourne's surrounds.

Energy and Resources Minister Peter Batchelor announced the recipients on Thursday and said more environmentally friendly forms of energy must be found if Victoria was to meet its targets to reduce greenhouse gas. "It is vital we explore all means of producing electricity in a more sustainable way and geothermal offers that potential," Mr Batchelor said. "Geothermal energy sources in Victoria have scarcely been explored, but there is a growing awareness of their potential."

Geothermal energy produces electricity not from coal or gas but from the naturally occurring hot rocks and water reservoirs located deep beneath the earth's surface. The water is piped through a hole drilled into the hot rock resulting in steam, which is used to drive an electricity-generating turbine before it is injected back into the ground.The technology is in use in more than 70 countries, and Mr Batchelor said it was particularly suited to Victoria. "Victoria has a real advantage over other Australian states in the development of this energy source because of the compact nature of the state and the proximity of potential energy sources to the power grid and prospective markets," he said.

The Australian has some semi-coherent notes on the climate change debate in Australia, even if they can't help themselves with various bits of ritual greenie bashing.
LAST month, federal Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd made his landmark commitment to an Australian target of 60 per cent cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. This week, the Australian Greens announced an 80per cent target. Friends of the Earth opted for 95 per cent, while the crowd from Beyond Zero Emissions are, as the name implies, not only campaigning for no greenhouse emissions at all but presumably some as yet unspecified technology to pull them back from the atmosphere.

The official line coming from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is that developed countries will need to reduce emissions by 40 per cent to 90 per cent by 2050 to avoid dangerous temperature increases. As a result, wherever you position your activist flag on climate change, there is always somebody ready to outdo you. The accelerated mainstreaming of the public debate on climate change and the growing acceptance of the need for substantial policy reform are driving a new type of competitive environmentalism.

Not used to being listened to, the activist movement has found itself redefining its role and its relevancy in a political space it once had all to itself. The role of activism is, by its nature, much more political insurgency than conventional warfare, aiming to widen or drag the debate in new directions. ...

The political arm of the activist movement in Australia is the Greens. Until now they have pulled a primary vote approaching double digits federally and nearly 30 per cent in inner-city Sydney and Melbourne. They have held a genuine mandate from a section of Australian society who like having a rabble-rousing party that says the unsayable. In 2003, the Greens opposed the war on Iraq when Labor would not. They were the first to voice concern over the treatment of now convicted terrorist David Hicks.

It is a bitter irony, then, that the greatest threat to their political survival comes not from outside but from within their own back yard. The debate over climate change is morphing from a scientific issue to a global political and economic restructuring, and moving so fast and getting so big that it is sucking the oxygen out of the Greens' political space. ...

On Tuesday, senator Christine Milne launched the Greens' clearest counter-strike to Labor. Their new policy document Re-energising Australia is lightweight by conventional standards but a tome for the Greens. The report is overtly focused on policies and objectives that differentiate the Greens from Labor, and in the process points out that Labor's policy platform on climate change is much more threadbare than the party would care to admit.

Labor's 60 per cent target is not based on any research or analysis but simply imported from Europe, a dangerous practice given the latter's contrasting problems over energy security and high energy prices.

The Greens not only set a higher 80 per cent greenhouse reduction target (1990 baseline) by 2050 but a 30 per cent target by 2020, something that Rudd has to date baulked at for entirely practical reasons. They even dabble in tax and industry policy, suggesting carbon tax revenue be used to reduce payroll tax and rebuild manufacturing through an unspecified mix of tax breaks, subsidies and trade sanctions.

Of course, these targets are to be achieved without access to nuclear power or clean coal, an eye-watering concept for business and the energy sector, but then they're not really the target market.

The Greens also make a big deal of the link between banning old-growth logging and climate change. They know just how tender this issue still is within Labor following the disastrous foray into forestry policy by former Opposition leader Mark Latham in 2004. His promise to protect old-growth forests cost Labor two seats and gave it nothing. Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett hasn't even been to Tasmania yet.

"The public debate has moved massively in the last 12 months, which is why we have the Howard Government and Labor now talking about climate change," Milne says. "All we are getting from the major parties is, from the Government: 'We can't afford to do it because of the economy' and from Labor: 'We want 60 per cent cuts', but then no coherent policy program to get there or to address oil depletion."

The radioactive Rodent has announced his plans for building nuclear reactors and uranium enrichment facilities around the country, with an accompanying "education" campaign and some hot air about trying to find some non-existant people with the requisite skills, along with participation in some pie-in-the-sky future reactor program. Presumably they'll be paying some of our hard earned tax dollars to build these things as no commercial enterprise is ever going to be able to justify doing it...
Prime Minister John Howard today promised to remove all excessive restrictions on mining, processing and exporting of Australian uranium as a possible step to embarking on domestic nuclear power generation.

Mr Howard said expert advice to the government clearly showed Australia was giving up a major economic opportunity as a result of the excessive barriers on uranium mining and export. He said a key theme of that advice was that Australia should do what it could to expand uranium exports and remove unnecessary barriers that were impeding efficient operation and growth of the industry. "In light of the significance of global climate change and as the world's largest holder of uranium reserves, Australia has a clear responsibility to develop its uranium resources in a sustainable way - irrespective of whether or not we end up using nuclear power," he said in a statement. ...

The government will move to remove unnecessary constraints on expansion of uranium mining, such as overlapping and cumbersome regulations relating to the mining and transport of uranium ore. It will also make a firm commitment to Australia's participation in the Generation IV advanced nuclear reactor research program.

Mr Howard said the government would develop an appropriate nuclear energy regulatory regime including measures to govern any future potential nuclear energy facilities in Australia. The government will also move to lift skills and technical training to address for a possible expanded nuclear energy industry and embark on enhanced research and development. It will also embark on an information campaign to explain to the nation what needs to be done and why.

Not too many people are impressed by the plans of the out of touch and arrogant Rodent and his crew, who Rudd accurately labelled as "scared of the future".
The Wilderness Society (TWS) said an expanded nuclear industry would leave a dangerous legacy for future Australians. "The Prime Minister has said he wants to develop a nuclear industry but what he isn't saying is that Australia is being lined up to become the world's nuclear waste dump," TWS campaigns director Alec Marr said today. "Mr Howard's plan to enrich uranium is scandalous and would result in toxic waste that remains deadly for 4.5 billion years. "A nuclear industry in Australia, including increased uranium exports, will create vast new amounts of toxic waste that will be deadly to humans for as long as 250,000 years," he said.

Meanwhile Labor are trying to have their cake and eat it too by voting to allow new uranium mines even if they are currently holding the line against enrichment and nuclear power.
KEVIN Rudd has won his party's support for an expansion of uranium mining, arguing that some nations have to use nuclear power because they do not have the rich range of energy alternatives that Australia has at its disposal. ...

Environment spokesman Peter Garrett said he was “unapologetic” about his opposition to nuclear power and the risks of nuclear energy were greater than the benefits. He dismissed the proposition that nuclear power could be enlisted to deal with climate change. “Is the only way to meet this challenge it to create more nuclear waste?” he said

Mr Rann said the existing policy had not restricted uranium mining and when the Olympic Dam expansion was finished it would be the largest mine in the world, producing more uranium than all of Canada. He said a change was critical to the integrity of Labor policy and decisions should be made on facts and science not on emotion. South Australia was enjoying a minerals prospecting boom with a six-fold increase in mining exploration, which would lead to thousands of jobs.

WorldChanging has an interesting post on sustainable farming called Duck Rice.
We can learn a lot from the past about how we might develop sustainable practices for the future. After reading the Worldchanging article on terra preta, I was reminded of the story of Duck-Rice. The name might trigger associations with varieties like Golden Rice -- the high-nutrient concentration food developed a few years ago through genetic engineering. But this new rice is not a result of looking toward 21st century science and technology; it emerges from a thoughtful integration of tools long existing in the natural world.

Japanese farmer and entrepreneur, Takao Furuno, developed Duck-Rice as an integrated bio-system which eliminates the need for fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides by incorporating duck-raising into organic rice cultivation. The approach is now being replicated with substantial success all over South East Asia as an effective way to boost farmer incomes, reduce environmental impact and improve food security. It is a hybrid of the traditional farming practices of Japanese Rice Farmers and Furuno's own experimentation. The operations simultaneously raise Aigamo ducklings, Loaches (a species of fish), rice, and Azolla -- a nitrate-fixing species of aquatic fern. The Aigamo ducklings provide integrated pest management (IPM) services, replacing pesticides and herbicides by naturally controlling predaceous pest populations and digging up or eating competing weeds. The Loache and Aigamo duck waste, combined with the nitrate fixing properties of Azolla, increase soil nutrition, maintaining levels of productivity comparable to conventional farming operations without the need for costly synthetic fertilizers. The Azolla can later be harvested for animal feed.

A normal organic rice farm would require significant human labor to keep weeds down and maintain soil health, but the ducklings' natural movement aerates the soil and strengthens rice stalks, leaving the farmer with considerable time to invest in other income-producing activities. The alleviation of human effort supported by the process allows farmers to diversify their product base to include organic rice, fish, duck meat and eggs, thus reducing their vulnerability to external shocks such as price fluctuations, and potentially creating price premiums from attractive organic food markets.

Furuno himself rotates the duck-rice system with vegetable crops, allowing him to maintain a highly productive operation on a small plot of land in Japan. There is also some evidence that this form of rice cultivation neutralizes a significant amount of the green house gas emissions that rice paddies produce -- an estimated 12% of global anthropogenic methane output.

While Green Revolution methodologies have the potential to bring advantages to farmers whose traditional practices suffer in the fact of industrial agriculture, Duck-Rice demonstrates that through careful management of complementary species, farmers can gain a natural economic advantage and establish a more environmentally-responsible farming.

Gar Lipow at Grist has a detailed post on Feeding the world sustainably.
Agriculture for food and fiber represents another significant category of environmental impact. Before we worry about how to farm, we should consider how much agriculture we need. If you read the technical news, when this subject comes up it always centers on how to increase food production for a hungry world.

This is completely misleading. There is enough food produced (including meat and fish) worldwide not just to feed everyone on the planet, not just to make everyone fat, but to make everybody morbidly obese. Counting grain, beans, roots, fruits, vegetables, nuts, and other plants and fungi (not including animal feed), plus livestock, dairy, fish, eggs, and other animal products raised for human consumption, we produced nearly 2,800 calories per person per year in 2001 -- including 75 grams of protein. 2,200 calories per day is generally accepted as the average needed to keep a person healthy -- neither losing nor gaining weight. 56 grams of protein is the U.S. RDA for adult men. ...

How big an increase do we need to keep up with population growth? According to the U.S. Census[4], if you assume the same production with projected increases in population we will still average ~2,500 calories per person per day in 2010, ~2,300 per day in 2020. Without no cultivation of more acreage or increase in production per acre, we then approach absolute scarcity, falling to 1,900 in 2050. We need no increase in total food production before 2020, and only a 21 percent increase by 2050.

Moreover, in one sense the problem of getting that increase is already solved.

I'm going to suggest reasons to go beyond plain old organic farming in a moment. But it turns out that even conventional organic farming could feed more people than our current industrial system. ...

We have by no means begun to tap the potential of what sustainable agriculture can do. While current sustainable low-labor no-till techniques will meet our needs in the long run, it is important to gain resource efficiency in agriculture comparable to that of biointensive techniques without the waste of valuable human labor.

Environment News Service has n unusual article on Ecuador's offer to not develop an oil field and thus save the Amazon from further destruction - for a price.
The government of Ecuador will wait up to one year to see if the international community offers to compensate the country for not developing a major oil field in the heart of the Ecuadorian Amazon, Energy Minister Alberto Acosta says. The area of lush, primary rainforest shelters a unique diversity of animals and plants.

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa and his government say that if the international community can compensate the country with half of the forecasted lost revenues, Ecuador will leave the oil in Yasuni National Park undisturbed to protect the park's biodiversity and indigenous peoples living in voluntary isolation. "The first option is to leave that oil in the ground, but the international community would have to compensate us for immense sacrifice that a poor country like Ecuador would have to make," said Correa in a recent radio address. President Correa estimates the compensation figure at around US$350 million per year.

"Ecuador doesn't ask for charity," said Correa, "but does ask that the international community share in the sacrifice and compensates us with at least half of what our country would receive, in recognition of the environmental benefits that would be generated by keeping this oil underground."

The government's offer is in response to intense opposition to oil development in the area from Ecuador's vocal environmental and indigenous organizations who urgently strive to keep this continous primary rainforest intact. The oil fields, known as Ishpingo-Tiputini-Tambococha, ITT, are the largest untapped oil fields in Ecuador. They have been estimated by Ecuador's government and analysts to contain 900 million to one billion barrels of oil equivalent, about a quarter of the country's known reserves. ...

Ecuador is a country of 13 million people, more than half of whom live in poverty. The government claims that oil revenue is necessary to meet the development needs of its citizens. These revenues account for around 40 percent of the federal budget every year.

Ecuador is burdened with over 15 billion dollars of external debt, including substantial amounts owed to the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank - more than enough to cover Ecuador's ITT compensation offer.

Yasuni National Park protects one of the most biologically rich regions in the world, including a large stretch of the world's most diverse tree community and the highest known insect diversity in the world. It is one of the most diverse places in the world for birds and amphibians.

Queensland power firm Pulse energy has signed a lucrative deal with the Chinese.
Pulse Energy on Thursday signed a $312 million agreement with the Chongqing Coal Group to build and jointly own and operate four clean energy power plants at coal mine sites in China. The agreement involves the development of four 60-megawatt power stations in Chongqing that will use technology developed by the CSIRO to burn low concentration vent air methane to produce clean energy.

Pulse Energy business director Damien Weis said the deal provided the company with further growth opportunities. "We are in a great position to capitalise on the enormous clean energy opportunities in China," Mr Weis said. "The Chinese government has introduced legislation that requires power grid operators to purchase electricity generated by approved clean energy facilities."

The Energy Blog has a post on a New Zeraland company and their process for producing ethanol from carbon monoxide. This isn't a panacea but just another example of converting waste products into fuel.
A New Zealand company, LanzaTech, based in Auckland, announced that it had developed a fermentation process in which bacteria consume carbon monoxide and produce ethanol. Khosla Ventures has invested $3.5 million in the company to establish a pilot plant and perform the engineering work to prepare for commercial-scale ethanol production.

LanzaTech's innovation lies in using a bacterium to produce ethanol not from a carbohydrate, but from a gas, carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide is a waste product of a number of industrial processes, including the production of steel.

This technology could produce 50 billion gallons of ethanol from the world's steel mills alone, turning the liability of carbon emissions into valuable fuels worth over $50 billion per year at very low costs and adding substantial value to the steel industry. The technology will also be a key contributor to the cellulosic biofuels business as it can convert syngas produced through gasification into ethanol.
"We have proven in our laboratories that the carbon monoxide in industrial waste gases such as those generated during steel manufacture can be processed by bacterial fermentation to produce ethanol. Garnering the financial and strategic support of Khosla Ventures is a significant validation of our approach, and we welcome Khosla Ventures Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Doug Cameron, to our Board of Directors," said Dr. Sean Simpson, Chief Scientist and Founder of LanzaTech.

Their bacterium is described as seven nongenetically modified, non-pathogenic bacteria, isolated from natural environments that produce novel bioproducts via small scale fermentation.

LanzaTech New Zealand Ltd. is a privately held company, founded in 2005, whose mission is to enable industries that produce high volumes of carbon monoxide containing flue gases to become the lowest cost, highest volume producers of fuel ethanol.

Back to the bee colony collapse disorder subject for a moment, I quite liked this comment by Ellen Anderson at Casaubon's Book, which talks about the French experience with pesticides and bees. This seems to fit with the fungus (really a microsporidian protozoan) theory I linked to yesterday - the bee immune system is compromised and they became prey to a range of problems.
Mystery Disease? Sounds a lot like poison to me. The real mystery is why we are sitting by like timid dummies while the big corporations spin this one. Cell phones? Really?

I am a beekeeper in Central Massachusetts who read about Colony Collapse in February. Something in one of the reports reminded me of a description of how termites are said to be killed by a new class of pesticides known as neonicitinoids. I went to my local farmers' coop, picked up labels from the various insecticide bottles and Googled the ingredients with 'honeybees,' 'sublethal' and 'organic.' A product called 'Merit' containing the neuro-toxin 'Imidacloprid' came up as a soil treatment for fruit trees. Other products with other cute names were being advertised for use on turf to kill grubs (also earthworms.) The labels promise that all sorts of insects, including adult japanese beetles will be controlled for 12 months (read systemic.) Visit your local Walmart and garden center and you will find it on all the shelves. They sell more of it every year according to the Bayer Corporation. You remember Bayer, right? They gave us aspirin and other less pleasant products in WW I and WW II. More recently, BayerCropScience has given us the gift of genetically modified rice. You may have read about it.

'Merit' 'Gaucho' 'BayerAdvanced' 'Admire,' 'Gaucho,' 'Genesis,' 'Platinum,' 'Provado,' 'Leverage,' 'Actara' are catchy little trade names for Imidacloprid, a systemic insecticide that was banned in France after beekeepers staged an angry protest in Paris. Bayer CropScience paid many millions to the french beekeepers and voluntarily withdrew the product without admitting that it was the culprit. Vive La France! They take their food seriously. Shame on us. Shame on the EPA. Shame on the media for not even mentioning the history of the peoples fight against Imidacloprid in France. The more stories I hear about the mystery disease the sillier they get. Soon the media will begin to snicker at all of the alarmists who worry about GMO's and cell towers. They will sigh, continue to wonder and finally forget about it. Already some are beginning to talk about how we can survive without bees as though it were just another problem like surviving without oil.

Imidacloprid is the most likely culprit in CCD, even thought there may be other contributing factors. This is the same class of stuff some of us put on our dogs and cats to kill fleas and ticks (see Fipronil and Frontline.) It is much less toxic to mammals than to invertebrates. ( I confess that the ticks at my place have tempted me to put it on my own neck.) Yesterday, I overheard a salesperson in the coop suggest to a customer that he put some on his chickens. What a wonderful idea. We can have it for breakfast in our locally produced eggs. This morning The Weather Channel carried a Bayer advertisement for Merit calling out to those of us who are "sick and tired of all those bugs." If Imidacloprid were being discussed as a cause for CCD, you can be sure that the Weather Channel would be a little more concerned about those ads. That is why it is hardly ever mentioned by name. Instead, the generic term 'pesticide' is used in news discussions of CCD.

In fairness, defenders of Imidacloprid say is that it is less toxic to humans than the Lindane that it replaces. Also, this is the only chemical known to kill the wooly adelgid that attacks canadian hemlocks. But many home gardeners are aware of Lindane's danger using it carefully if at all. And, even it there is some role for Imidacloprid, there is no excuse for mixing a persistent neurotoxin into our food supply and placing it in the hands of unsuspecting or careless homeowners.

The Merit label I saw carried no warnings about bees even though there is no question that a sufficiently large dose of Immidacloprid is known to kill honeybees. This fact is not in any dispute. The question really is whether there are low, sub-lethal doses that do kill the bees. Bayer says there is no proof of this. They cannot find any traces of the stuff in the dead bees. (Actually, they cannot even find the bees.) Consider, however, the following. The graphic on the Merit label illustrates how the product travels up from the roots into the branches. Bayer claims (and studies confirm) that it is present in blossoms and pollen and that it persists in the soil for at least one year. So the bees do get some of it. If it will kill a really tough Japanese Beetle for 12 months is it really sensible to think that it wouldn't kill a honeybee, known to be sensitive to the drug? Consider also Bayer's own account of how termites are killed by Imidacloprid: the termite's immune system is compromised by the neurotoxin so that it becomes susceptible to the viruses, bacteria and fungi that are normally present and controlled. In other words, their immune systems collapse. If, by chance, the termite is not killed outright, when it flies away from its nest, Bayer's ads say that it will not be able to find its way back. Sound familiar? Sound like colony collapse disorder?

Jeff Vail has some follow up comments on Jevons Paradox after his recent post on the topic at The Oil Drum.
Probably the greatest conclusion that I draw from the debate is that Jevons’ Paradox, like all other “real-world” economic phenomena, is incredibly complex and interconnected, and cannot easily be reduced to a “this is a good idea” or “this is a bad idea” dichotomy. Not coincidentally, this was exactly the point that I was trying to make by highlighting the “shadow rebound effect” caused by Jevon’s Paradox, but I ended up learning about several additional unanticipated effects as well.

So what are my conclusions about the validity of efficiency policy in light of a full consideration of Jevons’ Paradox? My ultimate conclusions—though this is a bit out in left field—is that our economic system has grown too complex for us to accurately implement policy with a full understanding of all effects of that policy. The system is simply too complex, too non-linear, and as a result I have to question the rationality of economic policy in the first place. Anyone who says that they understand how the economy works is flat-out lying. We have lots of theories. They work sometimes. But as the debate on Jevons’ Paradox, and the nesting Matryoshka dolls of paradoxes that spin off from Jevons’, we are not capable of identifying and accounting for all the ramifications of any economic policy. We are often unable to even predict the big-picture direction or impact that will be the result of a policy. What to do? The only proposal that seems rational at this point is to advocate a reduction in societal complexity. That is, unfortunately, the very policy choice that stands the least chance of ever being implemented in our current political system.

So from a policy perspective, what do we do? Does efficiency legislation or rule promulgation make sense? To reduce energy consumption, probably not. To enhance resiliency to systemic shocks, probably not. To reduce the vulnerability of critical sectors of our national, social, or personal economies—probably. This seems to be the most valid rational to back efficiency. If we, as individuals, enhance our energy efficiency in core areas of energy use (areas we can least afford to do without), we are more resilient to future scarcity. The same is true on a larger scale—this is probably the most valid reason to support electrified rail, for example.

The ultimate take-away that I hope most people gained from the essay on Jevons’ Paradox is that simplistic answers or solutions, and simplistic models of our predicament in the face of Peak Oil, are the most likely to be wildly inaccurate. Our predicament is highly complex, but that in no way justifies ignoring the complexity and arriving at policy choices based on simplified, and inaccurate, economic models.

Saudi Arabia has reportedly foiled an Al Qaeda attack on oil facilities.
After barely rising in earlier trading, crude-oil prices were recently nearly $1 a barrel higher on the Nymex, pushing $66. It seems traders may have thought again about the size and sophistication of an alleged foiled al Qaeda plot to attack oil fields in Saudi Arabia. The alleged plotters “had reached an advanced stage of readiness, and what remained only was to set the zero hour for their attacks,” Saudi Interior Ministry spokesman Brig. Mansour al Turki told the Associated Press. “They had the personnel, the money, the arms.”

Crude-oil prices at first yawned at the report, but then the market seemed to do a double-take, according to Masood Farivar at Dow Jones Newswires. “The fact that [the plot] was advanced and sophisticated is very, very big,” a broker told Farivar.

And the threat to Saudi oil facilities is not new; last February the Saudis foiled a direct attack on an oil-processing facility at Abqaiq, possibly “the single most vital cog in the world petroleum system,” The Wall Street Journal wrote. Al Qaeda has called for attacks on Saudi oil facilities, to keep pressure on the Saudi regime and to threaten global oil supplies. Today’s foiled plot may be a sign the terrorist group isn’t giving up any time soon.

It appears Rosie O'Donnell is leaving her TV show after floating 911 conspiracy theories and pondering a Gulf of Tonkin style incident to trigger an attack on Iran. I'm sure these events aren't connected though. USA Today has some highlights:
• She compared fundamentalist Christians to Islamic extremists: "Radical Christianity is just as threatening as radical Islam in a country like America where we have a separation of church and state."

• Called for the impeachment of President Bush: "I think we should do it so the world knows that the nation is not standing behind this president's choices; that the nation, a democracy, feels differently than the man who is leading as if it was a dictatorship and that we represent this country; he does not lead as a monarch."

• Suggested the British intentionally caused the crisis with Iran: "There were 15 British sailors and marines who apparently went into Iranian waters, and they were seized by the Iranians. And I have one thing to say, Gulf of Tonkin. Google it."

• Claimed that the World Trade Center's Building 7 was brought down by explosives on 9/11: "I do believe that it is the first time in history that fire has ever melted steel. I do believe that it defies physics for the World Trade Center Tower 7 … which collapsed in on itself. It is impossible for a building to fall the way it fell without explosives being involved. … World Trade 1 and 2 got hit by planes; seven, miraculously, the first time in history, steel was melted by fire."

• Defended shock jock Don Imus: "What's the next step ... your job is going to be taken away if you think or say something that America doesn't like?"

Past Peak notes that Iraqi blogger Riverbend is giving up and leaving the country.
Iraqi blogger Riverbend, writing about the wall that's being built around a "Sunni" area in Baghdad, and about the wreckage that is Iraq today. It's heart-breaking:
The wall, of course, will protect no one. I sometimes wonder if this is how the concentration camps began in Europe. The Nazi government probably said, "Oh look — we're just going to protect the Jews with this little wall here — it will be difficult for people to get into their special area to hurt them!" And yet, it will also be difficult to get out.

The Wall is the latest effort to further break Iraqi society apart. Promoting and supporting civil war isn't enough, apparently — Iraqis have generally proven to be more tenacious and tolerant than their mullahs, ayatollahs, and Vichy leaders. It's time for America to physically divide and conquer — like Berlin before the wall came down or Palestine today. This way, they can continue chasing Sunnis out of "Shia areas" and Shia out of "Sunni areas".

I always hear the Iraqi pro-war crowd interviewed on television from foreign capitals (they can only appear on television from the safety of foreign capitals because I defy anyone to be publicly pro-war in Iraq). They refuse to believe that their religiously inclined, sectarian political parties fueled this whole Sunni/Shia conflict. They refuse to acknowledge that this situation is a direct result of the war and occupation. They go on and on about Iraq's history and how Sunnis and Shia were always in conflict and I hate that. I hate that a handful of expats who haven't been to the country in decades pretend to know more about it than people actually living there.

I remember Baghdad before the war — one could live anywhere. We didn't know what our neighbors were — we didn't care. No one asked about religion or sect. No one bothered with what was considered a trivial topic: are you Sunni or Shia? You only asked something like that if you were uncouth and backward. Our lives revolve around it now. Our existence depends on hiding it or highlighting it — depending on the group of masked men who stop you or raid your home in the middle of the night.

On a personal note, we've finally decided to leave. I guess I've known we would be leaving for a while now. We discussed it as a family dozens of times. At first, someone would suggest it tentatively because, it was just a preposterous idea — leaving ones home and extended family — leaving ones country — and to what? To where? [...]

So we've been busy. Busy trying to decide what part of our lives to leave behind. Which memories are dispensable? We, like many Iraqis, are not the classic refugees — the ones with only the clothes on their backs and no choice. We are choosing to leave because the other option is simply a continuation of what has been one long nightmare — stay and wait and try to survive. [...]

The problem is that we don't even know if we'll ever see this stuff again. We don't know if whatever we leave, including the house, will be available when and if we come back. There are moments when the injustice of having to leave your country, simply because an imbecile got it into his head to invade it, is overwhelming. It is unfair that in order to survive and live normally, we have to leave our home and what remains of family and friends... And to what?

There may have been people in the White House and the Pentagon who actually believed that US troops would be greeted as liberators and accepted as the new de facto rulers of Iraq. Or maybe the game plan has always been to create such chaos that Iraqis would eventually demand partition of their own country. Or — perhaps most likely — both, with various factions working at cross-purposes. In any case, I think we need vehemently to resist the notion that if only the US had done this or that thing differently — short of immediately pulling out after the fall of Saddam, something that was never in the cards, just look at the enormous US embassy under construction in Baghdad — it all could have ended well. There isn't some "right" way to invade and occupy a nation of people who do not want you there. The problem isn't that the invasion was done wrong. The problem is that the invasion was done at all. And every day that US troops remain in Iraq, the failure and the unimaginable suffering only deepen.

The Guardian has an interesting article on the construction of the American police state - "Fascist America, in 10 easy steps (via Cryptogon).
From Hitler to Pinochet and beyond, history shows there are certain steps that any would-be dictator must take to destroy constitutional freedoms. And, argues Naomi Wolf, George Bush and his administration seem to be taking them all.

Last autumn, there was a military coup in Thailand. The leaders of the coup took a number of steps, rather systematically, as if they had a shopping list. In a sense, they did. Within a matter of days, democracy had been closed down: the coup leaders declared martial law, sent armed soldiers into residential areas, took over radio and TV stations, issued restrictions on the press, tightened some limits on travel, and took certain activists into custody.

They were not figuring these things out as they went along. If you look at history, you can see that there is essentially a blueprint for turning an open society into a dictatorship. That blueprint has been used again and again in more and less bloody, more and less terrifying ways. But it is always effective. It is very difficult and arduous to create and sustain a democracy - but history shows that closing one down is much simpler. You simply have to be willing to take the 10 steps.

As difficult as this is to contemplate, it is clear, if you are willing to look, that each of these 10 steps has already been initiated today in the United States by the Bush administration.

Because Americans like me were born in freedom, we have a hard time even considering that it is possible for us to become as unfree - domestically - as many other nations. Because we no longer learn much about our rights or our system of government - the task of being aware of the constitution has been outsourced from citizens' ownership to being the domain of professionals such as lawyers and professors - we scarcely recognise the checks and balances that the founders put in place, even as they are being systematically dismantled. Because we don't learn much about European history, the setting up of a department of "homeland" security - remember who else was keen on the word "homeland" - didn't raise the alarm bells it might have.

It is my argument that, beneath our very noses, George Bush and his administration are using time-tested tactics to close down an open society. It is time for us to be willing to think the unthinkable - as the author and political journalist Joe Conason, has put it, that it can happen here. And that we are further along than we realise.

Conason eloquently warned of the danger of American authoritarianism. I am arguing that we need also to look at the lessons of European and other kinds of fascism to understand the potential seriousness of the events we see unfolding in the US.

1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy

After we were hit on September 11 2001, we were in a state of national shock. Less than six weeks later, on October 26 2001, the USA Patriot Act was passed by a Congress that had little chance to debate it; many said that they scarcely had time to read it. We were told we were now on a "war footing"; we were in a "global war" against a "global caliphate" intending to "wipe out civilisation". There have been other times of crisis in which the US accepted limits on civil liberties, such as during the civil war, when Lincoln declared martial law, and the second world war, when thousands of Japanese-American citizens were interned. But this situation, as Bruce Fein of the American Freedom Agenda notes, is unprecedented: all our other wars had an endpoint, so the pendulum was able to swing back toward freedom; this war is defined as open-ended in time and without national boundaries in space - the globe itself is the battlefield. "This time," Fein says, "there will be no defined end."

Creating a terrifying threat - hydra-like, secretive, evil - is an old trick. It can, like Hitler's invocation of a communist threat to the nation's security, be based on actual events (one Wisconsin academic has faced calls for his dismissal because he noted, among other things, that the alleged communist arson, the Reichstag fire of February 1933, was swiftly followed in Nazi Germany by passage of the Enabling Act, which replaced constitutional law with an open-ended state of emergency). Or the terrifying threat can be based, like the National Socialist evocation of the "global conspiracy of world Jewry", on myth.

It is not that global Islamist terrorism is not a severe danger; of course it is. I am arguing rather that the language used to convey the nature of the threat is different in a country such as Spain - which has also suffered violent terrorist attacks - than it is in America. Spanish citizens know that they face a grave security threat; what we as American citizens believe is that we are potentially threatened with the end of civilisation as we know it. Of course, this makes us more willing to accept restrictions on our freedoms.

2. Create a gulag

Once you have got everyone scared, the next step is to create a prison system outside the rule of law (as Bush put it, he wanted the American detention centre at Guantánamo Bay to be situated in legal "outer space") - where torture takes place.

At first, the people who are sent there are seen by citizens as outsiders: troublemakers, spies, "enemies of the people" or "criminals". Initially, citizens tend to support the secret prison system; it makes them feel safer and they do not identify with the prisoners. But soon enough, civil society leaders - opposition members, labour activists, clergy and journalists - are arrested and sent there as well.

This process took place in fascist shifts or anti-democracy crackdowns ranging from Italy and Germany in the 1920s and 1930s to the Latin American coups of the 1970s and beyond. It is standard practice for closing down an open society or crushing a pro-democracy uprising.

With its jails in Iraq and Afghanistan, and, of course, Guantánamo in Cuba, where detainees are abused, and kept indefinitely without trial and without access to the due process of the law, America certainly has its gulag now. Bush and his allies in Congress recently announced they would issue no information about the secret CIA "black site" prisons throughout the world, which are used to incarcerate people who have been seized off the street.

Gulags in history tend to metastasise, becoming ever larger and more secretive, ever more deadly and formalised. We know from first-hand accounts, photographs, videos and government documents that people, innocent and guilty, have been tortured in the US-run prisons we are aware of and those we can't investigate adequately.

But Americans still assume this system and detainee abuses involve only scary brown people with whom they don't generally identify. It was brave of the conservative pundit William Safire to quote the anti-Nazi pastor Martin Niemöller, who had been seized as a political prisoner: "First they came for the Jews." Most Americans don't understand yet that the destruction of the rule of law at Guantánamo set a dangerous precedent for them, too.

By the way, the establishment of military tribunals that deny prisoners due process tends to come early on in a fascist shift. Mussolini and Stalin set up such tribunals. On April 24 1934, the Nazis, too, set up the People's Court, which also bypassed the judicial system: prisoners were held indefinitely, often in isolation, and tortured, without being charged with offences, and were subjected to show trials. Eventually, the Special Courts became a parallel system that put pressure on the regular courts to abandon the rule of law in favour of Nazi ideology when making decisions.

3. Develop a thug caste

When leaders who seek what I call a "fascist shift" want to close down an open society, they send paramilitary groups of scary young men out to terrorise citizens. The Blackshirts roamed the Italian countryside beating up communists; the Brownshirts staged violent rallies throughout Germany. This paramilitary force is especially important in a democracy: you need citizens to fear thug violence and so you need thugs who are free from prosecution. ...

While the Bush administration and its works are by and large evil, most of America still manages to be good in spite of them. I'll close with an entry from the new Long Now blog on the world's largest sundial (which I'm sure will reassure those of a doomerish disposition who worry that we may not be able to tell the time after the collapse). But the sundial is French you say ? Sure - but the Long Now concept is still a great idea.
This past September the French army installed 600 one meter square reflective panels in the shape of Roman numerals on the sands of Mont Saint-Michel, a small rocky island off the coast of Normandy. The island’s 150-foot abbey spire cast a shadow three quarters of a mile long that swept across the numerals, making the timekeeper the largest sundial ever constructed, beating out Jaipur, India’s Samrat Yantra.


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