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Think outside the Moo: To Cut the Methane from Cows, Get Creative!

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In a pasture outside Edmonton, Canada, you’ll find a few dozen cows doing what cows do: mostly eating. The average animal spends eight-plus hours a day filling its belly, or as is the case with cows, bellies. Along with that enormous appetite, cows are born with the ability to digest almost any plant they can chew, thanks to a multichambered stomach and a helpful army of gut microbes that break down food that most mammals cannot.

The system is an evolutionary bonanza for cattle, but it’s not so easy on the environment — which is why the animals at the Lacombe Research Centre are no ordinary grazers. Through a transponder clipped to the ear of each cow, scientists record when a cow sticks her head into a bin of tasty feed pellets. As she eats, a solar-powered fume hood above captures her exhalations. Laser beams surround the pasture, reading gases in the atmosphere.

All this fuss is over bovine burps. While cattle and other ruminants like sheep and goats have been gassy for around 50 million years, scientists have only recently begun to pay keen attention to their exhaust as concern grows over climate change. The belches contain methane, an odorless compound that is the main component of natural gas. In the atmosphere, methane warms the Earth.

It isn’t the most abundant greenhouse gas created by human activity (that prize goes to carbon dioxide), but methane is one of the most powerful at trapping heat. In a “pound for pound” comparison, over a century, methane has an impact on climate change that is 25 times as great as CO2, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.


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Citing methane’s impact, a recent CNN story referred to beef as “the new SUV.” But the old SUVs, along with the rest of the oil and gas industry, are a larger source of atmospheric methane in the United States, EPA data indicate, contributing 29 percent of U.S. methane emissions. Livestock is responsible for 26 percent, the agency estimates. Yet while that’s the official number, a paper last year in the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres raised the possibility that the EPA’s measurements are off, and that the biggest source of methane from human activity may in fact be ruminants — more than 90 percent of them cows raised for beef and dairy production.

While methane emissions from the energy sector declined between 1990 and 2013, the contribution from agriculture rose by 11 percent, according to the EPA. (Though in later years cattle populations fell and so did livestock-related methane.) The World Bank estimates that overall global methane emissions rose 17 percent between 1990 and 2010. In 2014, the U.S. government announced a goal to reduce methane output from dairy cattle by 25 percent by 2020.

That’s why scientists worldwide are looking for ways to produce a less noxious cow. Experiments target the animal inside and out, testing variations in feed, antimethane additives and experimental vaccines. The Canadian project goes deeper, using genetics to develop and breed animals that are naturally less burpy.

All approaches are promising, but no single one has hit the sweet spot: reducing methane dramatically while not harming the cow or dampening production of farms and ranches. Any solution can’t be too impractical or too expensive, either.

The good news is that this is one issue where the interests of the $44 billion beef industry and environmentalists may converge — cattle that pollute less might live longer or get by with less feed, improving the profit margins of farms and ranches.

“We’ve been selling the greenhouse gas story as a win-win to farmers,” says Conrad Ferris, head of dairy research at the Agri-Food and Biosciences Institute in Hillsborough, Northern Ireland.

GREEN COWS   Cows’ special digestive system is a major methane brewer. So, researchers are rounding up new tactics to make bovines a little less burpy.

E. Otwell, H. Thompson, Orange HD, NASA, Lisa McKeown/Univ. of Alberta, Grieg/Czech Nat’l Symphony, Doctor Turtle, Aqua Channel

Natural gas

Most methane-reducing experiments don’t concern the cow per se; they go after the microscopic ecosystem huddled inside the animal’s gut. When a cow eats, hay, grass and other plant material land inside the rumen, the largest of the four compartments of the bovine stomach, which can hold 150 to 190 liters of food and water. Ruminant digestion is a microbial marvel: A portion of the stomach is sectioned off into a sophisticated vat for fermentation, which occurs when microorganisms slice sugar and other large molecules into smaller ones. (Without fermentation, grapes and agave couldn’t become wine and tequila.)

Trapped inside the rumen, bacteria digest the components of the forage, especially cellulose, the large chains of glucose that form the main structural support of the cell walls of plants. Cellulose is the reason green plants tend to be stiff and rigid. People aren’t born with the enzymes to cope with cellulose, which is why we don’t eat grass. When humans eat foods such as fruits and vegetables, the cellulose acts as dietary fiber. Because it resists digestion, cellulose doesn’t provide energy. It does help a person feel full with fewer calories and maintain the health of the intestine, and of the microbiome inside.

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But a ruminant animal’s microorganisms can extract the energy locked up in cellulose. Its digestive system includes microbes called methanogens, ancient entities distinct from bacteria and other microorganisms. Methanogens can live in other oxygen-starved environments, such as the bottom of lakes. When microbes in the rumen digest cellulose, they leave behind nutrients that the cow needs plus methane gas, created when methanogens soak up the hydrogen left over from fermentation. The relationship is straightforward: The more the cow eats, the more it ferments, the more methane produced.

Emissions from a grown dairy cow can amount to about 260 to 650 grams of methane per day. Consider that the nation has 98 million head of cattle and you see the scope of the problem. One mid-sized animal could put out about 150 kilograms of methane every year, which has the same environmental impact as driving from New York to Los Angeles — three times.

Fiddle with the feed

Scientists are trying to interfere with the chemical steps that lead to methane production in ways that don’t harm the overall health or productivity of the cows. Over the last few years, researchers have tried adding natural and laboratory-made substances to cow feed. One of them is nitrate. The idea is that, given the extra nitrogen, methanogens sopping up excess hydrogen will form ammonia (composed of one nitrogen and three hydrogen atoms) instead of methane (one carbon and four hydrogens). Last year, scientists from the Lethbridge Research Centre in Canada, writing in the Canadian Journal of Animal Science, reviewed nitrate-adding experiments dating back to the 1960s. Some laboratory tests yielded dramatic results, reducing cow methane emissions by as much as 70 percent. In other studies, the nitrate didn’t affect the growth or appetite of the cows, or milk or meat production.

Problem is, in the rumen, nitrate is broken down into nitrite, which can interfere with the action of red blood cells. One cow died in an experiment and six others had to be rescued. “One of the challenges is, how do you deliver it in a way that prevents nitrate toxicity in the animal,” says Wendy Powers, director of environmental stewardship for animal agriculture at Michigan State University in East Lansing.

Other scientists have experimented with plants that can influence microbes and change the methane-producing chemistry of the rumen, with the hope that “the public will more readily accept something that is natural,” says Alexander Hristov, a professor of dairy nutrition at Penn State University. He and his colleagues added a by-product of cashew nut processing to feed and reduced methane emissions by a modest 8 percent, they reported in June in the Journal of Dairy Science. He has also experimented with adding oregano to feed, which reduced methane. But it got to be too much. “We were feeding 500 grams of oregano per cow per day,” he says. “That is not going to be economical.”

Powers mentored a Michigan State grad student who tried adding an extract from tea to feed, which raised yet another complication: “You had to get so much in there to be effective, palatability became an issue,” she says. Cows will shun a solution that tastes bad. Overall, she says, experiments with various plant extracts have been inconsistent.

Hristov’s team devised another approach that appears to pass the taste test. Researchers experimented with a synthetic feed additive designed to interfere with an enzyme that drives the last step of methane formation. In the Aug. 25 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the researchers reported that 48 cows given the additive for 12 weeks produced 30 percent less methane than cows that ate only their normal feed. The additive did not affect the animals’ appetite or milk production. “This is the most promising feed additive we have worked with,” Hristov says. “In my opinion, this is the answer to the gut problem.”

The Irish scientists are also trying to reduce methane by decreasing the proportion of roughage (the grass and hay that leads to methane production) and increasing the amount of concentrates, which are plants that are easier to digest without fermentation, such as corn and soybeans. Last year, in the Journal of Dairy Science, the researchers described one such experiment in 40 grazing cows. As concentrates increased, so did milk production. The cows’ overall methane emissions weren’t affected, but with higher production, the amount of methane that accompanied each liter of milk was reduced, which eases the environmental impact. That experiment was on animals in the field. Experiments in barns have also demonstrated that more concentrates mean less methane per liter of milk produced, Ferris says. But concentrates are costly. “There comes a point when even the higher milk production doesn’t cover the cost of concentrates,” he says. Also, if the overall goal is to ease the impact on the environment, the production and shipping of concentrates has its own carbon footprint.

Squelch the belch

A concern with food additives is that the methanogens in the rumen might adapt to their new diet after a time and resume methane production at the same level. For that reason, an additive would probably need to be repeatedly fed and monitored through the animal’s life span, potentially adding to cost and labor, says Mark Aspin, manager of the Pastoral Greenhouse Gas Research Consortium in Wellington, New Zealand, which partners with the government research agency AgResearch. Researchers in New Zealand — a country with more cows than people — are developing an antimethane vaccine that could reduce the population of methanogens in the rumen without affecting an animal’s weight, milk production or breeding.

The advantage of a vaccine, Aspin says, is that it could theoretically be administered just once, or at least only annually. Also, farmers and ranchers are used to vaccinations; adding one more shot wouldn’t be much of a burden on existing agricultural practices. It could be used across other economically important ruminants, such as sheep (which outnumber his country’s human population 7-to-1), he says.

The technology is still far from the farm, however. The New Zealand research team has identified antibodies to the gut microbes and is in the process of amplifying the important pieces of those antibodies and incorporating them into a vaccine. In the journal Animal in 2013, the New Zealand team reported finding genetic sequences in methanogens that are attractive targets for a vaccine.

They’ve also developed a vaccine injection that produces methanogen antibodies in saliva, which would then travel into the rumen. This is one key to delivery, since an average cow produces 100 to 150 liters of spit a day to aid in digestion.

Further experiments would have to demonstrate that lowering methanogens won’t affect the animal’s overall health. “The concern is that removing methanogens from the rumen may allow hydrogen to accumulate,” Aspin says. However, “in the limited studies that have been done to date, it doesn’t appear that this is the case.”

Milking the genetics

Sidestepping digestion altogether, some researchers are focusing on breeding a cleaner cow.

In Ireland, Ferris and his colleagues experiment with livestock management. Part of the idea is to lengthen the life span of any given animal. “It takes over two years from when a calf is born until she produces her first liter of milk,” he says. If a cow lives longer, her lifetime methane production is spread out over more liters of milk. Also, a farmer does not have to replace as many members of the herd with young, all-methane, no-milk youngsters. In a paper published last year in the Journal of Dairy Science, his research team reported that Norwegian breeds had greater longevity than Holsteins, which make up more than 80 percent of U.S. dairy cows.

Researchers in Alberta are developing lines of cattle that produce less methane because they are born that way. “If you use a feed additive, you’ve got to add it all the time,” says John Basarab, a research scientist for beef cattle production and genetics at Alberta Agriculture and Forestry. But a naturally more efficient cow can get by on less feed for the same growth.

Over the last two decades, Basarab and his research team have measured about 5,000 cattle for feed efficiency, and report that old-fashioned selective breeding can produce animals that release up to 25 percent less methane. “In every breed there are animals that are efficient, or inefficient,” he says. The researchers began the research not with methane in mind, but with the idea that animals that extract the most calories from their feed will ultimately be more economical. “Essentially there are animals that eat less for the same amount of growth,” Basarab says.

Approaching the methane issue through genetics is slow (the gestation period for a cow is about 280 days), he concedes, but it also has the advantage of being “cumulative and permanent.”

He and others say the day may come for cows — just as it did for cars — when governments require certain limits on emissions. And just as organic foods have risen in popularity, consumers may start demanding low-methane products.

More and more consumers want to know where their food comes from and whether it’s being produced in a sustainable way, Basarab says. “If you don’t take care of these things, the public might just say that’s a bad way of producing food and we’re not going to buy it.”

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Oceans and Water

Time To Flip the Ocean Script — From Victim to Solution

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By Virginia Gewin

The ocean was once thought too immense to fail, until bleached coral reefs, ocean acidification and depleted fisheries transformed it into what seemed a hopeless, depleted victim.

Now the ocean is primed for a new role, with emerging evidence pointing to a more hopeful narrative that the ocean offers untapped climate, food security and economic recovery solutions.

That’s the case being made by Jane Lubchenco, former administrator at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, who spoke Sept. 23 at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ virtual conference.

Former NOAA administrator Jane Lubchenco spoke about the future of oceans at SEJ’s virtual 2020 conference on Sept. 23.

At a workshop on oceans, climate and the 2020 election, Lubchenco pointed to the work of the High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy, a diverse partnership of heads of state, including 14 world leaders, prime ministers and presidents — representing 30% of the world’s coastlines and 20% of the world’s fisheries — who have committed to transition to a sustainable ocean economy.

The panel has published an analysis that highlighted five ocean-based options able to meaningfully decrease global carbon emissions:

  • ocean-based renewable energy (wind and wave)
  • decarbonization of ocean-based transport
  • conservation of existing blue carbon in coastal and marine ecosystems
  • shifting of diets to sea-based protein
  • carbon storage in the seabed (the only option that requires further study)

Implementing all five actions could deliver roughly 20% of the greenhouse gas emission cuts needed by 2050 to keep global temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees Celsius, according to the panel’s analysis.

“Most of the international climate policy world focuses on land-based mitigation — transportation, buildings, energy generation,” Lubchenco told the virtual workshop participants. “The ocean has been out of sight, out of mind; based on this analysis, it needs to be squarely at the table.”

 

Future of food from the sea

Lubchenco further highlighted how ocean-based food security is on the rise. The 2006 overhaul of fisheries reform, she noted, is one of the least appreciated environmental success stories of the last few decades. In 2000, there were 92 overfished stocks; by 2019, that number had been slashed to 46.

“It is possible to end overfishing,” Lubchenco said. In addition, as of 2019, 47 stocks had been rebuilt amid a 21% increase in catch.

The ocean panel also looked at the future of food from the sea to publish a white paper (and subsequent peer-reviewed Nature study) that calculated the ocean could supply over six times more food than it does today — as a result of fisheries reforms as well as aquaculture, namely for bivalves such as mussels, oysters and clams.

To that end, Lubchenco mentioned an innovative new partnership among 10 top global companies called SeaBOS, or Seafood Business for Ocean Stewardship, which is working to realize sustainable seafood production.

 

Report suggests big payoffs to ocean investments

Pivoting to how the ocean offers opportunities for an equitable, sustainable blue recovery to the COVID-19 pandemic, she noted that the ocean panel released a report in September detailing how investments in coastal restoration, seaweed or bivalve aquaculture, sewerage for coastal communities, renewable energy and zero-emission marine transport could pay off five-fold.

‘The ocean is so central to our health, prosperity and well-being, it’s too big to ignore.’

— Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA administrator

“The ocean is so central to our health, prosperity and well-being, it’s too big to ignore,” said Lubchenco.

She added a teaser for the Dec. 3 release of the ocean panel’s final report and a major policy announcement. Interested journalists can register for a Dec. 1 embargoed press conference by contacting Lauren Zelin of the World Resources Institute.

Later in the SEJ workshop, Lubchenco fielded questions on a range of topics including the scientific integrity of NOAA, the future of aquaculture, greater protections for marine reserves and U.S. readiness for sea level rise.

Ocean-related actions to mitigate climate change. Image: High Level Panel for a Sustainable Ocean Economy. Click to enlarge.

Asked to comment on the appointment and nomination of climate change deniers to key posts at NOAA, she expressed grave concern.

“When there are people in high-level positions that have the power to suppress, cherry-pick or distort information, it undermines the confidence Americans can have in NOAA,” Lubchenco said. Scientific progress, she noted, requires dissent or thinking out of left field, but it must be credible.

“The people nominated and appointed recently are not even in left field, they are miles from the ballpark,” Lubchenco  said, adding they posed a real threat to the nation.

She encouraged journalists to stay alert and file FOIAs to unearth any shenanigans that might be playing out.

 

Aquaculture needs clearer governance

Lubchenco also highlighted the status of aquaculture. Fish farming — specifically aquaculture that must be fed, such as salmon — continues to face significant environmental challenges.

In recent years there has been progress to reduce the amount of wild-capture fish needed to feed carnivorous farmed fish, she noted, but it is not yet considered sustainable.

Fish farms have also made modest improvements in dealing with diseases and waste. Lubchenco argued there’s so much more potential and so many fewer problems with bivalve aquaculture — for example, mussels, oysters, clams — because they feed on plankton in the water.

“The future, especially with climate change, will be on non-fed species,” added Lubchenco.

That said, she highlighted how it’s become clear that there is ambiguity over which federal agencies have the authority to manage aquaculture in federal waters — specifically to what extent the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the law that governs fisheries, also applies to aquaculture.

 

‘We are not well prepared at all for

sea level rise, as a nation or as a world.’

— Jane Lubchenco, former NOAA administrator

 

In the end, Lubchenco predicts Congress will have to weigh in and create a law to govern aquaculture.

Lastly, Lubchenco responded bluntly to a question from Portland-based journalist Lee van der Voo, about U.S. preparedness for sea level rise.

“We are not well prepared at all for sea level rise, as a nation or as a world,” she warned. While some states — notably California and New York — are addressing the issue, Lubchenco said the country needs to take parallel actions to mitigate the consequences of sea level rise in parallel with rapid efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

And to that end, she added, “we need federal government that is enabling that to happen, not preventing it from happening and not making it worse.”

The workshop was moderated by Robert McClure, co-founder and executive director of InvestigateWest, and an on-demand video is available to registered conference goers on the #SEJ2020 Whova app. Plus, check out this page of additional links and resources.

Virginia Gewin is a freelance science journalist based in the Pacific Northwest who covers climate change, agriculture, conservation and diversity in STEM. Her work has appeared in Nature, Science, Discover, Popular Science, Washington Post, Modern Farmer, Portland Monthly and many others. Follow her on Twitter at @VirginiaGewin.


Source: Society for environmental Journalists

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A web of Life for ALL Life

Allan Savory: A holistic management shift is required

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"We need to findmore effective ways to amplify the stories of solutions"

 

Mr. Savory we know historically that the deterioration of food production systems in past civilizations and their inability to cognize encroaching complexity of population growth and governance in a holistic context leads to unbroken chain of civilizations’ collapsing. Do you think we still have time to avoid this on a global level now? Is there a way to create a new hope and new vision?

We we do not know, but Britain did not know if they could survive after the fall of France and most of Europe – but with good leadership, pushing aside egos and personal gain and acting on a war-footing they more than survived. Never has human civilization faced a graver danger than now with global finance and ecological illiteracy of our institutions driving the massive environmental degradation destroying our only habitat. Ordinary people know that all species, including humans cannot survive without suitable habitat. If world leaders (heads of governments and UN) put the massive environmental degradation that culminates in global desertification and the climate emergency on a war-footing and lead we have great hope for future generations.

Can you elaborate on the different impacts that ‘policy’ vs. ‘practice’ has on this impending problem of reforming agricultural systems worldwide?

Yes. Without agriculture there is no city, church, university, army, business or government – no civilization. Without a new regenerative form of agriculture (not crop production, but the production of food and fibre from the world’s land and waters) global civilization will fail. This is because all forms of agriculture historically have led to the failure of civilizations in all regions of the world and now the same threat is global. Few things in my life have taught society more clearly how interlinked our survival is than the present pandemic. Armies change civilizations. Farmers, foresters, fishermen, pastoralists destroy civilizations. So, we face the situation in which mainstream institutional, industrial agriculture led by our universities, governments and corporations supported by global finance, is the most destructive and extractive industry ever in history. And all forms of organic, sustainable, permaculture, grass production of livestock ever known led to failure of many civilizations in all regions long before chemicals and machinery.

 

So, if we keep discussing different practices and people keep vying for validity and funding for their favoured practice we know we will fail. What world leaders on a global war-footing need to do is to address agriculture at the policy level by focusing on the cause of agriculture, throughout history, being so environmentally, socially and economically destructive (while feeding ever growing numbers of people).

By governments and all large institutions addressing at policy level the cause of the ever-growing environmental destruction reflected in global desertification and climate change all nations will rapidly develop the required new regenerative agriculture. Very little new knowledge, not already available amongst the world’s farmers, fishermen, foresters, wildlife and livestock managers, universities and environmental organizations, is required. We do not lack detailed knowledge, we lack the ability to manage the social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity. That ability we only gained in 1984.

“If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”

 

We know most of the organized structures of our modern world can be represented as silo’s, inhabited by true believers (Eric Hoffer author), and authoritarian demagogues.  Do you believe that Holistic Management training will become widely acceptable at upper levels of organizations or will occur because of collapsing regional agricultural ecosystems at the level of farming being our next crises?

I don’t know. All we do know, from good research and history, is that when counter-intuitive or paradigm-shifting change is involved, it is impossible for democratic leaders or any organization (institution) to lead. No change is possible until public opinion shifts and demands that change. And this holds no matter how serious, no matter how many million lives are lost or what the economic cost. Institutions, including elected leaders of such, take on a life of their own as complex systems. Institutions reflect the prevailing beliefs of society and lead the way with such thinking. However, when truly new knowledge emerges (which has happened very few times in history – Coppernicus, Galilleo, Semmelwiess are examples) institutions lead the ridicule and rejection until public opinion shifts. I cannot find any case in history of any institution accepting paradigm-shifting change ahead of its public.

Addressing the cause of all that ails us involves two paradigm-shifting concepts – known and developed by thousands of people over sixty years, including thousands employed in institutions but acting independently of their institutions – the Holistic Management framework has been blocked from rapidly gaining public awareness by the world’s institutions that became aware of it – environmental and agricultural organizations, universities, governments and international agencies. Only time will tell if programs such as this interview, social networking and the efforts of many people mainly engaged in developing regenerative agriculture will prevail over institutional aggression and inertia.

How is the lack of validation affecting positive change in local communities to holistic principles?

Firstly, there is really only one holistic principle. Intuitively known by all earlier people who in most cultures recognized humanity’s inseparable tie to our habitat. And the principle was brought into Western thought in 1926 by Jan Smuts who wrote Holism and Evolution. That principle is that nature works in wholes and patterns – not as mechanistic world-view and science believed. Knowing all they did, including Native Americans thinking seven generations ahead before taking any action, did not help them. Wherever humans were we still damaged our environment and least so in regions of perennial humidity. This was brought about by two things. First human decision making has always been to meet our needs, desires or to address problems basically. Reducing the unavoidable web of social, cultural, environmental and economic complexity to such things as the reason or context for management and policy is “reductionist” in a holistic world. What we finally discovered in 1984 after decades of work, was how to address the cause of past and present failures – by going to where the rubber hits the road.

That point is where actual decisions are made in any policy or management practice. Here, two points become important for the survival of civilization. One- all management and policy needs to be in a holistic context. Second -it is simply not possible, as tool-using animals, for humans to prevent or address global desertification and thus climate change using the only tools institutional scientists who advise world leaders accept or recognize. Those tools available to institutional scientists (and world leaders can only act through institutions) are technology in its many forms, fire, or conservation (resting our environment to recover). Three tools. That is why in a 2013 TED Talk I said “we have no option, but the unthinkable, and that is to use livestock as a tool to address global desertification.”

So, yes, none of this can come about until we have a better-informed public insisting that our governments and large environmental organizations in particular develop policies in a holistic context. It cannot be done until there is public insistence is what we learn from both research and history. So this we need to focus on.

After so many years of educating farmers has a training model emerged that can be web based and integrated into real time data collection to establish the validity of rethinking management in agriculture?

We do have a great deal of training material from simple self-help to more sophisticated coaching and mentoring in collaborating groups of people and organizations that are beginning to change. That can and will keep growing. However, that is the normal process of incremental change against institutional blocking and according to research we can expect to take about 200 years. Just to get the Royal Navy to accept lime juice would end scurvy cost over a million sailors lives and took 200 years – and nothing has changed in institutions since.

If the Greta Thunberg generation are to have any hope I am again going to use my statement “We have no option but the unthinkable. By every means possible we have get enough public demand to force quicker change by insisting institutions develop policies to address problems in a holistic context.”

The downside of public demand for this is Zero – there is absolutely no risk whatsoever and the only blockage is professional and institutional egos. Over now sixty years of development there has never yet been any financial vested interest oppose or ridicule the idea of managing or developing policy holistically. The upside is that we might just address global human habitat destruction in time to save civilization as we know it.

 

One of your key observations that attracted me years ago to your work was the “herd effect” and grasslands regeneration. Has that observation become an empirically established fact at this time?

When I consider this question, I ponder whether it is an empirically established fact that water flows downhill? Science is fundamentally a process of observation, interpretation, deduction and experimentation to gain knowledge of nature. That enabled us thousands of years ago to accept water flows downhill and later the theory of gravity, and experimentation there gave explanation as to why water flows downhill.

By this “scientific” process over thousands of years before academic scientists people developed all the domestic varieties of plants and animals making civilization possible. Since the recent dominance in management by academic scientists we are losing species, losing languages, losing cultures and accelerating human habitat destruction.

 

 

It was a simple observation by me over twenty years of tracking people and animals that where people, or animals, crowded in one another’s body space or were hungry, lost or wounded the effect on the soil and vegetation was different – more soil surface disruption, more course plants trampled more dead plant material laid horizontally on the soil ( slowing water flow, slowing rate of application of water from rainfall to the soil surface, increasing water penetration,..) more seedlings, closer plant spacing holding litter – all of this dramatically affecting the ease or otherwise of tracking. How much easier tracking was where fewer herds, more fire, more bare soil, more erosion and so on. And it was simply observation that any large herbivores (buffalo, bison, elk or whatever) when not apprehensive and defensive against pack-hunting predators spread, walked gently, did not tramp on course plants, did not lay much litter, etc. etc. And from there we simply recognized if we are to use animals as tools we have to do so largely through behaviour and their feet not mouths, and not mere presence. I have frankly not wasted my time worrying about empirically proving any of this that can be observed at any time – just like water flowing downhill. That academics sitting in offices relying entirely on peer-reviewed publications have a problem with this I have no doubt. Thank goodness the pioneers like Leopold, Smuts, Bennet, Howard and others engaged in science mostly in the field as did my own mentors.

Where you aware of the fact that research based on NASA satellite sequential space photos of the Great Plains area in the United State, a major bread basket of the world, is showing a significant destabilization of grass cover? Desertification is a major issue isn’t it.

I was not aware, but am not surprised. The desertification of the United States is terrible and is a major contributor to climate change as well as the increasing droughts, floods, poverty, collapse of the Western Culture (which will eventually be kept alive only by rodeo athletes and cowboy poets). I have always been saddened by the extreme opposition to my work from cattlemen’s organizations and environmental organizations in the US. But again, people are not being bad and are not to be blamed – that is what institutions do -ridicule and oppose any truly new insights.

Could you explain what sustainability means in a holistically managed paradigm, and what that would look like in greening the planet?

Let me try. First I must say it will not be Holistic Management because that is not agriculture but is purely a way to manage complexity in anyone’s life or business. It will be a new agriculture (crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries and wildlife management) that regenerates the world’s living soils and biodiversity on the land and in our waters including oceans. Regenerating societies, cultures, towns and economies based, as they need to be, on the photosynthetic process – not paper wealth or wealth based on extractive industry. This new agriculture will be made up largely of many of the practices we see today in organic, sustainable, permaculture, pastoralism, wildlife, fisheries and forestry management. It will include some new practices (like the Holistic Planned Grazing process or holistic policy development) to reverse desertification that only became known and possible with the development of the Holistic Management framework. The practices that will “float to the top” as it were will be those that are socially, environmentally and economically sound both short and long-term all determined by policy developed in a holistic context reflecting what all humans want. Regenerative agriculture is what it will be. Management and policy developed in a global holistic context is how it will come about.

How can farmers best usher in a post industrial ecologically balanced food system?

They can do their best to learn how to manage holistically ensuring those practices that improve their own immediate environment, society and economy as many are doing today. However, this will not succeed because, as the corona pandemic has highlighted, we are a global community. Most of our population lives in cities and the economic and political power has shifted to cities totally disengaged from ecological literacy and ability to connect the dots. Corporate, shareholder, political game playing, celebrity desire for popular appeal, institutional and professional egos will persist in supporting veganism, vilifying meat, investing in manufactured meat, factory production of animals, university/corporate led crop production based on chemistry and marketing of technology (not on biological science) and of course planting billions of trees. All of which is leading to climate change and none of which addresses the cause. And the UN will continue to promote its 17 Sustainable Development Goals that almost all address the symptoms of desertification and not the cause and so are doomed once more to failure.

With such facts the best we can strive for is to use social media to educate the public in cities as well as rural environments to the fact that agriculture has to be regenerative and can really only be brought about in time by demanding policies be developed in a global holistic context – soaring above politics, stock markets, national power aspirations – to what all humans want and need for civilization to survive.

In addressing a world audience what would you say is the most important take away from your many years of astute observations of regeneration of natural systems?

My view is coloured by my years of struggle to first understand, and then find solutions to why humans so consistently destroyed their own environment or habitat. A struggle that led to me from being a government research officer to being an independent scientist, a farmer, rancher, game rancher, international consultant, soldier, member of parliament, president of a political party, exile while throughout collaborating with thousands of concerned individuals in all walks of life. From that broad perspective enjoyed by few if any scientists the two most important thoughts I would love to convey would be:

That we have to work at scale through governments and that all forms of governance -communism, socialism, capitalism, dictatorships, populism – have failed us. Our best hope lies in democracies but only when democracies ban all political parties that make it impossible for democracy to function. In this view I was preceded by George Washington (with some parallels in our lives) some 200 years ago.

Secondly governments need to form all policies in a national holistic context to ensure that all people feel well governed and secure, without which no one is.

If these come about I can see the human spirit fly as never before. If we continue supporting political parties and reductionist management and policy the future will be grim beyond imagination and the greatest suffering will be in cities.

 

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Listen to the Science: The Impacts of Climate on the Health of People and Planet

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UN draft climate report: Impacts on people

A draft report from the UN’s climate science advisory panel offers the most exhaustive look yet at how our warming planet will impact humankind’s health, wealth and well-being.

AFP had exclusive access to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft, set to be published next year.

Here are some of its findings on impacts on people:

Food and water

The report shows how  has already decreased major crop production globally and is predicted to impact yields throughout the , putting greater pressure on countries with a growing number of mouths to feed.

– Between 2015-2019, an estimated 166 million people, primarily in Africa and Central America, required humanitarian assistance due to climate-related food emergencies

– Rising CO2 levels will also degrade the quality of crops, reducing vital minerals and nutrients in key foodstuffs

– Despite greater levels of socioeconomic development, nearly 10 million more children will go undernourished and stunted by 2050—exposing them to a lifetime of associated 

– Catch potential of marine fisheries—on which millions of people rely as their main protein source—is projected to fall 40 to 70 percent for tropical regions of Africa if emissions continue unabated

– Halving red meat consumption and doubling intake of nuts, fruits and vegetables could reduce food-related emissions as much as 70 percent by mid-century and save 11 million lives by 2030

Climate change: the impact on people
Highlights of a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report on the effects of a warming planet on people.

Extreme weather

Rising temperatures will reduce people’s physical ability to work, with much of South Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and parts of Central and South America losing up to 250 working days a year by 2100.

– An additional 1.7 billion people will be exposed to severe heat and an additional 420 million people subjected to extreme heatwaves if the planet warms by two degrees Celsius compared to 1.5 degrees—the range laid out in the Paris Agreement

– By 2080, hundreds of millions of city dwellers in sub-Saharan Africa and South and Southeast Asia could face more than 30 days of deadly heat each year

– Flooding on average will likely displace 2.7 million people annually in Africa. Without emissions cuts, more than 85 million people could be forced to leave their homes in sub-Saharan Africa due to climate induced impacts by 2050

– A plus 1.5-degrees-Celsius world would see two or three times more people affected by floods in Colombia, Brazil and Argentina, four times more in Ecuador and Uruguay, and a five-fold jump in Peru

– Some 170 million people are expected to be hit by extreme drought this century if warming reaches three degrees Celsius

– The number of people in Europe at high risk of mortality will triple with three degrees Celsius warming compared to 1.5 degrees of warming

  • Risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes
    Chart showing the risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes, according to a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report.
  • Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely
    Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely.
  • Risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes
    Chart showing the risk levels for climate-sensitive health outcomes, according to a landmark Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) draft report.
  • Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely
    Climate change is likely to reduce the nutritional value of key crops upon which billions rely.

Disease and other impacts

As rising temperatures expand the habitat of mosquitoes, by 2050 half the world’s population is predicted to be at risk of vector-borne diseases such as dengue fever, yellow fever and Zika virus.

– Without significant reductions in carbon pollution, an additional 2.25 billion people could be put at risk of dengue fever across Asia, Europe and Africa

– The number of people forced from their homes in Asia is projected to increase six-fold between 2020 and 2050

– By mid-century, between 31 and 143 million could be internally displaced due to , agricultural stresses, and  in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America

Source: Phys.org

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