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Daily News Blog

Archive for the 'Climate Change' Category


Climate Change Augments Agricultural Chemical Impacts on Lake Erie

(Beyond Pesticides, April 18, 2013) With hotter and more frequent extreme weather events, scientists say harmful algal blooms caused by pesticides and fertilizer inputs will strike more often in water bodies like Lake Erie, to the detriment of aquatic life and surrounding wildlife. All trends, show that the conditions that caused Lake Erie’s 2011 algal blooms will continue recurring. The algal blooms, which cause bright green scum that completely covers the Western part of Lake Erie, occurs from mid-July to October, in part because of farming practices surrounding the Lake and in part due to climate change. Ecologist Thomas Bridgeman, Ph.D.  at the University of Toledo contributed to these findings in this month’s publication of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science entitled “Record-setting algal blooms in Lake Erie caused by meteorological trends consistent with expected future conditions. “The 2011 bloom was a catastrophe. But it could become the new normal if we don’t do anything” said Dr. Bridgeman. Importantly, the study concludes that “long-term trends in agricultural practices are consistent with increasing phosphorus loading to the western basin of the lake, and that these trends, coupled with meteorological conditions in spring 2011, produced record-breaking nutrient loads.” In short, […]



Organic Grain Production Results in Reduced Greenhouse Gas Emissions

(Beyond Pesticides, December 1, 2011) Ongoing research at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab (SASL) finds that organic grain production reduces greenhouse gas emissions relative to chemical-intensive no-till and chisel-plow production systems. In fact, the research concludes that the organic system removes more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than it contributes, while the other systems result in net increases. The results are based on data from comparable three-year crop rotations maintained for each production system at the Lab’s farm in Beltsville, MD under the direction of Michel Cavigelli, PhD. The rotations mirror typical commercial grain production operations in the mid-Atlantic region that begin with corn followed by a rye grass cover crop, rotate to soybeans and winter wheat in the second year, and conclude with a legume crop. Dr. Cavigelli’s team identified the substantial energy savings achieved in the organic system by using natural fertility sources, especially for nitrogen, as the critical factor in reducing its overall impact on climate change. Previous research shows that carbon dioxide and nitrous oxide are the two most potent greenhouse gases that are produced and released as a consequence of crop production. It is also known that, due to its […]



Climate Change Threatens Survival of Tree Species

(Beyond Pesticides, July 21, 2011) For the first time, a federal agency has officially recognized that the loss of a species is related to climate change; the species at risk, the whitebark pine, faces a barrage of threats, including invasive diseases and insects which have not previously been able to thrive in the tree’s cold territory. In addition to other man-made causes for climate change, pesticides play a significant role through heavy use of fossil fuels in the manufacturing process and emissions. Conventional agricultural practices further contribute to climate change through the heavy reliance on pesticides and fertilizers, and through degradation of the soil, which releases carbon. As temperatures have warmed, the amount and variety of pests in regions that do not traditionally have problems are increasing. Researchers at the University of Washington have found that insect species that adapt to warmer climates also will increase their maximum rates of population growth, meaning that global warming will likely lead to increased insect populations. In New England, entomologists have noted an increase in the number of insects, including ticks carrying lyme disease and mosquitos with West Nile Virus and encephalitis. Scientists believe that climate change will increase disease transmission by shifting […]



Report Shows GM Crops Fail to Tackle Climate Change

(Beyond Pesticides, March 1, 2010) Claims by the biotech industry that genetically modified (GM) crops combat climate change are exaggerated and premature, according to a new report from Friends of the Earth International. The report, “Who Benefits from GM Crops?,” examines industry claims and finds that GM crops actually increase carbon emissions while failing to feed the world. There is still not a single commercial GM crop with increased yield, drought-tolerance, salt-tolerance, enhanced nutrition or other beneficial traits long promised by biotech companies. Meanwhile, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) thinks the public does not care about GM crops and is accepting comments through this Wednesday, March 3, 2010 on allowing GM alfalfa in the U.S. The Friends of the Earth International report exposes the fact that globally GM crops remain confined to less than 3% of agricultural land and more than 99% are grown for animal feed and agrofuels, rather than food. GM crops are responsible for huge increases in the use of pesticides in the US and South America, intensifying fossil fuel use. The cultivation of GM soy to feed factory farmed animals is also contributing to widespread deforestation in South America, causing massive climate emissions. Ongoing concerns […]



Conventional Turfgrass Management Creates Excess Greenhouse Gas

(Beyond Pesticides, February 5, 2010) While there are many great reasons for “green” spaces in urban areas, a new study has found that conventional landscaping practices are actually causing greenhouse gas emissions at a rate up to four times greater than the lawn’s ability to sequester carbon dioxide from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. The study, which is set to be published in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, finds that nitrous oxide emissions from lawns are comparable to those found in agricultural farms, which are among the largest emitters of nitrous oxide globally. “Lawns look great — they’re nice and green and healthy, and they’re photosynthesizing a lot of organic carbon. But the carbon-storing benefits of lawns are counteracted by fuel consumption,” said Amy Townsend-Small, Ph.D., the lead author of the study and Earth System Science postdoctoral researcher at University of California, Irving (UCI). Dr. Townsend-Small and her colleague Claudia Czimczik analyzed grass in four different parks near Irvine. Each park contained two types of turf: ornamental lawns such as picnic areas that are largely undisturbed, and athletic fields that are trampled and replanted and aerated frequently. Soil samples were evaluated over time to ascertain carbon storage, or sequestration, and they […]



FAO Calls for Greater Focus on Organic Agriculture at Copenhagen Climate Talks

(Beyond Pesticides, December 11, 2009) The United Nations climate talks in Copenhagen are neglecting the pending food crisis, and organic methods that can both curb climate change and boost food production, Jacques Diouf, director-general of the United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told Reuters news service. FAO believes that certain farming practices, including organic agriculture, can help sequester carbon and heal degraded lands, thereby boosting food yields. “We would like to see greater conscience of the importance (of agriculture),” Jacques Diouf, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told Reuters in an interview this week at the Copenhagen climate talks. “Historically the discussion centered on the industrial aspects of climate change, be it in terms of factories, transport, but less on the primary sector of agriculture.” FAO believes carbon sequestration, lower-input of fossil fuel dependant resources, and use of renewable energy all present opportunities for organic agriculture to lead the way in reducing energy consumption and mitigating the negative effects of climate change. Organic agriculture incorporates management practices that can help farmers adapt to climate change through strengthening agro-ecosystems, diversifying crop and livestock production, and building farmers’ knowledge base to best prevent and confront changes in climate. FAO […]



Weakened Climate Bill Rewards Herbicide-Intensive Farming

(Beyond Pesticides, June 26, 2009) On June 23, 2009, House Energy and Commerce Chairman Henry Waxman and House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson reached an agreement to include language in the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 that would put the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) in charge of climate change programs and farmers and other landowners for certain practices. The deal would allow carbon-polluting industries that do not meet the greenhouse gas reduction requirements to buy credits from farmers and other landowners who plant trees, install methane capture systems or practice no-till farming, which is heavily reliant on herbicides and not considered by experts to be an effective carbon sequestration strategy. The amendment takes oversight of the programs away from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a move considered a major defeat to environmental groups. Environmentalists worry that because the role of the USDA is to promote U.S. agriculture – not to protect the environment or human health, it may fundamentally undermine the effectiveness of a carbon offset program. But, regardless of who administers the program, many are concerned that at least one of the strategies, herbicide-based no-till farming, just doesn’t work and instead should be replaced in the […]



Termite Insecticide a More Potent Greenhouse Gas than Carbon Dioxide

(Beyond Pesticides, January 26, 2009) University of California at Irvine researchers have discovered that sulfuryl fluoride, an insecticide widely used to fumigate termite-infested homes and buildings, stays in the atmosphere at least 30-40 years and perhaps as long as 100 years and is about 4,000 times more efficient than carbon dioxide at trapping heat, though much less of it exists in the atmosphere. This raises concerns as levels have nearly doubled in just the last six years. Prior studies estimated its atmospheric lifetime at as low as five years, grossly underestimating the global warming potential. “Sulfuryl fluoride has a long enough lifetime in the atmosphere that we cannot just close our eyes,” said Mads Sulbaek Andersen, a postdoctoral researcher in the Rowland-Blake laboratory and lead author of the study. “The level in the atmosphere is rising fast, and it doesn’t seem to disappear very quickly.” Its climate impact in California each year equals that of carbon dioxide emitted from about one million vehicles. About 60 percent of the world’s sulfuryl fluoride use occurs in California. The insecticide is pumped into a tent that covers a termite-infested structure. When the tent is removed, the compound escapes into the atmosphere. Sulfuryl fluoride […]



Research Shows Climate Change Will Increase Exposure to Pesticides

(Beyond Pesticides, January 6, 2009) According to a new study published December 10, 2008 in the online edition of Environmental Health Perspectives, climate change is likely to increase human exposure to agricultural contaminants, including pesticides. Risks of many pathogens, particulate and particle-associated contaminants could increase significantly. The study, “Impacts of Climate Change on Indirect Human Exposure to Pathogens and Chemicals from Agriculture,” examines pathogens and chemicals in the environment and their fate and transport. The researchers determined the potential implication of climate change on chemical and pathogen inputs in agricultural systems and explored the effects of climate change on environmental transport and fate of different contaminants. These data were combined to assess the implications of climate change in terms of indirect human exposure to pathogens and chemicals in agricultural systems. The study concludes that climate change will result in an increase in risks of pathogens and chemicals from agriculture to human health. It will fuel increased use of pesticides and biocides as farming practices intensify. Increased use will lead to increased exposure through food air and water, as well as increased occupational exposure for farmworkers. Extreme weather events will mobilize contaminants from soils and fecal matter, potentially increasing their bioavailability. […]



USDA Study Finds Weeds Flourish with Climate Change

(Beyond Pesticides, July 18, 2008) A recent New York Times report on current U.S. Department of Agriculture research shows weeds flourishing from increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Lewis Ziska, PhD, and his team of researchers, have found “noxious” weeds to be more adaptable to changing conditions than crops, predicting further growth of their productivity and range in urban and rural areas. Dr. Ziska’s latest research focuses on weeds uniformly grown at three sites in Maryland: an organic farm in the western side of the state, a park in a Baltimore suburb, and a reclaimed industrial area in Baltimore’s inner harbor. The last was chosen because the city acts as a “heat island,” with temperatures averaging three or four degrees above those outside the city. Dr. Ziska’s team took soil from the organic farm, which already contained seeds from 35 weed species, and transplanted them into identical plots at the three locations, beginning the experiment in 2002. The resulting plants tended to grow much larger closer to the city. Lambs-quarters grew six to eight feet on the farm and ten to 12 feet in Baltimore. Ailanthus grew five feet tall on the farm, compared to one in the […]



Melting Glaciers Source of Persistent Pollutants

(Beyond Pesticides, May 8, 2008) New research shows that melting Antarctic glaciers are releasing once frozen stores of persistent organic chemicals, now banned in many parts of the world. Marine biologist, Heidi Geisz, a Ph.D. student at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science studying the fate and effect of organic contaminants in the Antarctic, has found that DDT concentrations in penguins has remained at the same levels as they were 30 years ago, when DDT was widely used. Arctic animals such as whales, seals and birds have had a significant decline in their DDT levels during the past decades, while the more stationary Antarctic penguins have not. The study, “Melting Glaciers: A Probable Source of DDT to the Antarctic Marine Ecosystem,” published in Environmental Science and Technology (DOI: 10.1021/es702919n), identifies the melting snow and ice as the continued source of total DDT in this southern ecosystem. The release of DDT also means that other persistent organic pollutants (POPs), including PCBs and PBDEs — industrial chemicals that have been linked to health problems in humans, are also being released. “DDT is not the only chemical that these birds are ingesting and it is certainly not the worst,” Ms. Geisz says. Ms. […]



Health Experts Warn of Increased Mosquito-Born Diseases in the US

(Beyond Pesticides, January 15, 2008) Health officials have warned that a “widespread appearance” of mosquito-born diseases like dengue fever is a real possibility in the US. The disease is already beginning to make is presence felt with cases popping up in Texas, Hawaii and Puerto Rico. Dengue, a flu-like illness that infects 50 million to 100 million people a year, has been growing more prevalent and severe as it moves from tropical regions into more temperate areas, where it’s now endemic, and along the U.S. border with Mexico. Many fear that as temperatures increase in temperate regions due to global warming, mosquitoes could extend their northern migration in North America. “It’s starting to creep up from South America to the Caribbean,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview. “If it can occur right at the tip of Texas, a disease which maybe people never heard of could actually appear here.” Drs. David Morens and Anthony Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases brought attention to the issue in a paper entitled Dengue and Hemorrhagic Fever: A Potential Threat to Public Health in the United States, published […]



UK Certifiers Weigh In On Local vs. Organic

(Beyond Pesticides, November 9, 2007) A British group that certifies 80 percent of the country’s organic product recently announced new requirements in order to market produce as organic. The Soil Association will eventually label air-freighted food as organic only if it also meets their fair trade standards. This announcement is part of a growing concern over the impact of air-freight on climate change and the overall carbon footprint of organic agriculture. It introduces “ethical standards” to organic certification, which is more narrowly defined in the United States by production practices like pesticide use. The Soil Association’s long-term goal is to minimize air-freight, but the exception for fair-trade produce is designed to protect poor farmers in developing countries, particularly in Africa, where much of Britain’s organic produce originates. In their press release, the Soil Association said, “Less than 1% of organic imports come to the UK by air. However, 80% of air freighted organic produce coming into the UK is grown in low or lower-middle income countries. Being able to export fresh organic fruit and vegetables provides significant economic, social and local environmental benefits, often for farmers with otherwise very low carbon footprints. For a small number of organic producers there […]



Weighing Pesticide Use in Biofuel Production

(Beyond Pesticides, September 13, 2007) As the debate rages on the impacts of growing plants, including food crops, for biofuel, the environmental impacts of growing practices and energy costs are consistently raised with concern. University of Minnesota scientists, in releasing a report, “Environmental, economic, and energetic costs and benefits of biodiesel and ethanol biofuels,” in the July 15 2007 online Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, say that an analysis of the “full life cycles of soybean biodiesel and corn grain ethanol shows that biodiesel has much less of an impact on the environment” and causes less pesticide pollution in its production. It can be argued that if crops are to be grown for fuel, they should only be grown organically to reduce energy consumption and sequester atmospheric carbon at the highest possible rates (see “The Organic Farming Response to Climate Change“). A September 9, 2007 New York Times article, “Mali’s Farmers Discover A Weed’s Potential Power,” cites a plant found in Mali, called jatropha, that grows under the harshest soil and weather conditions without any pesticides and little fertilization and is an ideal source for biofuel. The author of the Times piece describes the plant with “poisonous black […]



Global Warming Brings New Unwanted Insects to the Northeast

(Beyond Pesticides, August 29, 2007) Entomologists have recently begun studying whether increasing temperatures will attract more insects to the New England region, as scientists have begun reporting the appearance of new and more numerous unwanted insects. The colder winters of the New England region have historically limited insect populations, but in recent years as temperatures have warmed, the amount and variety of pests have increased. According to the government’s U.S. Global Change Research Program, in its New England Regional Assessment of the Potential Consequences of Climate Variability and Change, “A warming New England region (especially warming winters) will support the introduction and expansion of exotic pests into the region.” Although scientists cannot definitively say that there is a relationship between increasing temperatures in the region and an increase in the number of insects, Vermont entomologist Jon Turmel, points out that ticks carrying lyme disease, as well as mosquitoes with West Nile virus (WNv) and encephalitis have been reported in the state. The Aedes japonicus, an Asian mosquito species, was first reported in Vermont five years ago. These mosquitoes can spread Japanese and St. Louis encephalitis, which are viral brain infections that can result in death, along with WNv. Reported cases […]



Climate Change and Pesticides Hot Issue for Fish

(Beyond Pesticides, July 23, 2007) New research finds several species of freshwater fish have lower temperature tolerances when exposed to the widely used pesticides endosulfan and chlorpyrifos. The discovery reveals another key pesticides issue in the global warming debate. The study, “The Effects of Three Organic Chemicals on the Upper Thermal Tolerances of Four Freshwater Fishes” (Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry, July 2007), is the work of Ronald Patra of Australia’s Department of Environment and Conservation and colleagues. The study establishes the upper temperature tolerances of both unexposed and exposed silver perch, eastern rainbowfish, western carp gudgeon and rainbow trout. Exposed fish were given sublethal doses of endosulfan, chlorpyrifos or phenol. The results show exposure to endosulfan cause a decrease of temperature tolerance in silver perch by 2.8 °C, eastern rainbowfish 4.1 °C, western carp gudgeon 3.1 °C, and rainbow trout 4.8 °C. Chlorpyrifos decreases temperature tolerance in silver perch by 3.8 °C, eastern rainbowfish 2.5 °C, western carp gudgeon 4.3 °C, and rainbow trout 5.9 °C. Phenol is not shown to cause a significant decrease in tolerance. The authors conclude, “The reduction in thermal tolerance of fish in the presence of endosulfan and chlorpyrifos suggest that, not only does temperature […]



Scientist Examines Global Warming’s Impact on Pollen Allergies

(Beyond Pesticides, March 29, 2007) While it seems to allergy-sufferers that symptoms get worse year after year, most figure it’s all in our heads. However, research by Lewis Ziska, Ph.D., a plant physiologist with the USDA Agricultural Research Service’s Crop Systems and Global Change Lab and speaker at the upcoming National Pesticide Forum, shows that common pollen allergens – including the troublesome ragweed pollen – may be getting worse as a result of global climate change. The conventional response to unwanted plants is increased pesticide use, which raises concerns among environmental and public health advocates. According to Dr. Ziska’s research, elevated levels of carbon dioxide (CO2), the top greenhouse gas, and warmer temperatures appear to increase ragweed pollen production. Dr. Ziska’s research uses sealed growth chamber systems to simulate current levels of CO2 (370 parts per million by volume, ppmv) and that projected for the mid-21st century (600 ppmv). The ragweed increased pollen productivity by 131 and 3200% respectively, compared to ragweed grown at pre-industrial CO2 levels (280 ppmv). A recent two-year real-world observational study of ragweed also found that urbanization-induced increases in CO2 and temperature were associated with increased ragweed growth, pollen production and pollen allergenicity, suggesting a probable […]



Climate Change Tied to Crop Losses, Increases in Pest Populations

(Beyond Pesticides, March 19, 2007) Stanford University and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory researchers are publishing a study saying that some of the world’s farms are yielding markedly fewer crops because of global warming, according to the San Jose Mercury News. Meanwhile, providing further evidence that the pace of global warming is accelerating, scientists announced last week that this winter was the hottest on record – and that surface temperatures around the world have been increasing at three times the rate they were before 1976. This warming most likely is costing the planet $5 billion annually in losses to three of the six major food crops, the Stanford and Lawrence Livermore researchers say. The study warns that wheat, corn and barley are especially affected, with 40 million fewer metric tons of the crops produced each year. For every 1 degree increase in temperature, the researchers say, crop yields drop by about 3 percent to 5 percent, and the decline is clearly caused by human activity. “Global warming is having real impacts – and we’re seeing their effects already,” said Chris Field, one of the authors of the crop study, and director of the department of global ecology at Stanford’s Carnegie Institution. […]