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Yet another headline on a non-existent problem

by Jerome a Paris Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:07:34 PM EST

Heatwave study raises new climate fear

Global warming could reduce harvests and plant growth, with a serious effect on farm productivity, scientists will warn today.

The finding, based upon an examination of the effects of the 2003 heatwave in Europe, is of particular concern because many scientists previously assumed that global warming would increase plant growth, with beneficial effects for harvests and the environment.

In a study to be published today in the peer-review journal Nature, scientists from several European research institutes and universities found that the growth of plants during the heatwave was reduced by nearly a third.

In Italy, the growth of maize dropped by about 36 per cent. Oak and pine trees also grew much less, the study found, reflecting an overall reduction of 30 per cent in plant growth.

The rest of the article is worse. As often these days, it suggests that this is a self-sustaining - and accelerating - phenomenon. But why worry? and why do anything about it? The market will take care of it, won't it?

Suprise, suprise, greenhouse gases aren't good for the greenhouse.
But don't worry, only scientists think this global warming fallacy is really a problem.

I wasn't suprised to see such an article in a lefty rag like FT.  Maybe the Gulf Twins will be a reality slap upside the head for our leaders over here in the hurricane zone.

by btower on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:40:20 PM EST
Pinko commies and their propaganda.

No fucking shit guys. You mean heat stress places a limit on plant growth? Who would have fucking thought it, except every gardener who's ever been near an inadequately ventilated greenhouse in hot weather or (say) read a book on the topic.

Longer growing seasons at some latitudes will increase local growth, but if the high-production areas are being screwed by heat stress, then this is what you would get.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 02:56:51 PM EST
The heat stress might not increase production, but at least it will make my chiles hotter if they survive.
by david anderson on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 03:34:22 PM EST
[ Parent ]
There is that I suppose.
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 05:51:15 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In 2003 here in SW France, the whole point was managing to have them survive. All heat-loving plants (tomatoes, peppers, et al) were stopped in their tracks by the excessive heat. If summers are going to be like that, we'll have to find (or borrow from presently hotter countries)new gardening techniques.
by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 02:44:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
A study on increased carbon levels has shown the predicted higher crop yields is not true.  Apparently some idiot actually went out, planted crops, put them in a higher carbon atmosphere, and measured the actual and for real foodstuffs produced.

Science.  What a concept.

We may get a glimpse of the future this harvest as the Soy (Soya) Bean production in the US is affected by the Asian Soy Bean Rust, the lowered harvest from the Southeast US, and the increased difficulty in transporting the beans to the world market.  50% of the US Soy bean market is the poultry farms of SE Asia.  Those poultry farms provide a lot of the protein for SE Asia.  Thus we may be looking at protein starvation in an area needing the best nutrition possible to provide resistence to Avian Flu.  

Isn't it nice when a series of diverse inputs all come together in a nice little package?

To forestall some objections:

  1.  The world-wide fisheries are simply fished out.
  2.  Soy beans are of negative nutritional value unless they are fermented or cooked.

She believed in nothing; only her skepticism kept her from being an atheist. -- Jean-Paul Sartre
by ATinNM on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 06:00:45 PM EST
... Here's another nonexistent, but related problem:

The Desert Research Institute of the University of Nevada has been conducting studies that show that, while deserts are as effective as forests and grasslands in reducing the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide from fossil fuel combustion, the growth of CO2 by 2050 will, paradoxically, be enough to trigger in desert foliage a reaction that will reduce their absorption of carbon.

A University of California, Berkeley researcher who has been monitoring a meadow in the Rocky Mountains has found a similar effect.

So we can't count on greenery to take care of the over-burden of CO2 that we're contributing to the atmosphere.

by Plan9 on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 10:31:56 AM EST
[ Parent ]
From an earlier cheery thread:
A small but growing body of research is finding that elevated levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, while increasing crop yield, decrease the nutritional value of plants. More than a hundred studies, for example, have found that when CO2 from fossil-fuel burning builds up in plant tissues, nitrogen (essential for making protein) declines. A smaller number of studies hint at another troubling impact: As atmospheric CO2 levels go up, trace elements in plants (such as zinc and iron, which are vital to animal and human life) go down, potentially malnourishing all those that subsist on the plants. This preliminary research has given scientists reason to worry about bigger unknowns: Virtually no studies have been done on the effects of elevated CO2 on other essential trace elements, such as selenium, an important antioxidant, or chromium, which is believed to regulate blood-sugar levels.

The less-nutritious plants of a CO2-enriched world will likely not be a problem for rich nations, where "super-sized" meals and vitamin supplements are a dietary mainstay. But things could be very different in the developing world, where millions already live on the edge of starvation, and where the micronutrient deficit, known as "hidden hunger," is already considered one of the world's leading health problems by the United Nations.

So let us recap.  Higher temps caused by CO2 buildup reduce crop yields, and the CO2 enriched atmosphere reduces the nutritional value of what we do harvest.  And meanwhile (a) we go on feeding much of our grain and soya production to beef cattle in one of the least efficient protein chains possible, and (b) we cherish fantasies of diverting vast acreage to the production of biofuels so we can go on driving individual passenger autos everywhere.

In a few hours, when the twisted grin has faded from my face, I will try to comment on Jerome's captious remark about the market solving everything.  It does -- in a way -- but not necessarily the pareto-optimised way claimed by its cultists.

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 06:26:51 PM EST
As has been said elsewhere, famine is a market solution...

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 07:26:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Higher temps caused by CO2 buildup reduce crop yields

This also means reduced biomass => less oxygen restored to the atmosphere by plants. It's self-perpetuating.

by afew (afew(a in a circle)eurotrib_dot_com) on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 03:00:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The market will take care of it, won't it?

OK, I have to bite.  And my illustration is the Caspian beluga fishery.

News Sound Bites

NRDC summary

a whole book about caviar

Going, Going...

Still Available to Wealthy Consumers... at about $100 USD per oz.

Why Fish Eggs

The BBC is chirpy: so what if the sturgeon are all gone, the new industry is oil extraction!  yippee!

A quarter of a century ago, Kazakhstan harvested around 1,100 tonnes of caviar each year. Last year, the caviar haul was just eight tonnes - not even 1% of the previous total.


In the days of the Soviet Union, the fishermen of Atyrau were obliged to hand their catch over to a government sanctioned cartel.

Whoever was in charge, the fishermen made a good living. But things have changed.


Shannon Crownover, who works in Kazakhstan for the environmental group Caviar Emptor, says political independence in the country following the collapse of the Soviet Union has removed a crucial degree of protection for the sturgeon.

"Fishing is the main problem, because when the Soviet Union broke apart so did the regulations that monitored the species, and so overfishing is a major problem, illegal fishing is rampant," she says.

"The Caspian sturgeon is an ancient species which has almost been wiped off the face of the planet within the last two decades".

And now a brief recap.  Under the "stagnant" centrally-planned Soviet economy, in this one instance (this was definitely not true in all instances of resource extraction!) the central planners enforced catch limits, there were guaranteed prices and a steady living to be made (which reduced the temptation to wildcat overexploitation in good years to make up for lean years), etc.  As soon as that long-view planning was suspended, the caviar fishery became a gold rush.  Quickly a "caviar Mafia" settled in to liquidate the fishery.

The market did not prevent this disaster.  In fact the natural market response intensifies the disaster.  As Resource X is hyperexploited and becomes rare, its value per unit goes up steeply.  This increases the motive for hyperexploitation, so that more and more intensive efforts are made to find and liquidate the last remaining resource at a grossly inflated market price.  Presumably some Japanese billionaire will be willing to pay ten million dollars or more for the very last whale steak from the very last whale, in other words.  The raising of price reduces demand, by reducing the count of "those who can afford it," but it intensifies the competition to provide the last available stock to those hyperwealthy collectors or consumers.

The cost of exploitation can lag the rising price of commodity so that even as the resource becomes rarer, it is still "cost effective" to scrape the bottom of the barrel for increasingly rare and precious items.  Thus the hunting to extinction of any species from which can be harvested a commodity that very wealthy people want.  The logic of the market accelerates rather than braking the hyperexploitation curve.

If natural resources "bounced back" as our C19 and early C29 ancestors (with their naive perception of a Big Planet and Small People) assumed, the market would work in a sense -- Resource A would appear to vanish, thus killing the market for it.  Substitutes would emerge and be exploited in their turn, while Resource A was regenerating.  But real-world results tell us that once a species is reduced in numbers below a kind of genetic or social quorum, it dies out;  once a food chain is sufficiently vandalised, whole niches disappear and are not available for the comeback of an overexploited species.  The cod are not coming back, and quite possibly neither are the sturgeon.  In each case the remorseless logic of supply, demand, pricing and irrational rarity-value has destroyed the resource rather than preserving it.  Prices often rise faster than the cost of exploitation.

I then muse that there is something kind of sickening, if we take the Martian anthropologist POV, about killing a mature sturgeon -- many many pounds of high quality protein -- in order to eat its eggs.  Even if only one percent of those eggs survived to be fingerlings, there is a crass hyperconsumerism in eating tens or hundreds of potential 100-lb fish in one sitting...  of a species heading for extinction. no less...

It is somewhat like eating our seed corn in a year of famine.  Perhaps one reason why foods such as fish roe, veal, baby veg and so forth are prized is not merely for their delicate and mild flavours, but for the unacknowledged thrill of consuming vastly more potential nutrition than the actual calorie value being eaten -- i.e. the gross caloric inefficiency of the food source is a large chunk of its appeal.  Like Cleopatra bathing in asses' milk?  I am suddenly looking at my sprouter from a disturbing new perspective...

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Thu Sep 22nd, 2005 at 09:20:15 PM EST
Perhaps one reason why foods such as fish roe, veal, baby veg and so forth are prized is not merely for their delicate and mild flavours, but for the unacknowledged thrill of consuming vastly more potential nutrition than the actual calorie value being eaten -- i.e. the gross caloric inefficiency of the food source is a large chunk of its appeal.  Like Cleopatra bathing in asses' milk?  I am suddenly looking at my sprouter from a disturbing new perspective...

Properly, veal should be a way of using up cattle that you don't want to fatten but need to have born in order to get dairy cows milking. Nothing wrong with good old-fashioned free-range veal (or whatever it's called). Milk veal is another matter entirely.

Most fish roe is a by-product of fishing for the fish. And baby veg are generally faster to produce than the real thing and use up less resources as they grow, which I suspect is the commercial advantage. You might be ok with the sprouter.

by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 02:49:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I offer some typical "see no evil"  "what me worry" attitudes from N America, from a discussion group that shall remain nameless.
Person A:  
Antarctica used to be covered with palm trees with a tropical clime.  Weather patterns change worldwide.  They have done so since earth was formed.  There is no reason to think those changes should have stopped with what we consider to be normal over the past 100 -200 years.   Humans will adapt to whatever changes occur; we always have.  We might not like it, but we will figure out a way to live with it.
Person B:  
But there is hope from the same folks who get blamed for giving us global warming.  Until there is a big enough problem, and a profitable market for the solution, it will not be worthwhile to solve the problem.

Until hydrocarbon fuels are low and even more expensive, there is no cost effective way to make money on solar or other energy sources. I remember in the 1950's one of the books in my grade school class pointed out the world would run out of coal and petroleum by 1970 at the rates we were using them.  Guess that was wrong.  Profit brought other oil to market.  I would be more critical of those who use oil for frivolous purposes but I rather like my thermoplastic technology boat, with materials developed and refined from hydrocarbons. I prefer it rather than having to make and maintain a wooden planked boat with non power tools. Even though some might be tempted to be self-rightous sailors, our sails are not made of canvas, but of some petrochemical whose names ends in "-ron" and "lon".

As to climate change, I remember, in the 60s when we having stopped nuclear testing, at least in part because the tests would lower climate temperatures.  We were going to be in danger of "Nuclear Winter" the world around.  There's a thought, maybe Iran, Israeal, North Korea, Pakistan or other places will do some nuclear combat "toe to toe" with their neighbors, or start testing and produce enough ash in the upper atmosphere so that we lower the temperatures around the world - not enough for a nuclear winter, just enough for a nuclear Indian Summer. It could be like a big thermostat, some nation could set off some nukes to turn it down with a little "nuclear winter", then another nation would burn more fosil fuels to turn it up.  Or maybe those west coast volcanoes will all go active and produce even greater amounts of ash. Remember, some believe that volcanoes ended the warmth that allowed for dinosaurs and tropics globally in the first place -- maybe we are just getting back to the way things were supposed to be, way way back when dinosaurs were walking.

Perhaps there are bigger things at work than we can control.

Thinking about this too long makes my head hurt.

It sort of reminds me of the story about the log with 545 ants on top of it, that was floating down the Potomac River near DC and every one of those ants thought they were driving it.

These two comments exemplify much of the "deny, belittle, diffuse and obfuscate" attitude which is so common among the hyperconsumer class.  In summary:

Human beings are infinitely adaptible, therefore it doesn't matter what happens to our environment; "we" will adapt and survive.  [This "we" evidently does not include the 30K who die daily from famine and preventable disease, the millions who have died and probably will die in wars over land and other resources, the 10K or more who drowned in NOLA, victims of recent flooding in Asia and Euroland, etc.  It means the "we" of the speaker:  usually wealthy, Anglo/Euro, and not feeling much pain yet from climate destab.]

Climate change has nothing to do with us, it's just the natural variation in planetary temperature and who are we to say what's "normal".  [Deliberately ignoring the last quarter century of climate research, and the fact that "high culture" such as what we call "civilisation" is sustained by agriculture and fisheries whose existence depends on a fairly narrow range of climatic variation.]

Predictions of resource scarcity or bad outcomes have been wrong before, therefore they are probably wrong this time.  [never mind the occasions on which predictions of bad outcomes have been right -- as in the many warnings delivered to the US government about the vulnerability of NOLA, Mike Davis' eerily predictive article on the probable outcome of a cat 4 or worse storm hitting NOLA, environmentalists' dire warnings about the consequences of destroying wetlands, etc.]

Nothing can be done except by post-facto market mechanisms, which will fix everything by price/demand curves, so why worry? No volitional or planning action is possible.  [addressed above]

The problem is too big for us puny humans, so why worry?  [fatalism plus a dose of the C19 "big planet, small humans" mentality"]

Technology and industrialism will save us in the nick of time, or "The solution will come from the same people who are now being blamed for the problem."  [so shut up, all you greeny-lefties who criticise corporate greed, hyper consumer behaviour, the oil industries, etc -- those things may have got us into trouble, but all we need is more of the same to save us.]

We can offset one harm with another harm, which will be a poke in the eye for you greeny-lefties, so there.  [particulate pollution should be increased in order to offset ozone loss -- let's explode a few nukes or reduce emission restrictions on diesel engines].  It will all even out in the end.  We're in control.  [note that this rather contradicts the "it's too big a problem for puny humans" and "we aren't the cause of the problem anyway" arguments.]

And most importantly, I personally like the advantages and comforts I get from the fossil fuel economy, so don't ask me to criticise it!  And since none of us is "pure" or free of dealings with the fossil fuel economy, no one else should criticise it either.

This complex of attitudes/beliefs/stances is very familiar to me from the literature of global warming denial, from the excuses and defences of hyper fossil consumerism, etc.  The only ones missing from this list  are the tinfoil variety, i.e. "there is no climate change happening; oil supplies are infinite; the Rapture is a-comin' so I don't care; the earth is only 6000 years old;  and the like.

Do they sound familiar to anyone else?

The difference between theory and practise in practise ...

by DeAnander (de_at_daclarke_dot_org) on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 02:18:21 PM EST
I'll admit to having regularly the thoughts that you criticise (the conviction that some natural phenomena are bigger than we are, the belief that we will find some alternatives). The most important point you make is this:

 It means the "we" of the speaker:  usually wealthy, Anglo/Euro, and not feeling much pain yet from climate destab.

That's the core of the issue, because the above may still be true for that "we" - and politicians will do everything to make it so.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Sep 23rd, 2005 at 04:46:06 PM EST
[ Parent ]

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