Ancient seeds in Mexico help fight warming effects: Climate change could bring lower yields, food crisis
EL BATAN, Mexico – More than 500 years after Spanish priests brought wheat seeds to Mexico to make wafers for the Catholic Mass, those seeds may bring a new kind of salvation to farmers hit by global warming.
Scientists working in the farming hills outside Mexico City found the ancient wheat varieties have particular drought- and heat-resistant traits, like longer roots that suck up water and a capacity to store more nutrients in their stalks.
They are crossing the plants with other strains developed at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in El Batan to grow types of wheat that can fight off the ill effects of rising temperatures around the world.
“It’s like putting money in the bank to use, in this case, for a not rainy day,” scientist Matthew Reynolds said of the resilient Mexican wheats his team collected.
Seed breeders say they are the first line of defense protecting farmers from climate change, widely expected to heat the planet between 1 and 3 degrees over the next 50 years.
Intensified drought, together with more intense and unpredictable rainfall, could hit crop yields and bring food shortages and spikes in commodity prices.
In Mexico, small farmers are grappling with the effects of unfavorable weather scientists say is exacerbated by climate change. Last year the country saw the lowest rainfall in 68 years and this year an active hurricane season battered corn-growing areas near the U.S. border.
Corn farmer Cesar Longoria, 56, said his family’s harvest dropped by 30 percent in the 2009 drought, and then more than half of his fields in Reynosa were destroyed by floods in July when Hurricane Alex hammered northern Mexico.
“For the people that depend on corn this is a tragedy,” said Carlos Salazar, head of the national corn growers association. “They have to buy more expensive corn to feed themselves and their animals.”
The number of hungry people in the world had been rising for more than a decade, reaching a record spike in 2009 triggered by the economic crisis and high domestic food prices in several developing countries.
Nearly 1 billion people were considered undernourished this year, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization in a report this week, and jumps in food prices have led to riots and social unrest.
Protests over a 30 percent rise in the price of bread in Mozambique killed 13 people this month after Russia’s worst drought in more than a century led to a rally in international wheat prices that reverberated around the world.
In India, the world’s second-largest wheat producer, rising temperatures could cut crop output by up to 25 percent in the next half century as the population booms.
The U.S. Department of Energy dedicated $338 million in Recovery Act funds for new geothermal projects last year, and now the agency has added another $20 million to the pot. This week, DOE announced that the new funds will go to seven cutting edge geothermal technologies that create new green jobs in addition to reducing the demand for fossil fuels.
Geothermal in the U.S.A.
The new funding is a giant step forward for the U.S. We have some of the world’s richest geothermal resources and yet until now they have gone largely untapped, even as the urgency for alternative fuels gained steam. The Clinton administration concluded with the first comprehensive climate change report mandated by Congress, but it languished for another eight years as the Bush administration continued to focus attention on fossil fuels. In 2008 the cat was out of the bag, as the U.S. Geological Survey issued a nationwide assessment of geothermal resources identifying the potential for more than half a million megawatts.
New Cutting Edge Geothermal Technologies and New Green Jobs
The new $20 million in funding will go to a group of projects that tap a wide variety of geothermal resources, from large scale to micro-mini. For example, one project is to reclaim energy from the drilling brine from oil and gas fields, which currently is discharged as wastewater. Another project combines geothermal resources with a greenhouse and aquaculture operation designed for siting in small towns, and another focuses on portable mini-generators that can be hauled to remote locations. That all translates into new green jobs that will be created in a variety of settings, including small towns and remote areas that have been withering for lack of new career opportunities.
Geothermal Energy, the U.S. Military and Your Local IKEA
As part of the Recovery Act, the federal funds that havebeen pumped into geothermal are creating new green jobs across the country. This could result in some interesting turnarounds in the way our energy is supplied. The EPA has been reclaiming brownfields for alternative energy, and the U.S. military has been investing heavily in geothermal. Some of its facilities could go completely off-grid with plenty left over for civilian use. Meanwhile, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory has been teaming up with retail powerhouse IKEA to spread the word about marrying geothermal energy with new big-box stores.
Hima, practised for over 14,000 years in the Arabian Peninsula, is believed to be the most widespread system of traditional conservation in the Middle East, and perhaps the entire earth.
In these modern times, it’s easy to think of environmental protection as a new concept which has emerged in response to modern problems linked to industrialisation and globalisation. In reality, the need to protect the environment from abuse has been a constant concern for humans since the beginning of time- especially for people who were living directly of the earth’s resources.
Even the Middle East,which many assume is new to environmental concerns, had a system to help protect nature called ‘Hima’. Hima which roughly translates as ‘protected or preserved place’ has been practised for over 14,000 years in the Arabian Peninsula and is believed to be the most widespread system of traditional conservation in the Middle East, and perhaps the entire earth.
Protecting The Public Good
Hima is a system of resource protection in which pastures, trees or grazing lands are declared as forbidden and access to them and their use is denied by the owner. Types of Himas included reserves for bee-keeping, forest trees, reserving woodland to stop desertification as well as the seasonal regeneration of fields. Hima pre-dates the emergence of Islam in Arabia, and according to Lutfallah Gari who has charted the rise and fall of the Hima system, Hima was sometimes placed under the protection of tribal deity.
He notes that; “Fauna and flora were protected; and [Hima areas] enjoyed the right of asylum”¦ The animals consecrated to them grazed there safely, and no on dared to kill or steal them. The straying animals that crossed over the boundary were lost to their owner”¦” Despite this, the system was subject to some abuse. The rich took advantage of it to protect their interests by preserving certain pastures for their flocks and protecting themselves against the effects of future droughts.
Under Islamic law, however, the use of Hima was altered slightly and now meant ‘a natural area set aside permanently or seasonally for public good, which may not be privately owned.’ For Hima to be valid in Islamic law, the area had to be for the purposes of public welfare and the area wasn’t allowed to be so large as to cause undue hardship to locals. It was also established that the over-riding aim of Hima was the economic and environmental benefit of the people. In fact, the most famous examples of Hima include those established by the Prophet Muhammed around Mecca and Medina where hunting and the destruction of plants were forbidden.
China’s main nuclear energy corporation is in talks to build a 1-gigawatt atomic power plant in Pakistan, an executive said on Monday, a move that could intensify international unease about their nuclear embrace.
China has already helped Pakistan build its main nuclear power facility at Chashma in Punjab province, where one reactor is running and another near finished, and it has contracts to build two more there, despite the qualms of other governments.
Qiu Jiangang, vice president of the China National Nuclear Corp (CNNC), told a meeting in Beijing that the company was already looking beyond those deals to an even bigger plant.
“Both sides are in discussions over the CNNC exporting a one-gigawatt nuclear plant to Pakistan,” he said.
Whole Foods Market (NASDAQ: WFMI) on Monday launched an in-store color-coded sustainability rating program for wild-caught seafood. The company also announced a commitment to phase out all red-rated species by Earth Day 2013.
Partnering with Blue Ocean Institute and Monterey Bay Aquarium, Whole Foods Market says it is the first national grocer to provide a comprehensive sustainability rating system for wild-caught seafood. The system’s green, yellow and red ratings make it simpler for shoppers to make informed choices at the seafood case.
Green or “best choice” ratings indicate a species is relatively abundant and is caught in environmentally-friendly ways; yellow or “good alternative” ratings mean some concerns exist with the species’ status or catch methods; and red or “avoid” ratings mean that for now the species is suffering from overfishing, or that current fishing methods harm other marine life or habitats. The new initiative expands upon the sustainable seafood program that Whole Foods Market has had with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) since 1999, and the new ratings apply only to non-MSC-certified fish.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations reports that 80 percent of fisheries are fully exploited, overfished, or depleted.
“Whole Foods Market is a leader in the field, and its decision will have a real impact on seafood suppliers and other retailers. Its in-store education and commitment to phase out red-rated seafood will help raise awareness and improve fishing practices around the world,” said Michael Sutton, vice president of the Monterey Bay Aquarium, who oversees its Seafood Watch program.
This month, Modular builder Keiser Homes and architecture firm Kaplan Thompson Architects launched the net zero energy series of modular homes called the “Modular Zero Collection.” These homes have been designed to use the smallest amount of energy possible and, if purchasers opt for solar hot water and solar photovoltaics, can produce as much energy as is consumed on an annual basis.
Kaplan Thompson went through five wall assemblies before settling on the one rendered above. The homes will have a cellulose double-stud wall system with R40 walls and an R60 roof. The higher cost of insulation will be offset with a smaller, less expensive heating system.
These energy-efficient homes will also have triple-glazed windows, airtight construction, long-life roof and siding, efficient ventilation, low-flow fixtures, low-VOC paints, and passive solar heating and cooling.
The team has three designs shown below — Chebeague, Peaks, and Great Diamond — that start at $205,000, not counting land, utilities, and solar systems. First units will be sent to Peaks Island in Maine, while Keiser Homes can ship throughout New England.
IN SAINT-GERVAIS, FRANCE From time immemorial, the Tete Rousse Glacier has sparkled majestically on the slopes of Aiguille de Bionnassay, an icy symbol of the Alpine heritage that molded the culture and produced the prosperity of this mountaineering town in the shadow of Mont Blanc.
But the glacier, a 20-acre mass lying within a bowl-shaped rock formation at an altitude of nearly 10,000 feet, has suddenly turned menacing.
Partly because of global warming, a giant pocket of water has accumulated within the ice, threatening to burst out of its frozen enclosure and send a wall of water, mud, ice and rock down on the chalets of Saint-Gervais spread across the valley below.
“Nature is stronger than we are,” explained the mayor of Saint-Gervais, Jean-Marc Peillex, calling on his sometimes skeptical townspeople to heed the threat. “No one can confirm the risk is imminent,” he said in an announcement posted around the community, “but nor can anyone confirm that there is no risk.”
As soon as experts from the National Scientific Research Center reported with certainty in mid-July that they had detected the water pocket, Peillex, acting on his own advice, set up an alarm system on the glacier, connected to sirens in Saint-Gervais. Many of the town’s 5,740 inhabitants, joined by up to 25,000 visitors during summer climbing season, were assigned rallying points on high ground where they could flee if the sirens wailed.