From Watts Up With That:
Guest Essay by Kip Hanson
Note: This is Part 2 of a four part series. If you are not familiar with The Fight Against Global Greening – Part 1, you can either read it in its entirety and then read this, or read the introduction of Part 1 up to the line “Let’s look at #1” and then read this. — kh
Carl Zimmer of the NY Times has said “‘Global Greening’ Sounds Good. In the Long Run, It’s Terrible.”. In collaboration with Dr. J. E. Campbell of the Sierra Nevada Research Institute, he has stated that position, offering us these:
Bad Things About Global Greening: (quoted from Zimmer’s article)
1. “More Photosynthesis Doesn’t Mean More Food“
2. “Extra Carbon Dioxide Can Make Plants Less Nutritious”
3. “More Plants Won’t Prevent Climate Change”
4. “Global Greening Won’t Last Forever”
In Part 1, we looked at the question of the relationship between increased photosynthesis and food production (Zimmer’s #1). Now….
Let’s Look at #2: “Extra Carbon Dioxide Can Make Plants Less Nutritious”
Here’s what Zimmer and Campbell say:
“A number of studies indicate that plants that grow in extra carbon dioxide often end up containing lower concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen, copper and potassium.”
As more carbon dioxide gets into the atmosphere, the problem will grow. “There’s definitely strong evidence that quality will be affected,” said Dr. Campbell.
It’s not clear why this happens. In a paper published in the journal Current Opinion in Plant Biology in June, Johan Uddling of the University of Gothenburg in Sweden and his colleagues speculated that microbes are to blame.
Just as carbon dioxide speeds up photosynthesis, it may also increase the rate at which soil microbes take up nutrients, leaving less for plants to suck in through their roots.”
If we eat food that lacks nutrients, we become more vulnerable to a host of diseases. Recently, a team of researchers at Stanford University studied how future changes to crops could affect the world’s health. The findings were grim. In Southeast Asia, for example, the researchers estimated that the rate of iron deficiency may rise from 21.8 percent to 27.9 percent by 2050. Deficiencies in iron and other nutrients could make millions of people more vulnerable to diseases including malaria and pneumonia, leading to many premature deaths.”
Getting rid of the silly part first: “microbes are to blame” — Uddling et al. state very plainly that they have no idea why the differences in (primarily) proteins are found in wheat grown under higher CO2 concentrations. Quoting from the conclusion: “At present, none of mechanisms and processes hypothesized can fully explain the CO2-induced declines in crop N [proteins] concentrations.” Second silly part: “If we eat food that lacks nutrients”…. If it has no nutrients, it is not food at all. Every bite of food we eat has either more, the same, or less of any one “nutrient” than every other bite of food — every piece of piece of fruit has more or less nutrients than every other piece of fruit — every grain has different concentrations of nutrients than every other grain. That there are differences in concentrations of nutrients in foods is not a cause for alarm nor does it “cause” diseases, disabilities, or vulnerabilities. I will reveal the true causes further on.
The most important point is embodied in the claim that plants grown under enhanced CO2 conditions “often end up containing lower concentrations of nutrients such as nitrogen, copper and potassium.” This is the food faddists fallacy and is responsible for a great deal of nonsense in the food and nutrition fields of science.
There are always differences in nutritional values between individual crops of any food item. The same food item harvested from the south forty acres of my grandfather’s farm will have different nutritional qualities when compared to the same variety harvested off the north forty acres of the same farm. This is due to the slightly differing growth conditions, water availability, soil nutrient levels, fertilization schedules, planting dates, maturity at harvest and handling of the crop after harvest. The south forty crop may have discernibly higher percentages of certain minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates than the north forty crop. Likewise, the north forty crop may be higher in other measures of “nutritional value”.
When a farmer grows a different variety of the same crop — say a different corn variety — then the game changes wildly.
For instance, there are currently preserved at The Crop Trust 29,401 different varieties of maize (corn to those in the United States). Here’s an example of the effect on nutritional values of crop varieties of corn:
“Maize is the preferred staple food of more than 1.2 billion people in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America. However, maize-based diets, particularly those of the very poor, often lack essential vitamins and minerals. Over 50 million people in these regions are vitamin A deficient, which can lead to visual impairments, blindness and increased child mortality. The white maize eaten in much of sub-Saharan Africa contains almost no pro-vitamin A, while standard yellow maize varieties contain about 2 micrograms per gram (µg/g) – still insufficient in a diet dominated by maize. …. Scientists anticipate producing materials with the ultimate target of 15 µg/g within the next four years by using cutting edge lab tools to help select the best materials for breeding.”
Some maize contains no pro-Vitamin A at all — another yellow variety contains some, but not enough to prevent Vitamin A deficiency alone. Through cross-breeding maize varieties, the breeders at The Crop Trust hope to create a variety that will provide the 15 ug/g necessary to prevent Vitamin A deficiency in those for whom maize the major staple food. We all know the story of Golden Rice — suppressed by Greenpeace and other misguided fanatics — which could eliminate Vitamin A deficiency in areas depending on rice as a staple.
In this case, the corn that is the basic food for these people has virtually no Vitamin A — another variety has a lot more — but that “a lot more” doesn’t change the public health issue, it isn’t enough to guarantee to prevent Vitamin A deficiency. So the yellow corn is not a superfood despite having many multiples “more” Vitamin A. These two varieties are both insufficient…a change of plus or minus 10% or even 50% will make no difference. Vitamin A will have to be provided by a custom-bred corn variety or from another source.
“Fruits, roots, tubers, and leafy vegetables are the main providers of provitamin A carotenoids. Because of their availability and affordability, green leafy vegetables are consumed largely by the poor populations, but their provitamin A activity has been proven to be less than previously assumed. Among fruits, mangoes constitute an important seasonal source of vitamin A. Yellow or orange sweet potatoes are rich in provitamin A. Red palm oil has a high concentration of provitamin A carotenoids (500–700 ppm/100 g). Extension of new varieties with a high content of bioavailable provitamin A and locally adapted education and counseling on the handling and storage of provitamin A sources can significantly increase the vitamin A intake of vulnerable people.”
The converse can be true as well. In the Dominican Republic, where I served as a Humanitarian Missionary for many years, we never had to worry about Vitamin C deficiency among the poor. The fruits that grew wild in abundance provided all the Vitamin C anyone could need. More or less Vitamin C in the local variety of mango makes no difference — any single mango provides many times the daily requirement of Vitamin C and Vitamin A as well. But the babies of the poverty stricken desperately needed Vitamin A supplementation — because babies don’t eat mangoes.
This is true generally, all over the world. The small incremental differences in trace nutrients between crop varieties and between the same varieties grown in different locations is already greater than the differences seen between crops grown at various levels of atmospheric CO2. All of this was hashed out years and years ago when the latest “scary health story” was that “modern agriculture has depleted our soils so much that food is no longer nutritious.” (Usually followed by an advertisement for vitamin and mineral supplements that far exceed the needs of any human being anywhere).
For a full and exhaustive treatment of this issue, see Mineral nutrient composition of vegetables, fruits and grains: The context of reports of apparent historical declines [pdf] by Robin J. Marles (Health Canada).
The issue is nutshelled in this quote from the Marles study:
“Contemporaneous analyses of modern versus old crop varieties grown side-by-side, and archived samples, show lower mineral concentrations in varieties bred for higher yields where increased carbohydrate is not accompanied by proportional increases in minerals – a “dilution effect”.”
When modern crops produce more grain or fruit, through plant breeding, better agricultural methods, modern fertilizers and CO2 fertilization, the increased “food” doesn’t contain an equal, proportional, increase in minerals, vitamins, proteins and carbohydrates. Present day biology is not sure why this is.
The Bottom Line important for us from this paper is:
“The benefits of increased yield to supply food for expanding populations outweigh small nutrient dilution effects addressed by eating the recommended daily servings of vegetables, fruits and whole grains.”
Nutritional deficiencies don’t result from eating foods that “lack nutrients” — nutritional deficiencies result from poverty and the inability of people to have enough of the necessary foods to make up an adequate diet.
Nutritional deficiencies stem from not having enough to eat. Period.
The scary iron deficiency story from SE Asia alluded to by Zimmer in the Times — “researchers estimated that the rate of iron deficiency may rise from 21.8 percent to 27.9 percent by 2050” — is a Paris Agreement promoting piece of advocacy that assumes that the diets of the poor in these areas will remain unchanged, that there will be no advances in standards of living, food security or primary foods; no public health advances, no health education efforts; no vitamin supplementation programs where already desperately needed — in other words, the projections are based on a “the world stands still” scenario — and the only variable is the “projected” generalized decline in iron concentrations in “crops”, which is based on speculation — not on the foods actually in the diets of the affected peoples. Iron in human diets comes primarily from meats though there are good plant sources as well. Iron deficiencies arise where diets include little or no meat due to poverty and where lack of education deprives the people of the knowledge of plant-based alternatives. Paper @ “Anticipated burden and mitigation of carbon-dioxide-induced nutritional deficiencies and related diseases: A simulation modeling study”.
This small article in the New York Times on Vitamin A — which represents a much larger world-wide problem — exposes the simplicity of dealing with any such problem should it actually arise: “What a Little Vitamin A Could Do”. A single liquid Vitamin A capsule squeezed into the mouth of each newborn baby averts a very high percentage of Vitamin A Deficiency caused childhood blindness. Cost? 2 cents (less in bulk).
“Death by Diet” in today’s world is not caused by incremental differences in nutritional values of foods. That is a myth — the same myth that, on its flip-side, brings us “SuperFoods” and causes people to buy expensive amaranth, quinoa and other minor “ancient” grains in preference to inexpensive and abundant wheat, rice, rye and corn.
Of course, diet is important. But the basis of diet for a majority of the world’s people means “what we can grow or collect”; “what we can afford to buy” and “what we think we should eat”. Herein lies the entire problem of malnutrition in the world today. It can be reliably solved through the process of raising standards of living for the abjectly poor, education of children (especially women who will bear the burden of making diet choices for their families) and public health care that includes vitamin and mineral supplementation for the poor (particularly children) until their diets can be improved to meet their needs. Some of this education outreach must include agricultural methods to improve yields (which raises standard of living) and encourage the culture of a wider variety of garden items for the family diet (which eliminates vitamin and mineral deficiencies).
Senselessly worrying about small incremental changes in nutritional values of different crops under higher CO2 concentrations does not lead to any solution and does not solve the nutritional problems of the world’s poor. Just as the “soil depletion” scare passed away under the wheels of time, so will the “CO2-induced lack of nutrients” scare pass away — it is no more significant than its food fad flip-side, SuperFoods.*
# # # # #
Author’s Comment Policy:
* SuperFoods are a misnomer, a myth, and categorically do not prevent or cure any disease known to man. All claims to the contrary are false. My apologies to AARP, Dave Lieberman and Anand O”Connor (of the NY Times). If you need dietary advice, you may have mine for free: Eat Your Chow (meaning a normal, well-rounded diet in moderation).
I will admit to having extended family members that feel that some awful tasting concoction of blended weeds is “better for me” than a simple salad because the ingredients are said to contain “X% more” of some particular nutrient than the food I already eat. Of course, my diet already has far more of that nutrient than my body could ever possibly use and most of it goes down the toilet with the bodies other excess and unwanted materials. If you live in a developed nation and eat a reasonably varied diet, you will never suffer from a nutritional deficiency (well, at least until old age finally destroys your ability to absorb some specific vitamin or nutrient — which can happen).
If you live in a developing country and are reading this, you probably have a high enough standard of living that you too are in no danger of vitamin deficiency.
It is the poor that suffer diet-related illnesses and they are caused by not enough of the right foods to eat — and often — from not enough food of any kind. Very rarely a region’s soil will be deficient in some odd trace element — but these instances of potential deficiency are well known where they occur. Thus, many countries mandate the adding of iodine to table salt and Vitamin D to milk.
Address your comments to “Kip…” if you are speaking specifically to me and I’ll try to respond.
Thanks for reading.
Nir Shaviv is co-author along with Henrik Svensmark and others of a major new paper in Nature Communications titled Increased ionization supports growth of aerosols into cloud condensation nuclei. He has a write up at his Sciencebits blog. Here’s the introduction:
Our new results published today in nature communications provide the last piece of a long studied puzzle. We finally found the actual physical mechanism linking between atmospheric ionization and the formation of cloud condensation nuclei. Thus, we now understand the complete physical picture linking solar activity and our galactic environment (which govern the flux of cosmic rays ionizing the atmosphere) to climate here on Earth though changes in the cloud characteristics. In short, as small aerosols grow to become cloud condensation nuclei, they grow faster under higher background ionization rates. Consequently, they have a higher chance of surviving the growth without being eaten by larger aerosols. This…
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By Paul Homewood
A new study finds that coral bleaching on the Great Barrier Reef is nothing new.
From the Evening Express:
Large-scale coral bleaching has raised concern about the future of the ecosystems and the impact their loss could have on biodiversity.
Dr Sebastian Hennige, researcher
The teams found the frequency of bleaching has increased since the 1800s and, despite corals’ ability to recover, there are fears they could now be approaching a “critical threshold”.
Dr Nick Kamenos from Glasgow’s School of Geographical and Earth Sciences said: “It’s clear in the core data we examined that bleaching has been occurring on the Great Barrier Reef for at least 400 years, but the frequency of bleaching events has increased markedly since the early 1800s and those events have affected 10% more corals since the late 1700s.
“We can see that corals have been able to acclimate and recover from past…
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A few polar bears have become stranded on small islands north of Svalbard since the local sea ice retreated — of which the bear that mauled a cruise ship guard last month was but one — and if return of the ice is as late as last year, those handful of bears are likely doomed to die of starvation. This is not due to climate change but rather bad judgment on the part of these few bears. They were not forced ashore: if they’d stayed on the ice like the rest of the population, they’d have likely been just fine.
Similar to the bear in northwestern Hudson Bay that fatally mauled a young father in early July, these bears were likely lured ashore by the prospect of masses of bird eggs present on island rookeries. But they overstayed their window of opportunity and the ice retreated without them.
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The Charge: Timothy White, California State University Chancellor
“Nearly everyone agrees that climate change is the biggest environmental challenge facing California and the world. Communities across California are experiencing firsthand the effects of devastating wildfires, persistent droughts, agricultural anomalies and public health crises because of our changing climate.
The Facts: Climatologist Dr. John Christy ‘Our most serious heatwaves were in the 1930’s. We have not matched those at all”
What about the fires and heat waves?
According to the National Interagency Fire Center, fires were burning in fifteen states as of Tuesday, August 14.
Alaska reported seventeen fires, Arizona reported eleven, both Oregon and Colorado reported ten, and California reported nine.
Much of the news media’s discussion about these fires over the past few weeks has established a correlation between the many fires and anthropogenic climate change, a correlation that Dr. Christy rejects.
Christy argues that exacerbating fires out west…
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Stronger westerly winds in the Southern Ocean could be the cause of a sudden rise in atmospheric CO2 and temperatures in a period of less than 100 years about 16,000 years ago, according to a study published in Nature Communications.
The westerly winds during that event strengthened as they contracted closer to Antarctica, leading to a domino effect that caused an outgassing of carbon dioxide from the Southern Ocean into the atmosphere.
This contraction and strengthening of the winds is very similar to what we are already seeing today as a result of human caused climate change.
“During this earlier period, known as Heinrich stadial 1, atmospheric CO2 increased by a total of ~40ppm, Antarctic surface atmospheric temperatures increased by around 5°C and Southern Ocean temperatures increased by 3°C,” said lead author Dr. Laurie Menviel, a Scientia Fellow with the University of New South Wales (Sydney).
“With this in mind, the contraction and strengthening of westerly winds today could have significant implications for atmospheric CO2 concentrations and our future climate.”
Scientists know changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide have profound impacts on our climate system. This is why researchers are so interested in Heinrich events, where rapid increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide occur over a very short period of time.
Heinrich event 1, which occurred about 16,000 years ago, is a favorite to study because alterations in ocean currents, temperature, ice and sea levels are clearly captured in an array of geological measures. This allows theories to be tested against these changes.
Until now, many of the propositions put forward for the carbon dioxide spike struggled to explain its timing, rapidity and magnitude.
But when the researchers used climate models to replicate an increase in the strength of westerly winds as they contracted towards the Antarctic, the elements began to align. The stronger winds caused a domino effect that not only reproduced the increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide but also other changes seen during Heinrich 1.
The stronger winds had a direct impact on the ocean circulation, increasing the formation of bottom water along the Antarctic coast and enhancing the transport of carbon rich waters from the deep Pacific Ocean to the surface of the Southern Ocean. As a result, about 100Gt of carbon dioxide was emitted into the atmosphere by the Southern Ocean.
Today, observations suggest westerly winds are again contracting southwards and getting stronger in response to the warming of our planet.
“The carbon exchange in particular between the Southern Ocean and the atmosphere matter deeply for our climate. It is estimated the Southern Ocean absorbs around 25% of our atmospheric carbon emissions and that ~43% of that carbon is taken up by the Ocean south of 30S,” said Dr. Menviel.
“With westerly winds already contracting towards Antarctica, it’s important to know if this event is an analogue for what we may see in our own future.
“For this reason, it is vital to bring more observational networks into the Southern Ocean to monitor these changes. We need a clear warning if we are approaching a point in our climate system where we may see a spike in atmospheric carbon dioxide and the rapid temperature rise that inevitably follows.”
Explore further: Southern Ocean resistant to changing winds
More information: L. Menviel et al, Southern Hemisphere westerlies as a driver of the early deglacial atmospheric CO2 rise, Nature Communications (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-018-04876-4
More than 100 oceanic floats are now diving and drifting in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica during the peak of winter. These instruments are gathering data from a place and season that remains very poorly studied, despite its important role in regulating the global climate.
A new study from the University of Washington, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Princeton University and several other oceanographic institutions uses data gathered by the floating drones over past winters to learn how much carbon dioxide is transferred by the surrounding seas. Results show that in winter the open water nearest the sea ice surrounding Antarctica releases significantly more carbon dioxide than previously believed.
“These results came as a really big surprise, because previous studies found that the Southern Ocean was absorbing a lot of carbon dioxide,” said lead author Alison Gray, a UW assistant professor of oceanography. “If that’s not true, as these data suggest, then it means we need to rethink the Southern Ocean’s role in the carbon cycle and in the climate.”
The paper is published Aug. 14 in Geophysical Research Letters.
The data was gathered through the Southern Ocean Carbon and Climate Observations and Modeling (SOCCOM) project based at Princeton University. The National Science Foundation, through its Office of Polar Programs, funded the $21 million effort to place dozens of floating robots to monitor the water around Antarctica and learn how it functions in the global climate system.
“This is science at its most exciting—a major challenge to our current understanding made possible by extraordinary observations from the application of new technologies to study previously unexplored regions of the ocean,” said co-author and SOCCOM director Jorge Sarmiento at Princeton University. Gray conducted the research as a postdoctoral researcher in Sarmiento’s research group.
“Our observations have important implications for our understanding of the global carbon cycle,” Sarmiento said. “We find that the Southern Ocean is currently near neutral with respect to removal of carbon from the atmosphere, contrary to previous studies which suggest there is a large uptake of carbon by the Southern Ocean. These results can be reconciled if there is a corresponding unobserved carbon uptake waiting to be discovered somewhere else in the ocean.”
Previous winter measurements in the region had come mainly from ships traveling across Drake Passage to supply Antarctic research stations. Those data were few and far between.
“After four years of SOCCOM, the vast majority of information about the chemistry of the Southern Ocean is coming from these floats,” Gray said. “We have more measurements from the past few years than all the decades that came before.”
There are reasons so few previous winter measurements exist. Storms in Antarctica are some of the fiercest on the planet. In winter, the circumpolar current and winds have no barrier to ripping around the continent. The average storm lasts four days, Gray said. The average time between storms is seven days.
“In the winter it’s very stormy, and the winds are extremely strong, and it’s dark,” Gray said. “It would be a pretty unhappy place to be on a ship.”
The SOCCOM project was launched because this region also plays a unique role in the climate. It is one of the few places where water that has spent centuries in the deep ocean travels all the way up to the surface to rejoin the surface currents and connect with the atmosphere.
Carbon atoms move between rocks, rivers, plants, oceans and other sources in a planet-scale life cycle. Learning the rate of these various transfers helps to predict the long-term levels of carbon dioxide, a molecule released by burning fossil fuels that, when it accumulates in the atmosphere, traps heat.
The new observations were collected by floating instruments that drift with the currents and can control their buoyancy to collect observations at different depths. The instruments dive down to 1 kilometer and float with the currents for nine days. Next they drop even farther, to 2 kilometers, and then rise back to the surface while measuring water properties. After surfacing they beam their observations back to shore via satellite.
Unlike the more common Argo floats, which only measure ocean temperature and salinity, the SOCCOM floats also monitor dissolved oxygen, nitrogen and pH. The new paper uses the pH measurements to calculate the amount of dissolved carbon dioxide, and then uses that to figure out how strongly the water is absorbing or emitting carbon dioxide to the atmosphere.
Looking at circles of increasing distance from the South Pole, the authors find that in winter the open water next to the sea-ice covered waters around Antarctica is releasing significantly more carbon dioxide than expected to the atmosphere.
“It’s not surprising that the water in this region is outgassing, because the deep water is exceptionally rich in carbon,” Gray said. “But we underestimated the magnitude of the outgassing because we had so little data from the winter months. That means the Southern Ocean isn’t absorbing as much carbon as we thought.”
The published study analyzes data collected by 35 floats between 2014 and 2017. Gray is now analyzing newer data from more instruments to identify seasonal or multiyear trends, where the patterns might change from one year to the next.
“There is definitely strong variability on decadal scales in the Southern Ocean,” Gray said. “And the models are really all over the place in this region. The SOCCOM floats are now providing data at times and places where before we had virtually nothing, and that is invaluable for constraining the models and understanding these trends.”
Obtaining this kind of data is extremely difficult to do in the Southern Ocean, which is among the world’s most turbulent bodies of water, yet at the same time is vital to building a comprehensive global picture of how atmospheric carbon dioxide interacts with the polar oceans.
“Antarctic waters, until now, have been a data-poor region for these kinds of measurements,” said Peter Milne, program manager for ocean and atmospheric science at the NSF Office of Polar Programs. “SOCCOM, using technologies that previously were unavailable to researchers, already is proving its worth by gathering information that otherwise would remain largely unobtainable.”
Explore further: Stronger west winds blow ill wind for climate change
More information: Alison R. Gray et al, Autonomous biogeochemical floats detect significant carbon dioxide outgassing in the high-latitude Southern Ocean, Geophysical Research Letters (2018). DOI: 10.1029/2018GL078013
More than 100 oceanic floats are now diving and drifting in the Southern Ocean around Antarctica during the peak of winter, reports Phys.org.
These instruments are gathering data from a place and season that remains very poorly studied, despite its important role in regulating the global climate.
A new study from the University of Washington, the Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute, Princeton University and several other oceanographic institutions uses data gathered by the floating drones over past winters to learn how much carbon dioxide is transferred by the surrounding seas.
Results show that in winter the open water nearest the sea ice surrounding Antarctica releases significantly more carbon dioxide than previously believed.
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