Category Archives: Food

Ever more marine creatures imperiled by plastics


Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

Marine life threatened by becoming tangled with or ingesting plastic waste in the oceans. From the report.

The 20th Century is notable for four major technological innovations, each problematic: Nuclear power/weapons, antibiotics, the digital computer, and plastics.

Nuclear gave us the threat of planetary genocide and environmental degradation, antibiotics gave rise to resistant strains of bacteria, the computer gave rise to the panopticon surveillance state, and plastics have proven to cause a host of afflictions and threaten the oceans from which we all draw life.

It’s this last threat that is the subject of a sobering new report.

From the United Nations News Center:

Marine debris is negatively affecting more than 800 animal species and causing serious losses to many countries’ economies, according to a United Nations report launched Monday.

The report, Marine Debris: Understanding, Preventing and Mitigating the Significant Adverse Impacts on Marine and Coastal Biodiversity found that the number of species affected by marine debris has increased from 663 to 817 since 2012. It also warned that this type of waste, which is mostly made of plastic, is an increasing threat to human health and well-being, and is costing countries billions of dollars each year.

“I hope that this report will provide governments and other stakeholders with the information needed to take urgent actions to address marine debris, one of the most prominent threats to marine ecosystems, and support healthy and resilient oceans as a critical aspect of achieving sustainable development,” said Braulio Ferreira de Souza Dias, the Executive Director of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

The report was launched in Cancun, Mexico, on the sidelines of the 13th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to Convention, known as ‘COP13,’ where governments and private sector delegations have been gathered since 2 December to discuss, among others, how to integrate biodiversity into policies relevant to agriculture, forestry, fisheries and tourism sectors. The meeting wraps up on 17 December.

Marine debris is usually defined as any persistent, manufactured or processed solid material discarded, disposed of, or abandoned in the marine and coastal environment. Three-quarters of all marine debris is plastic, a persistent and potentially hazardous pollutant, which fragments into microplastics that can be taken up by a wide range of marine organisms.

The most common types of marine debris are: food wrappers, bottle caps, straws, grocery bags, beverage bottles and cigarette butts. Five of these items are made of plastic.

Marine and coastal species – fish, seabirds, marine mammals and reptiles – are affected by marine debris mostly through ingestion or entanglement. According to the report, 40 per cent of cetaceans, and 44 per cent of seabird species are affected by marine debris ingestion. The effect of ingestion is not always understood, as many ingest microplastics – little pieces or fragments that are less than five millimetres in diameter.

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Chart of the day: Partisan divides of key sciences


Science hasn’t been so politicized since the days of the Scopes Monkey Trial, and two key areas of division involved climate change and genetically modified foods..

From the Pew Research Center:

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Threats to crop pollinators imperil billions


That’s just the humans, and not the hundreds of billions of earth’s herbivores and the carnivores dependent on them.

It’s a threat directly resulting from the massive agricultural use of pesticides and other chemicals.

From Agence France Presse:

About 1.4 billion jobs and three-quarters of all crops depend on pollinators, researchers said Monday warning of a dire threat to human welfare if the falls in bee and butterfly numbers are not halted.

“World food supplies and jobs are at risk unless urgent action is taken to stop global declines of pollinators,” said a statement from the University of Reading, whose researchers took part in the global review.

Animal pollination directly affects about three-quarters of important crop types, including most fruits, seeds and nuts and high-value products such as coffee, cocoa and oilseed rape.

>snip<

There are some 20,000 species of bees responsible for fertilising more than 90 percent of the world’s 107 major crops.

Bee populations have been hit in Europe, North America and elsewhere by a mysterious phenomenon called “colony collapse disorder”, which has been blamed on mites, a virus or fungus, pesticides, or a combination of factors.

The authors of the review called for measures to protect pollinators against farming’s worst side-effects.

Agroecology, anyone?

Fidel Castro is gone, the man the U.S. tried to kill


In the end, the killer was one that awaits us all, humanity’s finite lifespan.

From the New York Times:

Fidel Castro, the fiery apostle of revolution who brought the Cold War to the Western Hemisphere in 1959 and then defied the United States for nearly half a century as Cuba’s maximum leader, bedeviling 11 American presidents and briefly pushing the world to the brink of nuclear war, died Friday. He was 90.

His death was announced by Cuban state television.

In declining health for several years, Mr. Castro had orchestrated what he hoped would be the continuation of his Communist revolution, stepping aside in 2006 when he was felled by a serious illness. He provisionally ceded much of his power to his younger brother Raúl, now 85, and two years later formally resigned as president. Raúl Castro, who had fought alongside Fidel Castro from the earliest days of the insurrection and remained minister of defense and his brother’s closest confidant, has ruled Cuba since then, although he has told the Cuban people he intends to resign in 2018.

Fidel Castro had held on to power longer than any other living national leader except Queen Elizabeth II. He became a towering international figure whose importance in the 20th century far exceeded what might have been expected from the head of state of a Caribbean island nation of 11 million people.

More from the Guardian:

Castro’s younger brother Raúl, who assumed the presidency of Cuba in 2006 after Fidel suffered a near-fatal intestinal ailment, announced the revolutionary leader’s death on television on Friday night.

“With profound sadness I am appearing to inform our people and our friends across [Latin] America and the world that today, 25 November 2016, at 10.29pm, Fidel Castro, the commander in chief of the Cuban revolution, died,” he said.

“In accordance with his wishes, his remains will be cremated.”

Raúl Castro concluded his address with the famous revolutionary slogan: “Onwards to victory!”

On Saturday, the Cuban government announced that Fidel Castro’s ashes will be interred at the Santa Ifigenia cemetery in Santiago de Cuba on 4 December. The cemetery is the resting place of 19th century Cuban independence hero José Martí and numerous other leading figures in the country’s torrid history.

Hundreds of assassination attempts foiled

Castro lived a charmed life, surviving hundreds of would-be assassins, many of them dispatched by a U.S. government outraged that a revolutionary regime could challenge its hegemony and flourish just 90 miles off its shore.

Powerful U.S. corporations had seen their lucrative Cuban assets nationalized, and the mob lost its casinos, infuriating syndicate heads in Chicago, Miami, and New Orleans, as well as notorious money launderer Meyer Lansky, who lost his own casino.

Other governments as well loathed Castro for his backing of revolutuonary regimes and dispatched their own killers.

And all of their attempts failed, as documented in this 2013 report from Britain’s Channel 4 News:

638 Ways To Kill Castro

A noteworthy legacy

So we bid farewell to Fidel, who created a national healthcare system that’s one of the world’s best [the island nation’s infant mortality rates are much lower than those of the U.S., a fact the CIA acknowledges], and where the U.S. sends troops to maintain its dominance over the globe, Cuba sends doctors to heal folks in some of the world’s poorest lands and assist when disaster strikes.

Barred by a trade embargo from importing food from the U.S., Cuba developed the world’s best system of agroecology, raising crops without pesticides and an over-reliance on synthetic fertilizers, while turning vacant lots into rich urban farms.

While the American right has long demonized Castro as a despot, the truth is that he accomplished much good for the Cuban people and countless numbers of the sick and the afflicted in other lands.

And now we bid him farewell, a man whose legacy is — like that of all of us — mixed, but one that is far better than so often portrayed in the U.S. media.

World temperature records as Trump heads to office


Americans elected the nation’s most vocal denier of global climate change in a years scientists say is nearly certain to be the hottest ever recorded.

Trump, whose frequent and crudely misinformed denials that humans are making the world hotter, stands to go do in history as a modern-day Nero, fiddling and diddling while the whole planet, rathrer than an Italian city, burns.

From the World Meteorological Organization:

It is very likely that 2016 will be the hottest year on record, with global temperatures even higher than the record-breaking temperatures in 2015. Preliminary data shows that 2016’s global temperatures are approximately 1.2° Celsius above pre-industrial levels, according to an assessment by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO).

Global temperatures for January to September 2016 have been about 0.88° Celsius (1.58°F) above the average (14°C) for the 1961-1990 reference period, which is used by WMO as a baseline. Temperatures spiked in the early months of the year because of the powerful El Niño event of 2015-16. Preliminary data for October indicate that they are at a sufficiently high level for 2016 to remain on track for the title of hottest year on record. This would mean that 16 of the 17 hottest years on record have been this century (1998 was the other one).

Long-term climate change indicators are also record breaking. Concentrations of major greenhouse gases in the atmosphere continue to increase to new records. Arctic sea ice remained at very low levels, especially during early 2016 and the October re-freezing period, and there was significant and very early melting of the Greenland ice sheet.

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Ocean heat was boosted by the El Niño event, contributing to coral reef bleaching, and above-average sea-level rise.

The deadliest event so far in 2016 has been Hurricane Matthew, which was Haiti’s worst humanitarian emergency since the 2010 earthquake. Throughout the year, extreme weather led to considerable socio-economic losses in all regions of the world.

“Another year. Another record. The high temperatures we saw in 2015 are set to be beaten in 2016,” said WMO Secretary-General Petteri Taalas.  The extra heat from the powerful El Niño event has disappeared. The heat from global warming will continue,” he said.

“In parts of Arctic Russia, temperatures were 6°C to 7°C above the long-term average. Many other Arctic and sub-Arctic regions in Russia, Alaska and northwest Canada were at least 3°C above average. We are used to measuring temperature records in fractions of a degree, and so this is different,” said Mr Taalas.

“Because of climate change, the occurrence and impact of extreme events has risen. ‘Once in a generation’ heatwaves and flooding are becoming more regular.  Sea level rise has increased exposure to storm surges associated with tropical cyclones,” he said.

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Florence says no to McDonald’s, then gets sued


The Italian city, famed for its magnificent medieval and Renaissance arcitecture and art decided against letting the fast food giant open an outlet in their most revered public space, the Piazza del Duomo.

A 360-degree panoramic of the Piazza del Duomo, via Wikipedia.

A 360-degree panoramic of the Piazza del Duomo, via Wikipedia.

The story from RT:

McDonald’s has filed a $20 million lawsuit against Florence, Italy, for blocking its plans to open a restaurant on the iconic Piazza del Duomo, one of the most visited places in Europe.

The US fast food chain told AFP it was claiming some €17.8 million ($19.65 million) in damages, saying the suit was being filed with the administrative court which arbitrates in governance disputes in Italy.

The Piazza del Duomo, located in the heart of Florence’s historic city center, is a gem of Gothic and Renaissance architecture. Its buildings include the domed Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral, the Giotto bell tower, the Opera del Duomo Museum, and the St. John Baptistery.

Florence’s mayor, Dario Nardella, rejected McDonald’s application in June, saying “McDonald’s has the right to submit an application, because this is permitted under the law, but we also have the right to say no.”

A Facebook campaign launched to oppose the opening of a McDonald’s restaurant on the historic plaza received more than 17,000 likes.

Perhaps the best single comment on the Facebook campaign page comes in the form of a Photoshopping of Florence’s most famous public artwork, Michelangelo’s David, supersized and holding a burger:

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And, via Wikipedia, the pre-Big Mac David:

blog-david

Fighting to save the endangered white abalone


The iridescent interior of the abalone reveals why it's often used in jewelry and furniture inlays as mother of pearl. Via Wikipedia.

The iridescent interior of the abalone reveals why it’s often used in jewelry and furniture inlays as mother of pearl. Via Wikipedia.

The tastiest treat in California’s coastal waters is the abalone.

We dined on the delicious gastropod soon after arriving in the Golden State in 1967 and immediately fell in love with this succulent gastronomic treat.

But we won’t be dining on abalone anymore, in part because our seven dollar supper would now cost upwards of $75 dollar.

One major reason for the oceanic level of inflation is that the critters don’t exist in the numbers they once did, both because of over-harvesting and because of changes in the ocean environment wrought by climate change.

One variety is endangered, so rare that most living examples are found in marine labs.

And that brings us to our video report, a compelling, humor-punctuated narrative by Jennifer Hoffmeister, an enthusiastic postdoctoral scholar at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, who delights in both the abalone and it’s deadliest marine predator, the octopus.

Prepare to be both informed and amused.

From University of California Television:

The Hungry Octopus and the Endangered Abalone

Program notes:

Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s Jennifer Hofmeister gives a lively account of why and how she is working to understand the behavior of octopuses in order to save California’s endangered white abalone, which faces extinction when the last adult generations die out within the next decade.