Wednesday, January 27, 2016

What's wrong with Science ? Could it really be the Scientists ?

File under: "Don't Mess with my Worldview"
The above Meme was created by someone within the Google+ site and appeared over my general post feed. What was interesting was that the usual science defenders came out and spouted off about the meaning behind the Meme, but this Meme was not about Science itself. It was about those who work within science today who are not necessarily motivated by the pursuit of discovery and wonder of our natural world as scientists historically once were. Today is much more different than times past. Many scientists today are bought and paid for corporate employees whose job assignment is to see to the fulfillment of Corporate demands. This isn't to say that all Scientists working for a corporation are evil or dishonest in their work assignments. But a growing number of this world's biggest and most notorious industrial giants have used their employee Scientists to smoke screen and cover up the truth on many things of a negative vein which would otherwise hurt their company's financial bottom line. My post here is not going to be some exposé Noc List of dastardly Scientists and their dirty deeds done for a plethora of corporations. I'll just provide one recent glaring example from the New York Times which is illustrative of how the scientific world has evolved or mutated itself today which has caused more and more concern among people who traditionally have long trusted science. Take the article below and one single paragraph.
New York Times: 
"The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare"
Rob Bilott was a corporate defense attorney for eight years. Then he took on an environmental suit that would upend his entire career — and expose a brazen, decades-long history of chemical pollution. 
Bryan Schutmaat for The New York Times
Rob Bilott on land owned by the Tennants, Parkersburg, W.Va. 
"Bilott filed a federal suit against DuPont in the summer of 1999 in the Southern District of West Virginia. In response, DuPont’s in-house lawyer, Bernard Reilly, informed him that DuPont and the E.P.A. would commission a study of the property, conducted by three veterinarians chosen by DuPont and three chosen by the E.P.A. Their report did not find DuPont responsible for the cattle’s health problems. The culprit, instead, was poor husbandry: ‘‘poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care and lack of fly control.’’ In other words, the Tennants didn’t know how to raise cattle; if the cows were dying, it was their own fault."
(Source: New York Times)
The article above itself is lengthy but also a good worthwhile read. It appears that many who commented at the bottom of this New York Times article agreed with my take on what was wrong with this case. Many were appalled by the blatant dishonest conduct of the research scientists, doctors and veterinarians used by DuPont Chemical corporation in literally manufacturing or fabricating a completely false story about the Tennant family being lousy farmers instead of revealing the scientific truth about the harm caused by DuPont's own chemicals. The actual facts were that these Scientists knew decades before hand just how dangerous these chemicals were and the potential for great harm to living things. It's so easy now days to target and blame all corporate CEOs, CFOs, other Company Execs & Department Heads, Boards of Directors, Company Salesmen, Public Relations Firms and Stock Shareholders. But almost no one is willing to point fingers at a scientist, doctor, etc because supposedly these people are believed to walk on hallowed ground and are above all this. Within any industry where science is employed to produce a product for market, we will often hear science defenders exclaim that their side of an issue has "scientific consensus" to back their worldview on a matter. In other words, this is the old, "Four out of Five Doctors Recommend" ploy. Scientists are viewed as the final authority, but the fact is that everyone forgets they are also human with the same failings, flaws and imperfections that are also common to the rest of mankind. People use to view the clergy this way, remember ? Like many people, they also are motivated by obtaining celebrity, wealth, prestige, etc. These things can and have coloured research work and caused many to hide negative data while exaggerating and embellishing upon the positives. This is also how one gets his or her work funded. Maybe the DuPont Scientists were motivated by a sense of company loyalty and job security. Is there any question that a Tobacco Company scientist or doctor back in the 1960/70s would have been fired if they had actually provided evidence which backed the truth of cigarette smoking as causing cancer ? See, it's not all that hard to figure. Consensus means nothing and that is not how science is supposed to work because a majority says so. A great example of a scientist who went up against the consensus was Galileo, but many defenders of science will insist , "no that's not rue, he was bucking against religion." Yes, the Church was present, but the prevailing Scientific Consensus of that time was the Church. Oddly enough, modern day Industrial Science and Academia in general have ripped pages right out of the Christendom Dark Ages playbook in censoring, blackballing and publicly insulting anyone who goes up against the prevailing scientific orthodoxy on any matter. In the end, this is just something for everyone to ponder when another future controversy exposes yet more flaws and imperfections which create questions to one's imaginary settled science worldview of things.

In our world, the sad fact is most people have been prgrammed and conditioned to not  do their own homework. They have a comfort zone for appointing leadership for themselves and blindly letting that leadership do their own thinking, study and research for them. They want the easy road, the motorway or Interstate Highway. Nobody wants to work hard anymore. The technology era has made people lazy, especially the world's youth. Most are out of touch with the outdoors and their special take on science is based solely on something they've read about what someone else has done. Pick up a field guide one day and take a hiking trail with your kids. If they're young enough it'll be easier, but a little older and you'll have a fight on your hands. Learning Science is not about the Internet or Discovery Channel or National Geographic on Television. 

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

In Pursuit of the Perfect Lawn (& Why I've always hated Lawns as a Landscaper)

We've all known them. You know, those weekend warrior Joe Six-Packs in your neighbourhood with that well stocked garage loaded with all manner of tools, machines, building materials and chemicals for any Home & Garden improvement project who are always obsessed with that perfect showcase lawn ?

New York Times
"A screen grab of an EddieGram. The Briggs & Stratton Corporation is using the character of Engine Eddie to encourage consumers to take better care of their lawns."

In my opinion, the only perfect urban landscape lawn that I believe most people are looking for could only be a sort of generic artificial version found only at an IKEA store. As a professional landscaper from the southwest, of all the duties in landscape installation and maintenance I always hated the lawns the most. It wasn't just those tenants who let their dogies doo doo on the grass the morning of mowing day, but mainly the wasted expense of fertilizing, watering, weed control. thatching, aerating, mowing etc etc etc. Especially watering where it's not for free as elsewhere there in the southwest. If I had my way, all lawns would have been removed at all those commercial living complexes I was in charge of maintaining. In replacement I'd have placed beautiful low growing natives.
What is it about an artificial unnatural look that people find so attractive ? Mostly, I believe Americans have been indoctrinated through an elaborate manipulation of Advertising which stretches all the way back to the 1950s when the American Dream of owning a tract home was created after the WWII. Many a military man after the war never wanted to go back to the miserable cold winters of back eastern seaboard or Midwest after being stationed out in the west. That was the case with my dad, his cousins and friend from Iowa. But that didn't mean they rejected everything back east. They still wanted those green lush looking lawns that are so common and popular back there, where many people use a riding lawn mower to maintain their half acre lawnscapes.

Moving over here to Sweden and observing other parts of Europe was an eye opener for me when it came to lawns. See this photo on the left ? If any American gardener or landscaper allowed such flowers as Dandelions to proliferate in his lawn, his neighbours would practically brand him a Communist. Absolutely nobody where I come from ever allows Dandelions to take up any   ecosystem residency within their lawns. Why, over at the local Home Improvement stores all sorts of specialized chemical cocktails have been created to terminate such evil lifeforms. Well, evil in the sense of warped upbringing when it comes to nature and gardening. But it's funny, almost every lawn here is allowed to have countless tiny wildflowers within the yard's lawn. Interestingly, Dandelions are really only a Springtime event. Maybe a month or two at most and then we don't see them until the next year, but then other flowers just seem to take their place as the season progresses. In my previous home I had Red Flax, both Purple and White Clovers, Strawberry plants and some type of small daisy [Roman Chamomile] which grew in the grass. This past Summer I was tempted to take the camera with me when I took our Chihuahua out for a walk in the giant grassy park out behind our apartment. The lawns here are always loaded with a huge variety of flowers all blooming at differing times of the growing season. Nobody here ever sprays to kill them so that only a monoculture of grass blades to remain present. What's more, no one here fertilizes their lawns that I have ever seen. The ground underneath is rich in microbiological component materials which provide everything these low cut grassy meadows need. The lawns are also loaded with tonnes of earthworms which are constantly aerating the soils under the lawns. While I always disliked lawns previously, I now prefer these types of natural lawns. The other thing different here is that they mow and leave the clippings on the lawn. It's so wet here that these clippings break down very quickly. This is not the case out in the southwest where ongoing fertilization and constant watering are necessary to keep green grasses growing and grow they do, excessively so. That's why there are mountains of grass clippings to be dealt with in either vegetation landfills or compost piles where too much nitrogen rich grasses easily catch fire. Below are some examples from my lawns at my old house in Biskopsgatan on Hissingen.

Trine Harritz Larsen, Dänemark

Above are the type of white small daisy type of flowers which are a  Roman Chamomile that would bloom all summer long in the grasses on the south sunny side of my house. But in the photo below you can see some of the Redflax has moved into the lawn. Higher up are some strawberry plants I planted in the cracks in the rocks which have moved down by means of runners into the lawns where they root. Because I never fertilized, the lawn did not have to be mowed as often as a lawn conventionally grown in the USA would have to be more regularly maintained because of rich synthetic inputs into the system. This allowed the strawberries to root more easily through the shorter blades. Can you imagine all these types of plants I've mentioned being a weedy problem in need of a deadly solution ???

Image: Mine 2013

Still, it amazes me that where I come from in the southwest USA, they will go out of their way to rid the lawn of even a single beautiful flower if it disrupts the monoculture of those highly prized green blades of grass in their   lawnscape. But this mindset has been conditioned into the average person over there for decades. The lawns that I now experience over here in Europe are loaded with all manner of wild bees and other insects because of the huge tiny flower content within these lawns. It's literally alive both above and below the ground and nothing really has to be done but lightly mow it twice a month. The carbon footprint as it were is almost nothing with the exception of the small gas can I fill up once a year. The other area of maintenance that is totally unnecessary is lawn and soil aeration. You all know what I'm talking about and perhaps you've either hired someone to do this task with their large machines or you've rented your equipment and did  yourself. 

Tundra Landscapes

Colorado Happy Roots
Sure enough, if aeration isn't done, then water runs off is wasted, fertilizer doesn't penetrate and oxygenation doesn't occur in the root zone area. This is especially bad in the dry regions of the world where lawns have to be artificially maintained this way. We've all seen the wicked looking gas powered equipment and it's 3" or 4" inch long teeth which punch the holes into the lawns and literally pull out hundreds of tiny plugs. All of this is necessary when you follow the rules of an artificial synthetic inputs regimen recommended by your local nurseryman able and willing to sell you all the supplies needed to accomplish that perfect lawn. Oddly enough, over here in Sweden you never see this stuff. Why ??? Because you see this everywhere instead, look below.

Etymology Depart. Oregon State University

Missouri Botanical Garden
The scene above is what I see almost every morning on Swedish lawns when I take our Chihuahua for his walk 3 times a day. Earthworms accomplish the aeration, fertilization, water percolation improvement on a daily basis here and for free. All you have to do is know how to take care of their underground home. Actually to be honest, what I really see is two to three times the castings as the ones above in that picture from Oregon State University. And this is all done for free. In the smaller photo these castings are dried, dug from the earth so that you can get a visual on what exactly they are accomplishing. Notice the tubes which are created by their activity ? While it is true that this area is wetter than where I come from in the hotter drier southwest, you could still get these same results if the dark biological matter were allowed to buildup via the microbial influence and lack of synthetic inputs. This is also another one of those arguments against the GMO Grass seed which is totally unnecessary and is only engineered to allow a plethora of synthetic weed killers like Roundup to be applied on lawns without killing grasses. But Roundup has also be found to kill certain earthworm species and lower populations of others which do not totally die off. I'll post links below in references. But there are some good illustrations for what exactly the importance of having good lawn aeration accomplishes within your grass community root system. 
 Some Interesting Info-graphics on what the benefits of Aeration can accomplish

You can Google the above uses words/terms like "Soil Aeration" or more specifically "Lawn Aeration" and a plethora of beautiful info-graphics pops up under 'images'. Of course it is dealing with much of the advertised mechanical plug removal aeration needed when the conventional chemical approach to lawn care is practiced, but it also illustrates what goes on when billions of earthworms are present and doing their job under the ground. If you view the middle illustration, you find that these opened passages allow for more water and air infiltration and of course deeper penetration of those synthetic junk food nutrients into the soils. But the mechanized version only goes so far down. Remember, 3" or 4" at best ? The "Anecic" variety of Earthworm burrow down six inches or as far down as 8" to 10" down [some species several feet] which allows roots to follow, depending on the amount of organic carbon materials deeply built up within the soil structure under a healthy organically maintained lawn. At this point I have created an entirely separate post about the incredible diversity of earthworms and what they actually perform within healthy soils. This will speed up the reading with this post. Well, hopefully.
Earthworms & the mechanical functions they perform in the soil

Much the way the Harvard Yard Landscapers have created in their Compost tea maintenance strategy. Read about the imaginary controversy surrounding Harvard Yard's landscape supervisor and crew's decision to totally eliminate all synthetic chemicals from the 80+ acre landscape program and the criticism they received from the Washington State University Garden Professors who are committed to industrial science business interests.
Success of Harvard Yard's Compost Tea Program & unfair criticism by Professors committed to industrial science

image: Lawn Care Vancouver

image: Efficient Lawns
The idea behind thatching is to remove all that worthless dead material which impedes air and water movement. The photo above shows a massive amount of thatch that now has to be dealt with either in a separate compost pile away from the landscape or more than likely place in green barrels for the eco-waste disposal people to deal with on their next weekly visit. Again all of this is totally unnecessary if a natural organic approach is practice and the industrial synthetic regimen is dumped in favour of what professional landscapers like those of Harvard Yard have done. The thatch first of all never builds up as the grass grows much more slowly and normally than that continual forced growth triggered by chemical synthetic fertilizers. If you've never seen one of these machines, they mostly have stiff steel brushes which attack the grass and scour it for any dead loose materials. Again, this is not a piece of equipment people normally own, you must hire someone or rent it and do the work yourself. All unnecessary if you biomimic nature.


Image: Turf Doctor
One of the things that disturbed me most about our company's lawn care was the waste in ammonium nitrate pellets which got all over the sidewalks and street gutters, even when you thought you were being careful. There is just no way to perfectly prevent this from scattering where ever when using one of those spreader machines. I realized just how much contribution to downstream and lake pollution was being done collectively by literally 1000s upon 1000s of property owners and/or their landscapers in conventional turf management when they were sloppy about spreading these pellets. You see this everywhere. I finally just just used the manual spreaders in the center of larger lawns and spread carefully by hand around the perimeter. The other thing I hated was having to constantly check daily all lawn sprinkler heads for damage, mineral deposit clogging or insect plugging. Sometimes even weed edger damage. But the need for ongoing water and the artificial way of providing nutrition always seemed to make the grass grow and grow. This called for more than the usual mowing and excess clippings to deal with. What a waste having to throw it all away because we had no real time and patience for creating a composting program. Part of the scary issue here in the west with compost piles is the heat within large amounts of grass clippings are high in nitrogen content and fires can be common. I use to see this a lot with neighbour's composting piles with grass clippings or horse manure piles left unattended. If I had it to do over again, I'd go the Harvard Yard Compost Tea method where micro-organisms are nurtured and encouraged. Where the grass stays a rich green and grows much slower and requires less watering. 
Harvard Yard Recycling Programme
Washington State University Ag Extension Compost Tea Webinar Revisited

Harvard Yard Landscaping Crew
The Webinar by the two WSU gals at Washington State University was very well done and quite neutral in the points they referenced. The Garden Professors from WSU were critical of the webinar long before it was ever shown to the public and were determined not to draw attention to it. The opposite happened. The Garden Professors claim to be a collection of garden/landscaping myth busting legends and while I do accept many things that have written about, sometimes they and a few of their wannabe myth-buster followers get carried away with their own celebrity status. Watch the webinar and follow carefully some of their recommendations. Same with the Harvard Yard recommendations on their website. Take notes of what and how you blended your version of the compost tea and keep in mind the extreme importance of some type of aeration techniques for creating a ecosystem for aerobic bacteria and not an anaerobic one. Take photographs, make more notations on water use, mowing schedule, etc. And try to attain a zero use policy of any type of synthetic inputs into your lawn system. Try and maintain your lawn as an actual wild ecosystem. 

Don't worry about the flowers that may appear in your lawn and if you do not have any, get some. Perhaps you remember years ago the garden product called Meadow in a Can that was sold many places ? Of course not just any flowers will do, you want those tiny or at least small miniature versions of them. Red Flax worked in my lawn over here. The key to any type of a healthy system though is not having a monoculture program. Diversity is the key above ground because various species of fungi and bacteria are host specific below the ground. In both cases of commercial multi-species cover crop farming and diversified landscaping using holistic methods results also in bringing with it the added healthy large populations of various earthworm species which provide different services and benefits. Remember also different geographic locations have specific requirements. What works in one area may not work in another. Please share your ideas with others.
Some Resources for seeding small flowers into your lawn if desired
 Getting started with an herbal lawn may be as simple as changing your definitions and attitudes.
SFGate - Home & Garden: "How to Plant a Roman Chamomile Lawn
Flaming Petal: Planting a Chamomile Lawn
Update January 8, 2016 Bloomberg:

 On a bit of negative News in the lawn world, it's unfortunate that the Biotechnology and Agro-Chemical Industries are obsessed with pushing their wares into the lawncare markets. These synthetics are not favourable to earthworm populations and as Harvard Yard has proven, they are a total waste of money. However, count on the marketing spin to commence and anyone against their product will be labeled anti-science. This is a flat out lie as you can read from the links and experiences above where people have used scientific discovery to model their lawncare programmes by means of replicating Nature called Biomimicry. You should take note that Scotts has been pursuing this for a long time and their GMO Grass has escaped into the wild in Oregon outside their remote field trial sites, but as they say:
"Scotts filed a similar bentgrass petition in 2002 with the intention of selling it to professional golf courses. Soon after, the modified grass was found growing outside approved test plots in eastern Oregon, King said. Scotts, a Marysville, Ohio-based seller of lawn-care products, agreed in 2007 to pay a $500,000 fine to resolve allegations it violated USDA rules for field tests of its grass." 
"Glyphosate-tolerant creeping bentgrass continues to be found occasionally growing wild in Oregon, and when that happens the company provides herbicides to kill it, King said.
Bloomberg: "Monsanto & Scotts Seek Approval for Golf Grass Gone Wild" 
Future Updates for Flowers in Swedish Lawns here

Wild Lawn image by James A. Bacon
 I love this image above. So illustrative of how lawns are over here in Sweden. Here is a post by James A. Bacon who feels the same way I do about lawns:
Bacon's Rebellion: "The Grass Isn't Always Greener"

South side of my old place.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Earthworms & the mechanical functions they perform in the soil

File under - "Lost and Found"
Colorado State Agricultural  eXtension

Here are some quotes and the link from the Colorado State Agricultural Extension on the three types of earthworms and how to encourage them and dangers that destroy their ecosystem.
How to Encourage Earthworm Activity
"Earthworms will not go where it is too hot/cold or too dry/wet. Soil temperatures above 70ºF or below 40ºF will discourage earthworm activity. While soil temperature is hard to alter, moisture can be managed. When soil becomes water logged, oxygen is driven out of the large pore spaces. Without this free oxygen, earthworms cannot breath. Conversely, when soil dries beyond half of field capacity, earthworm skin dries in the soil. Maintaining moisture levels that are ideal for optimum plant growth in a landscape or garden will also be ideal for earthworm activity.  Providing a food source in the form of organic matter is also important. Mulching grass clippings into the lawn, putting down a layer of organic mulch in beds, amending the soil with compost, and turning under a green manure are all excellent ways to feed earthworm populations."
Practices Detrimental to Earthworm Activity
"High rates of ammonium nitrate are harmful to earthworms  (most common lawn fertilizer used in pellet form)
Tillage destroys permanent burrows and can cut and kill worms. 
Fall tillage can be especially destructive to earthworm populations. 
Deep and frequent tillage can reduce earthworm populations by as much as 90%. 
Earthworms are also hindered by salty conditions in the soil. 
Some chemicals have toxic effects on earthworm populations.
In most discussions of earthworms, there are always three major types referred to with several species referenced within these kinds of earthworms. Yet there are far more like the common red earthworm otherwise known as a compost worm which I've most often found in the rich manure layers around farms. Actually I also found them around the organic layers where my gray water pipe emptied into the ditch up in the mountains where I once lived because much of the vegetable matter which went through the kitchen garbage disposal. 
Epigeic Earthworms (surface litter dewellers)
Of course the result in performing the aeration program is that the grasses in the lawn will perform better until it needs to be done again, which in many cases may be a yearly event. Another very important point in that graphic is the first picture which illustrates the tightly bound soil and grass roots with a compacted thatch build up of dead grass blades, roots and stems. In nature this thatch buildup would have been regularly handled by the abundant microbes available and the other earthworms like the "Epigeic" species which are surface dwellers and litter feeders and make no underground burrows. Nevertheless, this thatching done mechanically is yet another chore that must be done periodically when unnatural synthetic versions of maintenance programs on lawns are undertaken, then all that waste once accumulated must be hauled off to a green waste landfill where they compost it. 

image: Earthworm Society of Britain (Epigeic Earthworm)

It wouldn't surprise me if these were the types of earthworms we most commonly see when we turn over rocks, bricks and boards. Of course they generally are never alone. Sow Bugs, earwigs, mites, ants etc etc etc all contribute to the soil health. Why ? Because they all feed one way or another on organic matter and poop out nutrients available to plants their either direct root contact or the mycorrhizal fungal grid. I have to imagine that when all gardeners, including myself, dig through the soils, we've all stumbled upon all three varieties of earthworm types, but never gave their differences a thought. Earthworms are just Earthworms right ? Wrong! That's almost as bad as UC Davis', Alison Van Eenennaam justifying GMO technology by saying, "DNA is just DNA and Genes are just Genes." I can understand the average person saying this, but not one of the world's well known Sciencey celebrity intellects self-promoting themselves as having an understanding well above the average *cough-cough* Layman (hate that put down term).

image: Earthworm Society of Britain (Endogeic earthworm)

Both types of burrow dwelling earthworms shred residues, stimulate the microbial decomposition and nutrient release. They both produce casts rich in N, P, K, and other nutrients. Improve soil stability, air porosity and moisture holding capacity by burrowing and aggregating soil. Turn soil over and may reduce the incidence of disease by bringing deeper soil to the surface and burying organic matter. They improve water percolation and infiltration by forming channels and promoting soil aggregation and stimulate root growth by creating channels lined with nutrients for plant roots to follow. Both endogeic and anecic earthworms are important mechanical components in contributing to these incredible soil infrastructure functions in all soil ecosystems. The shallow dwelling earthworms improve topsoil porosity and the deep burrowing earthworms improve infiltration and drainage, often times up to several feet depending on the soil and species. It's this soil breathing function they provide through aeration that is most important. Prior to the much celebrated 1950s "green revolution", those nitrogen poor soils always seemed to have plenty to offer plants. Why ? because out atmosphere is loaded with it and if the soil breathes properly, then the nitrogen fixing microbes can do their work effectively on the plant's root systems. But the advent of the Synthetic-Artificial Ag revolution changed all that and caused the beginning of the end in what nature was programmed to do for 10s of 1000s of years prior. 
Anecic Earthworms (Deepest Burrowers)

Cornell University Soil and Water Laboratory

This is a great page create by Cornell University's Soil & Water Laboratory on the flow dynamics of water infiltration and percolation down into the soils by various mechanical components. This pit or trench which was dug into the soil for the study was approximately a meter in depth. There were a number of reasons for the ability of water to percolate and infiltrate deep into the soil, like the usual cracks in soils, the soil structure itself wwhether sand, clay or stoney soils, and finally the real intriguing feature were the deep vertical pore tunneling done by earthworms. In particular these Anecic types of Earthworms like, Nightcrawlers or Dew Worm (Lumbricus terrestris), which I use to collect in the dark at an old Iowa Farm in Buchanan County where the perennials had grown back covering the once barren barnyard. This photo at right shows how the "pore generators" or Anecic Earthworms which bore vertical straight line burrows may go down deep into the soils. Unlike the other varieties which burrow near the surface and around organic litter, then prefer the subsoil. That's good because that allow deeper percolation and infiltration of rainwater beyond the black biologically rich surface soils when it comes. 

image: Earthworm Society of Britain (Anecic earthworm)

One wonders what roles millions of these played in the past as to groundwater infiltration within an old growth ecosystem whether forest, prairie, chaparral, etc. Their presence would have also benefited certain plants which drill deep into soils several meters deep like the prairie perennials of historical times past. There are so many ecosystems so damaged or completely destroyed and extinct, that we may never truly be able to understand the potential for good within these systems that such living and moving biological components contributed to pristine soil health. Check out this excellent video called - "Bioturbation - Worms at Work" which shows three different species of earthworms working together in breaking down organic matter and tunneling within their respective niche habitats under the ground. This all takes place over the time frame period of a month. 

To finish off here, I'll post several large species of earthworms from around the world and even North America which are either now limited or extinct in traditional locations when land mismanagement has destroyed old growth habitats where these giants haven't been seen since the 1960s/70s. Like the megafauna of old which thrived and dwelt in old growth ecosystems, it's the larger organisms which seem to suffer harm first.
Giant Gippsland Earthworm
photo credit:

Common Name: Giant Gippsland Earthworm, (Megascolides australis). The Giant Gippsland Earthworm is found in Gippsland in south-eastern Australia, burrowing in the soil where there is lots of water to help them breathe. These burrows can be right at the surface to over a meter (over 3 feet) deep. The earthworm can stretch to over 3 meters (10 feet). Questions, what function and purpose to they serve in their specific ecosystem ? They are mostly extinct from their former range in Australia with the exception of a few locations, but should we care ? Such questions believe it or not in this enlightened day and age where we ask about "function" and "purpose" are often times viewed as dirty words to many obsessed with worldview, but they still have to be asked.
The Giant Palouse Earthworm of (Washington/Idaho)

"The giant Palouse earthworm, a big white worm native to the Palouse prairie region of Idaho and Washington state, was said to be abundant in the late 19th century — then seemed to disappear." 
Like other fascinating rediscoveries of large earthworms last seen in Oregon and Northern California which were last seen in the 1960s/70s, this interesting earthworm is causing some concern and the question is why ? As usual, Farmers are up in arms over the discovery. Viewing it as a threat to their livelihood instead of a soil asset, here is what was quoted by upset Idaho farmers in an NPR article on the exciting discovery:
"There's great potential for loss of freedom of what you can do with your land if the government comes in and says, 'Well, you have to do such and such, or you can't do such and such because we have to protect the giant Palouse earthworm.'
These worms can apparently go down 15+ feet into the soils with their burrows. Why would a farmer consider this a disadvantage ? Especially with proven practices of No-Till systems and perennial cover crops which build up rather than destroy soil biology. It's a type of mentality of resisting change which would actually increase profits, not endanger an entire livelihood. But the old accusations of the country is turning Socialist and "My Granddad did things this way for generations and by-god I'll be doing the same till I die" are the usual chants one hears now days. You can bet the agro-chemical and biotech corporations will also make sure they'll keep that mindset too.

Important Reference Links
NPR: Scientists Capture Elusive Giant Palouse Earthworm

From Why do earthworms surface after a rainstorm ?

USDA: "Agricultural Management Effects on Earthworm Populations"

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Montana Governor allows bison to roam outside Yellowstone National Park

BILLINGS, Mont. — "Wild bison will be allowed to migrate out of Yellowstone National Park and stay in parts of Montana year-round under a Tuesday move by Gov. Steve Bullock that breaks a longstanding impasse in a wildlife conflict that’s dragged on for decades."
Photo courtesy Neal Herbert, National Park Service

Bison in Yellowstone's Lamar Valley

Interesting headline, but as usual not without controversy. Ranchers of course will use the same excuse over and over such as grazing competition, but also that all important, "Bison are disease carriers"
"The move has been eagerly sought by wildlife advocates — and steadfastly opposed by livestock interests. Ranchers around Yellowstone are wary of a disease carried by many bison and the increased competition the animals pose for limited grazing space." 
"Yellowstone has one of the largest wild bison herds remaining in the world. Since the 1980s, more than 6,300 have been slaughtered and almost 1,900 killed by hunters, largely in response to fears over the spread of the disease brucellosis."
"Roughly half of the park’s bison test positive for exposure to the disease, which can cause pregnant animals to abort their young. No bison-to-cattle transmissions of brucellosis have been documented and most infections of cattle over the past decade have been traced to diseased elk. Yet it remains a major concern for ranchers who can find their operations stigmatized after an outbreak."

The irony here is that it was originally the cattle brought in by white Europeans which infected Bison or the Buffalo at Yellowstone which seem to have an immunity to the Brucellosis disease. Of course 100+ years later no one remembers that nor wishes to. Some of the more interesting facts are that it has been tested under controlled lab conditions that Bison might possibly infect cattle, but never documented in the wild. Most likely possibility of infection they say as wild herds of Elk. This just continues to set up an on going never ending controversy of Ranchers versus Bison-Huggers forever.

Cartoon illustrator David Parkins

Interesting References on the disease and the Cattle versus Bison controversy
Buffalo Field Campaign: Brucellosis in Wild Bison Fact Sheet
USDA: Brucellosis and Yellowstone Bison
CDC: Transmission of Brucellosis from Elk to Cattle and Bison, Greater Yellowstone Area, USA, (2000-2012)
PBS: The Buffalo War: The Disease

Monday, December 21, 2015

Climate Change & Industrial Agriculture's "Get-Out-of-Jail-Free" card

Why shouldn't Industrial Agriculture to get policed as much as Oil & Gas ???

illustration: Mercury News

photo credit: Critical Information Collective

Military Police protecting Soy field being sprayed
 with Pesticide
Well the heavily advertised Climate Change talks in Paris have come and gone. All is well if you are to believe the News Reports by this world's media. But some of the poorer developing nations like India believed they have had to compromise way too much while industrial developed nations not enough. Well, that's probably true, you know how it is. But there were some commercial enterprises which more than likely get a free pass from change and in fact they will probably be getting the global police protection. From history, we now know that it is common for giant big business interests to fudge and fuzzy the truth to where things are no longer black or white. Muddling and making murky the waters of truth have been done before by the giant Tobacco Industry when it came to hiding the what they knew of the strong link between cancer and smoking cigarettes. Lately we are hearing about the State of New York now investigating ExxonMobil for allegedly misleading the public about climate change. But we all understand that this is how our world works and has always worked throughout history. So it should be no surprise that the industrial biotech agricultural industry and the entire synthetic fertilizer industrial corporations have undercounted and misrepresented America’s agricultural greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It's not a secret they often engaged in political backroom deal making and their influence over legal decisions as is evidenced where the USDA and U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have agreed on the silly statement that agriculture contributed only about 10 percent of U.S. GHG emissions in 2013, when in fact it was far more than 25 percent. All of this manipulation took place back in May of this year well ahead of the Climate Pact meeting in Paris. Take a look at the chart USDA provided on their website as proof of Agriculture being innocent of any earth damaging accountability with the link to their website below it.

USDA: "Agriculture accounts for 10 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions"

This distortion of the reality on the ground is ludicrous as it doesn't even attempt to factor in many other variables linked to Industrial Agriculture. Another website, Grain.Org, was more realistic and honest in it's assessment of the massive scale damage caused by the practice of industrial agriculture. In fact they broke up that reality into several identifiable segments with easy to understand explanations of just what Industrial Ag really does contribute.

Yup, sure enough, industrial agriculture and it's successful expansion actually requires the destruction of massive amounts natural ecosystem lands all over the globe, not just the poster child  rainforest regions. As per their estimation, this is anywhere from 15% to 18% causing further global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This makes sense since destruction of whole plant mechanisms are the very biological machinery which deal with regulating the CO2s along with soil disturbance which also frees up and releases huge amounts of Carbon to create more of that carbon dioxide.

So these emissions produced by actual farming are somewhere between 11 and 15% of all global emissions. What often goes deliberately unsaid, however, is that most of these emissions are generated by industrial farming practices that rely on chemical (nitrogen) fertilizers, heavy machinery run on petroleum, and highly concentrated industrial livestock operations that pump out methane by means of animal waste produced at your massive scale feedlots. You know, prior to the introduction of the 1950s Green Revolution where both Axis and Allied bomb and other munitions manufacturing by the major Agro-Chemical companies, Nature's soils were generally nitrogen poor and yet Nature flourished for 10s of 1000s of years. Why ??? How ??? Soils loaded with massive amounts of healthy microbiological components allowed soils to efficiently percolate water, but also breathe. Our Earth's atmosphere is loaded with tonnes and tonnes of nitrogen and nitrogen fixing organisms have always provided plants with just the right amounts they have always needed. Life on Earth was actually extremely successful and efficient long before these companies claimed to come along to the rescue. So the chemical emissions damage is really twofold here.  First, nitrogen is infused into the soils at a huge rate and the reasons are that the industrial scheme requires a numbers game to be played. Root systems today are mostly non-mycorrhizal which means root absorption is extremely limited compared to what nature once accomplished without the aid of intellectual human beings. So at best if Farmers are lucky, perhaps 20% gets absorbed into the plant's limited root system, while 80% of the synthetic junk the Chem-Folks have artificially produced, packaged, labeled and sold to farmers at a hefty profit end up either leaching into the groundwater which leads to streams, lakes, rivers & oceans creating further eutrophication and emissions by micro-organisms breaking the water pollution down which releases more methane released directly as GHG into the atmosphere.  Second, the actual manufacturing process of Nitrogen fertilizer itself is a high energy-intensive 
(Haber-Bosch) process and requires massive amounts of energy for it's manufacture. Again, yet another component not factored in. What is worse, earlier this year I posted a link from the United Nations which revealed how the uses of these fertilizers, "Fertilizer Use to Surpass 200 Million Tonnes in 2018"(Source)

Transportation (should also include the massive amounts of energy consumed by Tractors, Sprayers, Combines, etc) Packaging and general transportation through trucking is another obvious factor not reflected in the USDA-FDA 10% whitewash. 

This is another given. Agricultural Waste into landfills and animal waste from industrial animal farms is yet another factor. Methane emissions are far worse than the justification argument they often use of the Earth at one time having millions upon millions of wild herbivore animals roaming the plains and savannas. The diet was the exact opposite of what confined livestock are force fed today. The higher carbohydrate content of rich diet of grain feed is far worse from a methane emissions standpoint than grazers and browsers of times past out in the wild. 
Latest News & Historical perspectives on on Industrial Agriculture and Earth's Ecology
Patrick Pleul/dpa via AP/File

The sun rises during light morning mist at lake H
 See in Alt Zeschdorf, eastern Germany, Thursday, Oct. 1, 2015.
First, this bit of News from The Christian Science Monitor on how Lakes are heating up faster than oceans and the reasons behind it. After reviewing all the well known sources of increased carbon dioxide like automobiles etc, it finally sums things up with industrial agriculture's contribution to climate change. Makes one realize why so many GMO Proponents are so adamantly against Climate Change which they insist is a hoax. Don't believe me ? Follow some of the writings and speeches given by some of their staunchest proponents who are funded by the biotech & agro-chemical industries like Henry I Miller and Patrick Moore who claim to use Science to disprove climate change is happening.
"It suggested updating electricity efficiency standards, providing incentives for clean energy use, increasing fuel efficiency standards for cars, addressing methane from livestock, and improving soil management to reduce emissions from agriculture." 
"For example, nitrous oxide emissions, primarily from the breakdown of nitrogen fertilizers, make up 64 percent of agricultural emissions. Methane is the next largest source at 34 percent. US Environmental Protection Agency programs that reduce methane from livestock and the use of nitrogen fertilizers decrease emissions as well as improving drinking water, lakes, and wetlands, according to the UCS."
(Image Wiki Commons)
"When did human domination of the planet start? A new study in the journal Nature reports a dramatic shift in one of the rules of nature about 6,000 years ago—connected to growing human populations and the rise of farming. UVM’s Nick Gotelli used his world-leading expertise on ecological statistics to find the pattern."
 This next bit of scientific News published in Nature from the University of Vermont is in many ways both interesting in the sense that it clearly demonstrates the historical pattern of human ignorance from the very beginning when they self determined just how they would proceed in their original version of land management through farming to the present and also curious in that the prevailing Scientific Orthodoxy which presently rules Scientific thought with an iron fist (reminiscent of the Dark Age past) would even allow such a finding to be published. Here's a hint "6000 years" when farming first began & humans spread across the globe ???
“When early humans started farming and became dominant in the terrestrial landscape, we see this dramatic restructuring of plant and animal communities,” said University of Vermont biologist Nicholas Gotelli, an expert on statistics and the senior author on the new study.  
In the hunt for the beginning of the much-debated “Anthropocene” — a supposed new geologic era defined by human influence of the planet — the new research suggests a need to look back farther in time than the arrival of human-caused climate change, atomic weapons, urbanization or the industrial revolution.   
“This tells us that humans have been having a massive effect on the environment for a very long time,” said S. Kathleen Lyons, a paleobiologist at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History who led the new research.
What the Historical Chart from Nature really means
Interestingly the online journal Nature which published the research also provided a chart to try and illustrate the data they used in the timeline. Still, it's quite a mystery how they concluded such a lengthy period of time had such an even plateau of plant and animal ecosystems lived in relatively peaceful harmony for 300 million years prior to human land management, but then again modern Science loves high impressive numbers. In fact the reality is they demand it. Still, whatever amount of time one wishes to believe or promote, the point being is that the natural world functioned as smoothly as a well oiled machine for perhaps 10s of  1000s of countless millenniums prior to the appearance of humans practicing agriculture which would have required stripping land barren for farming and making gradual expansion of these practices as population increased and/or if the land became unproductive over a long period of time before technological advancement accelerated the ecological decline from the industrial revolution right down to our present time. 

Weighted Loess curve with shaded 95% confidence intervals illustrates reduction in the proportion of aggregated species pairs in the Holocene (log scale). Dotted vertical line at 5,998 years delineates the linear model breakpoint in the trend. I'm not sure how they actually get to the 5,998 years, but that must be why the average 6000 years is used for the benefit of the readers.
For modern communities of plants and animals, recent studies show that segregated species pairs are more common than aggregated ones. But when the team investigated the composition of ancient communities using data from fossils, they were surprised to find the opposite pattern: from 307 million years ago to about 6,000 years ago, there was a higher frequency of aggregated species pairs. Then, from 6,000 years ago to the present, the pattern shifted to a predominance of segregated species pairs. An ancient rule had changed.
The bottom line here is that irrespective of what your ideologue flavourite worldview take is on all of this, humans have been disruptive with irresponsible land management practices from the beginning of Agriculture, which apparently from this scientific research was about 6000 years ago. This in turn has had an effect on weather creating and climate monitoring mechanisms found within the natural world. Healthy old growth plant community ecosystems of all variety found across the global are major drivers in creating weather and in moderating climate. Dismantling of these forests and other plant community systems has caused major breakdown of these mechanisms from the beginning to the point of industrial revolution with celebrated technological advancements have only accelerated these degrading processes. The saving grace in the 1000s of years previous was the fact that the massive amounts of synthetic inputs didn't exist and human population was minimal and restricted by limited ability to produce food on a grand scale. But boy how the Haber-Bosch Nitrogen process served as the so-called "detonator of the population explosion", enabling the global population to increase from 1.6 billion in 1900 to today's 7 billion+. Now we're hearing more and more calls for Eugenics programs to be brought back into play. Here is the concluding three paragraphs from the research news from the University of Vermont's website on effects on the climate:
Climate considerations
"And this change in an ancient natural pattern may have implications for modern conservation. “Isolating species has consequences — it can catalyze evolutionary change over hundreds of thousands to millions of years,” Behrensmeyer said, “but it also makes species more vulnerable to extinction.”   
“We humans have influenced the landscape, but perhaps for a lot longer than we had previously recognized,” says Gotelli, a professor in UVM’s biology department. “When we look at landscapes and say, ‘this is pristine or unaltered,’ that's not necessarily true. We may have changed the rules over a much larger scale than we appreciate.”   
"Modern human-driven forces, like climate change and pollution, are “orders of magnitude more destructive than what early humans were doing,” Lyons said, but even at the dawn of human civilizations, people were certainly having major — and unprecedented — ecological impacts, she said. “If we are thinking about how we’re going to restore ecosystems, or how they're going to respond to climate change,” UVM’s Gotelli said, “we need to understand how they were organized before humans ever came on the scene.”
(Source - University of Vermont)
(Source - Nature)
In Summary
There is no question or argument against the fact that Industrial Agriculture has accelerated the Earth's general decline in the climate department, but the cowardly manipulation of data to suggest they should be given a free pass from changing their business model the way other industries will be forced to do only illustrates how much political power and influence they have over the very people supposedly in charge of their various country's welfare of it's citizens. While the article mentioned the industrial revolution as the change, real change especially accelerated from World War I (1914) to the present. This is the same year that Austrian Forester and self-taught Physicist Viktor Schauberger (1885 - 1958) stated the Earth's environment started it's downward trend from the start of World War I to the present. He certainly was in a position to observe first hand. The debates on this research will no doubt provide some interesting entertainment between both the religious and secular ideologues, neither of which appear to have a handle on truth. Get your popcorn and sodas handy folks, it'll be entertaining if not time wasting. But it would be fun to compare what the Genesis account actually said on the subject and compare it to this research. Let's look anyway.
Genesis 3:17-19 & 4:2
" . . . cursed is the ground on your account. In pain you will eat its produce all the days of your life. And thorns and thistles it will grow for you, and you must eat the vegetation of the field. In the sweat of your face you will eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken. For dust you are and to dust you will return.”
Well, first it states that human beings started off as an agrarian society which apparently starts off in a pursuit of self-determination of ignorance with regards to responsible land management practices whose farming methods actually would result in a plague of "thorns and thistles" (otherwise known as weeds - especially ruderals) which cover the land as a result of such ignorance. Even offers a bit of scientific reality check when it states emphatically that humans came from dirt and return back to dirt when they die. Hmmm, that's odd, isn't that scientific ???
" . . . And Abel came to be a herder of sheep, but Cain became a cultivator of the ground."
Okay, more references to animal and plant agriculture as the preferred choices for making a living. Bottom line here is that both religious and secular peoples have deliberately ignored proper custodianship of the Earth for several thousands of years and look where we are now ? Nobody today has the higher upper ground on this. In the beginning of agriculture the ignorant land management  wasn't so noticeable as any negative effects would have always been local and regional, not effecting whole continents and the entire globe as experience it now. We have several major historical references to great Empires which came and went where they misused and abused the land by stripping it of it's forests and other  plant communities which eventually created drought and helped bring a decline to those empires. Romans deforesting North Africa and other parts of their empire, the Nazca, Aztecs, Anasazi, Easter Island inhabitants and the list goes on. Their misfortune was generally local or regional and didn't necessarily effect other regions of the globe, but that is not the way it is today. Industrial Agriculture is now obsessed with growing bigger, even by mergers with one another. There is no doubt they are having an accelerating effect in our environment's decline despite all the denials and political favour asking behind closed doors. This climate pact from Paris won't mean anything as long as the same games and players are involved. The Industrial Forestry business model is not far behind. Plantations loaded with 10s of 1000s of GMO Trees are not a viable replacement for healthy biodiverse old growth forests. Ponder all this the next time your hackles are raised because you hear or read where someone criticizes your favoured biotechnology which hides behind a cloak of Scientific Orthodoxy like some Druid Priesthood.

More Breaking News - University of Vermont & Gund Institute for Ecological Economics 
"Wild Bee Decline Threatens U.S. Crop Production"
Dec 21, 2015 - from Gund Institute for Ecological Economics 
Incredible map showing most of the counties within the United States in which Wild Bee populations are most at risk of extinction. These counties are also heavily committed to Industrial Agriculture for their economies.

 (PNAS doi:10.1073.pnas.1517685113)

"A new UVM study of wild bees identifies 139 counties in key agricultural regions of California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Great Plains, west Texas and the southern Mississippi River valley that face a worrisome mismatch between falling wild bee supply and rising crop pollination demand."

Now take a close look at a contrasting map they provided in the research revealing where the Wild Bee populations are doing best

(PNAS doi:10.1073.pnas.1517685113)

"The first national study to map US wild bees suggests they're disappearing in many of the country's most important farmlands. Relatively low abundances are shown here in yellow; higher abundances in blue."
Hyperion, a 700-800 year old coast redwood found in Northern California, is the tallest known tree in the world. At 115.61 m (379.3 ft), Hyperion dwarfs both Big Ben and the Statue of Liberty. Discovered on August 25, 2006 by naturalists Chris Atkins and Michael Taylor

I'm certain both business models (Industrial Forestry & Industrial Agriculture) will provide a token legacy of what old growth Forest life on Earth once was. So I guess all is not lost if zoos and museums are all you care about. Still one wonders why the average person believes this world's leadership will ever correct anything. 

Photograph: Daniel Beltra/Greenpeace

A Lone Brazilian Nut tree stands in an industrial Soybean field