Sunday, February 11, 2018

Junk Food for Salmon

"For the geoengineering set, all this news provides an opening for more advanced biotech ."

What about seeding the oceans with iron in the deficient parts — the places that are deficient in iron and they have a lot of the other nutrients — a little bit of iron, we get a phytoplankton bloom, it pulls out huge amounts of CO2, it stimulates marine growth, all the way up the food chain? 
You know, most of the oceans are vast deserts. There is an idea of using buoyant flakes. If you google climate envisionation, William Clarke, he’s an Australian inventor, buoyant flakes. You have something like rice husks, something that floats, and you lace it with nutrients that are deficient in the ocean and these things just float around. They will float for about a year and then they will die and sink. They are releasing nutrients wherever they go and they can stimulate phytoplankton growth. Something like that can absorb enormous amounts of CO2 from the atmosphere. Something like that has a lot more realism than the IPCC favorite horse, which is bioenergy with carbon capture and storage — BECCS — we just don’t have enough land for that. And that is part of the RCP (Representative Concentration Pathway) 2.6 of the IPCC report, which can only be reached if we remove CO2 from the atmosphere.
— Paul Beckwith, Radio Ecoshock: Weather Bomb (February 7, 2018)

One of the straws being grasped by desperate industrial addicts in the throws of climate panic is the chimera of ocean fertilization. The idea is that iron spread upon the waters could fertilize plankton blooms. That could increase the removal of CO2, as the plankton draw carbon to build their cells and then die and sink, interring their carbon on the muddy ocean floor.

Scientific review bodies, such as the Royal Society of the UK or the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US, have thrown cold water on this idea. Most of this uptake is transient; long-term sequestration is difficult to assess; there are doubtless unintended consequences at scale and some of those may be far removed in space and time; and there is no regulatory framework in place, let alone a scientific protocol. 

That hasn’t stopped rogue geoengineers from taking the matter into their own hands. In July 2012, two hundred thousand pounds of iron sulphate were dumped into North Pacific Ocean by the Haida Salmon Restoration Corporation, under the direction of Russell George, founder of the San Francisco based firm Planktos Inc. which claims to “restore ecosystems and slow climate change.” 

The dumping violated the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity and the London Convention on the Dumping of Wastes at Sea which include moratoria on geoengineering experiments. Search warrants were executed by Environment Canada’s enforcement branch on George’s office after the Haida nation ended George’s employment, but no further legal action was taken.

Then in 2013, the west coast of North America experienced its largest salmon return and subsequently its largest commercial salmon harvest in history, from 50 million to 226 million fish. Commercial fisheries were opened in areas that had not seen a commercial trade since the 1960s. In 2014 the Fraser River experienced its second largest sockeye salmon return in history while the Columbia River recorded its largest salmon run of all time. The Haida were ecstatic.

We don’t know whether those salmon were a result of Russell George’s experiment or not, but there is another question that should be asked. How nutritious were those salmon? A Nordic science study reported:
Farmed salmon meat is naturally gray-white in color, and so to achieve the desired red salmon color, astaxanthin is added as a feed ingredient. In addition to being a vibrant pigment, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant found in algae and marine animals, and is also essential for the health of farmed aquatic animals.
Aud Skrudland is a veterinarian and special inspector at the Norwegian Food Safety Authority in the field of fish health and welfare.
She points to the main conclusion regarding fish health in the Food Safety Authority’s annual report, which states that “[t]he fish health situation is worrying. The aquaculture industry is still struggling with salmon lice problems, diseases, high mortality and inadequate emergency preparedness. The problems are hindering growth targets.”
In the past, more contaminants were found in farmed salmon than in wild fish, because the salmon feed was based on fish protein and fish oil, which added contaminants to the farmed fish diet. Today, salmon receive feed that is about 70% plant based, which has resulted in farmed salmon having a lower contaminant level than wild salmon.
Farmed salmon have a less favorable omega-6 and omega-3 fatty acid ratio than is found in wild salmon. But they still have some ability, especially early in life, to convert omega-3 from plants to the long-chain fatty acids EPA and DHA.
Skåre says that there is no nutritional difference between farmed salmon and wild salmon in terms of proteins, vitamin B12 and iodine.
However, farmed salmon contains a little less selenium, copper, zinc and iron.
If you order “wild salmon” in a restaurant, that may not be what ends up on your plate — especially during the out-of-season winter months.
A new report from the advocacy group Oceana found that 43% of “wild salmon” samples collected between December and March were mislabeled. And in restaurants during that period, this figure jumps to 67%. When fish imports make their way to the US, less than 1% of it is inspected to see if it’s mislabeled

In 2015, The Atlantic published a story claiming that 33 percent of fish the US market were mislabeled. The commercial fish industry came down hard on the magazine, forcing this retraction:
This piece originally stated that 33 percent of all seafood is mislabeled. In fact, 33 percent of the seafood Oceana tested was mislabeled, but their sample was not necessarily representative of the entire industry. We regret the error.
The Atlantic, however, let stand this statement:
Ninety percent of our fish is imported from countries with loose aquaculture laws, such as Thailand, Indonesia, Canada, China, Ecuador, and Vietnam. Some seafood from these countries may come mislabeled from unregulated fish farms.
In the salmon runs of British Columbia the regulators are overwhelmed: 
Having a dual mandate of both looking after the wild salmon as well as promoting fish farming, the government agencies in BC turn a blind eye to the real threat that open-net salmon farms pose for the wild salmon stocks. Sea lice — parasites that bloom in the open-net cages — rain down on the passing wild Pacific salmon smelt, as they swim by on the way to the ocean. The salmon feedlots also are incubators for infectious diseases, such as piscine reovirus (PRV), Heart and Muscle Inflammation (HSMI), and others that can reach epidemic proportions quickly and at any time in such monocultural environments. This happened in Chile in 2007, when a 3-year long outbreak of Infectious Salmon Anemia (ISA — a type of influenza) led to millions of farmed salmon being killed, thousands of jobs lost and major financial problems for the fish farming industry. In addition to the diseases and parasite infestation, there is also the need for predator control, with over 7,000 seals and sea lions shot and killed between 1990–2010 in BC, to stop them from taking salmon from the open-nets.
Still, there are more fundamental ecological issues to be considered in farming a predatory fish like salmon, which is high on the food chain and thus an inefficient protein source. Depending on the source of information, it takes between 1.2 and 10 pounds of fish feed and fish oil to produce one pound of salmon. Converting protein and nutrients derived from fish stocks being depleted in one part of the world into a supermarket-ready slab of artificially-colored pink flesh “salmon” is economically — never mind ecologically — indefensible.
In a stunning investigative report by Helena Bottemiller Evich, a senior food and agriculture reporter for Politico on September 13, research from Arizona State University where zooplankton were given more light to speed growth provides some strong evidence that rather than boosting food supply — both for humans and the marine food web — ocean fertilization may actually hurt it. Evich described the ASU findings:
  • Increased food (light) made surface algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving. The same effect moved up the food chain.
  • Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae — junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients is out of whack — then it seems logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. This could already be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?
  • As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads them to pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.
  • Within the category of plants known as “C3”―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2 has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.
Among those testing the ASU findings was Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland. Using samples of goldenrod collected by the Smithsonian Institution since 1842, Ziska found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution — a change that closely parallels the rise in atmospheric CO2 (and the decline of salmon and bears).

In 2014, led by Harvard climate researcher Samuel Myers, a team of scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States. They found rising CO2 correlated to a drop in protein, iron and zinc.
For the geoengineering set, all this news provides an opening for more advanced biotech — why not simply engineer new varieties of wheat, rice, barley and potatoes that don’t lose nutrient density with higher CO2 exposures? Fortunately there is a much simpler, less costly, and far less risky approach. Let Mother Nature fix the problem.

Soil scientist Elaine Ingham says plants just need more cookies and cake.

Plant roots are putting out exudates all the time. These attract bacteria or fungi that can use those exudates and return to the plant whatever the plant needs. Ingham says
An exudate is something the plant is dumping out into the soil. It is mostly sugar, a little protein and a little carbohydrate. What does that sound like? Mmmm, cookies and cake.
Think of all these different kinds of cakes and cookies that the plant is giving away to attact soil microbes. They each will support a particular bacteria that can bring to the plant the needed nutrients from the inorganic material around them.
Whenever any of the first level predators — protozoa, “good guy” nematodes, microarthropods — eat bacteria or fungi, they release nutrients right there at the roots of the plants. These nutrients are then in soluble form, ready to be taken up by the roots of the plants. Chelated calcium ions stuck to proteins. Sulfur as sulfates. Nitrogen as ammonium. This is why those predators are essential.
The principal causes of the decline of wild Pacific salmon is land use change in the Pacific Northwest (from overpopulation) and climate change. Clear-cutting for centuries has led to the erosion of the riverbanks. Wood debris dammed up whatever streams had not already been dammed for hydropower and flood control. Choked by sediment and unable to get upstream, salmon lost their way and lost their breeding grounds. The nutrient density of inland plants suffered the loss of the salmon-bear-bird nutrition migration pathway.

But we know, dear readers of this space since 2006, that one of the best ways to build and protect that healthy soil food web is with biochar. We can’t offer that solution to those poor salmon the Haida caught, but we can easily give it to the plants people grow on land.

Those plants will be packed with nutrient density even as CO2 concentrations continue to march upwards. And that’s the more natural way, over the long term, to bring CO2 back down and salmon and bears back up.

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing it around. My open banjo case catching for your spare change is at Patreon or Paypal. My next book is Carbon Cascades: Redesigning Human Ecologies, due out from Chelsea Green Publishers later this year.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Follow the Money, Mr. Mueller

"“Ivanka got her father to bomb Syria by adroitly pushing his buttons. ‘Ivanka had long ago figured out how to make successful pitches to her father,’ Wolff writes. ‘He liked big names. He liked the big picture — he liked literal big pictures. He liked to see it. He liked ‘impact.’” —Variety"

 It is difficult to remember very many times when the national reporting lagged so far behind the awareness of the people as to the greater significance of events. Vietnam after My Lai and Tet, Civil Rights after the Edmund Pettus Bridge — the writing on the wall was being read by everyone in the country except the editors of newspapers and those who loaded teleprompters for talking heads.

Fire and Fury is a curious title for Michael Wolff’s inside look at the Trump politischemaschine. Of course, there is some of that fury going on, from the temper tantrums of The Donald and his übermensch, Steve Bannon, also no shortage of firings, but the real commotion is outside, where the country reels in shock after waking up to what it has just done.

Let’s be clear where our own sentiments lie. While no fan of the GOP’s clown show, we cover our nose at daughter Chelsea’s money laundering pyramid at the Clinton Foundation.

We were not keen to go to back to cold war with Russia, nor to continue the drone wars of terror from Palestine to the Northern Territories, nor for that matter, the seven-theater wars of aggression waged against peon states that were the meat and potatoes of Clinton/Obama imperial foreign policy.

Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House Paperback
With extraordinary access to the Trump White House, Michael Wolff tells the inside story of the most controversial…

We know DT was legitimately elected by people who, too easily deceived, believed he would stop those wars, pull us back from an insane foreign policy of strategic regional disruptions, expedite the path to citizenship for DACA children, restore fiscal sanity, provide a middle-class tax cut, repair the broken Veterans Administration, or any of the myriad other 7-day wonders he promised on the campaign. Even though glyphosate intoxicated masses are more easily fooled in the Age of Disintermediation, taking a chance on a beltway outsider made better sense than going with the known known of a sabre-rattling puppet of Wall Street elites and four more years of ruinous neoliberalism.

No, we are not being male chauvinist. We voted for Jill. Next time we hope to vote for Tulsi.
We knew instinctively that the Russiagate hoax was b.s. but it was good to see that reaffirmed by careful investigations of Cozy Bear hackers, the supposed smoking gun with Putin’s fingerprints on its ivory handle that, as Real News Max Blumenthal observed, is not a network of hackers but “a Russian-sounding name the for-profit firm Crowdstrike assigned to an APT to market its findings to gullible reporters desperate for Russiagate scoops.” [Thanks Caitlin Johnstone and Suzie Dawson for those trails!]

Johnstone writes:
Why does this keep happening? Why does the public keep getting sold a mountain of suspicion with zero substance? Over and over and over again these “bombshell” stories come out about Trump and Russia, Russia and Trump, only to be debunked, retracted, or erased from the spotlight after people start actually reading the allegations and thinking critically about them and see they’re not the shocking bombshells they purport to be? These allegations are all premised upon claims made by the US intelligence community, which has an extensive and well-documented history of lying to advance its agendas, as well as porous claims made by an extremely shady and insanely profitable private cyber security company, and yet all we’re ever shown is smoke and mirrors with no actual fire.
The entire NSA narrative of Russian hackers hangs on a thin thread of pre-election reports from Dutch Intelligence. Dutch Intelligence? Seriously? Let’s not forget this is a nation that after stealing Manhattan Island for the ridiculous price of 60 guilders (the Lenape must have walked away laughing, saying “This stupid colonist thinks you can own the earth, wait ’til he sees the bridge we can sell him) traded it away 21 years later for nutmeg. Nutmeg! What were the Dutch smoking? 

That’s the fire and fury part — more like smoke and mirrors. The DNC, Rachel Maddow, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Wolf Blitzer are all consumed by this nutty, discredited narrative of “the Russians ate my election” to avoid having to grapple with the harder truth, laid out by Donna Brazile among others, that they lost the election because Debbie Wasserman Schultz sabotaged Bernie Sanders’ grassroots tsunami that could have easily swept the dems to victory.

That Put Donald Trump in the White House
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER "Explosive... A blistering tell-all."---Washington Post "People should sit up, take notes and…

Wolff’s comedic high was election night, when no one in Trump Tower other than perhaps Bannon could believe what was happening. Suddenly Bannon was Merlin. The RNC, which had been angling to take back its party from the crazies after a Trump debacle, was thrown back on its heels, dizzy from the punch, grabbing the ring rope to steady itself.
What is already clear is that, as Mr. Trump’s aides and family members tried over 48 hours to manage one of the most consequential crises of the young administration, the situation quickly degenerated into something of a circular firing squad. They protected their own interests, shifted blame and potentially left themselves — and the president — legally vulnerable. — The New York Times, January 31, 2018
Flash forward to where we are more than a year later and we see the narrative in the mainstream media little changed from the day after the election. Whether ABC, Newsweek or Fox, the only way to explain where we are now is the Wizard of Oz theory, a.k.a. Vladimir Putin. Therefore the Special Counsel investigation into election hacking can only reaffirm what our intelligence agencies have already told us. Both Republicans and Democrats patiently await that judgment.
The memo is their latest salvo. Led by Mr. Nunes, the House Intelligence Committee is pivoting from examining Russia’s election meddling to instead investigating F.B.I. and Justice Department officials connected to the inquiry, putting them — with Mr. Ryan’s clear blessing — at the forefront of the broader pushback.— The New York Times, January 30, 2018
The people now know better.

Wolff subtly weaves a thread through his nefarious clown troupe that leads, nearly inexorably, to Trump’s indictment for money laundering and tax fraud. We say “nearly,” because who can say whether the fix is in? In a world in which Robert Mueller is Eliot Ness what happens next is just as Wolff has laid out for his readers: take 30 or 40 years of tax returns and the long reach of assistant special prosecutor Andrew Weissmann and you unravel the Trump-Manafort-Kushner web of off-shore banks and secret deals with foreign governments, organized crime, and Russian oligarchs.
“You’ve got the LeBron James of money laundering investigations on you, Jarvanka. My asshole just got so tight!
“‘You realize where this is going,’ Bannon continued, ‘This is all about money laundering. Mueller chose Weissmann first and he is a money laundering guy. Their path to fucking Trump goes right through Paul Manafort, Don Jr., and Jared Kushner … It’s as plain as a hair on your face … It goes through all the Kushner shit. They’re going to roll those two guys up and play me or trade me.
“‘It was clear where Mueller and his team were going,’ said Bannon: they would trace a money trail through Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Michael Cohen, and Jared Kushner and roll one or all of them on the president. ‘Its Shakespearean,’ he said…”
So now, while Rachel Maddow, The New York Times and The Washington Post rush to report the focus of Mueller’s investigation is narrowing laser-like to the Trump Tower meeting between Don Jr., Kushner and a Russian lawyer offering to broker dirt on Hillary Clinton in exchange for a softening of the US stance on adoption of Russian orphans (it turned out there was no dirt, they just used that as an excuse to get the meeting), the 10-to-the-nth million readers of Fire and Fury know better.

They are following the money.

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing it around. My open banjo case catching for your spare change is at Patreon or Paypal. My next book is Carbon Cascades: Redesigning Human Ecologies, due out from Chelsea Green Publishers later this year.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Yarrow's Spiderweb

At the farmhouse kitchen sink, looking out a window at the front yard, I saw suspended, hanging in air, a long, thin twig and slender leaf. Slight, intermittent breezes moved the dangling tree debris about, made it obvious against the gray sky. It hung about head-height above the lawn, bobbed up and down and around a few inches.
I guessed the twig was attached to a very thin thread of spider or caterpillar silk. But with no tree branches at least 30, likely 40 feet above the twig, this was a very long thread. The length and strength of this nearly invisible, whisker-thin strand of spiral protein impressed me. To stretch so far, to remain whole, tugged by breezes, tiny coiled-coil protein fibers, with amazing strength and flexibility.
Next day, out the kitchen window, I saw the twig was still bobbing slightly at head-height. This strength and persistence further impressed me.
Feet planted, I started to take photos. Suddenly, the twig flew at me — swung directly at me, forced me to bend back. I almost fell, stumbled sideways, tried to set my feet, snap another photo. I had to wait for the twig to stop swinging, and hold position long enough to snap the shutter.
I managed to click the shutter twice, when a new breeze blew the twig at me again — this time more vigorously, and I had to step backward. The twig blew higher, for longer time while I tried snapping photos of an erratic moving object.
Eventually, wind relaxed, twig returned to hang over the bare patch, I tapped the shutter button again. In the vigorous wind, I thought the thread had stretched and lengthened. But surprise — its height hardly changed! Evermore impressed by the tenacious strength of almost-invisible spiral biostructure.
Suddenly, a third time, the twig twirled toward me. Forced to evade it, I stopped snapping photos. Three times wind blew this bobbling body straight at me, forcing me to hobble and stumble around to get my photos.
Astonished the almost invisible thread didn’t break, I assumed the force of the wind had stretched the slender strand of silk, lengthened its coiled proteins, by inches, even a foot. I expected the twig to swing back closer to the ground. But the wind passed, the twig sank, slightly low at first, then slowly rose back head-high, as if the thread stretched, then recoiled and tightened.
Is a spiritual intelligence embedded in this land? Is this ghostly trick or treat by a twig a Halloween gift from a poltergeist? A mystery message from an Earth Spirit? My respect deepened for spiders and caterpillars. Amazing a single strand of spider thread kept twig and leaf suspended head-high in two cool, moist, unsettled days.
— David Yarrow, November 2017 (edited with permission)

Spider silk arrives at the end of an unbroken 400 million year strand of continuous evolution. Some silks are for structural support, others protective enclosures. Some absorb energy, others transmit vibration.

Each spider and each type of silk, produced from different glands and spin techniques, has a set of mechanical properties optimized for its function. A dragline silk, the kind observed by David Yarrow, is produced in the Large Ampullate gland and has tensile strength greater than high-grade steel alloy. Draglines are for the web’s outer rim and spokes and also the lifeline by which spiders dangle.

Spiders make webs that can span rivers but the strands are so thin and light they could circle the earth and still weigh less than 500 grams (18 oz.). If while transecting the Earth the strand crossed the poles or the Sahara it would not weaken. Dragline silks can hold their strength below −40 °C (−40 °F) and up to 220 °C (428 °F) — more than twice the boiling point of water.

Silks are extremely ductile — able to stretch 5 times their relaxed length without breaking. They are adhesive — created by a two-compound pyriform secretion from the Flagelliform gland. They are spun into patterns that polymerise under ambient conditions, become functional immediately, and are usable indefinitely. They are waterproof but biodegradable, versatile and fungal resistant while remaining compatible with most other materials in the environment. At the end of their life, many webs are simply consumed again by the spider to reclaim the embodied metabolic energy.

A spider web preserved in amber, thought to be 110 million years old, shows evidence of a perfect “orb” web, the most famous, circular kind one thinks of when imagining spider webs. An examination of the drift of those genes thought to be used to produce the web-spinning behavior suggests that orb spinning was in an advanced state as long as 136 million years ago.  Wikipedia

Some wandering spiders will leave a largely continuous trail of silk impregnated with pheromones that the opposite sex can follow to find a mate. They may also produce sperm webs or egg webs. Some webs are impregnated with venom. Some water-borne spiders build a diving bell of silk. Some canopy spiders balloon or kite on airborne weaves.

All these miraculous feats are made possible by carbon. The silken strands are woven from amino acids, primarily glycine (C2H5NO2 ) and alanine (C3H7NO2). Credit must go to the spider for the way in which these are arranged. Silk production is a pultrusion, similar to extrusion, with the subtlety being that the force is induced by pulling from the glands rather than being squeezed out. As a thread is pulled away from the body of a spider, whether by the spider’s legs or by the spider falling under its own weight, shear stress and ion and pH changes induce the liquid silk to undergo a phase transition and condense into a solid protein fiber with specialized molecular organization. Depending on the gland that crafted the protein and controlled movements within the spinnerets, the silk can be for dragline, adhesion lines, temporary scaffolding, attachment points, the web frame, egg sacs, capture spiral, or prey cocoon.

Silks are often referred to as a block co-polymer. The short side chained alanine is mainly found in the crystalline domains — giving strength. Glycine is mostly found in the elastic semi-amorphous regions with their helical and beta turn structures. These two carbon chains interplay to give spider silk some of its extraordinary properties, but the carbon rings in pyrrolidine (CH2)4NH keep the silk moist and gluey while also warding off ants. Other enzymes protect the lines from fungi and bacteria that might otherwise digest the proteins.

New applications are being discovered for its mechanical, conducting, electrical, biocompatibility and immunologic properties. Spider silk has been experimentally used in garment weaves, electrical sensor and actuating devices, suture threads, biomimetic muscles, nerve regeneration, and ligament tissue repair.

Nicola Maria Pugno at the University of Trento and a team of researchers in Italy and the UK found a way to incorporate carbon nanotubes and graphene into spider silk and increase its strength and toughness beyond anything that has been possible before. The resulting material has properties such as fracture strength and toughness higher than anything ever measured.

Pugno’s team collected 15 Pholcidae spiders from the Italian countryside, sprayed the spiders with water containing carbon nanotubes or flakes and then measured the mechanical properties of the silk the spiders produced.

Giving spiders water that is infused with carbon made them weave silk stronger than any known fiber. Could this lead to a new class of bionic materials? As yet, no one has been able to make this work commercially, but not for lack of trying. Kraig Biocraft Laboratories (Trading Symbol: KBLB) is focused on commercialization of genetically engineered spider silk.

The problem with commercializing spider silk has always been the ornery attitude of spiders. As the Italian researchers described it:
Unlike the case of the largely available silkworm silks, large-scale spider farming and synthetic production of spider silk still remain to be achieved, due to its complex structure and the territorial and cannibalistic nature of spiders. Moreover, naturally spun fibres, obtained by forcible spinning, harvesting or extracting spidroin from glands, have reduced mechanical characteristics with respect to naturally-spun ones, due to the CO2 anaesthesia of spiders and the consequent loss of active control of their silk spinning. Research to improve the mechanical, conductive or magnetic properties of spider silk has been limited. This is due to the difficulty of developing an adequate spinning methodology, balancing extrusion, drawing, yield and purity. … Attempts to improve or modify the mechanical, magnetic and electrical properties of spider silk have been reported, using techniques such as melt-spinning, templating, powder coating, atomic layer deposition and iodine doping, but they remain to be adequately perfected, especially at large scale, using naturally spun spider silk fibres.
The graphine doping test was proof of just how hard spider farming can be.
The best mechanical performances are observed for the samples after the first collection. The second collection does not show mechanical enhancement with respect to the first or to RS [control], probably due to a physiological spider weakening during segregation, since neither additional food nor water were available during the experimental period, except SWNTs and graphene dispersions. In the cases marked with an asterisk in Figs. 5b,c, the second collection was impossible since the corresponding spiders died. Note that spider 5 died after the first treated dragline silk collection, but was able to spin the silk with the maximum increment in mechanical performance, whereas spider 7 spun the silk with the highest absolute values and survived.
Kraig Labs was originally interested in competing with the Chinese raw silk market worth $3–5 billion per year. After inserting genes from the golden orb weaving spider into silkworm strains, the lab produced 20 separate caterpillar clones, each with unique properties, able to spin silk with the strength, flexibility and resiliency of spider silk. Now Kraig is looking at the much larger, $120 billion technical textiles market. A 3rd generation modified silkworm is expected to spin fibers exceeding the strength of spiders’ and may incorporate gene sequences that release an antibiotic and to develop sutures and bandages that help patients to heal faster and to reduce scarring.

For those concerned about the risks of genetically engineered spiderpillars being scaled into the trillions, the company’s choice of a trademark will not be reassuring — Monster Silk®.

This story, though, is not about genetic engineering. The story is about carbon. Life depends on carbon. What we term “organic chemistry” is shorthand for carbon chains and the molecular structure of living things. For a variety of reasons, life cannot arise from silicon or any similar element with covalent bonding. If can only come from carbon, formed only under the special conditions of the death of a star.

After a radiant life lasting billions of years, a star runs out of hydrogen. It begins to cool, change color, and expand into a red giant. At its core, helium is compressed until the forces are strong enough to begin fusing nuclei (proton-neutron pairs or “alpha particles”) to form larger atoms such as carbon. The red giant begins to collapse until the central temperature rises to 108 million °Kelvin, seven times hotter than the core of our Sun. This creates a situation called triple-alpha, by which nucleosynthesis of heavier elements begins. The power released by the birth of carbon is approximately proportional to the star’s core temperature taken to the 40th power and the density squared. As such extreme temperature spikes it causes the reaction rate of fusion to spike. This positive feedback cycle becomes a runaway until the fuel is exhausted.

This process — a “helium flash” — lasts only seconds but burns 60–80 percent of the helium in the star’s core. During the flash, the star’s energy production can reach approximately 100 billion solar luminosities, comparable to the luminosity of a whole galaxy. Compared to a birth of helium, the birth of carbon is as royalty.

Arriving on the solar wind some 4 billion years ago, carbon stardust lingered for a time in Earth’s atmosphere before hitching a ride on a raindrop and falling into the ancient oceans. There it bonded with hydrogen to form some of the earliest chain molecules we call “organic.” As these molecules formed nucleoproteins and began to reproduce themselves, the oceans came alive with a carbon food web. Carbon became a common denominator of all known life that followed.

Arachnids emerged at least 380 million years ago from crab-like chelicerate ancestors. They were among the first to leave the sea and move out onto land; the oldest known land arthropods. Indeed, they helped form the land by building the first soils.

We are, like spiders, carbon creations that have learned to use carbon as tools. We harvest it for food, we burn it for fuel, and lately, we have even relearned the lost skill of building soil with it.

We inhabit an era when the natural carbon cycle has been disrupted. We can take credit for that. Now we are compelled to learn to put it back the way it was. We won’t do that by breaking the rules. We just might if we can learn from David Yarrow, and spiders, and remember that carbon is our friend.

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing it around. My open banjo case catching for your spare change is at Patreon or Paypal. A version of this essay may appear in my next book, Carbon Cascades: Redesigning Human Ecologies, due out from Chelsea Green Publishers later this year.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

A Hawaiian Missile Lullaby

"Q: What should one do to prepare for an incoming ICBM just minutes away?
A: Hug. Smile. Your short life was pretty good, wasn’t it? Reach for your ukelele.

This story has made the rounds and most people by now have caught it. A tech worker in the emergency management office in Honolulu screwed up and sent this alert out on Twitter:

Hawaii is 20 minutes as the missiles fly from North Korea, but it was not until 38 minutes had passed that the State government issued a retraction. US Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard did not wait for that to tweet that it was a false alarm. In the meantime many people panicked, at least one fatal heart attack occurred, and children were being stuffed down storm drains.

Hawaii had already begun preparing for a nuclear attack before the President of the United States had taunted North Korea with that “my button is bigger than yours” tweet. 

How anyone prepares for an incoming ICBM frankly baffles us.

In a bygone era the government would make civil defense films and slide shows and require them to be shown in schools. They installed large sirens and urged people to buy bomb shelters.

People were advised to stay in their shelters until the extent of the impact is known. Some people might in theory be told to stay inside for up to two weeks to avoid the radioactive fallout. What they would do after 2 weeks was left to science fiction writers.

In the wake of recent US-Korean belligerence, Hawaii had begun its new Civil Defense campaign for the 21st Century. 
The campaign involves 30-second television advertisements, which will air on all local broadcast networks for six months, as well as educational brochures, which will be printed in six or seven languages and distributed to hotels for tourists. It will still take several months for the campaign to be rolled out, but the public service announcements are expected to start airing in September.
Hawaii schools will also begin practicing drills specifically for a missile attack — in addition to earthquake, fire, and active shooter training. The drills will be similar to an active shooter response, where schools go into lockdown and students shelter in place.

It is difficult to say whether this kind of campaign is designed to placate the calls for “something” to be done, to instill a sense of security, or to make people more afraid. Mostly, it accomplishes the last. 

And yet, people are not yet afraid enough to act.

We are reminded of the false dogmas of the air campaign strategists in World War II who imagined, with no supporting evidence, that London could be bombed into submission, or Berlin, Köln and Dresden, or, for that matter all the major cities of Japan. With horrific civilian carnage, the bombmasters chased this illusion to the end of the war, only to discover from postmortem studies that bombing instills quite opposite emotions in the bombed populations — camaraderie, perseverance and nationalism. But this guilty knowledge did not keep the US from missile bombing civilians again in Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen.

Whether you call it false dogma or fake news, there is a lot of disinformation flying around, some of it planted to gain advantage for less than noble causes. But then there is the South Korean Olympic Committee. They are very small in number and yet found a way to pull the US back from looking up launch codes. 

Vipin Narang is Associate Professor of political science at MIT,
focusing on nuclear proliferation and strategy
Many more thoughtful people need to get strategic and innovative in finding ways to quell tooth-and-claw battles between dinosaurs while taking care not to be crushed underfoot. Like Umair Haque, we should all be asking how far the decline of American Empire will go… transgression or annihilation?
M.I.T. Professor Emeritus Noam Chomsky, speaking last year in Cambridge, Massachusetts, was asked about the Korean situation by Democracy Now! news anchor Amy Goodman. Chomsky responded: 
… the real question is: Is there a way of dealing with the problem? There are a lot of proposals. Sanctions. A big new missile defense system — which is a major threat to China and will increase tensions there. Military threats of various kinds. Sending an aircraft carrier, the [USS Carl] Vinson to North Korea…. Those are the kind of proposals as to how to solve it.
Actually there’s one proposal that’s ignored. It’s a pretty simple proposal. Remember: the goal is to get North Korea to freeze its weapons and missiles systems.
So, one proposal is to accept their offer to do that. It sounds simple. They have made a proposal — China and North Korea — have proposed to freeze the North Korean missile and nuclear weapons sys­tems and the US instantly rejected it. And you can’t blame that on Trump. Obama did the same thing. A couple of years ago the same offer was presented, I think it was 2015, the Obama administration in­stantly rejected it.

And the reason is that it calls for a quid pro quo. It says in return the US should put an end to threaten­ing military maneuvers on North Korea’s borders, which happen to include, under Trump, sending of nuclear-capable B52s [and B1 and B2 bombers] fly­ing right near the border.
Maybe Americans don’t remember very well, but North Koreans have a memory of, not too long ago, when North Korea was absolutely flattened, liter­ally, by American bombing. There were literally no targets left.
I really urge people who haven’t done it to read the official American military histories, the Air Quarterly Review, the military histories describing this. They describe it very vividly and accurately. They say there just weren’t any targets left. So what could we do? Well, we decided to attack the dams, the huge dams — a major war crime. People were hanged for it at Nuremberg, but put that aside. And then comes an ecstatic, gleeful description of the bombing of the dams and the huge flow of water which was wiping out valleys and destroying the rice crop, “upon which Asians depend for surviv­al” — lots of racist comments — but all with exalta­tion and glee. You really have to read it to appreciate it. The North Koreans don’t have to bother reading it. They lived it.
So when nuclear-capable B52s [etc.] are flying on their border, along with other threatening military maneuvers, they’re kind of upset about it. Strange people. And they continue to develop what they see as a potential deterrent that might protect the regime, and the country in fact, from destruction. …
Honolulu Magazine ran what it called “worse case scenarios,” of what would happen if North Korea sent a missile to Hawaii. Oddly, the magazine’s editors kept to a small blast radius by calculating for a 200-pound warhead with a yield of 10 kt TNT, a third to half less powerful than the bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, 54 years before.

One is left wondering why anyone would downplay the power of modern atomic arsenals in this way. What possible good would it do? Would it reassure people with expensive homes in the outlying suburbs? Would it suggest that perhaps fallout shelters might actually work? Would it give someone the idea to stuff their kids down a storm drain in the event of a tweeted warning?

Ten kilotons is child‘s play. North Korea tested a 150 kt device last year — 15 times larger. The blast pattern would look like this:
Inner to outer: fireball, lethal x-ray radius, blast radius, 3d degree burn radius

Within the yellow area anyone hiding in a storm drain would be instantly vaporized. Between the airport and Waikiki Beach roughly 80 percent would be killed by blast pressure or burns. 

Q: What should one do to prepare for an incoming ICBM just minutes away?
A: Hug. Smile. Your short life was pretty good, wasn’t it? Reach for your ukelele.

The average warhead in the US arsenal has a 100kt yield and weighs 2 tons. A couple dozen of those little puppies might be packed into a single MIRV “delivery vehicle.” A more typical choice for a city killer ICBM would be a Minuteman III missile dropping a W-78 warhead with a yield of 350 kt. 

Assuming such a weapon were to be centered on Honolulu, the blast radius would extend past Diamond Head. Effects radii for 350 kiloton airburst (smallest to largest):
Fireball radius: 0.63 km (1.27 km²) 
Maximum size of the nuclear fireball; relevance to lived effects depends on height of detonation. If it touches the ground, the amount of radioactive fallout is significantly increased. Minimum burst height for negligible fallout: 0.57 km.
Air blast radius (5 psi): 4.95 km (77.1 km²) 
At 5 psi overpressure, most residential buildings collapse, injuries are universal, fatalities are widespread. Optimal height of burst to maximize this effect is 2.2 km.
Thermal radiation radius (3rd degree burns): 7.67 km (185 km²) 
Third degree burns extend throughout the layers of skin, and are often painless because they destroy the pain nerves. They can cause severe scarring or disablement, and can require amputation. 100% probability for 3rd degree burns at this yield is 10.7 cal/cm2.
For more information about the model, click here.

Okay, so the supreme GOP leader’s nukes really are larger. But wait, North Korea’s ICBMs can’t just hit Hawaii, they can reach the entire continental United States from Key West to Bangor.

Suppose instead of an incoming missile, an adversary, be it North Korea, a Colombian drug cartel, or a crazed BitCoin Billionaire were to pack plutonium into a drone midget submarine. Weight is no limit, so they could wrap a Tsar Bomba (the largest hydrogen bomb ever tested) in its U-238 iron-man suit to give it the maximum 100 Mt punch. In Honolulu, the 3d degree burn radius would extend 74 km, to Molokai. 984,000 people would be in the blast radius. Never mind the radiation effects.

Of course, if you have a drone midget submarine why limit your target to Hawaii? Any coastal city would do. If you sailed up San Francisco Bay you could reach 8.9 million people, not including fallout.

Now suppose North Korea, the cartels, or that wicked billionaire decide to build not just one such submarine but ten, or 100?

A five-bomb array from drone submarines
Yes, surely those duck and cover drills will be helpful then.

It seems to us what might be more helpful would be for the United States to once more participate in the UN disarmament talks and return to the path of dismantling and banning all nuclear weapons, forever. After all, you never know who might be elected President some day.

Thanks for reading! Please consider sharing it around. My open banjo case catching for your spare change is at Patreon or Paypal. My next book is Carbon Cascades: Redesigning Human Ecologies, due out from Chelsea Green Publishers later this year.


Sunday, January 14, 2018

Battling the Titans

"Just as the cold air that precedes the arrival of Nosferatu, a deep and foreboding chill is being felt at ever lower latitudes."

Daniel Avilés’ Poseidon
North America fell into a pocket in 2017 but it was not the pocket of banksters. It fell into that in 2008.

In 2017 it found itself niftily enveloped by the ingenious pincer movements of three generals. First, the Southern attack by General Poseidon, God of the Oceans, striking at Houston before making amphibious landings on the coasts of Florida after devastating aerial attacks on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Next, the Western attack of General Hephaestus, God of Fire, reducing Santa Rosa and much of the Los Angeles foothills to ashes. Finally, the cyclone bombing invasion of the North by Moroz-Voevoda (General Winter).

Four decades of climate data now show that the jet stream — usually referred to as the polar vortex this time of year — is weakening. Normally a freight train circling the Arctic, it has slowed to more resemble a curious python, poking its nose below the Great Lakes more frequently and for longer looks. Just as the cold air that precedes the arrival of Nosferatu, a deep and foreboding chill is being felt at ever lower latitudes.
In a bomb cyclone, the temperature difference between the two air masses leads to a steep and rapid — meteorologists often use the term “explosive” — drop in atmospheric pressure. The air starts to move and, aided by the earth’s rotation, begins to rotate. The swirling air can bring high winds and a lot of precipitation, often in the form of snow.
— Henry Fountain, Why So Cold? Climate Change May Be Part of the Answer, The New York Times (January 3, 2018)

Do we imagine that we mere mortals are any match for these titans? Did Vitalian facing Proclus at Constantinople learn nothing from Marcus Claudius Marcellus whose fleet was incinerated by the Sun at Syracuse in 212 BC? How could Hitler fail to recall the folly of Napolean’s winter attack on Moscow? 

These generals we face today have been here before. They sank the Spanish Armada, gave us the 556 and 1816 years without summers, and raised the Tōhoku megatsunami to a height of 40 meters. They are secure in their invincibility.

California and Florida provide black and white contrasts in the choice of responses. California leads the nation and the world in its proactive stance to climate adaptation and mitigation. With its cap-and-trade program, launched in 2012, and its regulations targeting carbon-intensive businesses, California has become a leading example of what it looks like for governments to lean in and accept climate change. Democratic Governor Jerry Brown stole the limelight from Donald Trump’s denialist Republican emissaries to the COP-23 talks in Bonn when he pledged the state’s trillion-dollar economy would decarbonize faster than any other.
Brown also said he intends to push for even tougher greenhouse gas emission reduction goals that will be far more difficult to meet by 2030. The current goal is to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases to 1990 levels by 2020. California’s carbon emissions law already has cost industrial polluters nearly $2.3 billion in permit fees. Starting next year, the law will include fuel distributors in the same cap-and-trade marketplace as utilities and major manufacturers.
— The Associated Press, November 14, 2014

Florida displays the opposite response. With 8,436 miles of coastline (compared to 3,427 mi for California and 3,359 mi for Texas), and 30 percent of its most popular beaches disappearing underwater by mid-century, Florida’s Republican governor Rick Scott placed a ban on uttering the words ‘climate change,’ ‘global warming’ or ‘sustainability,’ in any State publications or public remarks. According to the Miami Herald,
“The policy goes beyond semantics and has affected reports, educational efforts and public policy in a department with about 3,200 employees….”
The second-term governor has repeatedly said he is not convinced that climate change is caused by human activity, despite scientific evidence to the contrary. He has good reason to be in denial.
With just three feet of sea-level rise, more than a third of southern Florida will vanish; at six feet, more than half will be gone; if the seas rise 12 feet, South Florida will be little more than an isolated archipelago surrounded by abandoned buildings and crumbling overpasses.
— Jeff Goodell, Goodbye, Miami, The Rolling Stone

Goodell interviewed a 71-year-old climate researcher who told him, “If you live in South Florida and you’re not building a boat, you’re not facing reality.”

And yet, in 2017, the rain fell on the just and unjust alike. The fires came, the seas rose, and the ice descended.

Nature does not give a hoot for politics.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Malthus was Real

"Must we not go with either a bang or a whimper, but in an orgy of mutual self-gratification, and congratulations?"

What good is it to escape the climate gallows if, as we walk out the jail door into the sunlight, we are greeted in the courtyard by Malthus, bearing a scythe?

On the scythe is inscribed:
If the subsistence for man that the earth affords was to be increased every twenty-five years by a quantity equal to what the whole world at present produces, this would allow the power of production in the earth to be absolutely unlimited, and its ratio of increase much greater than we can conceive that any possible exertions of mankind could make it…. yet still the power of population being a power of a superior order, the increase of the human species can only be kept commensurate to the increase of the means of subsistence by the constant operation of the strong law of necessity acting as a check upon the greater power.
— Malthus T.R. 1798. An Essay on the Principle of Population (Oxford World’s Classics reprint, Chapter 2, p. 8).

We have a friend that owns a house on a Mexican island and when, just as Ishmael’s irrepressible urge to take to the sea, we feel the need to write, we imprison our self there and look for inspiration. We become Old Testament Ishmael cast into the wilderness with his mother. We talk to the birds. God hears.

We have been doing that seasonally for more than ten years and it has produced a number of satisfying books, works of art, architectural and ecovillage designs, and even the occasional inspiration. We solved the climate crisis — discovered in a jar of dirt brought back from the Amazon.

Mysteriously, the village we visited those many years ago, whose principal products were fish, leisure and hammocks, has left. In its place stands Jakarta, Mexico City, and San Juan. Blame that fellow over there in the dark shroud, Señor Malthus. He arrived a few years ago and this place has never been the same.

He was preceded by kiteboarders, birders and wild side guides leading groups of bug-eyed backpackers practicing their Spanish while snorkel-toting seniors checked off their bucket lists. There came whale shark divers whose thousand peso 3 hour boat ride was the magic wand waved over leaky fishing skiffs changing them into glistening Whalers with fiberglass sunshades above tall scout nests and 1000+ hp arrays of Yamahas bumping along at 60 knots.

Simultaneously came splendiferous hotels and restaurants, drawing Michelin chefs from Italy, Argentina, Switzerland and France. An Expat Italian community formed, then Spanish, Brits, the Americans (North and South). Everyone had discovered paradise and were telling their friends to come and bring the dog.

Until this guy Malthus showed up.

Reckonings come like rain after the drought. The drought is what is happening now, as the weight of three-story buildings pushes into the mud foundations of this barrier island. Sidewalks trap storm surges that used to wash over and leave as quickly as they came.

The air smells of burning plastic and rubber from the mountains of trash piling up at the dump. The sewage plant, ever-full, overflows into the lagoon when it is not backing up drains in the streets. The diesel electric plant roars so loud as to now require a great enclosing wall, and yet still can’t keep pace with the need for more light.

The water may be backing up the drains or eroding the beach, but there is never enough in the pipes from the mainland pumping stations, so it comes by barge for sale in pricey bottles, the heavy delivery trucks leaving depressions in the sand that become first puddles, then lakes, when it rains. They are deep enough to swallow the unwary.

Where once only bare feet and bicycles wandered, now rush golf cart taxis and mopeds, only to be replaced by ATVs and scooters, then again by noisy motorcycles and open Humvee-like off-road monstrosities, replete with booming PA speakers and dancing light shows. The New York minute has captured time from the hammock-weavers.

The island, a tiny part of México’s largest nature reserve and once a sacred rendezvous for sea turtles, egrets and crocodiles, is sinking under the weight of the human cargo ferried across each day from the mainland.

Mangroves, its only hurricane hedge, are felled to make room for more beach. There are each day nearly as many men raking seaweed away from high-class resorts as going out to fish, which is just as well for the fish, devoured and decimated by AI fleets of sonars, GPS and radio chatter. Chilean sea bass and Alaskan salmon fill out the menus in the sky bars.

And yet, after the rain there are flowers. After the next hurricane there will be fish, and whale sharks, too. Given the ferocity of the sea, there may only be those. With no coral reef left to remake it, this speck of sand will be gone, likely within this century.

Have we no sense of limits, or are our hormones an ancient doomsday clock, tick-tock in our genetic code, programmed to end our line when we reach this moment?

Must we not go with either a bang or a whimper, but in an orgy of mutual self-gratification, and congratulations on the numbers of our grandchildren, though they be cursed by that same clock?

We can’t say we weren’t warned by the celebrated Mr. M, but given the choice between prudence and oblivion, we chose the latter. We have free will. We will jealously take that to our graves.

Is there a way out? Sure. Birth control. Vasectomies are great sex without all the grandchildren. Will we use it? Not a chance. Apparently we’d prefer a Malthusian correction. Whether that will come in time to appease an angry climate god, well, that is the question, isn’t it?




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