Sunday, April 10, 2011

Failing States and Lost Civilizations - Lester Brown and Matt Damon talk about Climate Change and Food Shortages - but Neglect Crop Loss from Ozone!

You can click at the very bottom on "full episode" to skip the excerpt.  In an interview in China, Lester Brown is confronted with the question of who should cut carbon emissions more - China, which is surpassing the US in total emissions...or the US, which is responsible for the lion's share in the past and has much higher per capita emissions.  "As hard as I tried, I never could get the moderator to focus on what was most important...That all governments, regardless of their economic goals, need to share the burden of cutting CO2 emissions," he lamented.

Now this is why it is just so frustrating that Lester Brown and other climate activists are so averse to understanding that the strategy of emphasizing climate change from CO2, coming in the future in the form of glaciers melting that will cause water shortages decades from now, ISN'T WORKING.  The Chinese are not persuaded, or at least not sufficiently alarmed to contemplate an enormous reduction in their growth - and that is why Lester Brown should be talking as well about the very real current loss of crop yield and quality from tropospheric ozone.  He's an agronomist - you'd think he'd be familiar with how well-established the connection is!

I do agree with everything else in the film - I just think they need to include ozone with all the other analysis of climate change impacts; peak oil, food, and resources; overpopulation; species extinction and biodiversity loss.  I highly recommend taking the time to watch, even though, in the tradition of Bill McKibben and Andy Revkin, it's uncomfortably about Lester as well as the people who are going to be impacted by food shortages and the collapse of civilization.  Oh yeah, and he talks about ethanol - without ever mentioning how much more damaging the emissions are to the health of humans and vegetation than ordinary fossil fuels.  And wildfires - without mentioning the trees dying from cumulative exposure to ozone.  Posted beneath the video is a paper I just found about ozone impacts on agriculture.

The following excerpts are from research published in June 2005 by D.A. Grantz (Director, UC Kearney Agricultural Center, and Air Pollution Effects Specialist and Plant Physiologist, Department of Botany and Plant Sciences and the Air Pollution Research Center, UC Riverside); and A. Shrestha (Integrated Pest Management Weed Ecologist, UC Statewide IPM Program) which is titled "Ozone Reduces Crop Yields and alters competition with weeds such as yellow nutsedge."  And also here are pictures from middle daughter Dr. Sophie, who is studying in Spain...because, why not?
"Many studies using diverse exposure techniques have shown that ground-level ozone air pollution reduces plant growth and yield, from negligible impacts in some species to over 30% losses in others."
Consider how astonishing these losses are - from  back in 1993!   It has to be far worse now.
"Our data suggests that crop-loss estimates obtained in single-factor experiments accurately reflect the serious risk of ozone to agriculture, but that more accurate yield predictions will require the consideration of interactions between the components of complex crop production systems, including weed competition."
What a lucious market!  There are morels in the forefront, yum...
"Ground-level ozone is a long-standing and worsening problem in many rural areas. Curiously, while rural air quality has not improved rapidly, air quality in Los Angeles and other major metropolitan areas has. This difference is due to rapid population growth in affordable rural areas such as the Central Valley, and the initial abundance in urban areas of easily identifiable air pollution sources such as factories and industrial processes."

Note:  I suspect that it is merely the rising level of background ozone, which is circulating the globe, and not just more cars in rural areas.
"A consensus has developed among North American scientists that crops are likely to be damaged by ozone when concentrations greater than 60 ppb ex- ceed a total of 20,000 ppb-hours over any 90-day period (Heck and Furiness 2001). A similar consensus in Europe finds that crops are likely to be damaged by ozone when concentrations greater than 40 ppb exceed a total of 3,000 ppb-hours (Karenlampi and Skarby 1996). These conclusions differ in magnitude due to differences in cultivars and growth environments on the two continents. However, they are similar in adopting a threshold concentration (60 ppb or 40 ppb) and an accumulated exposure index (ppb-hours) as determinants of damage. There is little doubt that ozone reduces crop yields at current ambient concentrations."
Note:  I doubt the differences between European standards and American standards reflect differences in cultivars and growth environments as much as they reflect American denialism.

For the sake of our children who have most of their lives still ahead of them, I sure hope that people watch this compelling documentary and come to understand how dangerous and destabilizing climate change will be for the entire globe...and prepare to make drastic changes in lifestyle.  Lester Brown suggested we must reduce CO2 emissions 80% by 2020 if we are to avert catastrophic melting.

80% by 2020.


  1. The hypocrisy from the start of the video is beyond comprehension. It's startling. Matt Damon, for example. What's your carbon footprint, Matt? Or can you trade your excess carbon with those who are forced to conserve? Care to share? I'm imagining it's at least several times greater than my family of four, and yet you want to preach to me and the rest of the world, yet not change your own behavior. How many times have you flown this year, Matt? How many times have you flown, Lester? How ironic that the video shows a jet while Lester tells us he was on a jet to the North Pole. Isn't that nice that all the concerned VIP's can jet to the poles to observe the damage caused by their jetting about....and then make numerous documentaries about it and write numerous books about their concern for the climate, and of course, profiting from it. They have no intention of changing their ways or the System. They want the "Little People" to go away so they can have their sustainable levels of CO2 with a world of less than 100 million people. That means you and I aren't invited.

  2. I don't know what Matt Damon's footprint is. But yeah, the irony of Lester Brown jetting back and forth to China multiple times was not lost on me. I understand Richard Alley has to fly to Antarctica and Greenland and use giant drills to extract ice cores - because without that scientific knowledge, we wouldn't understand the dynamics of climate change and what we need to do about it. So I give him and other researchers a pass.

    But it's hard to see how activists think they are going to inspire action when their own actions bely the seriousness of the problem.

  3. I don't like to be mean, so the first thought I had this morning was Lester Brown on the jet, which bothered me as soon as I saw the image, and I suddenly realized why - he's not flying squished into coach. He's business class, at least. So that increases his footprint by, I don't know, 50%? All the seats around him are empty. Did they make everyone move? Were those seats occupied by aides and the film crew - also flying business class? Who paid for the trip? The donors to his Earth Policy Institute? And then there's the opening, when he's being tended by a make-up person, and the shots of him wandering by himself on the streets of China, the lonely crusader, an heroic tall figure with his curly white hair and bow tie, in a sea of little brown people he is trying save...when in fact you know there is an entire entourage on the other side of the camera.


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