Organic Outperforms Conventional in Climate Extremes

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"The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet and in the cause and prevention of disease."
- Thomas Edison

 

 

 

The Institute

 of Science in

 Society

Science Society Sustainability http://www.i-sis.org.uk

General Enquiries sam@i-sis.org.uk Website/Mailing List press-release@i-sis.org.uk ISIS Director m.w.ho@i-sis.org.uk

ISIS Press Release 06/01/04

Organic

 Outperforms

 Conventional in

 Climate Extremes

Long-term research has shown that organic cropping systems give higher yields than conventional during periods of drought or torrential rains. Lim Li Ching reports.

Sources for this report are available in the ISIS members site. Full details here

The Rodale Farming Systems Trial was started in 1981 at the Rodale Institute in Pennsylvania, USA. It compares the benefits and risks of three farming systems, two organic - manure-based (MNR) and legume-based (LEG) - and one conventional (CNV), on a long-term basis.

The MNR system is a 5-year maize-soybean-wheat-clover/hay rotation, the LEG a 3-year maize-soybean-wheat-green manure, and the CNV a 5-year maize-soybean rotation. The MNR system includes livestock and uses manure as fertilizer, while LEG incorporates leguminous crops into the soil. Both the organic systems rely on mechanical cultivation and heterogeneous crop mixes for their weed and pest control. The CNV system uses mineral fertilizer and pesticides.

After a transition period of four years, crops grown under the organic systems yielded as much as and sometimes better than conventional crops. Average maize and soybean yields were relatively similar in all three systems over the post-transition years (1985-1998).

Five moderate drought years, with total April-August rainfall less than 350 mm, occurred between 1984 and 1998. In four of them the organic maize out-yielded the CNV by significant margins. For example, in 1998, organic maize yielded 141% and 133% relative to CNV in the LEG and MNR treatments, respectively.

In 1999, a severe crop season drought in the northeastern US was followed by hurricane-driven torrential rains in September, offering a unique opportunity to observe how the systems responded to climate-related stress. As evidence of global warming gathers (see "Life of Gaia" series, SiS 20), there is greater likelihood of increased incidence and severity of droughts, flooding and other extreme climatic events. Long-term crop yield stability and the ability to withstand climatic stresses will be crucially important for sustainable and secure food production.

The Rodale researchers examined crop and water dynamics by measuring cover crop and crop biomass, weed biomass, grain yields, percolated water volumes, soil water content and water infiltration rates.

Crop season rainfall for April, May, June, July and August 1999 were 55%, 66%, 17%, 29% and 40% of normal for those months, respectively. September 1999, with 268%, was a complete reversal of previous months as a result of Hurricane Floyd, and was the wettest September on record in the Northeast US.

Due to the severe drought, all crop systems suffered heavy depressions in yield in 1999: to less than 20% of the long-term average in maize and 60% in soybean.

There were substantial yield differences between systems. With one exception (LEG maize), organic systems gave significantly better yields than the conventional system.

Organic LEG and MNR maize yielded 38% and 137% respectively relative to CNV. LEG soybean yields were significantly higher than MNR, and MNR in turn yielded significantly higher than CNV. Organic LEG and MNR soybean yielded 196% and 152% respectively relative to CNV.

The severely reduced yields in the LEG maize plots were largely due to pressure from weeds and excessive cover crop biomass (nearly twice that necessary for adequate nitrogen inputs) in that year. Skill in managing weeds is therefore an important part of organic farming. Both these factors contributed to over-consumption of the limited soil water, thereby more than canceling out the benefits of the LEG soil's good water-holding capacity and infiltration rate.

The primary mechanism thought to be responsible for the higher yields in the organic systems is indeed the improved water-holding capacity of the soils during water deficits. Data collected over the past 10 years of the Rodale research show that the MNR and LEG treatments improve the soils' water-holding capacity, infiltration rate and water-capture efficiency. LEG maize soils averaged a 13% higher water content than CNV soils at the same crop stage, and 7% higher than CNV soils in soybean plots.

In combination, these factors have led to optimum drought adaptiveness in the MNR maize plots and both the MNR and LEG organic soybean plots. In contrast, the CNV system had poor soil water-holding capacity and infiltration, limiting the ability of the crop to adapt to drought despite negligible water use by weeds and no water use by a cover crop.

Earlier research showed that organic techniques significantly improve soil quality, as measured by structure, total soil organic matter (a measure of soil fertility) and biological activity. The improved soil structure created a better root-zone environment for growing plants and allowed the soil to better absorb and retain moisture. Apart from the benefit during low-rainfall periods, it reduced the potential for erosion in severe storms. The higher organic matter content also made organic soils less compact so that roots could penetrate more deeply to find moisture.

Furthermore, the organic soils showed good late-season flood performance, with good water capture and reduced runoff. Water capture is important for groundwater recharge. Soils in the organic plots captured more water and retained more of it in the crop root zone than in the CNV treatment in 1999. Water capture averaged 30% higher in the organic plots than in the CNV plots, and in September, following high rainfall, water capture in the organic plots was approximately 100% higher than in CNV plots.

In May, at the onset of drought, the CNV plots, for the only time in 1999, had more percolated water than the other treatments, indicating that in the LEG and MNR plots more water was retained in the soil for crop use during a time when water was limiting. Over a 5-year period, the LEG and MNR systems captured 16% and 25% more water than the CNV system, respectively. The MNR plots captured significantly more water than the LEG system.

The Rodale Institute's research provides yet more evidence that organic agriculture can help ensure sustainable long-term food production (see also The Case for a GM-Free Sustainable World by the Independent Science Panel, ). These results highlight the benefits to soil quality organic farming brings, and its' potential to avert crop failures. "Our trials show that improving the quality of the soil through organic practices can mean the difference between a harvest or hardship in times of drought", said Jeff Moyer, Farm Manager at Rodale Institute.

Given the increasing incidences of climate extremes, and projections that these are likely to occur more frequently, organic crop management techniques will be important in providing soil and crop characteristics that can better buffer environmental extremes.


 


This article can be found on the I-SIS website at http://www.i-sis.org.uk/OrganicOutperforms.php
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Now the Pentagon tells Bush: climate change will destroy us
 
* Secret report warns of rioting and nuclear war
* Britain will be 'Siberian' in less than 20 years
* Threat to the world is greater than terrorism
 
Mark Townsend and Paul Harris in New York
Sunday February 22, 2004
The Observer
 
Climate change over the next 20 years could result in a global catastrophe costing millions of lives in wars and natural disasters.
 
A secret report, suppressed by US defence chiefs and obtained by The Observer, warns that major European cities will be sunk beneath rising seas as Britain is plunged into a 'Siberian' climate by 2020. Nuclear conflict, mega-droughts, famine and widespread rioting will erupt across the world.

The document predicts that abrupt climate change could bring the planet to the edge of anarchy as countries develop a nuclear threat to defend and secure dwindling food, water and energy supplies. The threat to global stability vastly eclipses that of terrorism, say the few experts privy to its contents.

'Disruption and conflict will be endemic features of life,' concludes the Pentagon analysis. 'Once again, warfare would define human life.'

The findings will prove humiliating to the Bush administration, which has repeatedly denied that climate change even exists. Experts said that they will also make unsettling reading for a President who has insisted national defense is a priority.

The report was commissioned by influential Pentagon defense adviser Andrew Marshall, who has held considerable sway on US military thinking over the past three decades. He was the man behind a sweeping recent review aimed at transforming the American military under Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

Climate change 'should be elevated beyond a scientific debate to a US national security concern', say the authors, Peter Schwartz, CIA consultant and former head of planning at Royal Dutch/Shell Group, and Doug Randall of the California-based Global Business Network.

An imminent scenario of catastrophic climate change is 'plausible and would challenge United States national security in ways that should be considered immediately', they conclude. As early as next year widespread flooding by a rise in sea levels will create major upheaval for millions.

Last week the Bush administration came under heavy fire from a large body of respected scientists who claimed that it cherry-picked science to suit its policy agenda and suppressed studies that it did not like. Jeremy Symons, a former whistleblower at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), said that suppression of the report for four months was a further example of the White House trying to bury the threat of climate change.

Senior climatologists, however, believe that their verdicts could prove the catalyst in forcing Bush to accept climate change as a real and happening phenomenon. They also hope it will convince the United States to sign up to global treaties to reduce the rate of climatic change.

A group of eminent UK scientists recently visited the White House to voice their fears over global warming, part of an intensifying drive to get the US to treat the issue seriously. Sources have told The Observer that American officials appeared extremely sensitive about the issue when faced with complaints that America's public stance appeared increasingly out of touch.

One even alleged that the White House had written to complain about some of the comments attributed to Professor Sir David King, Tony Blair's chief scientific adviser, after he branded the President's position on the issue as indefensible.

Among those scientists present at the White House talks were Professor John Schellnhuber, former chief environmental adviser to the German government and head of the UK's leading group of climate scientists at the Tyndall Center for Climate Change Research. He said that the Pentagon's internal fears should prove the 'tipping point' in persuading Bush to accept climatic change.

Sir John Houghton, former chief executive of the Meteorological Office - and the first senior figure to liken the threat of climate change to that of terrorism - said: 'If the Pentagon is sending out that sort of message, then this is an important document indeed.'

Bob Watson, chief scientist for the World Bank and former chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, added that the Pentagon's dire warnings could no longer be ignored.

'Can Bush ignore the Pentagon? It's going be hard to blow off this sort of document. Its hugely embarrassing. After all, Bush's single highest priority is national defense The Pentagon is no wacko, liberal group, generally speaking it is conservative. If climate change is a threat to national security and the economy, then he has to act. There are two groups the Bush Administration tend to listen to, the oil lobby and the Pentagon,' added Watson.

'You've got a President who says global warming is a hoax, and across the Potomac river you've got a Pentagon preparing for climate wars. It's pretty scary when Bush starts to ignore his own government on this issue,' said Rob Gueterbock of Greenpeace.

Already, according to Randall and Schwartz, the planet is carrying a higher population than it can sustain. By 2020 'catastrophic' shortages of water and energy supply will become increasingly harder to overcome, plunging the planet into war. They warn that 8,200 years ago climatic conditions brought widespread crop failure, famine, disease and mass migration of populations that could soon be repeated.

Randall told The Observer that the potential ramifications of rapid climate change would create global chaos. 'This is depressing stuff,' he said. 'It is a national security threat that is unique because there is no enemy to point your guns at and we have no control over the threat.'

Randall added that it was already possibly too late to prevent a disaster happening. 'We don't know exactly where we are in the process. It could start tomorrow and we would not know for another five years,' he said.

'The consequences for some nations of the climate change are unbelievable. It seems obvious that cutting the use of fossil fuels would be worthwhile.'

So dramatic are the report's scenarios, Watson said, that they may prove vital in the US elections. Democratic frontrunner John Kerry is known to accept climate change as a real problem. Scientists disillusioned with Bush's stance are threatening to make sure Kerry uses the Pentagon report in his campaign.

The fact that Marshall is behind its scathing findings will aid Kerry's cause. Marshall, 82, is a Pentagon legend who heads a secretive think-tank dedicated to weighing risks to national security called the Office of Net Assessment. Dubbed 'Yoda' by Pentagon insiders who respect his vast experience, he is credited with being behind the Department of Defense's push on ballistic-missile defense

Symons, who left the EPA in protest at political interference, said that the suppression of the report was a further instance of the White House trying to bury evidence of climate change. 'It is yet another example of why this government should stop burying its head in the sand on this issue.'

Symons said the Bush administration's close links to high-powered energy and oil companies was vital in understanding why climate change was received skeptically in the Oval Office. 'This administration is ignoring the evidence in order to placate a handful of large energy and oil companies,' he added.

 

Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

###

Key findings of the Pentagon Report
Future wars will be fought over the issue of survival rather than religion, ideology or national honor.

By 2007 violent storms smash coastal barriers rendering large parts of the Netherlands inhabitable. Cities like The Hague are abandoned. In California the delta island levees in the Sacramento river area are breached, disrupting the aqueduct system transporting water from north to south.

Between 2010 and 2020 Europe is hardest hit by climatic change with an average annual temperature drop of 6F. Climate in Britain becomes colder and drier as weather patterns begin to resemble Siberia.

Deaths from war and famine run into the millions until the planet's population is reduced by such an extent the Earth can cope.

Riots and internal conflict tear apart India, South Africa and Indonesia.

Access to water becomes a major battleground. The Nile, Danube and Amazon are all mentioned as being high risk.

A 'significant drop' in the planet's ability to sustain its present population will become apparent over the next 20 years.

Rich areas like the US and Europe would become 'virtual fortresses' to prevent millions of migrants from entering after being forced from land drowned by sea-level rise or no longer able to grow crops. Waves of boatpeople pose significant problems.

Nuclear arms proliferation is inevitable. Japan, South Korea, and Germany develop nuclear-weapons capabilities, as do Iran, Egypt and North Korea. Israel, China, India and Pakistan also are poised to use the bomb.

By 2010 the US and Europe will experience a third more days with peak temperatures above 90F. Climate becomes an 'economic nuisance' as storms, droughts and hot spells create havoc for farmers.

More than 400m people in subtropical regions at grave risk.

Europe will face huge internal struggles as it copes with massive numbers of migrants washing up on its shores. Immigrants from Scandinavia seek warmer climes to the south. Southern Europe is beleaguered by refugees from hard-hit countries in Africa.

Mega-droughts affect the world's major breadbaskets, including America's Midwest, where strong winds bring soil loss.

China's huge population and food demand make it particularly vulnerable. Bangladesh becomes nearly uninhabitable because of a rising sea level, which contaminates the inland water supplies.

***

FORTUNE
Feb. 9, 2004
 
CLIMATE COLLAPSE
The Pentagon's Weather Nightmare
The climate could change radically, and fast. That would be the mother of all national security issues.

By David Stipp
 
Global warming may be bad news for future generations, but let's face it, most of us spend as little time worrying about it as we did about al Qaeda before 9/11. Like the terrorists, though, the seemingly remote climate risk may hit home sooner and harder than we ever imagined. In fact, the prospect has become so real that the Pentagon's strategic planners are grappling with it.

The threat that has riveted their attention is this: Global warming, rather than causing gradual, centuries-spanning change, may be pushing the climate to a tipping point. Growing evidence suggests the ocean-atmosphere system that controls the world's climate can lurch from one state to another in less than a decade - like a canoe that's gradually tilted until suddenly it flips over. Scientists don't know how close the system is to a critical threshold. But abrupt climate change may well occur in the not-too-distant future. If it does, the need to rapidly adapt may overwhelm many societies - thereby upsetting the geopolitical balance of power.

Though triggered by warming, such change would probably cause cooling in the Northern Hemisphere, leading to longer, harsher winters in much of the U.S. and Europe. Worse, it would cause massive droughts, turning farmland to dust bowls and forests to ashes. Picture last fall's California wildfires as a regular thing. Or imagine similar disasters destabilizing nuclear powers such as Pakistan or Russia - it's easy to see why the Pentagon has become interested in abrupt climate change.
 
Climate researchers began getting seriously concerned about it a decade ago, after studying temperature indicators embedded in ancient layers of Arctic ice. The data show that a number of dramatic shifts in average temperature took place in the past with shocking speed - in some cases, just a few years.

 
The case for angst was buttressed by a theory regarded as the most likely explanation for the abrupt changes. The eastern U.S. and northern Europe, it seems, are warmed by a huge Atlantic Ocean current that flows north from the tropics - that's why Britain, at Labrador's latitude, is relatively temperate. Pumping out warm, moist air, this "great conveyor" current gets cooler and denser as it moves north. That causes the current to sink in the North Atlantic, where it heads south again in the ocean depths. The sinking process draws more water from the south, keeping the roughly circular current on the go.
 
But when the climate warms, according to the theory, fresh water from melting Arctic glaciers flows into the North Atlantic, lowering the current's salinity - and its density and tendency to sink. A warmer climate also increases rainfall and runoff into the current, further lowering its saltiness. As a result, the conveyor loses its main motive force and can rapidly collapse, turning off the huge heat pump and altering the climate over much of the Northern Hemisphere.
 
Scientists aren't sure what caused the warming that triggered such collapses in the remote past. (Clearly it wasn't humans and their factories.) But the data from Arctic ice and other sources suggest the atmospheric changes that preceded earlier collapses were dismayingly similar to today's global warming. As the Ice Age began drawing to a close about 13,000 years ago, for example, temperatures in Greenland rose to levels near those of recent decades. Then they abruptly plunged as the conveyor apparently shut down, ushering in the "Younger Dryas" period, a 1,300-year reversion to ice-age conditions. (A dryas is an Arctic flower that flourished in Europe at the time.)
 
Though Mother Nature caused past abrupt climate changes, the one that may be shaping up today probably has more to do with us. In 2001 an international panel of climate experts concluded that there is increasingly strong evidence that most of the global warming observed over the past 50 years is attributable to human activities - mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil and coal, which release heat-trapping carbon dioxide. Indicators of the warming include shrinking Arctic ice, melting alpine glaciers, and markedly earlier springs at northerly latitudes. A few years ago such changes seemed signs of possible trouble for our kids or grandkids. Today they seem portents of a cataclysm that may not conveniently wait until we're history.
 
Accordingly, the spotlight in climate research is shifting from gradual to rapid change. In 2002 the National Academy of Sciences issued a report concluding that human activities could trigger abrupt change. Last year the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, included a session at which Robert Gagosian, director of the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts, urged policymakers to consider the implications of possible abrupt climate change within two decades.
 
Such jeremiads are beginning to reverberate more widely. Billionaire Gary Comer, founder of Lands' End, has adopted abrupt climate change as a philanthropic cause. Hollywood has also discovered the issue - next summer 20th Century Fox is expected to release The Day After Tomorrow, a big-budget disaster movie starring Dennis Quaid as a scientist trying to save the world from an ice age precipitated by global warming.
 
Fox's flick will doubtless be apocalyptically edifying. But what would abrupt climate change really be like?
 


Cartoon source http://www.naturalnews.com/021988_almonds_raw.html

 

 


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