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Genetically Modified Crops and the global Food System

Summary

It might be hard to believe, given all the hype around this technology, but there have been no benefits whatsoever from GM while the problems are legion and extremely serious. As we have seen:

The technology

  1. GM technology produces life forms that could not have occurred naturally through evolution. It is not a way to speed up what has occurred either naturally or through conventional cross breeding. It adds genes from totally different life forms which have never had a place in the species they are being introduced into, so the claims made by the biotech companies that “it is the same” are simply untrue.
  2. The process of inserting the genes is totally random; damages the existing genetic structure of the plant; may insert the gene once or more often and it (or they) may insert anywhere within the DNA structure. It is then impossible to know how the newly created life form will behave and what side effects will occur. It is ultimately a question of sucking it (planting it out) and seeing. More recently we have understood the epigenetic controls may also have been changed, altering when, how and if genes present will function.

The claimed benefits

  1. There is no yield increase but frequently a yield decrease. GM isn’t helping, nor will it help, to feed the growing world population. As with so many things GM – that was a red herring.
  2. There is no increase in the nutritional value of the crops, but interestingly there is a significant nutritional decrease. We have seen there is always a reduction in the nutrient uptake of GMRR plants which is severe and this has a big impact on human health. As one example, in order for our bodies to make bone (including our teeth) from the calcium gained from the foods we have eaten, we need magnesium. However this nutrient also controls the balance of calcium inside all of us but RR crops have hugely reduced levels of magnesium.
    It is bizarre that we may need to take man made nutrient supplements to provide our bodies with sufficient of the crucial nutrients if we consume man made plants.
  3. There isn’t a single GM crop anywhere that provides health benefits, though there have been several attempts by the biotech companies to create such crops.
  4. Far from reducing the amount of chemical herbicide applied, it has increased considerably, and the amounts being applied – and needing to be applied – are themselves increasing annually. If we allow them to be grown, the coming ‘tiered trait’ GM crops (which would or will be resistant to more than one herbicide) will hugely increase it further.
  5. While there seems to be a marginal reduction in chemical pesticide applied, we have to take into account that the entire crop has become a pesticide – so the amount of pesticide in the environment has increased massively.
  6. There has been no reduction in the amount of energy used to actually grow the crops, and if we take into account the devastation of the land resulting from the new superweeds (see below) then the energy used has increased.

The Problems

  1. The Genetically modified organisms can, will and have escaped. There is no debate about this one and once they have done so – they cannot ever, ever be recovered.
  2. Having escaped they have also corrupted original plant species that we depend on, so over time we may have lost those original species. This is an extremely serious matter. The first GM wheat (produced by the Rothamsted Research Institute) is already being grown in the UK after they told the approving authorities and St Albans District Council that “an escape is extremely unlikely”.
  3. Any GM crop has an extremely limited ‘effective’ lifespan if it were ever ‘effective’ which we have seen it hasn’t been. The time involved seems to have been between 10 and 15 years, after which we are left with the consequences and no crop. This is yet another classic case of a Corporation taking the profit while it is available but leaving humanity to suffer the consequences.
  4. Ever larger areas of agricultural land are now being lost to agriculture due to the evolution of superweeds and superpests, and with the passage of time the list is growing ever faster.
  5. The regime for testing these crops to make certain they are safe before being given approval for general planting – is neither fit for purpose nor functional. It is nothing short of a disgrace.

The Biggest Problem of all

  1. It is already abundantly clear that with certainty we cannot say the crops are safe to eat – either directly as food for humans or indirectly when fed to animals that we will consume. Rather we can say there is every reason to think they are not.
    The health issues cover the spectrum of human health and there is evidence that many of them are going to be passed down through many generations, as yet unborn. Indeed, fertility itself seems to be a major concern.
    It seems remarkable that the various authorities around the world who are tasked to protect the public are singularly failing to do so. This would have either be from incompetence or something worse.

    The statement here is a snippet of a Summary for an issue of such importance, so reading the full Paper here (Part 4) is really necessary.

Can the Biotech Corporations be trusted?

I am afraid that where money or profit is involved, human integrity goes over the cliff.

Some years ago I was heading to the headwaters of the Amazon in Bolivia to see the state of the forest for myself. It is very difficult to get to, involving a run along the Altiplano (high Andean plateau) followed by a drop off the eastern side. Heading cross country north east of Cochabamba was difficult, especially as an earthquake had dislodged the central pillar of a bridge the day before we had to get over it, but coca leaves were crossing it without difficulty! In huge quantities. Reaching an extremely remote village close to the river where we were to get a boat, the army had been there the day before and 5 local men had been killed during a raid on the coca growing fields. Bolivia received cash from America, but in return had to get rid of the coca growing. The soldiers therefore infrequently visited a coca area where they would use machetes to cut the crop down – leaving the plants to return to cropping rather quickly – but these farmers had become angry!

The purpose of this travelogue is to convey how extremely remote this area is, yet the photos here show how poor the area and – look you here – what was for sale!!!!

picture of a Bolivian shanty village

I was horrified but not surprised as the major Corporations make large amounts of money from the world’s poor. How these people were expected to understand anything about these chemicals, let alone use them safely or in the advised doses, defies belief:

picture of agricultural chemicals in a shop in a Bolivian village
  • Benlate is made by Dupont – a biotech corporation.
  • Greenzit is used to make grass greener!
  • Fernimine is 2,4-D – one constituent in Agent Orange
  • Gramoxone is made by the UK based Zeneca Group and often sold as Paraquat which is poisoning some tribal peoples in Thailand.
  • Karate is also made by Zeneca and is found to be acutely toxic to aquatic organisms. Great considering this was for sale around the Amazon’s headwaters (the Chapare River). Zeneca say “Its toxicity to honey bees is likely to be low risk”
  • Calixin!!!!!! It is a fungicide but it might be that remote peoples don’t know much about it or how to use it: Here is an extract from the US National Library of Medicine on research tests on Calixin: Experimental studies on Wistar rats revealed that the fungicide calixin (N-tridecyl-2.6-dimethylmorpholine) has a teratogenic effect. This effect manifested in edemas, hemorrhages, hematomas, abnormal development of the brain (hydrocephalia), visceral cranium (micrognathia, cleft palate) and genitourinary system (hydronephrosis), in decreased size of pelvic bones, shoulder girdle, front and hind limbs, etc. Marked teratogenic effects was in good agreement with the dose. Threshold and sub threshold doses of calixin in terms of the teratogenic effect were 0.6 and 0.13 mg/kg, respectively. Calixin produces a clear-cut specific teratogenic effect that is evidenced by a wide spectrum of specific action (class I of extremely hazardous substances). The most pronounced changes were induced by calixin administration during the entire period of pregnancy (days 1-20) as compared to its administration during organogenesis (days 7-15).
  • ETC

So if you think the biotech companies have any concerns for anybody, anywhere – you are sorely wrong. I am afraid we have moved to a time when distrust must be the norm and where trust has to be earned.

Envirocide

You are probably wondering what this is, but there is an active group of legal people trying to get a global law passed through the UN for ‘Envirocide’. The principle is that the individual directors and others in the Corporations who can be shown to be directly responsible would be answerable for the environmental damage done by any products they market.

Political Intervention

I have become aware of, though cannot personally prove, that 10 Downing Street was very likely to have been involved in limiting or stopping independent research into GM, focussed on the safety of it entering the food chain. It seems that around 1998/9 two calls were made from 10 Downing Street to a Scottish University where the research was in progress, following which the research team was disbanded and the research stopped.
It is clearly extremely dangerous if political leaders, based on a whim or pressure from elsewhere, intervene to stop independent research. It is certainly clear to me that the political system doesn’t have the knowledge on subjects like these to make personal assessments.

Mike Hillard.

Genetically Modified Crops and the global Food System
The problems – Part 2

10. Are GM products safe for animals and humans to consume?

I suspect by now you think nothing to do with this technology can be 100% safe, but that is what is needed. As you might imagine, this is a particularly difficult part of the subject to cover partly because the scientists need certainty before they make statements while the biotech companies and politicians make glib statements without any evidence, and partly because the evidence is a bit spread about. The Monsantos of the world make it so.

As an example, Owen Paterson (the UK Secretary of State for the Environment) said recently at the Oxford Farming Conference “We have all been eating GM for years without any ill effects. It is safe technology and we must encourage much wider growing of GM crops here in the UK as the yields are higher and it helps the environment, for example by reducing the use of pesticides”.

Each coloured part of his statement is incorrect and most provably so, though with the horse meat problems it must be expected that food companies have included GM in what they manufacture in the EU even though it isn’t on the labels. I was so incensed by his public pronouncements that I looked up his education – and found his degree was in History, which is about as far away from mathematics and the sciences as you can get. For me it is shocking that someone with such little technical knowledge could be appointed to such a position which rather belies David Cameron’s statement “We will have the greenest Government ever”. How is that possible if non-competent people are appointed to environmental positions?

I am not going to pussyfoot around with lots of caveats but say it as I conclude it to be from the evidence and the scientific logic. I am not trying to scare but to inform as well as I can.

Where to start?

There has been something troubling me for decades. In the 1950’s there didn’t seem to be any such thing as an allergy, or at least none that anybody seems to have been aware of. If there were any, they were at worst mild and very few and far between, so how could it be that in the first decade of the 21st century they are prevalent with people suffering allergies covering many food products? It is impossible for humans to have evolved these allergies in 5 decades (2 generations) as modern man has evolved over about 200,000 years, or 10,000 generations. Quite impossible, so something has caused us to become allergic, and that could only be as a result of a change in the environment. It might be the air we breathe, the water we drink or the food we eat, but it must be one or a combination of those. With GM crops there is inevitably yet another layer of environmental change being put upon us which absolutely must concern us.

The different formats or types of GM plants pose different health risks but because there is minimal research done it is difficult to pinpoint cause and effect. Overwhelmingly we have the two types of GM crops which work as follows:

Pest resistant crops denoted Bt:

This ‘modification’ makes every cell of every plant produce a toxic protein, so every cell is a pesticide. When anything eats any part of the plant – including the seed – it is eating pesticide! Terrific, as it kills the marauding bugs but now we have plants that are pesticides which we eat and feed to animals. We then eat the animals and animal products. Other insects like bees also feed on the crops.
The killing process for the bugs involves severe stomach problems (sorry about this but it is important for later) which make an insect’s stomach break open – and of course it dies instantly.

Herbicide resistant crops – modified for Roundup denoted RR:

GMRR crops have a gene or genes inserted in them to allow them to survive the nutrient deficiency caused by the glyphosate that kills the weeds. The entire plant therefore contains this or these additional genes which are consumed by whatever eats them – insect, animal or human. The biotech companies have always said these additional proteins are harmlessly broken down by the digestive system, but we will find they are not.
Since starting this research (and writing) I have learnt something else from meeting with Dr Michael Antoniou (a genetic scientist in King’s College London) which can affect GM plants and therefore the safety of consuming them. I explained earlier how the genes are ‘inserted’ into the DNA of the target plant, but not only is the process random but: any number of the inserted genes could have been inserted; they could have inserted themselves anywhere in the DNA, and during the process other proteins in the DNA can and will have part of their molecular structure ‘blown off’. This affects how that protein does or doesn’t work, so it is impossible for anybody to know how the new plant will behave or how safe it is. It’s DNA has been altered, and as it didn’t evolve, almost certainly the new ‘plant’ will grow with greater stress than an evolved plant.

Cancer:

Professor Seralini in Cannes University repeated Monsanto’s tests on rats but extended it from days to a full 3 years. He used the same rat species as Monsanto and otherwise replicated the corporate ‘test’ but his findings were and are amazingly different. 50% of the male rats and 70% of the female rats died earlier than in the comparative group, and the size of the tumours certainly shocked me but they also had liver and kidney damage – things that repeat with what is looking like monotonous regularity. The rats were fed 11% GMO maize in their diet (from the NK603RR variety of maize) and 1ppb of glyphosate in their water. You will find that the water supplied in America to the human population contains vastly more glyphosate than used in the test, and that is being consumed by every person in the US!

His report has created mayhem with some scientists rubbishing it, arguing it was badly flawed and incomplete, but before we take any notice of them we have to know who they are and how he did it.

My analysis of his work leaves me completely satisfied with it given he was restrained to replicate Monsanto’s original research. The degree of the antagonism shown him also suggests strongly he has it right! For example, Prof Maloney of Rothamsted Research said “it is badly flawed and misleading”. However, he is head of the UK’s main research centre trying to develop GM crops so has a totally vested interest and whose Dr Elaine Ingham is on record as saying “Don’t worry – GM is completely harmless to humans. There is no evidence of chronic Bt toxicity in dogs etc”. They are also the outfit responsible for the only GM testing going on in the UK near St Albans which is trialling GM wheat, for which they have stated “it is extremely unlikely the genes will transfer to wheat growing around the area”. Well, we know that is an absurd and scientifically incorrect claim.
The EFSA (European Food Standards Agency) is referred to, but having gone through their major report on GM I am left wondering on their scientific competence. The EU person seemingly responsible is no better qualified than Owen Paterson.

Infertility and Birth defects:

Problems in the reproductive system are also repeating with that same monotonous regularity with problems showing in both the male testes, the female ovaries and uterus, and spontaneous abortions in animals.

  • In Argentina in the massive GM soy growing region human birth defects have shown a 470% increase. Otherwise known unscientifically as staggering.
  • The testes in rats have changed colour from pink to blue and swollen.
  • 3rd generation rats and hamsters were found to be infertile.
  • Both the EU regulators and the pesticide industry knew as long ago as around 1990 that glyphosate causes birth defects but failed to tell the public.
  • There is a huge increase in spontaneous abortions in bovine animals (cattle, buffaloes and the deer family). 20% of dairy cows fed on GM maize and soy were found to be aborting and in one herd that figure was 45% (450 out of 1000 animals).
  • In South Africa, animals fed on GM crops have shown increases in infertility and early deaths.
  • In Canada, 93% of the pregnant women tested were found to have the Bt toxin in their blood as did 80% of the unborn foetuses.
  • If I recall it correctly, in 2011 a pig farmer called Borup Pedersen in Denmark also found his herd became ill and infertile, which he corrected by removing all GMO’s from their feed.
  • Don Huber who has spent his life in the genetic science world has identified a “mystery organism in GM plants. A new organism in aborted animals found in high concentrations in RR maize and Soy which is proving to be the cause of the abortions – see later for more detail.

There is more but I hope this is sufficient to strongly suggest GM crops are an infertility problem.

Allergies:

There is a medical condition called ‘leaky gut syndrome’ which involves not fully digested food leaking from our guts to our bloodstream because our intestines have become perforated. Now you will know why I had to explain how the pesticide created by the Bt gene works. It breaks open the digestive system.

Literally, small particles of food cross from the gut to the bloodstream which means our blood finds a protein it doesn’t recognise. Foreign proteins in the bloodstream not available in nature cause the immune system to attack them, causing the body to become intolerant of, or allergic to, those proteins which could be in anything we have recently eaten.

The Bt maize pesticide protein has been found in the digestive tract of sheep showing it was not destroyed by the stomach as claimed by Monsanto. This means there can also be superbugs in the gut caused directly by the GM food.

In 2012 the EPA (US Environment Protection Agency) said an impact on humans of consuming GM is that “it does break open little pores in human cells”. However, the head of the EPA has just resigned as she has had continuous battles with the Republicans over the last 4 years.

Major organs, bodily systems and other illnesses:

There are problems with what I think is every major organ in the body, but the liver, kidneys, immune system, gastro-intestinal, diabetes, Alzheimer’s , autism, Parkinson’s, cirrhosis and even obesity are implicated.

Glyphosate:

Given glyphosate is heavily implicated in so many health problems in both animals and humans; the following information on the chemical is interesting:

  • The USGS (US Geological Survey) found that between 60% and 100% of all rain, air and water samples across the US contained traces of glyphosate (Roundup).
  • 12 grams per acre stops the plants taking up 80% to 90% of the nutrients, damaging the plants as their biology is restricted badly affecting any crop’s food value.
  • Is potent at 1 part in 10 million.
  • In early 1996 the EU limit for glyphosate was 0.1mg/kg, but that year, as GM was beginning to arrive in the market, they raised it to 20mg/kg – or by 200 times! The only reason? With the increasing use of Roundup, and with it being used on crops for human and animal consumption – no GM crop would be permissible at the 0.1mg/kg limit!
  • Glyphosate in barley kills the yeast in the brewing process.
  • The level of glyphosate allowed in the water in the US is 10,000 times what is considered the toxic level, and 5,000 times what is permitted in the EU!
  • Organisms (includes us) with glyphosate in them get sicker quicker.

General health problems:

  • The American Academy of Environmental Medicine has stated: All GMO research results are “very disturbing” and it cites GM as causal in infertility, immune dysregulation, accelerated aging, and cell signalling protein formation changes in the liver, kidney, spleen and gastrointestinal system’. Sorry for the technical terms but basically GMO’s are messing up our insides. Note the word they use “causal”.
  • Glyphosate ‘chelates’ (makes unavailable) the nutrients, and inside us it does exactly the same thing. Even if we have sufficient of a nutrient inside us, if we have glyphosate in us as well – we aren’t getting the benefit of those nutrients and they are crucial for bodily health. For example we need manganese for the body to move calcium into our bone structure. Not enough manganese = weaker bone replacement. Halve the manganese our systems have access to and you halve the calcium we get. Wonderful thing is evolution. We evolved to be healthy with what we had naturally not what some of us are now taking in through our mouths.

Other issues:

  • In the year 2000, maize intended for industrial use entered the human food chain. Accidents will always happen, but when profit can be made – even horse meat will be sold as beef.
  • In Japan over 100 people died as a result of consuming a GM organism called L-trytophan. The Japanese biotech scientists developed an impure version! Nature doesn’t do that.
  • Baby milk – nearly all infant formula contains soy and nearly all soy in the US is GM, so nearly all infant formula contains GM product. The following brands have these proportions of soy in them:
    • Walmart – 66%
    • Enfamil – 49%
    • Gerber – 48%
    • Similac – 42%
  • Nestle and many other Brand manufacturers cannot use GM in their products in the EU but do in the US. Buy a branded biscuit for example in the US and it isn’t the same as the same product in the EU.
  • Celiac disease has been linked to Canola RR (Rapeseed) in Canada
  • In India the GM aubergine (eggplant) has been banned for human consumption
  • The Canadian BMA has warned about health problems with consumption of GM.
  • The EFSA (European Food Standards Agency) has just (Feb 2013) reported it has found a virus (Virus V1) in 54 of 86 approved GM plants “which could be poisonous to humans”. It was “missed” before. They are in soy and maize crops fed to animals from which we eat the meat, milk, cheese and eggs!!!!
  • The Russians recently banned a variety of GM maize saying it seems to be shown to be toxic.

Professor Don Huber:

Don has a lifetime of experience in molecular biology and is a plant pathologist with a focus on nutrient deficiency in plants. His work in this area led him to discover a previously unknown ‘infectious agent’ constantly appearing in plants that have absorbed glyphosate. This ‘infectious agent’ is a pathogen linked seemingly strongly with RR GM crops.

Don wrote a private letter to Tom Vilsack – the US Secretary of State for Agriculture I referred to earlier – informing him of his findings and its potential implications. The letter explains how widely this ‘agent’ has spread down the food chain, appearing in animals fed on GM crops and products used in products consumed by humans. Don was particularly concerned as Monsanto’s Alfalfa RR was approaching approval for planting right across the US, and alfalfa is a legume (pea family) grown solely for animal feed. The idea animals were going to be feeding on this crop deeply concerned him.

Don also very strongly suggested a link between the ‘agent’ and a radical increase in spontaneous abortions in animal herds which in some cases have reached the 20% to 45% range – otherwise known unscientifically as ridiculous – as well as with two very serious plant diseases – Sudden Death Syndrome in Soy and Goss’s Wilt in Maize. He concludes with a horrifying statement particularly for those in the US: “’This’ deserves immediate attention with significant resources to avoid a general collapse of our critical agricultural infrastructure”.

Two things have happened:

  1. Tom Vilsack approved the Alfalfa RR a few weeks after receiving Don’s letter (I wonder why) and
  2. The letter has been leaked.

I have published the letter and an interview with Don about the problem as a PDF here. I strongly advise you to read it but you should understand his findings are not unique as far as the health of consuming GM crops is concerned.
As a further note, I was sent Don’s letter by an agronomist I hugely respect, but who signed his mail to me as “this is terrifying”.

Does and did Monsanto and the other biotech companies know of these issues:

For certain they knew:

  1. That glyphosate functions by chelating nutrients as that is how and why it works. They therefore knew the food value of the crops was much compromised, and that inside us it would do the same. They therefore knew the crops were a health hazard.
  2. That weeds would evolve through mutation to be unaffected by the herbicides – primarily so far glyphosate (Roundup) – but also 2,4D. They knew superweeds would take over but planned to produce new crops they could then sell us.

Conclusions

I have wondered how to deal with this very complex subject but have had a spark of ‘genius’. We will divide the conclusions into scientific and realistic personal answers:

First the scientific position:

Can it be claimed that GM crops are safe for human and animal consumption? This is easy. No.

Is there enough scientific evidence to suggest or argue that GM crops are not safe to be consumed? Yes there is. There is ample independent research and actual agricultural evidence to strongly suggest there are health hazards which may be severe.

From current genetic scientific knowledge, is it scientifically considered possible or probable that GM crops are a health hazard? Yes. My explanations of how the genetic modification is achieved and what that means for the function of the totality of the genes in the DNA answer this.

Are GM crops dangerous for animals and us to eat? We cannot yet say that.

Second, what is my personal opinion based on all the work and research I have done and on my knowledge of the molecular biology?

  1. Back in 1998 when I had done my original research I unequivocally concluded that GM agriculture was a very bad accident not waiting to happen – but happening. I was strongly wishing to call GM – Genetic Mutilation – and I now know that is what it is.
  2. My original views were primarily environmental as the expansion of superweeds, and the spread of the genes into families of plants grown as crops or wild plants, simply horrified me. It was so absolutely obvious (to me) that the environment would be severely damaged that I actually assumed the technology would be refused permission by all regulators. It is a measure of the scientific incompetence of the regulatory system and our political systems that they have been allowed at all, and we now have the problems some of us knew we would have.
  3. During my original research back in the late 1990’s I was less worried about the health problems partly because I didn’t understand the molecular process as I now do, and partly because I assumed there would be sufficient checks to make certain it was safe for living organisms to eat. I did become aware though of what seemed to have been an ‘accident’ in which a number of people seemed to have died in Mexico as a result of consuming GM product, but it had been hushed up with large amounts of money. But proving it was very difficult.

Now for my personal answers:

Can it be claimed that GM crops are safe for human and animal consumption? NO = NO.

Is there enough scientific evidence to suggest or argue that GM crops are not safe to be consumed? ABSOLUTELY AND UNQUESTIONABLY.

From current genetic scientific knowledge, is it scientifically considered possible or probable that GM crops are a health hazard? ABSOLUTELY – YES.

Are GM crops dangerous for animals and us to eat? WITH OVER A 90% PROBABILITY – YES (though defining the level of danger is impossible without further research). I WOULDN’T TOUCH THEM WITH A BARGE POLE BUT THEN I NEVER HAVE. I HAVE STUDIOUSLY AVOIDED GM SINCE MY ORIGINAL RESEARCH.

Sadly now understanding more about the epigenetics and the molecular biology it seems enormously likely that long after we have stopped consuming GM we will have GM proteins inside us, and we know these will continue down at least several generations.

As a hugely important observation, I don’t think any of the health issues in this Paper would be identified in 30 to 90 day research tests. This proves the existing research methodology is fatally flawed. Clearly Monsanto and the other biotech companies know this, so they are operating in a moral void where wealth is the objective and health ignored.

ANNEXE 1

Food health & Safety in the US

Don Huber said in his letter to Tom Vilsack that he was concerned about the collapse of the US agricultural system, but that statement refers to the agricultural industry. However, the concern is that if or rather when people refuse to eat GM – what will happen to the agricultural wasteland left behind and the agricultural industry?

The problems for those living in the US are:

  • No food product is labelled showing what does or doesn’t contain GM and how much it contains.
  • It is estimated that 70% of all food products sold in the US contain GM, so for those who live the modern lifestyle – you are eating it. To try to avoid it you would have to buy no manufactured foods at all – no biscuits, pies, soups, pre-cooked meals, cereals, sauces, mayonnaise, packet products etc etc etc. Now add cheese, butter, meat, eggs, milk. Crisps and snacks, pate, vegetable cooking oils, take aways – the list is truly endless. Pretty much everything in a packet and a lot else as well.
  • What can they consume? The only real option is to buy nothing but raw organic food, so absolutely everything has to be home cooked from scratch. I do this all the time anyway and have done so for years AND it isn’t difficult AND it is a very low cost option – but I don’t know anybody who lives and eats as I do. I have added sugar beet to my diet because it is highly nutritious and the farmers (bless them) get just 3p/kilo for it!
    However even buying organic, Americans have a problem:

    • Monsanto have been suing farmers growing crops around their GM plants because they say the genes will have transferred. Well, they will have, so even organic in the US cannot be guaranteed to be GM free, and as another example the EU has refused to buy Canadian honey because it cannot be claimed to be GM free due to GM canola (rape in the EU). See what I mean.
    • Let’s ignore the above fact – as a health issue it is impossible to avoid glyphosate even with organic produce as it drifts in the wind (it is anyway in the air and rainwater) so all crops grown anywhere in the US cannot be guaranteed to be glyphosate free.
  • On top of this they are taking in glyphosate in their water and breathing it in the air.

The legacy for the American population could be grave indeed as with future generations also affected, they may be in a mess. Don’t forget, the FDA scientists said these foods shouldn’t have been on the market 20 years ago and they are just reaching the 20th anniversary of the start of human consumption but in the early days output was nominal. Several years ago it was said that 99% of those in the US “had serious nutritional deficiencies”. Obesity? I understand 3 of Monsanto’s chemists analysing 1gf1 refused afterwards to drink anything but organic milk with one buying his own cow.

I personally wouldn’t want to consume food in America for one month let alone continuously. The US population is part of the biggest uncontrolled experiment ever seen on planet earth, with the truly dreadful realities that they are not aware of it and there can be no scientific results and conclusions as it isn’t being measured.

The truth will eventually out and then there will be chaos as most foodstuffs in the US will be deemed hazardous. Knowing the Americans, they will want to buy food grown elsewhere in the world so will be trying to buy from the EU etc – so long as our regulators haven’t been duped which they already have in the UK by Rothampsted with their wheat. What then happens to the price of food when American food production is removed from the global supply? I’ll tell you. The poor and impoverished around the world will die.

Is it only the US? Sadly no as Brazil and much of South America has relished GM and China is now doing so particularly with GM cotton which is becoming another disaster area. Money always supersedes the health of others.

ANNEXE 2

The UK Secretary of State for the Environment
Owen Paterson

I absolutely hate getting personal, but there are situations where I deem the issues too grave not to point the finger, and what Owen Paterson has said on GM, and his stance on it, requires my finger to be pointed. The issues around GM are of human importance.

It astonishes me that someone so almost perfectly unqualified to deal with such scientifically complex issues – has been appointed to do so. He seems to be floundering, but unless he already understood everything I have written in these Papers, and in the ones still to come – frankly he is unqualified to say anything. I have a maxim: “Those who know a lot know how little they know. Those who know little think they know a lot”.

But he would also have to understand the molecular biology involved as without that he would also be unqualified even to take a view let alone preach on the subject. I will try to publish a Paper as a ‘layman’s guide to the molecular science’.

ANNEXE 3

Envirocide

There are currently moves underway to introduce a new law through the UN on ‘Envirocide’. It is designed to make the decision makers in Corporations personally responsible for any environmental damage their businesses do, so clearly this would have transformed the introduction of GM as no company would have launched a crop onto the market. It would be a tragedy if it were not retrospective, but it may not be and anyway I will be shocked if the US doesn’t refuse to ratify it.

We have to understand, more fool us if we don’t, that we don’t live in real democracies and our Governments work in hand with the Corporations. Just as the US will be shown to have damaged the entire planet due to its refusal to take any action on Climate Change so far, so it will not want to damage any of its major Corporations which are more important to the government than the health of its people.

Mike

Genetically Modified Crops and the global Food System
The problems – Part 1

In this Paper we are looking at 2 important environmental problem areas and the issues around testing and licensing of GM crops.

The next Paper will singularly cover the health implications for both animals and humans that consume these crops – directly or indirectly. It is a big question with a big answer’.

7. Can and does the GM genie escape, and if so what harm can it do?

Another easy question at least as far as the first part of it goes. Plants reproduce naturally and cross pollinate within their species, so a rape plant will pollinate another rape plant – or another member of the species which in the case of rape happens to be the brassica family. Wheats can pollinate other wheats; potatoes other potatoes and so on.

This is a hugely important question because, if the genetic alterations couldn’t escape into the wider environment: there may be many bad problems with GM but at least they would be geographically contained. The GM developments could then not contaminate the rest of the world – just the region that decided to grow the crops. The trouble is it can escape and has.

Back in 1998/9 many countries in Europe ordered their non-GM rape seed from a company in Canada. It arrived; was sown across many countries, but months later it was learnt the seed had included GM. One option considered was to plough the lot up, but it was simply impossible to make certain all of it would have been destroyed in so many countries at the same time.

I mentioned above that rape is a member of the brassica family – primarily the cabbages which include the cauliflowers, sprouts, broccolis, swedes and turnips. The big problem though is that there are 8 wild and common brassicas around the UK that can be cross pollinated by rape, so once it had flowered there was no knowing where it had gone. It had escaped from a simple error, but it can never be got back. This means we cannot know that any brassicas we eat are not GM contaminated – including organic veg grown in the EU.

It is a simple fact, not a theory, that GM pollen will travel often huge distances (it is often windy), so as long as there is a plant within that range that can be pollinated – sooner or later it will be. And from there it travels on again. There are a few interesting notes on this problem:

  • I recall the initial plant free margin in the UK around GM crops was 2metres (6’) which I confess infuriated me when I first heard it. How it was possible for our political system to approve that defies belief – but it did. If this alone doesn’t call into question the competence of our political system to manage life for our safety – I don’t know what it will take for people to realise that.
  • GM maize in the southern US was found to have contaminated wild maize in Mexico. As this is the home of the wild species, we have polluted the plants’ origins.
  • The EU banned Canadian honey recently as they could not guarantee it was GM free because of ‘wayward’ pollen from GM crops. Would be good to ask them if they can guarantee brassicas grown across the EU are GM free!!
  • “The crops and their pollen can be carried 25 kilometres on prairie winds” – Prof Peter Phillips, University of Saskatchewan.
  • Monsanto are suing farmers all over the place claiming they are due a 2% royalty on everything produced after the initial GM seeds have been bought. But it seems Monsanto are not quite as cute as we imagined because they are now claiming the royalty from famers accidentally growing some GM plants because of pollen drift onto their land from a neighbouring farmer who is growing GMO’s. They not only know it escapes – they are even charging for the privilege of having your produce contaminated see:
    “The plaintiffs in the suit are led by the Organic Seed Growers and Trade Association (OSGATA) and their complaint is aimed at Monsanto’s so-called “seed police,” whose strong-arm tactics include suing farmers for patent infringement any time pollen or seeds from a farm growing GMO plants nearby drifted onto their land, as was featured in the film Food Inc

So yes it can, yes it will and yes it has escaped. It is as inevitable as night follows day. We live in a sick world getting sicker.

Further notes:

  • There are now GM trials on potatoes – and guess where they are? In Bolivia, which is the home of the Potato. An EU research Paper says it is unlikely the GM potato plants will cross contaminate other potatoes as the cross fertilisation usually occurs only with a metre!!!!! Interesting, but then much of what the UN does and says is. Having been there I can assure you there can be some very big winds indeed up on the Andes where the potatoes grow. Having contaminated the wild maize they now want to go at the early potatoes.
  • There are also now GM field trials in the UK with wheat. Yes, here in the UK being conducted by the Rothampstead Institute (John Innes), approved by St Albans Council and our government. They also argue it is “very unlikely” there will be any cross contamination, even though that area has a great deal of land growing wheat. Thank you St Albans City and District Council!

8. Does the effectiveness of a GM plant change or diminish over time, and if so what length of time? What happens then?

A GM crop is the same GM crop after umpteen years, but as the environment around it changes, its effectiveness will change. This is linked to the increased use of the herbicides and pesticides and those dastardly ‘superweeds’.

We have already seen that without any human intervention – life evolves – and that is not new science. Charles Darwin (and Alfred Wallace as it so happens) developed the theory of evolution by natural selection in the 1850’s, and it operates continuously. When a herbicide (Roundup) is applied to a population of a weed, there will be some that have naturally mutated and become resistant to it and survive. As the rest of that population will die, the surviving specimen(s) has (have) a lot of space to multiply into and that is what happens. This was not a possibility or a probability but a certainty. Not a prediction but a fact. The growing resistant weed population is called a ‘Super weed’ and we already have 21 of them just in the US.

Through the US corn growing region they now have ‘super bindweed’ which is so powerful three things are happening:

  1. It is common across the region so is affecting at best many of the farms and soon most of them.
  2. The maize crop is being strangled, significantly reducing the yield and therefore profits. The farmers are now desperate for a solution.
  3. Roundup at 15 times the normal strength has been applied without any effect.

Through the southern US soybean and cotton growing region, there is already a ‘super pigweed’ also now totally resistant to Roundup. It has so overtaken the farmland that millions of acres are being lost to production with the land given up to the pigweed. It rapidly outgrows the crops hugely reducing their yields but there is an even worse problem. It grows so fast and has such strong stems that farm machinery cannot go through it – why the farmers are giving up that land.

While on pigweed (Amaranthus palmeri) there are two interesting facts:

  1. It is edible, highly nutritious and was eaten back through history – the green parts as a vegetable and the seeds as well. Rather than harvesting it as a food – it is left.
  2. It is spread by the wind!!!! The reason for the incredibly rapid spread?

As we can see there isn’t one unfortunate super weed – it is general and will spread to cover every corner of the countries using these products, faster when combined with GM because that is increasing the use of Roundup. The area reported infested as of one year ago (2011) was 11M acres but this is more than 4 times the area in 2007 which was 2.4M. It is an epidemic.

GM crops are already planted on 200,000 sq miles of the US or 130M acres, so the very agricultural production of the US is at stake with super weeds appearing for other herbicides as well. To get these huge figures into perspective the US has 382m acres producing crops, so 1/3rd of it is already GM and liable to yield reduction if not the loss of that land for agriculture.

If we think all this is bad, the herbicidal resistant genes are spreading naturally through the pollen of the resistant weeds – to other plants – which proves item 7 above – the GM Genie can escape and has done so!

What about the GM pest resistant crops? Guess what? We now have pests that have mutated to do the self-same thing – they are resistant to the pesticides so for all the above on ‘super weeds’ add ‘super pests’.

How long has it taken? Given the first approvals were only given in 1995, it has taken just 16 years for super ‘things’ to have reached epidemic proportions. The working life of any GM plant is therefore around just 10 years and mutations occur seemingly at least within about 3 years. If that surprises you, think about this:

  • There are about 1,800,000 wheat plants/ hectare.
  • Each wheat plant has about 450,000 pollen grains. (Each rye plant has 4m and each maize plant – 18m).
  • There are therefore about 800,000,000,000 wheat pollen grains per hectare (800 billion).

Even an incredibly low probability that a mutation will occur that affects the GM crop resistance means it is almost certainly going to happen even in the first year, and mutation rates, while varying hugely are sort of around 1:1,000,000. There are therefore going to be loads of mutations for every hectare planted. Anyway, it has already happened with every crop grown. But I will give you one further demonstration of the reality of mutation resistance to a human ‘compound’.

It is being increasingly publicised that antibiotics are losing their usefulness because the bacteria they fight have ‘mutated’ to be resistant to them. Organisms evolve to best survive.

What happens now? Depends who you ask:

The Biotech Companies: Well, what would you expect? They are working to develop what are called ‘tiered trait’ GM plants resistant to two or more herbicides so the farmers would then have to spray twice as much as now. Interesting? GMOs were going to reduce herbicide use not increase it!

There is currently a ‘stacked trait’ crop being developed with the second herbicide (after Roundup) being 2,4-D, one of the two chemicals in Agent Orange sprayed over Vietnam. Dow have also already developed a soybean resistant to 2,4-D “because of the increasing prevalence of glyphosate resistant weeds”. Note the word ‘prevalence’. It seems the public and the regulators are not well informed about developments in this science or the effects it is having but the biochemical companies understand it very well. They just don’t want anybody to know.

Agent orange was 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T in equal proportions; was manufactured by Monsanto and Dow Chemicals, and it is estimated 400,000 people died in Vietnam from its use; 500,000 were maimed, and the Red Cross estimates 1M people are disabled or have health problems directly related to the use of it. To be fair, it was mostly the 2,4,5-T that was the problem because during manufacture another chemical compound appeared that was an extremely toxic dioxin, but accidents happen.

The biotech industry is trying to move us to a food production system depending on a cocktail of chemicals – all of which they will sell us – but what happens when they run out of options?

Agriculture: It should already be clear that GM technology is attempting to create a world where the solutions to a scientific problem are more scientific products developed and sold by the very companies creating the problems in the first place, with the farmers and consumers paying for the chemical that created the problem; the one they are told will cure it and the damage done. Each super weed and super pest now with us is with us for ever. It is ‘impossible’ to go back to a world where they don’t exist. It is yet another case of Companies creaming the profits from activities but leaving others to pay to clean up their mess.

Reference superweeds there is of course an alternative which is beginning to be discussed involving deep digging the land and probably then burning it, but that will burn much of the organic material in the soils and that is a crucial part of healthy soil and already in very short supply.

There are totally valid comparisons we can make from a different science – medicine. It is widely known penicillin has become ineffective due to the organisms it was designed to fight ‘evolving’ to be resistant to it. Indeed medical science is really worried it is running out of antibiotics as the bugs have been fighting back. Interestingly penicillin only started to be used in the 1950’s but wasn’t in wide use for a decade so became ineffective in around 2 to 3 decades. But here is something particularly interesting:

It only took 4 years after starting production for one of the microbes to evolve a resistance to – Staphylococcus aureus! As I said before, it isn’t just a remote chance organisms will evolve to be resistant to whatever we throw at them – it is a certainty. Only the time taken is debateable.

Clearly the GM crops already planted have had incredibly short functional lives (if they ever were functional), measured in terms of 10 to 15 years but have already left a terrible legacy if not a terrifying one. This alone should prove it is a technology we shouldn’t use, and where already in use it should rapidly be stopped.

9. How thoroughly are GM crops tested before being licensed by the FDA?

There are a few things to understand which you may find surprising or even shocking:

  1. The longest animal feeding safety trials required are just 90 days but many are much shorter, some lasting only 30 days. Problems that don’t occur almost instantly are therefore not going to be found.
  2. In the US, the FDA authorises the planting of GM crops BUT in each licence it stipulates the safety of the crop is the applicant’s responsibility. The FDA has never approved a GM food as safe. It doesn’t do safety tests – these are done by the biotech companies who don’t publish their findings but present what they choose to the FDA. Basically they state it is safe and the FDA buys into that.
    Quote from the FDA “Ultimately it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring food safety”.
    Quote from Monsanto director, Philip Angell “Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring safety is the FDA’s job”.

    Shocked?? Quite an important miss-match.
  3. The biotech companies can put any GM product on the market but they can be held responsible for harm that results from them being consumed if anybody can prove they are culpable.
  4. There is no labelling required in the US, so it is impossible to link an outbreak of illness to any GM product as nobody can know what they have consumed. As long as this remains the case, it would be difficult to prosecute the Biotech companies for health issues especially as it can be unclear where any pollutant has come from. It is how they like it.
  5. The Biotech companies don’t make product or any of their research available to independent scientists, and those who have done independent research are mostly vilified publicly with their careers damaged and sometimes destroyed after publication.
  6. In 1992, before the first RR crops were approved for planting, the FDA’s own scientists warned there could be serious health issues with them. Early tests on glyphosate resistant crops indicated increased infertility, problems with the liver, kidneys, spleen and gastro intestinal systems as well as disturbance of the immune system and problems with cholesterol and insulin – and this was almost 20 years ago. They said “these could be dangerous and lead to new diseases, allergies, toxins and nutritional problems and should not be on the market”.
  7. From the list of potential problems I can say it would be extremely difficult (not to say impossible) to ever prove cause and effect when it comes to a medical problem and the consumption of food containing GM organisms.
  8. Unfortunately there are many personnel transfers between the Biotech companies, the FDA, the USDA and the regulatory bodies, with senior people in the FDA coming from the biotech industry and vice versa. As an example, Michael Taylor is Deputy Commissioner for Foods in the FDA yet in the 1980’s he had Monsanto as a client; in 1991 he moved to the FDA as Deputy Commissioner for Policy; between 1994 and 1996 he was Administrator of the Food Safety Inspection Service for the USDA; from 1996 to 2000 he was Vice President for Public Policy for Monsanto and in 2009 he returned to the FDA.
    If they wanted to generate distrust they couldn’t do better.

FDA is the US Food and Drugs Administration
USDA is the US Department of Agriculture

That is it. It is difficult not to assume a great deal of ‘leverage’ has been and is applied to the political system(s) and licensing bodies, not just in the US but around the world, which could be in many forms. Tom Vilsack is the US Secretary of Agriculture and it seems he has used Monsanto’s private jet but more on Mr Vilsack in Part 4.

It is frankly astonishing that given each & every item above, but perhaps particularly items II and VI, that authorities around the world have allowed any GM products to be grown let alone sold into either the animal or human food chains. The testing regime is not just lacking but abuses our trust.

Summary for Part 3

The truly sad thing is that in spite of it being certain from the start that the GM genes would escape into the natural environment, where they would do great damage and the Biotech Companies knew this, they were still produced and approved for planting. The genes cannot be recovered though the only reasonable course of action would be for the political systems around the world to demand that the biotech companies do what they can to retrieve the situation. At the very least the total assets of the biotech companies should be taken over by the state. If they are required to recover the escaped genes it will break them anyway. It is yet another case of global corporations dishonestly obtaining profit leaving the population at large to suffer the consequences. Even the product of national taxation isn’t sufficient to make reparations for all the damage done already let alone what is to come if it continues.

It was also certain that a huge amount of everlasting damage would be done to agricultural land by natural mutations reacting to the foreign organisms in the form of those dreadful superweeds and superpests. So it has proved to be.

The regulatory process for approving GM crops is unfit for purpose, as much the responsibility of the regulatory authorities around the world as the politicians – both meant to be there to protect the people.

Mike

In these next two Papers we will look at the most important facts about Genetic Agriculture; consider the independent scientific research and some empirical evidence from the growing use of GMO’s around the world.

It is a big ask, but as it is one of the most significant technologies of our time and as it can have enormous consequences for everybody involved and the global environment, it is time to produce some un-biased reports.

I will try to be careful with the use of language, not over-stating or under-stating anything, but most people ask me to say it how it is on any of these important subjects, so this will be forthright. It is the best I can do with the information I have available.

In reality there are now 3 forms of agriculture: Organic, Chemical and Genetically Modified.

The structure of this Paper:

We will not tangle with the scientific complexities of GM which would render it hard to read (and write) and more difficult to reach conclusions from. In this Paper we will consider each of the potential and claimed benefits of the technology and look at the realities after 20 years of development. The next Paper will cover the problems as there are too many issues to tackle in one Paper.

Each text section examines one benefit and ends with a straight conclusion about it.

The major questions about the benefits are:

  1. Does GM increase yields? Can it feed the growing world population when normal agriculture cannot?
  2. Does it improve the nutritional value of the crop?
  3. Are there any GM crops that confer other health benefits?
  4. Do the herbicidal resistant crops reduce the amount of herbicide applied?
  5. Do the pesticide resistant crops reduce the amount of pesticide?
  6. Do GM crops reduce the amount of energy used in agriculture?

Some Primary notes

Genetically Modified is shown as GM, GMO’s or Genetically Engineered.

GM plants tolerant of Roundup are called ‘Roundup Ready’ or designated RR.

The USDA = the United States Department of Agriculture.

FDA = the American Food and Drug Administration.

The Secretary of Agriculture in the US is currently Tom Vilsack.

Alfalfa is a legume or member of the pea family grown for animal feed.

Pathogen is an organism that causes disease.

***********

The Types of GM plants

There are just two traits genetically engineered into crops that account for the vast majority of all GM crops currently grown. One creates a herbicide tolerance in the plants by making them unaffected by glyphosate – the primary ingredient in Roundup. The other makes the plants insect resistant by adding a gene that kills bugs that eat it.

Glyphosate & the herbicide tolerant plants

What is glyphosate? It is the active chemical in the herbicide (weed killer) called Roundup, but there are other chemicals in ‘Roundup’ which help to carry the glyphosate into the target plants (surfactants). These can be highly toxic to both animals and humans but they also increase the toxicity of the glyphosate.

How does it work? Later we will find this important. It doesn’t kill the plants directly – it just severely restricts the plant’s ability to uptake nutrients – and nutrients are crucial for plant health, growth and life itself. The gene added simply keeps the plants’ defence systems working to stop the nutrient deficiency from killing it, but it doesn’t stop the crop plants absorbing the glyphosate so the nutrients are being tied up in those too.

The crops that kill pests

GM insect resistant crops have a toxic gene embedded in them from a soil bacterium (called Bacillus thuringiensis) and referred to as Bt. This causes every cell in the plant to contain the pesticide, or be the pesticide.

***********

The claimed benefits of GM crops

  1. Does GM increase yields? Can it feed the growing world population when normal agriculture cannot?

The biotech companies always claimed that GM cops will produce higher yields, and as they have had more than 20 years to produce such crops, it would be reasonable to assume yields are up and the farmers delighted – at least with their crops. It would be normal for the easiest problems to be solved first, so if yields will be increased they should be here.

As with everything biotech, the industry makes comparison confusing and always in favour of GM. To calculate the GM yield, the biotech companies take a selected basket of varieties of the crop to give the non-GM yield figure, which includes the lower yielding varieties giving an average yield for that crop – maybe. They normally ‘engineer’ the highest yielding variety, so are comparing the best variety modified with the crop average.

However even on this basis, nearly all GM crops underperform the non-GM crops simply measured by yield, seemingly with the sole exception of a maize which yields slightly higher – by weight – but that is not a fair comparison because of the above.

As so often with GM, when you research the so called ‘information’ you find the situation far from clear. Muddied would be a good description, which necessarily leads us to two questions ‘Why doesn’t the industry produce clear clean data?’ And ‘What is there to hide?’

Regardless of anything else, it is quite clear GM isn’t producing higher yielding crops. In fact it is generally producing lower yields.

  1. Does it improve the nutritional value of the crop?

This is the most astonishing thing I discovered about GM as I had always assumed the food value would be the same or better. Roundup Ready RR crops carry a nutritional penalty because glyphosate works in that unexpected way. When a plant absorbs the glyphosate (Roundup) it doesn’t poison the plant – it simply starves it of its nutrients, and without the nutrients, pathogens in the soil that the plant would normally live with happily – kill it. This is easily shown as if the soil is sterile (contains no pathogens) glyphosate has no effect. But here is the rub.

The implanted gene may stop the pathogens killing it, but the glyphosate enters the crop plants just as it enters the weeds. And guess what?

It reduces their nutrient intake too, making the crop nutrient deficient. The 3 nutrients most affected are manganese, zinc and iron, but copper, nitrogen, magnesium and others are seriously reduced as well. But how seriously reduced are they? After a few years of growing they can be down 50% with 30% to 70% as the range. Farmers and agronomists spend a lot of time and money trying to get the soil balance right, but with GMRR crops that no longer works.

It is easy to forget the plants we saw around us 50 to 100 years ago had evolved over hundreds of millions of years (the first land plants appeared about 400m years ago) so are perfectly evolved to live in the world we inherited including all the soil pathogens, the balance of nutrients in the soils, the amount of available water etc. When WE mess that up we induce stress in the plants and a stressed plant cannot grow well and may die. At the microbial level lots of things are interacting, and changing the relationship between the elements around the plants changes the stress in the plant, and that must and does affect the yield.

Studying GM in depth has been a mile a minute experience and a steep learning curve. I have always taken photosynthesis for granted (the means by which plants convert the sunlight into the energy the plant needs for growth) but Manganese is crucial to the photosynthetic process. Reduce the manganese through introducing glyphosate and you reduce the ability of the plant to photosynthesise normally. Both Soy and Wheat have high demands for manganese. Reduce the photosynthesis and you reduce the growth and yield. But there is yet another factor of even bigger importance.

Plants with reduced levels of nutrients don’t work as well as they should, and some research has found that for a given volume of available water, the reduced nutrient plants produce much less growth (biomass) – in some cases just half. Put another way, these would need much more water to produce the same crop, and in a world running short of water (and we very much are), that would be a devastating outcome. It would also radically impact the yields during drought which the US has just suffered across most of its crop land.

Apart from item 3 below, RR crops are less nutritious per kilo of crop than non GM crops, and none confer a nutritional benefit.

It is also clear that in the case of RR modified plants, the yield will be lower than for non-GM plants due to the greater stress the plants live under due to lower nutrient uptake. Lower yield and lower nutritional value doesn’t sound good and is clearly a dis-benefit rather than a benefit. Any animal (including us) consuming GM crops could therefore benefit from taking additional nutrients. It seems bizarre that a non-natural solution to agriculture is yet another scientific solution!

  1. Are there any GM crops that do confer other health benefits?

An interesting topic, and as usual everything becomes confused. As we will see part 3, modern ‘normal’ plant breeding has surpassed what GM has possibly produced, and I say ‘possibly’ as biotech industry claims seem mostly to be overstated or false.

I don’t think there are any commercialised GM crops being grown that are claimed to help or solve any health problem, but there have been some attempts. Here are a couple of examples:

Vitamin A rich ‘Golden Rice’: This GM variety was announced with great aplomb in the year 2000, designed, we were told, to solve Vitamin A deficiency in the East. What they didn’t tell us was that people needed to eat about 1½ kilos of it every day, or about 20 times as much as they would normally eat. Not enough rice in the world and nobody’s stomach big enough. Needless to say it didn’t catch on. Another GM Golden Rice was produced in 2005 that had 20 times as much Vitamin A, but it grows so badly nobody will grow it.

The best and cheapest way to provide Vitamin A is through supplements. If the biotech companies had funded Vitamin A supplements rather than doing the research they would have saved a huge amount of money and helped the people they said they wanted to help! A win win.

‘Cancer fighting’ Purple Tomatoes: Another hyped GM launch we were told had many health benefits including a reduction in the probability of getting certain cancers. The gene added in the tomatoes produced an antioxidant (anthocyanin), but there is a debate in the medical profession about the impact of this antioxidant, which some argue may even have the opposite effect. Since this tomato was created, normal breeding has anyway produced a tomato with higher levels of antioxidant, rendering the GM crop obsolete. You haven’t seen it.

I am not aware of nor can I find any other GM crop which is even claimed to confer a health benefit.

Here is the reality: We have evolved to be fit and healthy living in the environment we evolved in. You only have to spend time with some of the world’s tribal peoples to recognise what healthy living is, and it doesn’t involve chemicals or manufactured foods. Our health is compromised when we scientifically alter the environment we live in; the food we eat, the water we drink or the air we breathe. We don’t need additives and supplements if we live properly and eat across the range of good natural foods. We don’t need GM plants modified to improve our health, as this is effectively saying we need a scientifically produced food to counteract the scientific environment we are forced to live in.

So far, after 20 years of GM research and development, there are no viable health focussed crops being grown.

  1. Do GM RR crops reduce the amount of herbicide applied?

This is an easy one. The use of herbicides (weed killers) particularly Roundup has increased very significantly, and as time goes by the amount being used is increasing still further. This is an example of why short term research on GM must not be used. It might have been possible in year one to use a little less herbicide, but that would have been improper research and led to incorrect conclusions.

It is a bit odd to ever have imagined less herbicide would be used. I mean, if the crops tolerate Roundup, the farmers will happily spray it to control the weeds which they cannot do if it would kill the crop. But it is so much worse for at least three reasons:

  1. With GMRR crops the farmers are able to spray the crop at any time, so they do. Why is that surprising? It is what Monsanto wanted.
  2. The famers have found another reason to spray their fields with Glyphosate when they grow RR crops. Just before harvest they often spray the fields again to remove all the unwanted growth, making it easier and cheaper to harvest the crop. It even has a name – ‘Burn down’. Now if Monsanto meant the agricultural system to use less Roundup they could push to stop this – but a sale is a sale and 10% of all Monsanto’s income comes from Roundup. It is not Monsanto’s way to encourage people not to buy their products. They are not trying to improve the environment but to increase sales and profits.
  3. For reasons that will become extremely obvious later (I am simply trying to consider the positives first so prefer to leave the explanation till later), ever stronger concentrations of the herbicide are being used and some are becoming extremely strong. Just a doubling of the concentration doubles the amount used.

No, there is not a reduction but a significant increase in the herbicide being used! More not less chemicals in the environment.

  1. Do GM pesticide resistant crops reduce the amount of pesticide around?

I confess to being slightly devious with the wording of this question though not a fraction as devious as the biotech industry, and there is a sound reason.

We have seen that every cell of these crops actually becomes a herbicide which is obvious when we think about it as no matter which part the insect or animal bites – they will be taking in the pesticide.

You may wonder what that means for anything that eats the plant but that is in the next Paper.

There is some reduction in the application of pesticides simply because the plants have become pesticides, massively outweighed by the additional application of the herbicides, but each and every GM pest resistant plant is itself a pesticide factory. There is therefore a vast increase in the amount of ‘pesticide’ in the environment, though much of it is in the plants themselves. This wouldn’t matter much IF the pesiticidal plant left nothing behind and nothing ate the plants. But they are ‘crops’, nearly all grown to be eaten either directly by us or by animals which we then eat, so it does matter.

The answer then is slightly less pesticide is applied (though not greatly less) but there is much more of it in the environment.

  1. Do GM crops reduce the amount of energy used in agriculture?

It was an early biotech argument that GM agriculture would use less energy, but that assumed all the other claims would turn out to be the reality. If less chemical is applied then less energy is used applying them but as we now know – more applications are occurring with even more coming. GM agriculture is therefore more energy intensive rather than less.

For the moment we can at least say the energy used has not decreased.

Summary for Part 2

I had always assumed there would be a number of benefits from GM crops, but knew there were dis-benefits. I therefore thought the decision would depend on the balance between these two, though it wasn’t personally difficult to conclude right from the start that the risks with GM were huge. This was because the release of GM organisms into the natural environment would have unknown consequences which could be terrible.

While the Biotech industry led us at the start to believe there were numerous benefits with GM, the reality is that any there may have been have vaporised, and with each new development that situation isn’t changing.

We clearly have to wait to discover what dis-benefits there are and how large those are, but it is looking like a one way debate.

Mike

First, what is it and how does it differ from what we had before?

We are frequently told by the biotech industry there is nothing new with Genetically Modified (or Engineered) technology – that man has been doing this since forever – so first we need to understand what happens naturally; what man has done through human history, and what GM is. It is important to know the differences there are.

First – Natural development before man

This is evolution, which either involves mutations that occur naturally or a plant (or animal) crossing with another in the same family to produce a new form of that family. This will flourish if it better suits its environment, or die out if it doesn’t. It is a slow process, producing new life forms that inhabit environments that best suit them. Interestingly it is evolution that has altered all life to keep up with the changing climate through history, though that ability to adapt and regenerate is about to be sorely tested.

In the case of the Pines, evolution produced the Scots Pine for Scotland, the Stone (or Umbrella) Pine for the north Mediterranean coast and the Monterey Pine for California but they are all in the Pine family ‘Pinus’.

picture of a Scots Pine tree
picture of a Stone Pine tree
Scots Pine on the left
Stone Pine above
Monterey Pine on the right

Picture of a Monterey Pine tree

While the family similarities can clearly be seen, they are obviously different.

In the case of the hugely important grasses, ultimately the source of most food on the planet, Emmer wheat evolved and Spelt wheat evolved from it after crossing naturally with Goats Grass. But that was over 10,000 years ago.

picture of Wild Emmer wheat
Elmmer
+

+

picture of jointed Goats Grass
Goats Grass
=

=

picture of growing spelt
Spelt

Emmer wheat, the ancestor of all modern wheats, was the first cultivated grain ‘farmed’ around 12,000 years ago in the Tigris/ Euphrates region in the Fertile Crescent.

In the case of animals, the wolf and wild dogs (like the Australian Dingo) evolved and again we can see clearly how similar they are – though again quite different.

picture of a grey wolf
The Grey Wolf
picture of an Australian dingo
The Australian Dingo

The first man-made developments

Human selection

From the earliest days of agriculture man has selected stronger forms of a plant (or animal) that evolved, and grew (or bred) them en masse where he wanted them, usually for food. This is what he did with Emmer wheat.

Later on we learnt how to cross fertilise plants, so we could take a wheat and cross it with another member of the grass family to produce a different wheat or grass. We would spread that if and when it had a benefit to man, but discard it if it didn’t. In this way new ‘ever better’ (as far as man was concerned) strains of plant were produced but it was always within a family.

picture of einkorn wheat

The image here is of Einkorn wheat which was farmed along with Emmer from about 7,500 years ago. Interestingly, although it does contain gluten, it is in a different format from modern wheats and may be tolerated by those with a gluten intolerance.

Modern wheats don’t look so different BUT we have developed them to grow on very short stems allowing them to about double the yields.

In Central America early man developed another wild grass about 7,000 years ago called ‘Teosintle’ maize. The two images here show the early plant and its cob.

Now compare those with what man has created from that below. This was originally achieved by selecting the better plants, and more recently by cross fertilising, but it always involved ‘improving’ the family plant.

picture of wild teosintle maizepicture of wild maze cobs
Teosintle Maize and cob
picture of yellow maize
Modern maize cob

If we are to understand what we have done before GM, in order to compare that with GM, we should also look at an animal, and here we will take the dog as an example as we all know dogs. From the early days of man stopping being a hunter gatherer and settling down with agriculture, and actually somewhat before that (around 15,000 years ago), we domesticated the grey wolf shown above. By the same means we then produced a variety of dogs which to this day has produced the enormous range we now have. But each time it was within the dog family. Here are some of the animals we have ‘created’ from that original Grey Wolf:

picture of alaskan malamutepicture of sandcoloured sloughi picture of a Greyhound/Rhodesian Ridgeback cross
picture of a bull dogpicture of a short haired dachshundpicture of an aishia
picture of a silver miniature poodlepicture of a staffordshire bull terrierpicture of a maltese dogpicture of a kerry blue terrier
picture of a Greyhound/Rhodesian Ridgeback crosspicture of a pair of dogs

Top left is the Alaskan malamute which is clearly closely related to the wolf but all the rest bar 2 are breeds man has created by selective breeding. It is pretty amazing that we have ‘produced’ all these from a single species with most of them being for our pleasure. The two other images are of my dog which is not a breed but a cross. As she was a rescue I don’t know her parentage but we think she is a Greyhound/Rhodesian Ridgeback cross.

Modern horticulture has also taken the practice to extremes. We can see that when our pleasure is involved there is almost no end to what we will create, producing plants that bloom in forms quite unavailable from natural evolution, in places they couldn’t have survived and at times they couldn’t have flowered. All we have to do is to find the species plants and we see the difference. Here we will look at the Clematis starting with a wild species on the left, a species next and modern plants after that:

picture of the Clematis aristata flower

Clematis aristata on the left

Clematis species ‘leatherflower’ on the right

Modern hybrids below

picture of the clematis leatherflower flower

picture of clematis diamantina flowerspicture of clematis floridasiepicture of clematis asao flowers

But all too often this human selective process has produced plants and animals that while ‘better’ (a subjective term) in some ways, are weaker in others. Left to nature these weaker life forms would have died out and we often have to struggle to keep them going.

This is also abundantly clear with many pedigree dogs, several having severe handicaps in one way or another but man ‘likes’ them. We have questions to answer even before the advent of GM but everything so far has at least been produced without the Genetic Modification process.

A Modern man-made half way development

Mutation Breeding

Before genetic engineering arrived we had and have ‘Mutation breeding’. Man being man, when we understood new forms of plants can arise when natural mutations occur, we worked out a way to increase the chances that would happen. Any mutation is a genetic change in the DNA, so by bombarding seeds with radiation or what are called ‘mutagenic’ chemicals – we can increase the probability of mutations occurring.

This process, which can damage perhaps 50,000 cells/day, was discovered around 1940 but we have no way of predicting what the result will be as the bombardment is random. This can be seen from the photo of a ‘mutation factory’ in Japan (below). From all the mutations that occur most are of no value but occasionally one may be useful – according to the scientists. Having altered the DNA, while we may see a benefit from a resulting ‘plant’, it may of course have one or more dis-benefits from other alterations we don’t at first see. As an example, the resulting plant may have cancer forming properties which we won’t see for many years. Or it may be all good. We and they don’t and cannot know.

picture of mutation breeding in a field

A powerful radioactive source in the centre of this field hammers surrounding plants with gamma rays.

This treatment induces random damage to DNA that results in new genetic variation.

As with everything man does that can increase the wealth of those doing it, those benefitting at best ignore the negative impacts the rest of us will suffer; often conceal the damage it will do, sometimes blatantly miss-inform or frankly lie about the impacts. This is a truism that has played out and does play out continuously, as with the farcical presentation of the Chief Execs of all the tobacco companies who testified to Congress that smoking cannot do you any harm and doesn’t cause cancer.

Much more recently the Banking industry developed products that were roulette gone mad, but as if everything went well the Bankers won, and if all went pear shaped – they wouldn’t lose – they sold them until the pear shape blew. Don’t imagine the huge multi-national Biotech Corporations won’t and don’t do the same as they now have a monster investment in GM technology and plan to win or dominate at any cost. We will see in the main Paper what they get up to.

With Mutation breeding the life forms created can be really dangerous, but this situation has been largely ignored by the regulators in spite of the enormous potential hazards of the process. Fortunately it hasn’t been a productive process so there haven’t been many plants produced. Interestingly and I quote, “many studies and reports that recommend radiation-induced mutation breeding are sponsored by organisations that promote nuclear energy” – GMO Myths & Truths.
What a surprise.

Mutation breeding is changing the genetic structure of the plant but it is at least done to the genes within the plant.

Modern knowledge based plant development

This works in exactly the same way as ‘Man-made development’ explained above but with one important difference. We are now able to know what genes in a plant are of interest to us, so rather than cross all sorts of plants to see what we get, we are able to be much more selective. We can choose which two plants to cross, exactly as explained above (for example two potatoes) where we already know one has a gene (or genes) we want in the other. This means we can develop plants much more quickly with exactly the traits we want, but it only involves using the plant family we want to ‘improve’ and only with conventional plant breeding so it could have happened but would have taken longer. This in turn means the lengthy trial and error process is avoided.

We will see the results of this later compared with GM products.

Genetic modification

After we had a much better understanding of both DNA and genetics, it became possible to identify genes that do something in particular, and in this case something we would like from any life form – a plant or animal. From this followed the idea of inserting these genes that have a characteristic we want, into plants or animals we want them in.

But here is the difference: The genes that have the characteristic we want don’t have to come from the plant (or animal) family we want to change. They can come from any living thing – plant, animal, virus, bacteria or even human. Anything. It could be a hundred million year old plankton. It could even be a dinosaur if the gene can be extracted!

The very fact they take genes from other than the plant (or animal) family they are trying to ‘engineer’ means the genes they want are not already in that family. By definition this means they are making a living organism that could not have occurred in nature. It is a true ‘bastard’. The very fact the scientists and biotech companies tell you they are doing nothing different, by itself should raise every alarm system there is. If they cannot be honest about this – where else does honesty take a back seat?

For the first time in human history, man can ‘make’ life forms that could not have evolved.

That is one huge difference.

If this is or becomes acceptable there is no reason whatever why we shouldn’t genetically modify anything with anything and what rule would then limit how much genetic change should be inflicted on anything. Is this scaremongering? No. It is fact. Who is going to lay down a law that has some arbitrary limit on what can be genetically engineered and how much genetic change can be used in any one case? One gene? A hundred? 10,000? This is an escalator to a pseudo world where scientists decide what life forms they want to make.

Science is creeping and becoming creepy – but that is a personal opinion. There is a question beginning to appear – just because we can do something, should we always be allowed to do it? The scientists argue that each development is small so isn’t that much different from anything already around and should therefore be allowed. The outcome of this argument is that everything will always be allowed provided the scientists call each change ‘small’.

Given we seem to want some bizarre changes to all sorts of things – dogs for example – why wouldn’t someone decide they want one that glows in the dark? Surely this could be done by inserting one or more genes taken from a glow worm or jelly fish or other life form that can fluoresce. Then we could find Fido in the dark.

picture of glofish in an aquariumHow about a Genetically Modified fish for aquariums!!!!!! Already done and here they are: Called GloFish; they are patented and trademarked to make lots of profit out of them.

These are ‘owned’ by Yorktown Technologies which is of course an American Company and the public release of them was approved by the FDA – the US Food and Drug Administration that we will be reading much more about in the main Paper. As it is a tropical fish, sooner or later it will escape into wild waters probably in Florida, and a GM fish, that has no use whatsoever, will have entered the natural environment.

picture of a GM luminous rabbitWhat about a bunny that glows in the dark? Funny that. Eduardo Kac, a French artist, decided he would like one so French geneticist Louis- Marie Houdebine produced one. She inserted a double dose of the GFP gene from the jellyfish (Aequorea victoria) into a rabbit and here it is:
What about some chickens? Well we can see what normal hybrids (mine here) look like and some GM birds.
picture of gm chickenspicture of modern hybrid chickens

For the first time in human history, man has made animal life forms that could not have evolved.

I can see a ‘Cog’ coming. After all, why not cross a cat with a dog? With sufficient gene transfer a very odd animal would result and someone, somewhere, would want one. Unless stopped, someone somewhere will do that.

The previous development of life forms couldn’t mix up the genes from different ones, so while the biotech companies argue and even say genetic alteration is not new, and therefore genetic engineering does not need additional regulation – to almost everybody on the planet except those in the biotech companies – this is a totally different way of producing new plants and animals and as an absolute minimum needs heavy regulation.

So how do they actually do it?

They would have us believe it is a very targeted operation with known outcomes, yet the truth is about as far away from that as is possible, as we are about to see:

  1. The plant being modified has millions of cells produced in a culture.
  2. These are then either:
    1. Bombarded with the gene they want to ‘insert’ using a gene gun, or
    2. Bombarded with genes linked to an element of DNA in a soil bacterium called Agrobacterium tumefaciens. This helps insert the genes into the plant’s DNA cells.
    3. Note: the gene is normally engineered to carry an antibiotic with it.

    picture
    Sounds fantastic? Well, here is a gene gun! Think you could hit the target when it is a DNA strand? No. It should be called a ‘gene scatter gun’ or ‘gene lottery device’.

  3. The now possibly modified plant cells are grown on into plants, but the scientists have no idea what they have done or what genetic and other changes have occurred (if any) to any of the resulting plants.
  4. Weak plants are eliminated (wonder where they all go) and the stronger plants tested to find those with high levels of the inserted gene. This is done by using that antibiotic, as the ‘products’ are then subjected to a pathogen the antibiotic protects against. Surviving cells should therefore have the antibiotic and the target gene in them.
  5. These are then grown on as candidates for the commercial market.

What possible implications are there from the process?

The insertion process is completely random and the position in which the gene inserted can be anywhere within the plants normal genetic structure. This may stop the original function of the gene; alter it, or change when it does it (see epigenes below).

Umpteen genetic changes could and almost certainly have occurred apart from the one desired, and there is no knowing what effect any of these will or could have either on the plant, the wider environment or the consumers of the plants – human or animal. Before they could be tested the bio-technicians would have to know what they had changed, but The GM plants produced may contain hundreds or thousands of mutations throughout their DNA. They would have to test the effect of all those (unknown) combinations. That isn’t possible and they know it.

The modification could have altered the genes that impact on disease or pest resistance (as plants have evolved natural defences over huge periods of time) so they may have weakened the original plants. They could have altered the nutritional value; drought resistance; crop productivity; made them toxic or allergenic – it is a long and serious list. And there are many more possible effects but that is enough for now.

It isn’t a precise science. It is a very imprecise science. They don’t and cannot know what they have produced and cannot know if a GM plant is safe to eat or safe in the environment. All they can do is put it into the agricultural system and see what happens – which is what they have done and are doing courtesy of the regulators.

Epigenes

Not often talked about but these turn out to be extremely important when considering Genetic Modification, so what are they?

The DNA in every living organism contains the genes that define that living organism and determine the various traits it has. But how strongly will each gene be made to work and when will it work? Attached to the genes are epigenes which are effectively the control panels for the genes. They decide when the genes are turned on or off and the degree of activity each gene will be involved in.

If the epigenes are altered, even though the genes may be the same, their performance will be changed. They may do what they did after different triggers; inactive genes may become active; active genes may become inactive, or the level of activity may change.

The process of altering a plant’s genes can alter its epigenes, so even the unaltered genes may behave differently, and genes added may also not do exactly what they might have been expected to do if their epigenes have been altered. In plain English it is a bit of a can of worms and is a further complication of the GM process.

Summary

The information here is critical to a basic understanding of the GM process and the effects on resulting plants (or animals). It is clearly not just a simple process for making new plants, very similar to everything man has done before, but is way more complex with no certainty of the outcome. Equally, nobody can know exactly what the GM plant will and won’t do without growing it, and the long term effects are impossible to know until they have been in the environment and the food chain for a very long time.

In the next Paper we will consider the realities of GM agriculture – the good and the bad. The technology is very new in agricultural terms as the first GM crops were only introduced in 1994, so the complete history is only 18 years but starts with the single maize crop engineered to be Roundup Resistant.

We should then be able to reach a conclusion about whether we want GM crops grown at all, and if we are OK with that if we want to consume such products, first or second hand (by eating an animal fed on it or anything produced from an animal fed on it). I think and hope it will be an informative journey.

Mike

Is it effective or not?

In this Paper firstly we consider the problems of designing underfloor heating systems, showing why they are hugely and unnecessarily expensive to install, and then explain why they are also expensive to operate – much more expensive than conventional systems.

The implications of the higher thermal mass in the floors are then considered and the ‘best’ heating systems for houses explained and shown.

We have seen in another Paper that solid timber flooring can be laid over Underfloor Heating without any problems at all, but that doesn’t address the basic question – is underfloor a good way to heat a building?

Tranquility has underfloor laid throughout but it is never used. Why? Because it is extremely inefficient. It costs more to run and emits more carbon than the alternative. If I want the house heated for an evening I have to turn it on at least 24 hours earlier. If the sun then comes out or the weather warms or plans change, all that heat is wasted. Too much hassle and horribly inefficient.

I too was persuaded during the design process it was the most efficient way to heat the building, but as Tranquility was designed and engineered to require very little additional heating, there were clear difficulties right from the start.

With an estimated annual heating cost (in 2004) of £40, I was astonished to be quoted £24,000 to install a system. Madness! £24,000 to emit £40! Asking how that made sense, I was greeted with a very long silence and told the design software has no options for different heat loads!

I was fortunate enough to have a Sponsor company who asked if I knew how to design a system for the house as they couldn’t. Having said “Yes” the layouts and installation solutions were left to me which resulted in only 660m of pipe being used rather than apparently the 2,600m I was told they would have used. Some of the rooms are piped at 900mm centres, some at 600mm, 450mm, 300mm and 150mm – to discover how each worked. I have also used different solutions to spread the heat. The fact is that every room heats perfectly no matter what is laid beneath it, a bit of a surprise.

The ‘One size fits all’ problem

No matter how much heat you need there is one underfloor heating solution – 150mm pipe centres (for 15mm or 16mm pipes) with loads of pipe, lots of circuits and a very high installation cost. It makes no difference what temperature you want the room at or how much heat any individual room needs – the solution is always the same. Odd when you understand that properly designed alternative systems calculate, room by room, how much heat each one needs and a heat emitter installed to supply that. Why should underfloor be any different?

In a world running out of resources, it is also a very retrograde step to use a single consumptive solution which of necessity has to provide for the biggest heat loads ever wanted for a room with that floor area. Every design solution is therefore over engineered – by definition.

For those with really old cottages, or houses that leak heat horribly, it is one thing, but if you have worked to improve the thermal performance of the building why should you spend so much to install such an over-engineered solution? Consider:

  • Double glazing loses less than half the heat of single glazing.
  • Filled cavity walls lose a fraction of what unfilled cavities do, and all solid walls are much worse. 2ft wide stone walls are not efficient but they do have huge thermal mass.
  • Well insulated roofs (350mm is optimal) lose a tiny fraction of what un-insulated ones do.
  • Very insulated ground floors can lose next to nothing (mine score zero).
  • Internal walls lose ‘nothing’ while external walls depend on their insulation value as above. Rooms with one external wall therefore need very little heat compared with those with 3.
  • High ventilation rooms (bathrooms) lose much heat which other rooms (halls) don’t.
  • Higher temperature rooms (sitting rooms) need more heat than lower temperature ones (bedrooms).
  • A two storey room needs a lot more than a normal one.

How is it then that underfloor designs are the same everywhere? It must be clear the layouts produced are the quick and easy design solutions making the installation hugely more expensive than necessary and using the maximum material.

The only thing underfloor heating design sort of takes account of is room size, as the floor area is proportional to that.

How does heat move?

In order to know how best to work with heat we need to understand some scientific facts – but don’t worry – we are not going technical but it is important.

  • Heat will always move from a warmer material to a cooler one no matter what the material is – solid, liquid or gas.
  • It only moves in 3 ways:
    • Conduction
    • Radiation
    • Convection

Conduction: Heat will simply move through any material from warmer to cooler parts of it no matter the direction which is important. There is a simple test you can do to show this. Boil a kettle and taking a saucepan (thicker bottomed will demonstrate better) pour some in. Quickly put your hand underneath and you will feel it warming, but be careful in case it gets quite hot. The heat moved from the top surface to the bottom very quickly didn’t it! Conduction at work.

Radiation: All the heat arriving on Earth is radiation coming all the way from the sun, but hold your hand in front of a hot radiator and you can feel horizontally radiated heat. Lift a boiling saucepan (DON’T spill anything) and hold your hand close underneath. Feel the heat? That is radiated downwards so heat radiates in all directions equally.

Convection: Now we do have a heat transfer that only goes upwards but it is the only one that does. If you know of lava lamps (in which coloured oils move upwards from the light bulb), that demonstrates it, but for a bit of fun (and to teach any children) put some cold water in a glass jug, casserole or bowl that can be heated directly (Pyrex can be). Very carefully dribble a little food colouring down one side and let it settle on the bottom on one side, or better still get a tiny bit of potassium permanganate crystal from the chemist and drop that down one side. Then warm the water mostly on the side with the colour and watch what happens. Convection at work which shows it only goes upwards.

What does this mean for underfloor heating?

A lot, because the heat source is not in the room – it is under it. The heat radiated and conducted from the pipes goes down as strongly as it goes up, but down isn’t of any use unless it can then be made to come back up. This may come as a surprise as we tend to think heat only goes up, but what about the convected heat that does go up?

No heat can be convected off the heat source – the pipes – because they are not in the room and not in a free moving air space. The air immediately above the floor will convect upwards when it has been warmed but not before, so as the heating is turned on, depending on the elements in and under the floor, nearly all of it is being used within and under the floor

I could consider all the technical specifications but that would take a lot of space, so a few points:

  1. The heat being radiated downwards can mostly be sent back up if there is a shiny reflective surface somewhere below the pipes. Mirror stainless reflects some 99% but only while it is a clean surface. The shiny side of aluminium foil would reflect over 90%, but if any shiny surface degrades over time (e.g. dust) and cannot be cleaned, the performance rapidly degrades too.
  2. As the sub floor warms it too radiates heat, so a reflective surface needs to be underneath that. It is complex because as the foil warms up, it will also radiate heat away, so it needs to be in the coolest place. There is advice around to use a foil backed polyurethane foam as an ‘in floor’ insulant but the gas in the foam can migrate which, when gone, halves its insulation value and it is very expensive. Cheaper to buy polystyrene and use kitchen foil.
  3. You don’t want two reflective layers as any radiation between them keeps bouncing off them until it gets past one.
  4. If there is an air void under the floor, this will be ventilated to outside, so all the heat reaching that will be lost.

We can therefore see that all the mass in the floor will be heated, even if it is a solid concrete slab under the insulants, and the longer the heating is on the greater will be the heat absorbed down there. Heat will escape from the sub floor if the outside walls are even within 4 metres, so don’t think it will all come up again.

Underfloor Heating Factors

There are some important things to know when you use underfloor heating:

  1. The system is designed to be turned on in the autumn when heating is first wanted, and off in late spring. This means the boiler (if used as the heat source) will be on all the time! It is impossible to consider heating continuously with a permanently fired boiler to be efficient. In all honesty that is about as far from the optimal solution as it is possible to get.
  2. Rooms are not normally individually thermostatically controlled.
  3. It is unresponsive, taking time before serious heat is emitted if turned on from cold – i.e. on and off – but there is always a long time lag.
    The floors are a significant thermal store, absorbing a lot of heat before emitting. So long as the heating is permanently on it won’t matter, but that isn’t how best to heat any space.

Heating Facts

To maintain the temperature in a space: heat in = heat lost. (Heat in includes solar gain).

The heat lost is proportional to the temperature difference between inside and out.

The most effective heating system must therefore heat only the spaces needing heating; only for the time they need heating and only raise them to the temperature needed.

To be efficient, a heating system must apply heat quickly and not emit it when not needed.

Every deviation from that increases the energy used; the cost to the consumer and the amount of carbon emitted.

How well can an underfloor system do that?

So to be efficient, a heating system must apply heat quickly and not emit it when not needed.

How well can an underfloor system do that?

To a little extent it depends on the way it is installed but with certainty none can do it well and none is designed to:

  • In order to cool the house through the night, the heating would have to be turned off hours if not half a day or a day before the evening. First you would have to know how long it took to cool down and heat up, and then activate the change that far ahead of when the temperature change is wanted. But even knowing that, the heat emitted slows down as the floors cool down – and speeds up as the floors warm up. It does not stop when you turn it off or start when you turn it on. Clearly that makes it impossible to vary room temperatures, not just effectively but at all – except long term changes by altering the set temperature. [Note: IF there are thermostats in every room linked through to flow control valves on each circuit – then rooms can be set to run at different temperatures but these will be constant].
  • This produces an interesting if unwanted effect.
    The detailed explanation is in Appendix 1, but briefly the floors emit least heat when the house needs it most, and most heat when the house needs it least. It almost perfectly amplifies the problem. Mad.
    Effectively the heat wanted at 6 a.m. may be coming from the floors at 2 p.m. No matter what the delay – it is doing exactly the wrong thing.
  • Many installations (if not most) don’t have individual room thermostats, so as will now be clear these are especially inefficient, but even with separate thermostats, all the above points apply.
  • Now let’s take the situation where the weather has improved and heating isn’t really required, but bear in mind that the sun makes us feel warmer so when it is out we may be comfortable with a slightly lower temperature. Do we turn the heating off? With underfloor heating the answer is no. And even if it is turned off – all the heat in the floors continues to come into the house – but given it takes so long to get heat back out again generally it is left on.

We can therefore see that underfloor heating is necessarily and by definition, very inefficient. Starting from scratch, you would never design a heating system like this.

What about energy efficient buildings?

All the factors above apply but more so because the heat required is much more variable, often going to zero. Conventional systems can and do respond but underfloor heating systems simply cannot.

Further, the more efficient the house, the bigger the inefficiency of an underfloor system. This is so sad for people who have spent much time and money improving the performance of their houses only to end up with the worst heating system possible for them because of unqualified advice.

Heating cost and cost effectiveness

Clearly having a heating system running continuously is extremely inefficient, not least because the boiler and pipe runs from it to where the heat is needed are constantly hot and constantly losing heat. However, if you use a condensing boiler – beware again. You may be assuming the boiler is running at the quoted efficiency figures of around 90 to 94%. Unfortunately not, as those figures only apply when the boiler is running in condensing mode which it only does when the flow and return temperatures have a big difference between them. With the systems running 24/7 this will almost never happen so you will have the same efficiency as conventional boilers, BUT condensing boilers have a very much shorter life and are much more expensive

Depending on how it is designed and used, the annual cost will vary considerably but I am told by some who have it that it costs about 25% more per annum than previous systems – which of course doesn’t surprise me. I feel very sorry for the buying public because the information in this Paper is not generally known and as with nearly all products – ‘Buyer Beware’ – don’t trust what you are told by anybody selling products.

What with the heat supplied by a Heat Pump?

Underfloor heating with a GSHP and (engineered flooring) is a constantly marketed ‘solution’ but is the worst option of all, as many have found out. Every element of this is Red – or the opposite of Green. It saves no operating cost (or carbon) compared with gas if gas is available, and a very small amount if oil is used, but costs a very significant additional amount of money to install – see the White paper which explains this in detail: Ground Source Heat Pumps. The cost of installing this combination is between substantial and huge, not good news when the annual operating cost will go up as will the amount of carbon emitted.

The Impact of Climate Change

From the point of view of this Paper we needn’t assume the climate is changing – just ‘What if it is and significantly?’ From other Papers on this web site I argue and show that it is, and that we have no options but to drive for a zero carbon economy and not some futuristic modest reduction in emissions. Given how inefficient these underfloor systems are, when we understand the scale of the climate problem, they should be the first to be simply permanently turned off. We have one customer who has installed such a system (though an electric one) and he has already found he cannot afford to use it. I am trying to help him with a viable alternative.

I am constantly concerned about the amount of money being invested in very short term projects, and for the investors it is really bad news if an expensive system will be used for just a few years.

Why is it so commonly fitted?

I don’t know, but it is frustrating for those of us working to reduce global energy and carbon. Call it fashion or the latest ‘must have’, but only a few years ago domestic wind turbines were in every exhibition, and even the official advisory groups were recommending we fit them. Now where are they? Gone, and sadly those who fitted them either have them as proof that many things don’t work, or have removed them. The same is happening with Ground Source Heat pumps and will happen to the other products that are of no value. The Papers on this web site are written without fear or favour representing a completely honest and unprejudiced analysis.

But there is another reason. I used to lecture in a centre that was meant to be an independent advisor for the self-build industry and always to a packed hall. One Sunday morning after arriving to give my talk I was asked/told to moderate/remove my section on Ground Source Heat Pumps as one of their members sold them. I asked if I was being shackled and was told “Really, yes”. It took me less than 20 seconds to tell them I would not lecture unless I could tell the truth, and as they wouldn’t budge I walked out and haven’t been back. Sad that the profit of a single member should go above honesty, integrity and the pockets of their customers. I also offered my work to the publisher for the Building Research Establishment, but to no avail even though the BRE was still fitting roof turbines at that time. I lectured in Earls Court again to a big audience, but offering to speak the following year I was told I had to pay to be an exhibitor as only exhibitors could lecture. Clearly the notion of integrity has no place in business.

It is very difficult to challenge what seems to be conventional wisdom especially when promulgated by most in the building industry (who earn a lot by installing these things), and thinking through why it isn’t efficient is quite a task isn’t it!

So what is the solution or best option?

The System: ‘Best’ is unquestionably a system that can deliver heat quickly where wanted and when wanted, so a hot water based system it is. This gives the lowest cost; most efficient and least carbon emitting option, so then using the best local energy option for heating the water is the simple choice.

I hear you saying “not radiators again” but of course there are different ways to emit the heat. I also hear you say “I haven’t the wall space and I don’t like the look of them” and on both issues I so agree. But skirting heating options aren’t great so I set about solving both problems – wall space and visual impact. It is possible to use small hot water coils with the heat being circulated by fans blowing through the coils, and these can be at floor level – for example under kitchen units.

Having a long standing belief we can always live with beauty around us if we choose to, the ‘heat emitter’ challenge was interesting. Let’s cut to the chase and show what I have used:

  • dual wide tube vertical radiatorquad narrow tube vertical radiator
  • four panel flat vertical radiatorladder style bathroom vertical radiator
  • horizontal flat panel radiator with vertical panelseight narrow square tube vertical radiator

Design is personal so thankfully we don’t all like the same things, but I find the above truly great to look at AND they use little wall space. And I still love looking at all of them.

We seem to think we must use the same everywhere, but I only repeat one radiator design here as you can see. Visitors seeing the two vertical red tubes (kitchen) usually don’t know what they are, which says something about the visual image, and most say they love them. The stainless finish (office) is as supplied, but all the others were professionally coated in Stroud. Going vertical with style solves both the space and visual impact problems, but these radiators are more expensive per kw.hr of output. However, the saving from the installation cost of an underfloor system swamps this additional cost and it is your choice.

To further show how we can have beautiful things around us even if they have to be functional, here are some rolling pins, chopping boards and a dining table.

  • Three rolling pins with handlesdetail of rolling pin
  • A tranquility chopping boardA Tranquility dining table

So to answer the original question –

Underfloor Heating is not an efficient system to install in a house.

Mike (Hillard)

Appendix 1:

The house thermostat is controlling the flow valves, so as night comes on; the external temperature drops – the heat lost goes up – so the valves open up. By about 6 in the morning the heat lost is greatest so the flow is maximised though the night and the floors reach their highest temperatures. But this is just when the external temperatures are rising with the morning light and when the heat demand is reducing.
These systems push out most heat when least needed and least when most needed! Or technically they amplify the natural temperature range. And of course the same is true of changing sunshine levels and weather changes. As the heat needed drops there is a long delay before the systems respond, and if the lag is 8 hours the house will be doing exactly the opposite of what you want – and you pay for that.

Temperature Impacts & Carbon Dioxide

Having looked in Part 1 at the frequency and size of extreme weather events, we now need to look at temperatures to see if any changes there also suggest a warming world, and then at changes induced by changing temperatures. The most logical thing to look at is temperature itself, but while we are conventionally shown the mean global temperature chart since about 1850 (which is below), why don’t we first consider what high and low temperature records are being broken? After all, if we have a warmer climate, high records might be being broken.

Temperature

World High Temperature Records – set in 2010

Russia – near the Caspian Saudi Arabia Sudan
Russia – near Vladivostok Pakistan Niger
Iraq Kuwait Myanmar
Qatar (world cup football venue) Belarus Cyprus
Chad Finland Ukraine

And now the low temperatures and guess what? Look at where they were:

World Low Temperature Records – set in 2010

Cumbria N Ireland  

There were 15 record highs covering much of the planet and only 2 record lows but these lows were here and maybe caused by the warmer world. Perhaps I should explain the possible connection but so often with climate it is neither simple nor does what the weather does appear logical.

[In the warming Arctic there is now about 6M sq kms less summer sea ice; the additional 6M sq kms of ocean surface absorbs much more of the sun's heat than the ice it replaces, so the Arctic is much warmer through autumn and early winter. This produces a warm air mass over the Polar region; causing a high pressure area; so the winds blow from the Pole rather than to it - which makes us very cold. Of course, the warmer the Arctic the more ice melts; the more ocean there is; the warmer it gets, and even more ice melts. It is that dramatic as time will show, but the Jet Stream has also moved to pass south of the UK bringing those Polar winds right through us].

However if we take the decade from 2000 to 2010, there were 29 high records and only 5 lows [which apart from the 2 in the UK were in East Antarctica, on an Andean pass in Argentina and in Germany]. Whichever period you take we seem to be getting warmer.

Finally under 'Temperature' we should look at the mean global temperature record as produced by NASA so here it is:

 

Plot of Temperature against time since 1880

The sceptics often argue against this chart complaining it is not comparable through the time period. They like to take short lengths of it, as from 1940 to 1970 which they then argue show the temperature was dropping while CO2 was rising, but selecting sections to try to prove a point is not just disingenuous but scientifically questionable. Anyway, as we can now see it is in total accord with every other indicator. If events around our planet were telling us one thing and the temperature chart another – I would have a lot of difficulty – but as we can see all agree and I am absolutely confident in those who produce it. They are incredibly competent people and totally aware of potential issues like the heat island effect of urban areas. They are scared for their children as many thinking people are.

Clearly, however we read the temperature record it is also telling us the climate is warming, but there is one final marker that I have already argued is crucial to understanding what the climate is doing which involves the Polar regions. There is another White Paper specifically on that subject (Is There an Early Warning System?) where it is explained why they should be key climate indicators.

So what is happening to the Ice?

A warmer world will with certainty melt ice but there is yet another odd situation we should know about before we go on which the sceptics focus on if they can find examples. We have already understood that a warmer world will produce more rain – or precipitation which includes snow. Taking the Poles, the warmth will melt ice but the additional snowfall will add to it. So long as the additional melt rate exceeds the additional snowfall – the ice will shrink – but if it is the other way round the ice mass will grow. Both situations result from a warmer world though the sceptics seem to assume simply that if the ice mass increases it shows there is no warming. WRONG. As we can see it supports that hypothesis. But we should note that maybe surprisingly central Antarctica is technically a desert and that is not a joke. Precipitation is incredibly low.

Back to what is happening now and because it is so important I have published a solid well illustrated White Paper (What is happening to the ice?) just on the subject of changes in the ice mass. While we can feel temperatures and hear about floods and fires – we cannot see or feel the Polar Regions and the media don’t tell us much when even multi-billion ton chunks of ice break free. So let’s look at it briefly here:

The Antarctic:

  • The Larson A ice shelf had disintegrated almost totally by 1995
  • Larson B followed in 2002 but it had been there for at least the last 12,000 years (so certainly for 110,000 years or almost since modern man walked the earth).
  • Larson C is expected to go in the next decade.
  • 40% of the Wilkins ice shelf has collapsed between 1990 and 2010.
  • The Jones, Wordie, Mueller and Prince Gustav ice shelves have all either gone completely or nearly.
  • Major icebergs are calving (breaking) off the Ronne and Filchner ice shelves which are huge by comparison with the Larsen or Wilkins. To understand huge, it is about 400 miles from the seaward end to the start of the shelf (the distance from London to Edinburgh) – and if just these connected shelves were to disintegrate, sea level would rise by between 3½ and 5 metres.

I have said that floating ice shelves don’t raise sea levels when they melt, but this is such a huge ‘shelf’ that much of the inland part is grounded and that part does actually rise significantly above the ocean – so Goodbye to many major cities.

  • No shelves are growing.

The Arctic:

  • The permafrost in the Arctic is melting fast all over the place with two major greenhouse gases being released automatically – carbon dioxide and methane. A recent documentary with Ian Stewart demonstrated this (‘dangerously’ if you saw it).
  • Arctic summer sea ice cover has generally been reduced by about 6M sq kms by the end of the summer season.
  • Mean annual temperatures are already up a full 5° in the Arctic.
  • The region is warming so much that huge amounts of methane are now being spewed out from the continental shelf north of Siberia, and I believe off the pacific coast of North America. Technically it is coming from methane clathrates (solid methane gas) which change back to gas as they warm. This is roughly where BP is now planning to drill for yet more oil.

Greenland:

  • The Jakobshaven glacier is retreating ever faster (image in the White Paper) with a single one mile break in 2010, so that image is already well out of date. Bad isn’t it?
  • The Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers are similarly retreating and with the Jakobshaven drain some 16% of the entire Greenland ice sheet. As the whole sheet would raise sea level by some 7m if (or when) it all melts, if just this 16% dropped into the ocean it would rise by more than 1 metre. Now we know why scientists are watching and measuring it so intensely.
  • The Petermann glacier is disintegrating fast with 25% breaking on one day in 2010.
  • · No glaciers are growing.

The Canadian Arctic:

  • What used to be the Ellesmere ice shelf started disintegrating in the last century breaking into 6 separate shelves. The Ayles (one of them) collapsed completely in 2005 and the others are going.
  • The North West Passage – the fabled route for ships from the Atlantic to the Pacific north of Canada – is clearing have had experimental passages made in 2008 & 2009.

Mountain Glaciers:

These are retreating almost all over the world and at an ever accelerating rate, but just as we have had 3 very cold and harsh winters, not all the world warms evenly so there are just a few glaciers growing, but doing so very slowly by comparison and we know where they are. There is a global image in the Paper and a personal photo.

The icy regions of the world are behaving exactly as every other climatic region, showing the impact of a warming climate, but we ought to notice the amazing rates of ice change since 1990.

Might I now leave you with some information that I will develop in due time involving CO2 as we cannot in all honesty consider what climate is doing without also considering carbon.

Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide

Several of you will possibly know the infamous chart of atmospheric CO2 since 1850 (in the film ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and called ‘The Hockey Stick’), but as carbon is now rising almost vertically on that chart it is hard to interpret. Is it getting ever worse or not? Is it getting better? What does it mean?

So here we have a new Antarctic record covering the last 800,000 years, or way before modern man walked planet earth. We will also look at a chart I have produced which shows how fast atmospheric CO2 is growing each year, comparing it over the last 50 years and comparing that with how it was rising during the near vertical historic rises in CO2 which are shown by the horizontal blue line – when we get there.

 

To interpret the chart: The red plot is the temperature (degrees on the left vertical axis with zero being the pre-industrial figure), and the three blue plots between them show the CO2 (ppm on the right vertical axis).

We should firstly notice the incredible similarity between the plots – they go up and down almost absolutely together – but then, for as long as the climate record provides data, carbon has been between 180ppm and 300ppm (182 to 298) – a range of 120ppm. Uncanny if you really think about that.

In 1850 at the start of the industrial revolution (which we started in the UK) it was 285ppm which is where the blue plot hits the right axis, after which it is actually vertical. It has now reached 387.18 or more than 100ppm higher as shown by the horizontal arrow above that. By itself that ought to scream at us because we have almost doubled the range and pushed carbon to where it has not been for a very long time indeed. And through that carbon range the temperature spanned at least 11°. Through each climate cycle the rise from deep glacial to the warm world took about 6,000 years with a full climate cycle taking about 100,000 years. Left to the planet these changes occur extremely slowly. Over at least 5,000 generations in fact.

But here is the important thing: through climate history during the rises from deep glacial to the warm periods, carbon rose at 0.02ppm/year (shown as the blue line on the chart) so what is it doing now? This is where we need to see if that carbon plot in the chart above is getting steeper or not. The data box below gives the numbers and the chart shows the annual rate of rise of CO2, but only from 1960 to 2010.

Time Period Carbon
rise/year
ppm
Last
800,000
years
0.02
1960-1965 0.774
1965-1970 1.02
1970-1975 1.07
1975-1980 1.57
1980-1985 1.40
1985-1990 1.72
1990-1995 1.29
1995-2000 1.81
2000-2005 2.00
2005-2010 2.06
Year 2010 2.80

Source NOOA – National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration

Notes:

  1. Please note this chart shows the annual rate of increase of CO2 and not the CO2 levels.
  2. The circles are the 5 year average carbon rise figures as in the table left above.
  3. There is a circle with a cross above the 2005 to 2010 figure which I have taken the licence to add. I explain. The recent recession depressed energy consumption through 1998 so this shows the 4 year average for the period excluding 1998.
  4. The 2010 circle is not a 5 year average but the figure for 2010. This could be an exception, but we know China and India are building coal fired power stations at an incredible rate and that positive feedbacks are kicking in (due to a warmer world emitting CO2 all by itself), so at least we should take note of it. I have long predicted that the carbon curve is about to go vertical. I have given the real data so you can decide which plot to assume, but as so often we can draw different 'curves' through the data to indicate the trend. You decide.
  5. The horizontal blue line is the annual rate of carbon increase on the 800,000 year 'Temperature and CO2' chart above – during the near vertical rise of the blue line about 132,000 years ago. THAT is a measure of what modern industrial man is doing to the atmosphere.
  6. In an earlier publication (see Planet Earth: Are we Running out of time?)
    I argued the climate models are not working and the problem is hugely bigger than the IPCC reports suggest. Towards the end I argue the 'tipping point', where we are losing control of climate, is when CO2 is around 325ppm or was around 325ppm as we are so far above that. The new methane emissions from the continental shelf north of Siberia is but one example. Jim Hansen (head of climate science at NASA) has since published that we need to get back below 350ppm. We are now at 387ppm and from the chart above we are likely to be at 415ppm by 2020 and it could be a deal higher. Jim argues we are close to a point where climate chaos is a certainty and how could I disagree.

In 1960 we were increasing CO2 some 40 times faster than ever in recorded history, but that figure is approaching 150 in 2010. And with the progress our political leaders are making it will rise even faster. So let’s get it into some sort of perspective. Since 1850 – over 150 years – we raised atmospheric carbon by 105ppm but we will raise it by a further 25 to 35ppm every decade from now if we carry on as we are.

Conclusions

I hope we have considered all the elements on earth that would either validate the climate to be warming or show it not to be. I have not been selective with the information.

Whether we take floods, droughts, fires, temperatures or the melting ice, the same conclusion has to be reached – that the climate is warming and substantially so. In the first Paper on Climate I showed that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and that if we have more of it the temperature on Earth must rise. By how much is what the debate is all about. But here we have also considered CO2 alongside all the above, and like all the events – it is rising inexorably and I argue is well into the danger zone already.

Welcome to our warmer world.

While I cannot say with 100% certainty, hand on heart, that all the changes in these two papers are due and only due to anthropogenic (manmade) emissions, this is what a warmer world will do and our greenhouse gas emissions are warming the planet.

What we all have to decide is whether the balance of probability tells us we have a huge problem – especially if we carry on – or whether we should ignore what I argue is the obvious. What you have to decide if you choose to ignore this is – at what level will you decide we have to react? And remember, the longer we wait, the bigger the hurdle we have to get over; the greater the cost, and the greater the disruption to our civilisation.

Not only does every single element unequivocally point to a warming climate but the rate of warming seems to be highly significant no matter which you take, and each points to the rate of warming increasing rapidly. I invite you to reach your own conclusions but the notion that the climate scientists have to prove beyond doubt that the climate is warming and that we are largely responsible is absurd. The balance of probability is now so heavily weighted towards the hypothesis that the planet is warming and we are doing it that it should be the task of the sceptics to prove it isn’t.

If you feel I have missed something of importance, and if there is scientific data to support your view then I would like to hear from you. It is our duty to get it right and not pervert the evidence or data. If you feel you still want to take the view that I am wrong then I wonder why that would be? Many are worried about the impact on our lives if we reduce the amount of energy we use, but I am satisfied we can all be at least as happy if not happier using much less energy. Much of our ‘happiness’ is transient and I promise there are ultra-low energy solutions to all problems.

In Part 3 we concentrate on The Implications of a warming climate.

Extreme Weather Events

A huge area of Queensland is under water right now with the region suffering flooding that is described as “of biblical proportions”. They are likely to be the biggest floods on record because all three main rivers flooded simultaneously – the first time that has happened. 500mm (or 20”) of rain fell in just one week [1200mm fell through December after a prolonged drought]. 200,000 people are displaced and 100,000 sq kms of land inundated or as the media say – an area bigger than France and Germany combined. And now a further 300mm has come down. That is one big flood and certainly an extreme weather event, but aren’t there lots of extreme weather events these days? I can possibly already say “yes” as the situation has become a lot worse with an area about 5 times the size of the UK now declared a ‘disaster area’ in Queensland.

But that was last week and now further massive rains have dumped an unbelievable 160mm in just one hour yesterday (9th January 2011) in Southern Queensland; about ¼ of UK’s annual rainfall in just one hour but others put it over 250mm. The Australian Broadcasting Corp. described it as “a complete freak of nature, an extraordinary deluge that came out of nowhere – - – a grim and desperate situation”. “Mother nature has released something shocking” “an inland tsunami”. Low level Toowoomba was almost washed away as a wall of water said originally to be 8M high crashed through the town. Across the region some 30,000 houses have now been inundated or destroyed.

Unbelievably events have moved on again with flooding now in Victoria declared to be “the worst in recorded history” but we need to recognise this is not all one storm. Many have died across Eastern Australia, but is this just Mother Nature or are we partly responsible?

Those who have known me for a long time are used to noting the environmental (and economic) news and have unfortunately watched many predictions become reality. It concerns several, but a colleague recently said “I wonder how long it will take for people to realise that when so many floods and droughts are described as a ‘1 in 100 year event’; ‘a 1 in 200 year event’ or ‘the highest on record, this is telling us that the climate is changing”.

Isn’t it time to consider if the weather patterns are indeed showing us the climate is changing. In 2007 I noticed the greatly increased frequency of natural disasters and decided to keep a diary, but before we consider it might we run through what a warmer climate should involve.

The Hydrological Cycle

So what is this? Water evaporates from the oceans, rivers, lakes and land surface but all living plants and trees absorb water through their roots and ‘transpire’ it out through their leaves. Together they are called ‘evapotranspiration’. You might think there is not much transpiration, but here are the facts. Growing just one ton of wheat requires the wheat plants to breathe out about 1,000 tons of water. I was shocked to learn this but from my basic research I deduced a figure of 870 tons. With the UK producing over 8 tons of wheat per hectare that is more than 8,000 tons of water transpired for each hectare – and fields can be sort of 30 hectares. Or a huge amount of water.

All this water vapour rises into the atmosphere where it condenses into clouds from which it falls as rain -the cycle.

What happens in a warmer World?

A warmer planet evaporates more water, so more goes up and more comes down. It gets wetter and we have more rainfall. FACT. But a warmer atmosphere contains more energy and that will increase wind speeds– and as evaporation also increases with wind speed, the amount of water in the cycle will be more than just the temperature increase suggests. But a more energy charged atmosphere should also take the clouds higher, and higher clouds mean much more water in the vertical column where it is raining.

In a warmer world there will therefore be much heavier rainfall events.

So what is actually happening, and does the reality tell us the climate is warming just like the thermometers do? Let’s look at recent flood events.

‘Recent’ Floods

The ‘mega’ floods are extreme events so we would not expect many of them. After all, by definition, a 1:100 year flood should occur only once every 100 years but there are many places around the world to record such floods. However a ‘worst on record’ should be extremely rare. We start with 2011 which is only 16 days old:

  • TheQueensland floods – of ‘biblical’ proportions. A huge area inundated; so many people displaced, the coal industry almost shut down.
  • Queensland again: There have now been huge rains in southern Queensland with 160 to 250mm in less than 24 hours. Since the record 1974 floods the Wivenhoe dam has been built to protect Brisbane so that must have stopped the floods being even higher now. Even so 18,000 houses have been inundated and the city district full of skyscrapers is becoming an inland sea. This high water level was just below the 1974 floods, but the highest floods before that were back in 1887 – so they are very big indeed. Total cost now put at $13B
  • The heavy rains moved down into New South Wales with more rain predicted.
  • Breaking News’ – Victoria in South Eastern Australia is also now experiencing the “biggest floods in history” or “the worst in 100 years”.
  • Sri Lanka – extreme rainfall in the last week has produced huge floods with another 1M people involved and substantial loss of rice. 300,000 houses have been destroyed.
  • Brazil- continuous rains over the last two weeks have caused many flash floods, huge mud slides and large areas are inundated. One month’s rain fell around Rio in less than 24 hours (144mm) where there have been “the heaviest rains in 40 years”. Over 100,000 are already homeless and many villages and even towns have been “washed off the map”. Substantial damage to roads and railways.

It is difficult keeping up with events as they are unfolding so fast but here is 2010:

  • Pakistan is still only starting to recover from mega floods in August 2010 which involved at least 20m people which again were ‘the worst in history’ resulting from ‘the biggest rains on record’. In the last big floods in 1956, 222mm of rain fell in one month but 332mm fell in one day this time. 12m people have been made homeless; at least 1,600 died, and the crops (mostly rice) through most of the Indus valley were destroyed, as were all the stocks of food held there. The cost is estimated at $10B to $15B but how do you cost such misery?
  • The Sichuan province in China suffered enormous floods on the upper Yangtze in 2010. They were so severe the authorities feared for the world’s biggest dam – the Three Gorges. 230M people were affected; 1.4m houses destroyed; the cost is about $40B; 97,000 sq km of crops were destroyed = 10% of China’s rice production = 3½% of world production in one go.
  • Victoria South Australia “ I can’t recall a time when Australia had so much severe weather in all four corners” (Australian media quote). 20” of rain fell in 48 hours. Now in 2011 they have more.
  • Haiti had big floods last year, months after the earthquake.
  • California, Arizona and Nevada received 1/3 of their annual rainfall in one week in mid-October last year and flooded accordingly.
  • Eastern Central Europe flooded badly last year with the worst floods for decades.
  • Bangladesh suffered huge flooding.
  • Only 5 years ago we had Hurricane Katrina that devastated New Orleans. The worst natural event in US history and the 6th strongest Atlantic hurricane ever, its cost was put at $80B to $100B and the old New Orleans is gone forever.
  • The Mississippi had a mega flood in 1993 inundating 30,000 sq miles with huge crop losses, and the Redwood River flooded again hugely recently.

And now some big floods that may not have been mega floods – unless you were in them:

  • Coming home to the UK we have had Boscastle (one month’s rain in 2 hours), Cockermouth, Tewkesbury, Hull, Leicester, St Austell, Morpeth, Northern Ireland & Gloucester amongst others. June 2007 was one of the wettest months on record with the May to July period as THE wettest on record. Bridges that had stood for centuries were breaking and flood damage has been severe.
  • Atlanta and Nashville flooded last year.
  • Beirut and Syria flooded recently (truly amazing) after a very extensive drought.
  • Seville, Rio de Janeiro, Venice, Paris, Romania, The Danube and California recently etc.

Not sure what you think about this list but isn’t it exceptional to have so many such big flood events in such a short space of time. Of course if you want to deny the climate may be warming (presumably because you don’t want to contemplate the changes that human society might have to make) you may persuade yourselves that it could happen without a warming climate, and I have to say that is a possibility. Maybe just a possibility, but the likelihood a warming climate isn’t involved or causal is diminishing with time. On the other hand you may think a warming world won’t affect you in which case maybe this Paper will clarify the issue.

But a warmer world will not only produce floods. It will also produce droughts, which make forest fires a greater probability, so what news on these?

Droughts & Fires

We may remember some droughts but they don’t get much media attention unless a real famine is involved, though each drought has an insidious effect. Food is always lost and it has to be supplied from somewhere. Let’s look at a few events:

  • Russia where the prolonged drought and heat wave in 2010 took out 40% of Russia’s arable land and more than 35% of their wheat crop. It caused so many forest fires they couldn’t be contained, and Moscow had a pall of smoke hanging over it for weeks. People died.
  • California, California & California. The State is now bedevilled by drought which is having huge consequences for agriculture, and California is very important for US agriculture. So along with the drought every year there are forest fires – always severe but often very severe.
  • Australia, Australia & Australia. Almost every year now South Eastern Australia suffers drought and forest fires and both seem to be getting steadily worse. Again this region is important for food production, particularly for wheat and beef, and huge losses of both are now regular events.
  • Southern Europe – especially Greece. Greece is now drought stricken. In 1993 it had the worst drought for 100 years and in 2007 fires raged taking out a lot of their forest. Crete was scorched with the temperature said to have reached 47°. In 2008 rainfall in Cyprus slumped to 20% of what used to be normal making it totally dependent on imported water.
  • Arizona & Nevada - the region is suffering prolonged drought with Lake Mead behind the Hoover dam on The Colorado River holding a fraction of what it should. It holds the water for Las Vegas.
  • The Middle East has suffered a prolonged drought through 2010, with Saudi, Syria and Jordan suffering particularly though Israel, Palestine and Lebanon are also in drought. It has been the driest period on record.
  • Israel – a forest fire raged through northern Israel – the worst ever.
  • Turkey suffered a big drought in 2007/8 with wheat and barley production down between 25% and 50%.
  • Niger. Parts of Africa live on the edge of existence and Niger is one of them. Another drought brings 7m people there in dire need of food support.
  • Chad struggles and over the last 40 years droughts have been ever more frequent. Lake Chad was a very large lake but is now just 5% of its recent past size. Permanent food aid is now required but part of the problem is the expanding population.
  • Kenya should be a bountiful country for Africa, but the north east in particular is extremely drought prone with starvation common. While we eat their beans many starve.
  • Sudan, Ethiopia and Somalia now frequently suffer drought and last year was no exception.

OK then. Another exceptional list which is surely way beyond anything we could expect. It would therefore be surprising when confronted with these extreme rainfall, drought and fire events if we just ignored them – but so far we have. Are they caused by a warming planet?

Before we look at the historic temperature chart in Part 2 there is a natural and cyclic phenomena that seriously impacts on weather around the world that needs to be introduced:

El Niño and La Niña

First of all what are these? Both involve sea surface temperatures across the Pacific and both are variants from the normal or average conditions. El Niño (means the boy child) involves the warmer temperatures that are normally across the western half of the Pacific. With El Niño they extend right across to the Peruvian coast where they can be very warm. La Niña (means the girl child) is the opposite with the warmer waters retreating to the Western (Australian) end. So El Niño produces higher average surface temperatures and La Niña lower ones with the cycle being called the Southern Oscillation.

 

The image here is of the 1997 El Niño observed by TOPEX/Poseidon. The white areas off the tropical coasts of South and North America indicate the pool of warm water.

The total heat energy in the Pacific doesn’t alter. For El Niño more warm water is at the surface so more water below the surface is cooler, and for La Niña the opposite is true. But changing the ocean surface temperature changes the amount of water vapour rising into the atmosphere, and such big changes at this level can also move the jet streams which are around 35,000 ft up (the level at which we fly) and which drive so many weather patterns around the world.

And as we can all now see, because this paper started by connecting rainfall with temperature, it will alter rainfall. But it does more than that as it alters where the rain falls and it is therefore entirely logical to consider that it couldbe affecting the weather in North Eastern Australia and some of the other places where extreme rainfall events are occurring.

The last El Niño started in June 2009 and ended in April 2010, which was quickly followed by the start of this La Niña in June 2010 – so we are currently in a ‘La Niña’ and close to its peak. La Niña’s keep the warm water local to the western Pacific and tend to cause more rainfall across China, Indonesia and North East Australia! But there is one more interesting thing to consider as not all El Niños are the same ‘size’. Some are stronger than others and conversely some are weaker, so here are those events through the last more than 100 years with the strongest two events in red, and the next strongest in brown (91/92 & 09/10 were equally warm):

El Niño years and event sizes

1902-1903 1905-1906 1911-1912 1914-1915 1918-1919
1923-1924 1925-1926 1930-1931 1932-1933 1939-1940
1941-1942 1951-1952 1953-1954 1957-1958 1965-1966
1969-1970 1972-1973 1976-1977 1982-1983 1986-1987
1991-1992 1994-1995 1997-1998 2002-2003 2006-2007
2009-2010        

Interesting that it seems their strength is growing. After all, the 5 warmest El Niños have all been in the last 10 and the 1997-8 El Nino was the strongest ever which also supports the hypothesis that the world has warmed and is warming.

We have seen that a warmer world has a more energetic atmosphere, and here is a physical system that oscillates and seems to be doing so more extremely as the climate warms. I try to be very careful not to misrepresent anything (I am not trying to prove any point) and it would be possible here as we have a bit of a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – which comes first? Is the strengthening oscillation producing the extreme weather or is the warming planet making the oscillations bigger?

To be sure it isn’t possible for the oscillation to be warming the planet over such a sustained period of time (1850 to 2010) or to be increasing it so much more rapidly now; neither is it likely that it is doing so conveniently as the levels of atmospheric carbon are increasing so rapidly. But stronger Oscillations could and would increase the severity of extreme weather events. If there is no warming climate we would expect extreme events to have the same frequency they had through history – which they are not. So we can at least deduce it is the warming planet that is causing the Southern Oscillation to increase and not the other way around.

We will continue in part 2 which covers temperature signals and our atmosphere.

Interim Conclusion

am a very firm believer that the best way to debate an issue is primarily to present the facts so readers can ask themselves the questions and reach their own conclusions, but it is important that as many facts as sensible are presented and that both sides of the debate are given. I hope to be doing that but it may be appropriate to suggest what is important. In this case we need to ask ourselves if such big weather events coming with this frequency and all over the world can logically be put down to chance – or is it now very likely that a warming climate is involved if not responsible?

The next thing to consider is what is happening to temperatures and the ice around the world – so do they also suggest the climate is warming, after which we will briefly consider Carbon Dioxide and then conclude and work through the implications to all of us if we are changing the climate.

Mike

EU Fishing

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The ‘Discard’ problem

On Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s new short series on commercial fishing, he first covered cod and what happens in the EU, and it was not a pretty picture. The EU Common Fisheries policy sets catch quotas for each type of fish so only that amount of each can be caught and no more. As an ardent environmentalist at first it seems sensible but whenever a policy is being considered it is vital market reaction is understood.
It is impossible for a fishing boat not to catch certain species if they happen to be in the water under or behind the boat, so EU regulation makes it illegal to land more of a species than the boat’s quota permits. So what happens? They are ‘discarded’ overboard – dead.
At the start of the quota season logically quotas of no species would be exceeded so no discard, but as species quotas run out through the quota season, that becomes impossible. During the filming more terrific fish were being thrown away dead than kept for market and consumption. It is and always was insanity so didn’t become insanity in 2010. I mean how could it ever make any sense to throw dead fish back into the sea for the gulls?
The EU formed its Common Fisheries Policy back in 1970 (over 40 years ago) and the current quota system became policy in 1995. This outrageous policy has therefore been with us for over 15 years which is plenty of time for it to have been changed, given it was clear by 1996 (if not in 1995) that it was a failed policy.
The EU politicians don’t seem to be clear about what to do and not all of them even want to change the policy. So is there a practical solution that works for everybody including the fish? There must be, so here is a strong suggestion with the rules defined:

  1. ‘No Fish’ zones should be defined that should be sensibly sized to maintain the ecosystems and preserve natural stock levels of the fish there. I suggest 20% to 25% of the ocean area. We are but one species and 75% is more than enough for us. Notice should be taken of the impending impacts of a changing climate to locate the Zones.
  2. It should be illegal to discard any fish caught that cannot revive if put back and the entire catch must legally be landed. [Currently it is illegal to land them].
  3. Quotas for each species should be set and distributed round the fleets and boats based on proper scientific study.
  4. Environmental taxes should be set per species to be levied on fish landed over and above the quota.

This would protect the fish we have; allow recovery of numbers for sustainable future fishing; stop any fish being discarded, and encourage the public to increase the species they eat. The tax when set at a sensible level would discourage fishermen catching species over quota, and this tax could be on a sliding scale. The world needs solutions but it also needs bad policies to be changed as soon as they are found to be bad. This is my proposition.
Mike

What is happening to the ice on the planet?

We have seen that changes in the ice are serious markers of a warming or cooling planet and some of the best and most obvious early warning signs, (see link in Conclusions ) but what is actually happening to the ice?

The first places to look are the Poles, but the North is quite different from the South. While Antarctica in the south is a thickly iced land mass the Arctic is floating ice, though close to the North Pole is Greenland which is another large land mass covered in thick ice. To get the two into an ice perspective, if all the Greenland ice melted, sea level would rise about 7 metres, but if Antarctica melted it would rise about 80 metres – Antarctica has about 91% of all the ice in the world. As the floating North Polar ice melts it has no direct impact on sea level but does carry huge climate implications. The ice is a great solar energy reflector but the replacing ocean a strong solar absorber.

The other ice on the planet is in the glaciers, and while if these melt we will not lose our coastal cities, they provide irrigation water through the crop growing season in most parts of the world. So we lose food. It all matters.

A little on glacier behaviour – another complex subject:

Glaciers live within different topographies – some have narrow troughs to run down and therefore narrow flows; some have wide troughs and flows; some finish with an ice shelf and some don’t; some have wide and some narrow iceberg calving fronts; and some just melt – so they behave differently. But there are a number of reasons why glacier retreat is becoming faster though all depend on higher temperatures.

Glaciers ending at the ocean were often ‘grounded’ so the ice flow simply stretched into the ocean but the glacier sat on rock. However a warmer world (and Greenland is now up about 5°) does all sorts of things. For a start glaciers thin over time, and for those ending in the ocean, when the depth of water is more than the now thinned glacier it floats on the ocean when it gets there. But a floating ice shelf is stressed by waves and tides, and stressed shelves break faster that grounded ones. So it is inevitable the rate of disintegration will increase greatly. The thinning may be the result of decades of melting, so we cannot date the problem to when the glacier starts breaking faster. This is the symptom but the cause is the warming. And floating ice shelves can be melted from a warmer ocean underneath as well as warmer air temperatures on top.

Images from space also clearly show lakes forming on the surface during summer and when big enough and warm enough they break down through the glacier (through holes called moulins) to the bedrock below from where the water escapes to the ocean. But while there is some debate about its impact when on the bedrock it is generally thought it lubricates the bottom of the glacier speeding it up. At the very least the melt water running away removes that amount of ice.

While the above involves land glaciers, the same appears to be true of the Ice Shelves as large amounts of melt water were seen on Larsen B and now on the Ronne, and clearly there have been substantial breaks following such surface water.

But a really big reason for speeding up glaciers is the removal of the ‘cork’ which is the Ice shelf it arrives at and which clearly hold them back. The glaciers can speed up by a factor of up to 5 times or even more as the ice shelves collapse, which is why the loss of Ice Shelves is so serious and the scientists are monitoring them so carefully.

So first we look at the Poles:

Antarctica:

The ice on Antarctica produces glaciers which flow into the ocean, but they are so big they are called ‘ice streams’. Many arriving at the coast slide into the ocean forming the Ice Shelves and it is changes in these in particular that tell us what is going on.

 

There are a number of these ice shelves around Antarctica that are floating at their seaward end but are grounded at the inland end, and the collapse of these shelves would have severe consequences for the planet. The bigger ones are shown here, the Larsen being in the red box. To put it into perspective, the collapse of just the Ronne shelf would raise sea levels by about 5m, though there is a possibility about 1/3rd of it would not break easily in which case sea levels would be likely to ‘only’ rise by 3.5m or enough to put many of our major cities underwater.

 

The Larson ice shelf was always likely to be one of the first in trouble and was made of 3 sectors called Larsen A, B and C. Larsen A (the furthest from the pole and at the top of the photo) broke up in 1995, and B followed rapidly in 2002. But the B shelf is known to have been there for at least the last 12,000 years which takes us back to the last ice age so it must have been there for at least the last 110,000 years – or almost since modern man walked the Earth. But now it is gone.

Larsen C is still intact but the scientists warn it might go within the next decade.

 

The Wilkins ice shelf is closer to the pole than Larsen so the scientists didn’t expect it to be breaking up until about 2020, but we can see below that since 1990 it has retreated some 50 miles with a huge break in 2008. It is easy to ignore Antarctica as it is a long way away, but I have already argued the Poles are part of our early warning system and need to be taken seriously. The collapse of the Wilkins, though a relatively small ice shelf, is significant. As is the fact that almost everything to do with scientific predictions is happening faster than expected and certainly faster than the climate models predicted.

 

The Ronne and Filchner shelves There is another image we will look at which actually shows an enormous glacier calving (breaking off) the Ronne Ice Shelf and this one occurred in October 1998, but a similar size iceberg broke free in May 2000 and another broke off in January 2010. This iceberg is about 150km x 50km and is delightfully called A38.

Of course, as the ice shelves are fed by the ice streams, ice must anyway regularly break off, but these are historically enormous chunks of ice. In a stable environment the shelves would maintain a constant size which we can all see they are not doing.

The Ice shelf to the right of Berkner Island is the Filchner with the Ronne to the left. We can also see another glacier recently broken off above and to the right of A38 which is surrounded by the breaking ice from that shelf as we can see all the pieces fit together. Jones and Mueller have gone completely and Wordie and Prince Gustav almost. There is a long list of retreating glaciers with hardly any growing and those few are growing slowly.

The Arctic

As we have said, the Arctic ice sits on the ocean, but changes in this region are certain (a word used advisedly) to have huge implications for the planet and all humanity. The reason is not just the positive feedback (where less ice and more ocean causes more heat to be absorbed forcing the temperature higher still) but defrosting the permafrost will release very large amounts of both carbon dioxide and methane. Some bubbling of methane from the ocean from the continental shelf off northern Siberia was noticed two or three years ago, so a research ship was sent to investigate. They have estimated that 8M tons of methane is already being released every year just from there, but methane (CH4) is about 22 times more climate toxic than CO2.

 

It is also estimated that the permafrost contains twice as much carbon as our entire atmosphere and three times as much as all our forests. Bizarre isn’t it that the EU subsidises burning wood for energy and demands biofuel in our diesel. Most biofuel is being grown on virgin land where the forest has to be destroyed which releases huge amounts of carbon and which is pushing up the coming climate temperature. And this in turn will melt the arctic which will release vastly more greenhouse gas. And this isn’t difficult academically to understand. But what is happening to the Arctic Ice?

The really important information is not the area of ocean covered in summer but the total volume of that ice. It seems average ice thickness has reduced, but even the summer area is almost as low as it has ever been so the volume now may be the lowest ever. The area of summer ice is about 2 ½ m sq miles less than it used to be and the images below show arctic ice cover in the 3 years given. 2007 had THE lowest ever cover. It is probable this is impacting on our winter weather, and of course the changing recent wind direction to ex polar should be reducing arctic winter temperature.

Greenland

Events are not limited to the Antarctic as Greenland is also losing ice and we look at an image of the Jakobshaven glacier below showing its retreat since 1851. It is on the 70° latitude line about half way up the west coast. Interestingly it altered very little between 1964 and 2001 since when it has retreated hugely. But this image is already well out of date as more has gone with a 1 mile retreat on one day on 7th July last year (2010).

 

But in the Paper ‘The Queensland Floods’ we considered during which periods the climate was warming through man-made (anthropogenic) climate change, and noted that for many years after about 1950 there should have been a period of cooling. Data from the melting ice around the planet does seem to confirm this.

 

The Helheim and Kangerdlugssuaq glaciers are close by Jakobshaven and between them they ‘drain’ about 16% of all the ice on Greenland so these are watched carefully. The Helheim has started retreating rapidly since 2001 and is now flowing almost twice as fast as it was. The Kangerdlugssuaq is retreating now and is already 100 metres thinner than it was.

The Petermann glacier is in the extreme north of Greenland on the Western corner and it has been retreating at an ever increasing rate with 25% breaking in one day on 5th August – guess when? Last year in 2010 the break being shown on the image here. This is the biggest ice break in Greenland since 1962. In fact all the Greenland glaciers now seem to be somewhere between in full retreat to starting to retreat. Just simple facts.

The Canadian Arctic

The Ellesmere Ice Shelf started disintegrating through the last century but stabilised around 1960 having broken into 6 different shelves, the biggest of which was Ward Hunt. But disintegration is well under way again since 2000 with significant events in 2002, 2008 and 2010 though the scientists will only say “disintegration is likely”. The Ayles Ice Shelf went completely in one go in 2005.

The North West Passage is the sea passage from the North Atlantic to the North Pacific round the top of Canada through the Canadian Arctic but has not been passable in living memory. Things are a changing again as ships did make the passage in both 2008 and 2009. As soon as it is generally free enough of ice to navigate, ships will be using it but that is an amazing marker to a seriously warming planet.

Mountain Glaciers

 

If I may be forgiven a personal experience, I took the photo here high in the Bolivian Andes in 1998. It is of Ancohuma glacier north east of La Paz, but the near neighbour called Chacaltaya which was healthy then – is already gone. Finished, and all the glaciers in that part of the Andes are disappearing fast. One problem is that 80m people depend on these glaciers for their water supply.

 

Generally nearly all the mountain glaciers in the world are retreating and the rate of melting nearly everywhere has increased substantially since around 1995. But just as the UK is currently suffering much colder winters, not every region of the world will gain temperature with a warming planet, so some glaciers could be expected to grow if only for a short time. Such events do not prove the planet isn’t warming. In effect if the climate is becoming more volatile it proves it is changing though the sceptics tend to disregard such matters. The map here shows the changes in the ‘mass balance’ of such glaciers which is the total amount of ice. Not good is it? And Chacaltaya is exactly in the big red circle in S America.

Conclusion

It would be astonishing if, when confronted with all this information, we didn’t at the very least give great credence to the notion that the planet is warming substantially, but I would go further and argue it almost proves it. At Climate Change – Is There an Early Warning System? you will find a White paper arguing that the Polar Regions should give us the climate reality before anywhere else. And surely it is so clear now that it is not the duty of the climate scientists to prove the climate is changing but for the sceptics to try to prove it isn’t. The consequences for mankind are truly dreadful and I will be publishing ever more work on this subject when I can, which will ultimately present a climate hypothesis. This will explain what is happening; what will happen, and why. So with such extreme downsides surely we must take a lot of action and overcome our difficulties to do so.

Of course we can wait and wait until the scientists come off the shelf and stand to be counted, but some research under way will take another 15 years to complete, and I promise we cannot wait that long. I personally live a long way above sea level – just over 200 metres – but we could check how many of those scientists live close to sea level. It would be interesting to find where the Tyndall Centre team in Norwich live as the outskirts of Norwich are just 2m above sea level.

There are two common themes through the story of all the ice breaks, disintegrations and melts. Firstly I am not aware of any event that has occurred after a scientifically predicted date as all those I have tracked have broken before. Secondly, every single report on climate says a lot of ice is going to melt – the only two questions are how much and by when? This Paper indicates at the very least that a lot is disappearing very fast right now.

Mike