Can I get a cup of genetically modified coffee?

An article on Bloomberg Business Week reveals that scientists have cracked the genetic code for robusta, the coffee plant that provides the java for about one third of the world’s early morning pick-me-ups. According to reporter Caroline Winter, scientists can use this discovery to engineer GMO decaffeinated coffee beans, an easier alternative to extracting the caffeine from the natural beans.

Attempts at GMO coffee in the past have been thwarted by hackers (a group who definitely needs round-the-clock caffeine), not to mention rousing the anger of thousands of hipsters who eat only organic and drink out of mason jars. Coffee isn’t just a beverage; for many it’s a culture.

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 10.10.39 PM

Photo: Wikimedia

The most ironic part of the article starts when scientists claim that genetically engineering coffee beans will help the plant survive climate change. Again, with the false solutions. How can one of the very methods that accelerates climate change be considered a solution?

I guess it’s time to really make that switch to tea.

Science Cracks Coffee’s Genetic Code. Up Next: Frankencoffee

by Caroline Winter, Bloomberg Business Week, 9 Sept. 2014

Scientists have managed to sequence the java genome, a breakthrough that brings new insights into the venerated bean while also opening the door to genetic engineering.

A group of more than 60 international researchers painstakingly pinpointed all the genes that make up robusta coffee, according to an article published last week in Science, a plant variety that accounts for roughly one-third of the world’s coffee consumption. Various groups are still working on sequencing the fancier, more delicious arabica strand, which contains about twice as much genetic information.

One surprising discovery: Coffee’s mode of producing caffeine is quite different from that of its cousin, cocoa, indicating that the two plants don’t share a common ancestor. There are several reasons why unrelated plants might evolve to produce the addictive substance we love so much. “Bugs don’t chew on the coffee plant leaves because they don’t like the caffeine, but pollinators like bees do,” Victor Albert, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Buffalo and one of the study’s authors, told the Associated Press. “So pollinators come back for more—just like we do for our cups of coffee.”

Top off your cup and check out the full article here.

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Filed under Climate Change, False Solutions to Climate Change, Genetic Engineering

Climate Summit: World leaders fiddle while Planet burns

Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout

Image: Jared Rodriguez / Truthout

NEW YORK CITY, USA, September 16, 2014 – One week before world leaders gather here for their Climate Summit, Friends of the Earth International warned that the September 23 ‘talk shop’ will only see leaders fiddling with flimsy pledges instead of committing to binding carbon reductions.

“A parade of leaders trying to make themselves look good does not bring us any closer to the real action we need to address the climate crisis. This one-day Summit will not deliver any substantial action in the fight against climate change,” said Dipti Bhatnagar, Friends of the Earth International Climate Justice and Energy coordinator.

“World leaders are falling far short of delivering what we need to truly tackle climate change in a just way. Their flimsy non-binding pledges in New York will do little to improve their track record. What we urgently need are equitable and binding carbon reductions, not flimsy voluntary ones,” she added.

On September 21, hundreds of thousands of people including Friends of the Earth International members and supporters will march in New York, London, Amsterdam and many other cities around the world to demand climate justice, standing with climate and dirty energy-affected communities worldwide.

Last week the World Meteorological Organization warned that atmospheric levels of greenhouse gases hit a record in 2013 as carbon dioxide concentrations grew at the fastest rate since global records began.

The impact of increasingly common extreme weather events, such as flooding, droughts and hurricanes, are devastating the lives and livelihoods of many millions of people. 

Climate change is directly responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people per year, most of whom live in poorer countries. 

Without immediate action, climate change will certainly get worse and could pass a dangerous tipping point where it becomes both catastrophic and irreversible. 

The 195 States that signed the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) recognise that rich, industrialised countries have done the most to cause climate change and must take the lead in solving it, and provide funds to poorer countries.

But developed countries’ leaders are neglecting their responsibilities to prevent climate catastrophe.  Their positions are increasingly driven by the narrow economic and financial interests of wealthy elites, the fossil fuel industry and multinational corporations.  

Friends of the Earth International demands a total phase out of carbon emissions by the middle of this century in order to reverse current warming trends and minimize the chance of irreversible damage and possible runaway climate change.

NASA scientist James Hansen and others have spotlighted the need to return to 350 parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) or lower to preserve the planet and its people. The sharing of this burden must be based on historical responsibility, capacity to act and access to sustainable development in order to enable a just global transition.

Friends of the Earth International believes that industrialised countries must urgently commit to reducing their emissions domestically – without false solutions such as offsets – in line with what science and equity demand.

There are real solutions to the climate crisis. First among them is the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. Reductions must be agreed through a legally-binding agreement at the UNFCCC that is in line with what science and equity demand.

We also need clean sustainable community energy – the right for people to have access to energy; to decide and own their sustainable energy sources such as wind and solar and sustainable consumption patterns.

Friends of the Earth International also supports the call for a Financial Transactions Tax – or Robin Hood Tax – as a source of climate finance. Funds are urgently needed for clean, sustainable community energy and adaptation to climate change in developing countries.

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Climate Change, Climate Justice, Greenwashing, Uncategorized, UNFCCC

Asthma-related ER visits on the rise

A new study out of Connecticut shows that the rates for the hospitalization of asthma has increased substantially in the last few years. In fact, in the Constitution State alone, asthma rates increased nearly 30 percent. The rates are higher in urban areas where pollution is more prevalent.

Air pollution is the leading cause of the increase in asthma rates. Photo:  Don Hammond

Air pollution is the leading cause of the increase in asthma rates. Photo: Don Hammond

Info from the U.S. Center for Disease Control shows that U.S. national rates are on the rise, too. Those at most risk live in urban areas with a low socioeconomic status. The rates of increase among children is nothing short of terrifying. The top triggers of asthma include smog, wood smoke, ash, ground level ozone (when smoke from cars combines with oxygen and sunlight), sulfur dioxide (the result of burning coal and crude oil) and nitrogen oxide (another gas emitted from pipes and smokestacks). It’s no surprise that air pollution is a leading cause of millions of Americans’ inability to breathe.

ER Visits And Hospitalizations For Asthma On The Rise

by Jodie Mozdzer, The Courant, 15 September 2014

Ava Passley covered her nose and giggled as Dr. Jacob Hen walked into an examination room at his pediatric pulmonology office in Trumbull recently.

Ava, 3, of Bridgeport, knows what to expect from a visit with Hen, having dealt with asthma since she was 1. She also spent several nights in the hospital after an attack in 2012.

“I had always heard about wheezing, but had never really heard it before that,” her mother, Beverly Passley, said.

Ava is part of a growing number of people in Connecticut who have used the emergency room for asthma symptoms, according to the most recent figures from the state Department of Public Health. Each year from 2005 to 2009, Connecticut residents with asthma symptoms on average visited the emergency room 22,000 times and were hospitalized 4,800 times.

Read the full story, with charts, tables and other visuals, here.

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Great Lakes at a Crossroads?

This is a North America centric post.  As we begin to work toward gathering our energies for the New York climate action marches and beyond, it is important to begin to think of some of the critical ecosystems that are failing or at great risk due to climate change, commoditization of resources, and just the overall failure of the system that we live within.

This past weekend the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published a series of articles on the condition of the Great Lakes, including Lake Erie.

The three pieces are:

A Great Lake Goes Bad: Toxic algae cocktail brews in Lake Erie

Dead zones haunt Green Bay as Manure fuels algae blooms

and the one posted below

An early summer storm flushes loads of sediment off farmlands southwest of Green Bay. Manure-covered farm fields and big rains have proven to be a bad combination for the bay, because the phosphorus-rich runoff is causing massive algae blooms.

An early summer storm flushes loads of sediment off farmlands southwest of Green Bay. Manure-covered farm fields and big rains have proven to be a bad combination for the bay, because the phosphorus-rich runoff is causing massive algae blooms.

Changes in America’s Dairyland four the waters of Green Bay

Dan Egan  Journal Sentinel  September 13, 2014

Manure is a potent fertilizer that does wonders for the crops that feed the cows that give the milk that makes Wisconsin America’s Dairyland.

It’s also making a mess of its waters.

While Green Bay holds a mere 1.4% of Lake Michigan’s water, it receives one-third of the lake’s nutrient load — due largely to the farm fields that drip phosphorus-rich manure into the streams, creeks and rivers that flow toward the bay.

Samples taken in many of those waterways over the past decade show average summer phosphorus levels twice as high — and sometimes 4 times as high — as what scientists say is acceptable.

Phosphorus at these levels is the trigger for late-summer algae blooms that smother beaches and, when they die and decompose, burn up so much oxygen that the waters of Green Bay are now plagued with chronic “dead zones” — vast stretches in which almost nothing can live.

Read the whole article here

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Why the UN is useless on Climate Change–from the BBC

Okay, so much for binding climate change agreements.  As we’ve mentioned previously, the UN Climate Convention is worse than useless.  It is controlled by corporate interests while pretending to do something useful–which in turn eliminates the space for real, effective (and justice based) action on climate change.  Yet another reason for more direct action at the People’s Climate March in NYC on the 21st of this month, and the Flood Wall Street action on the 22nd.

Greenhouse gas levels rising at fastest rate since 1984

A surge in atmospheric CO2 saw levels of greenhouse gases reach record levels in 2013, according to new figures.

Concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere between 2012 and 2013 grew at their fastest rate since 1984.

The World Meteorological Organisation (WMO) says that it highlights the need for a global climate treaty.

But the UK’s energy secretary Ed Davey said that any such agreement might not contain legally binding emissions cuts, as has been previously envisaged.

The WMO’s annual Greenhouse Gas Bulletin doesn’t measure emissions from power station smokestacks but instead records how much of the warming gases remain in the atmosphere after the complex interactions that take place between the air, the land and the oceans.

About half of all emissions are taken up by the seas, trees and living things.

According to the bulletin, the globally averaged amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere reached 396 parts per million (ppm) in 2013, an increase of almost 3ppm over the previous year.

“The Greenhouse Gas Bulletin shows that, far from falling, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere actually increased last year at the fastest rate for nearly 30 years,” said Michel Jarraud, secretary general of the WMO.

“We must reverse this trend by cutting emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases across the board,” he said.

“We are running out of time.”

Read the complete story here

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Filed under Actions / Protest, Carbon Trading, Climate Change, Climate Justice, False Solutions to Climate Change, Forests and Climate Change, Oceans, Pollution, Uncategorized, UNFCCC

Amazon tribe captures illegal loggers, strips them of their clothing

Fed up?

That’s one way to put it.

With no help from their government, the Ka’apor tribe of indigenous Brazilians have taken the control of the fight against illegal logging in and near their lands. In a recent article on Huff Post, photojournalist Lunae Parracho captured these heated encounters on film.

The Amazon tribe strives to teach illegal loggers a lesson by stripping them of their clothing. Photo: LUNAE PARRACHO/Reuters

The Amazon tribe strives to teach illegal loggers a lesson by stripping them of their clothing, just as they continually strip their land of trees. Photo: LUNAE PARRACHO/Reuters

Illegal logging plagues the Amazon Rainforest. With so many governments controlled by the very corporations that strip this land, it’s not wonder the Ka’apor only receive a cold shoulder from their own. The result? A tribe so fed up and so tired of being threatened, that they apparently capture the loggers, strip them down and tie them up. They set fire to the loggers’ trucks. According to reports, the Ka’apor eventually let the loggers go, but there have been several altercations when the captured men try to escape or fight back.

Photos Capture Amazon Tribe As They Beat And Strip Illegal Loggers

By Nick Robins-Early, Photos by Lunae Parracho, Huffington Post: The World Post,
Sept. 8, 2014

The Ka’apor Indians, a tribe of indigenous Brazilians living in the northeast region of the country’s expansive rainforest, have begun taking up arms against illegal loggers who are threatening their homeland. On one of their recent searches for loggers, they were joined by Reuters photographer Lunae Parracho, who documented the scene when they reportedly found a number of the men.

“The warriors stripped them, tied them up and beat those who resisted,” Parracho details in his account of the event for Reuters. Parracho said that the raids are the tribe members’ way of taking matters into their own hands after a perceived lack of government assistance to stop the loggers.

Illegal logging is an endemic issue in the Amazon. A 2014 report by Greenpeace found that more than half of logging in the two largest timber-producing states in Brazil was done illegally from August 2011 to July 2012.

See more photos from the encounters here.


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Filed under Forests and Climate Change, Illegal logging, Indigenous Peoples, South America

Flood Wall Street, Social Media Action Today

MonopolyA massive direct action protest in Wall Street has been planned for Monday, September 22nd.

For the inspiration, organizers credit Our Power campaign’s call for action in solidarity with the frontline communities affected by climate change and pollution. In the call, the Our Power campaign makes clear the stark contrasts for New York next week:

On September 23rd, political and corporate leaders are meeting at the United Nations in New York City for the Climate Summit 2014. This summit represents yet another step towards the corporate takeover of the UN climate negotiations, and the privatization of land, water and air resources under the guise of a global climate compact. Meanwhile, as communities on the frontlines of climate change, we are the ones cultivating real, place-based solutions to address the global ecological crises. Indigenous peoples’ communities, communities of color and working-class white communities that are the first and most impacted by the storms, floods and droughts, are organizing to create millions of family-supporting jobs in clean energy, public transportation, zero waste, food sovereignty, community housing and ecosystem restoration.

This protest will bring people right to the heart of  neoliberal capitalism and have them take part in a nonviolent sit-in during business hours. Those organizing the protest ask everyone to wear blue, as a flood headed right for one of the most significant engines for our ecological catastrophe.

Here’s the schedule:

  • 9 AM – Gather @ Battery Park – Breakfast and Music from Rude Mechanical Orchestra
  • 9:30 AM – Speakers – including frontline community leaders of the Climate Justice Alliance, Naomi Klein, Rebecca Solnit and Chris Hedges
  • 11 AM — Nonviolent Direct Action Training & March
  • 12 PM — Flood Wall St. and mass Sit-in at the New York Stock Exchange

On the event’s website, the organizers make their call:

As world leaders meet in New York for a historic summit on climate change, communities across the globe will flood financial centers to confront the corporate and economic systems that are causing the climate crisis. Join a united global movement to attack the root causes of the climate crisis and build an economy based on justice and sustainability. We need climate justice. 

And here’s what you can do today! Flooding Facebook – The Basics:

Today, organizers are asking supporters to invite their Friends to the Facebook event for Flood Wall Street. This has advantages over traditional social media blitzes because event invites:

  • Are more visible in the Facebook stream
  • Are immediately quantifiable — it’s like a game!
  • Allow us more ways to follow up with people who express interest

Here is the event page:

Short link:

Sharing the Event:

There are a few options for sharing the event. One is to go to the Event, click RSPV and then Invite Your Friends, then and share from there.

You can also drop the link in the normal Share box as you would any other link.

Short link:

Full call to action and information here:

Sign up for updates and more information:

Join the Facebook event:

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Cellulosic Ethanol: Firsts, Failures, Myths and Risks

Photo by Fishhawk/Flickr

Photo by Fishhawk/Flickr

A little different post for this Friday afternoon. The Campaign to STOP GE Trees, Steering Committee member and co-director of Biofuelwatch , Dr. Rachel Smolker’s newest piece, published in Huffington Post Green, and here in full:

Cellulosic Ethanol: Firsts, Failures, Myths and Risks

Rachel Smolker   Huffington Post Green

Wires have been buzzing with news about the “first” commercial production of cellulosic biofuels, a project of POET and the Dutch State Mines (DSM) in Emmetsburg, Iowa that is to produce ethanol from corn stover.

There have actually been several “firsts” already, testament to the fact that each of those ended in failure, clearing the path for a new “first.” For example, Ineos Bio in Vero Beach Forida announced it was the first back in 2013. But then followed in December with an “operational update” announcing they would be “de-bottlenecking over the coming year. Hopes were pinned on Kior, but after spending 629 million dollars on a facility in Mississippi they are now headed into bankruptcy.

We’ve been told for years not to worry about the impact of corn ethanol on global food prices because corn ethanol was only a “stepping stone” to cellulosic fuels. We’ve also been told for years — since the initial mandate or ethanol was adopted back in 2005, that cellulosic ethanol was “just around the corner.” So now we have the latest “first,” supposedly to be followed in short order by two others: Dupont in Iowa and Abengoa in Kansas.

The POET DSM refinery is referred to, absurdly, as “Project Liberty,” but investors are concerned that federal policy may not reflect their enthusiasm for the idea that corncobs will deliver us from oil state bondage. Does anyone really believe that we will achieve any significant degree of energy independence nirvana using biofuels?

Right now we are putting around 40 percent of our corn crop into ethanol in the US, which is causing reverberating impacts around the world. Globally, the biofuel boom is driving up food prices, stimulating land grabs, depleting soils and waterways and causing loss of biodiversity. And even with all of these impacts, biofuels are providing only about 2 percent of global transportation fuel.

It hasn’t been cheap either, dependent on absurdly generous subsidies. Project Liberty itself received $105 million dollar loan guarantee, $20 million in grants from the state of Iowa, USDA funds to support feedstock delivery and more. Our tax dollars at work. According to the International Energy Agency, global subsidies for biofuels in 2010 were around 22 billion, rising 67 billion per year to a cumulative projected accumulation of 1.4 trillion in subsidies from 2011-2035. What else could that money be used for?

Making fuel from corn cobs requires harvesting, transporting, storing, refining process, more transporting…. all of which require energy and infrastructure while also depleting soils, waterways and ecosystems. A government funded study published in Nature Climate Change recently concluded that biofuels made from corn stover would release 7 percent more CO2 than the gasoline they supposedly replace. (Dupont’s own lifecycle analysis (surprise surprise!) revealed a fabulous 100 percent greenhouse gas reduction over gasoline).

Another recent study published in the Proceedings of National Academy of Science reported that around 530,000 hectares of precious remaining biodiverse prairie lands in the western corn belt had been converted to corn and soya between 2006 and 2011 (i.e. since the biofuel mandates).

Removing corn stover or other agricultural residues means soils get more compacted and less organic matter is recycled back into the soils, which are also left more exposed to erosion. More soil depletion means using more fertilizers. Fertilizers are made with fossil fuels and their application causes emissions of nitrous oxide (a potent greenhouse gas) and contamination of precious freshwater resources.

The refinery process in use by Project Liberty isn’t clear to me, but involves some proprietary “enzymatic cocktail” followed by fermentation with DSM’s “advanced yeast.” Presumably these enzymes are produced using genetically engineered microbes, and the yeast also are genetically engineered.

Tinkering with microbial genomes via both traditional genetic engineering and recently evolving synthetic biology techniques is risky business that we appear to be plowing headlong into without much thought or oversight! Tiny single-celled organisms are near impossible to contain. They are also known to engage in a range of gene transfer trickery (such as horizontal gene transfer, which means passing genes not only from parent to offspring, but also to unrelated individuals. (It is the primary mechanism for bacteria growing resistant to antibiotics). Are we sure that these engineered microbes and yeasts will be harmless when they escape the confines of Project Liberty?

Corn ethanol was initially lauded as a path to reduce emissions from transportation, but has since proven to be a path to hunger, biodiversity loss, increased greenhouse gas emissions, water eutrophication and more.

Do we need to keep repeating history in pursuit of the myth that we can substitute living plant biomass for fossil? Is it not already clear that we desperately need to protect soils, waterways, forests and ecosystems? Is it not obvious that with a rapidly expanding population to feed, escalating climate impacts and dwindling resources, biofuels are a flagrant and dangerous waste?

Why not focus on the one thing that is absolutely guaranteed to effectively reduce emissions and deliver lots of collateral benefits: drastically cut down on fuel consumption? The answer my friend, is blowing in the wind, a gale force wind heading right down Wall Street.



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