NP: Will Environmental Impacts Worldwide End Humanity?
By James W. Astrada
The environment according to many scientists is on the verge of change that will alter the planet for the worst. Humans are said to be the main culprit of climate change and global warming with heavy industry and fossil fuel emissions. Although this may be true, other factors such as genetic engineering and the destruction of natural environments may have an immediate worse effect in the present. Rising food prices and other human habits may doom the species into extinction or worse with social unrest, riots, and revolution.
It seems that metallic nanoparticles (which are ingredients that range from sunscreen to diesel fuel and odor eating socks) end up in soil causing potential dangers in food production and agriculture. A new study of soybeans grown in soil mixed with two common nanoparticles nano-zinc oxide and nano-cerium oxide can accumulate in crops and stunt bacteria that naturally fertilize soil. Patricia Holden from the University of California stated her concern over these results and co-authored the study published last month in August in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences:
“Previous studies showed plants can absorb whole nanoparticles, but those were done in hydroponic greenhouses. Real soil is very different. We thought most nanoparticles would get stuck to clays in soil, so we were surprised they were biologically available to bacteria and plants. There could be implications for the food supply. At the same time, however, we shouldn’t be scared of our soybeans. There’s still a lot we don’t know.”
Zinc oxide (ZnO) and cerium oxide (CeO2) are considered two materials commonly manufactured into nanoparticles. Sunscreens use nano-zinc oxide particles said to be as small as an HIV virus to absorb ultraviolet light without leaving a white residue. The particles end up running down drains and into sewage sludge, which wastewater treatment plants then sell to farmers as fertilizer. Cerium oxide in diesel fuel is said to help it burn more efficiently and in catalytic converters, the same benefits help cars filter exhaust pollution. With the deposits left by exhaust fumes, it ends up falling directly onto soils or washing into sewers which also end up on fields.
Holden and her team used soybeans grown with farm soil in a greenhouse to view the effects of nanoparticles on the crops. The result displayed that soil containing nanoparticles actually stunted crop growth as the roots accumulated with nano-cerium oxide. “The cerium oxide just shut down nitrogen fixation at high concentrations. The nodules were there, but they were empty with no bacteria. They weren’t functional.” Others that were not part of the study were sympathetic to the discovery; however did not attribute this as a threat as changes may occur in the soil with nanoparticles. Gregory Lawry of Carnegie Mellon University stated that “when nano-zinc oxide enters sewage sludge and soils, it sticks to bacteria and organic matter, changing its forms and chemistry. Likewise, cerium oxide might change its properties once mixed into soil. The implications of absorption and blocking nitrogen fixation in this study may be largely overstated.” Although this is the first study of its kind, Holden may be onto something as these nanoparticles may affect the food chain in future times. Although many are deeming the study as “not fully realistic,” major studies are needed to possibly replace these metallic particles we constantly use on a daily basis with alternative methods. As with any products humans use, the long term effects are never given without years of continuous research.
In other alarming news, the Secretary of Commerce Rebecca Blank declared King salmon watersheds “failures” making commercial fisherman eligible for disaster relief. The topic of overfishing and exhausting fisheries worldwide has been the topic of sustainability and the “tragedy of the commons” theory introduced by Garrett Hardin in 1968. This announcement of disaster was last week on Thursday September 14th for Yukon and Kuskokwim rivers (which flow into the Bering Sea), and for Cook Inlet region south of Anchorage (which includes the Kenai River). Blank stated that “some Cook Inlet salmon fisheries have experienced revenue losses of up to 90 percent of their historical average during the 2012 season, seriously hurting local economies that are dependent on fishing.”
The Yukon River (North America’s third longest river) is said to be an area of both commercial and sensible needs of the surrounding communities. King salmon being the largest of the five Pacific salmon that thrive in Alaska waters, hatch in freshwater streams, live a year in rivers and spend three to four years in ocean water before returning to streams to breed and die. According to the Alaska department of fish and game, some spawning Yukon River kings are said to swim more than 2,000 miles over two months across the width of Alaska to reach headwaters in Canada. The major loses did not only focus on economic loss ($2-$3.7 million), but recreational and tourism as well. Restaurants, RV parks, guides, and sport/angler fishing activities, and household incomes took a big hit as well. Although the poor returns are being investigated and are unknown, many factors could play into why this could be happening. Due to chemical pesticides, insecticides and other toxics used on agriculture, chemical runoff washes into streams, rivers, and oceans. This buildup causes ocean acidification that affects all marine life and their normal cycles. This could be a major factor on why this strange event occurred. Studies have shown that since 2006, that area has peaked and then stocks around the state declined. Whatever the case is, anthropocentric activities may be one of the causes of the mysterious decline of King salmon.
Sir John Beddington, the UK government’s chief scientific advisor stated that with population growth, diminishing food supplies, and water supplies becoming scarcer, all of these factors would combine to form a “perfect storm” in 2030 resulting in food shortages and rioting. New England Complex Systems Institute located in Cambridge Massachusetts predicts disaster and the possibility of food riots around the planet in the next 11 months. Marco Lagi of the Institute stated that once food prices reached a certain point, social unrest would break out in certain countries. Using evidence from the U.N and the Food and Agriculture Organization, the team plotted the price of food against time and the riots around the world.
© nesci.edu 2012.
If and when food is unavailable to hungry people, one can be assured of revolution and drastic violent change. Although Lagi and the team do not profess that rise in food prices will create these riots, they admit that they may start a chain of events that can lead to these conditions. Lagi went into further details concerning the deregulation of commodities markets, removal of trading limits for buyers and sellers, and the ethanol conversion issue of using land that could be utilized for food production, for fuel. All these points may be factors on why the food market is suffering and pointing at the U.S. for responsiblity (due to most subsidies originating from the United States).
There are no doubt major changes headed our way in the wake of these events. Experts are stating that due to climate change, more diseases are coming to North America via flooding and rainfall. Due to warmer temperatures, these bacteria will proliferate as extreme changes in water, heat and air quality occur. Whether or not the human species survives this imminent metamorphosis relies on our ability to change our current behavior and the way we run the world. Although it is in our nature to cause more entropy than any other species, our actions could cause the extinction of our own species. The time for change is obviously here and the concept of impunity is far from our human understanding. How we take the next vital steps into the near future will determine how far our contractual agreement with nature will go.
Timon Singh. “Scientists Predict That Food Riots Will Grip The Planet Within A Year.” Pakalert Press (September 2012).
Associated Press. “Commerce secretary declares Alaska salmon disaster.” The Spokesman-Review (September 2012).
David Mosher. “Nanoparticle Pollution Could Stunt Crop Growth.” Wired Science (August 2012).
David Mosher. “Nanoparticles in Sewage Sludge May End Up in the Food Chain.” Wired Science (January 2011).
Karen Butler. “5 Diseases on the Move in North America, Thanks to Climate Change.” AlterNet.org (September 2012).
Garret Hardin. “The Tragedy of the Commons.” Science (December 1968).
© Copyright 2012. James Astrada.