Genetically Modified Foods

     I don’t think all genetically modified foods are necessarily a bad thing if done with the right motivation and properly labelled so that people with allergies can avoid things they are allergic to.

     They aren’t largely done with the right motives however, especially when Monsanto is involved.  Then you can be sure the only motivation is profit and they don’t care how many people they kill in the process.  Instead on concentrating on making plants a better food source, they concentrate on making them resistant to carcinogenic weed killer, to making the seeds non-viable so farmers have to buy seed from them every season, etc.

     Even with the right motives though there needs to be adequate safety measures.  For example, rice is what is known as a C3 plant.  C3 plants are inefficient in their use of water and are in areas with a lot of sunlight, less efficient at photosynthesis than C4 plants.

     Rice is a staple food source for half of the worlds population but it requires a large amount of water to grow and thus can not be grown in more arid environments.  There is presently work to develop a C4 version of rice.  If this work is successful, it would allow rice to be grown in areas where water is less plentiful and in some regions it might allow it to grow faster because of more efficient photosynthesis.

     A danger I see with this is whether the C4 version of rice that might exist is that it might have less nutrients than the natural version.  The why of this is related to the more efficient use of water.  Plants bring water into themselves by osmosis, and along with that water they bring in many minerals that they don’t need for their own growth, but we do.

     If you increase the growth rate or reduce the amount of water they need to grow, along with less water intake, they will likely also take in less minerals, that we need.  So while the resulting crop might meet our caloric energy needs, it won’t meet our nutritional needs.

     If a gene is taken from another food crop plant, then it probably isn’t going to introduce any new toxin.  If genetically modified foods were required to be labelled with where the new genes were taken from people with allergies to the source organisms could avoid them.  But there is still the issue of if you make a plant grow faster with less water, what happens to the nutritional content, especially the mineral content.  That needs to be assessed and publicly disclosed, and thus far those behind the GMO development seem to want nothing to do with public disclosure.

     If they have their way, we could all starve to death in the midst of a glut of food.

Information Evolution

     DNA is a way to store information.  Magnetic domains on a surface is a way to store information.  Both are subject to an occasional error and modification.

     DNA codes for something that can propagate itself.  For the most part bits on magnetic surfaces do not.

     An exception is computer viruses.  Like DNA, usually their primary function is to make copies of themselves.  They resemble a biological virus in that they don’t have the necessary means to propagate themselves coded into them, they rely on the ability to take over resources intended for other functions.

     The rate at which both DNA and viruses mutate due to transcription errors is very very small, but lifeforms are so abundant that even the very rare useful mutation has a good chance at propagating and eventually dominating.

     Right now not the case for computer viruses.  The numbers are too small for there to be only a very trivial chance of a mutation occurring and propagating, and an even smaller chance of a useful mutation doing so.

     As the Internet continues to grow in size and complexity, and as the computing resources available to viruses continue to increase, there may come a time when computer viruses can grow sufficiently in number that useful mutations can propagate, and continue to grow.  Such a virus would be difficult for anti-viral software to eliminate because they would constantly change and not match the fingerprint the anti-virus companies generate for their software to identify them.

     Maybe some of these modifications would begin to encode for other digital life machinery making the virus less dependent upon hijacked machinery.

     Then at some point it might acquire intelligence and decide carbon based lifeforms are troublesome, threatening, and slow enough to easily eradicate.

 

Antartica Melting

     Seems like last year I was reading about how the ice deposits on Antarctica were growing, today I read they’re melting, “dramatically”. Of course people are going to milk as much drama out of it as they can.

     The way I see it, it’s just part of the Earth’s feedback system. 90% of the human population lives within 100 miles of the coast, so we kick out too much CO2 or methane or whatever, the ice melts, floods those 100 miles, people drown, CO2 levels go down, balance is restored.

     I don’t understand why people make such a big thing of it.

Trends

In 2014 man emitted no more carbon dioxide into the air than in 2013, this in spite of a world wide economic growth of 3%.  I view this as a very good trend, it means we’ve finally been able to grow the economy using better forms of energy than burning carbon-rich rocks.

Most of that was due to installation of wind power in China.  In 2014, China added more wind capacity than coal.  They’ve got incentive.  It’s estimated that more than 600,000 Chinese are killed each year by pollution and a loss of approximately 1.8% of agricultural output due to damage and blocked light caused by pollution.

While the fact that we didn’t increase in man-made global carbon-dioxide in 2014 is good news from a pollution standpoint, it’s also good news from an economic standpoint.  It means that renewable environmentally energy sources have become viable enough to contribute effectively to economic growth, and that in a sustainable way.

While coal use is declining in China and the US, oil consumption increased.  A lot of this increase was by industrial users of petroleum products and was the result of significantly lower cost domestic supplies.  In the long run though I think we can all expect to see oil gradually price itself out of the market.

The US Department of Energy is assisting China in building two molten-salt nuclear fission reactors.  These reactors are melt-down proof, can burn actinides that otherwise would keep waste hot for a hundred thousand years, and can extract almost 100% of the energy from Uranium or Thorium where as conventional pressurized water reactors and boiling water reactors used in the United States can only extract about .6% of Uranium’s energy potential and can’t easily utilize Thorium except to the degree it can be bread in a separate breeder reactor into Uranium 233 which is fissile and can be used as a fuel.

Just using the nuclear waste we have sitting in spent fuel rod ponds from conventional reactors, these reactors could provide all the Earth’s electricity needs for 2000 years.  I’d like to see them built here so we could start ridding ourselves of some of this long term waste.  I am hopeful that if it meets with success in China, it will eventually be adopted here.

Lockheed Martin has a new approach to controlled nuclear fusion that holds great promise.  What they don’t tell you in this video is that there is more to it than being high beta, it also has a magnetic field structure that increases in strength as you get away from the centre of the plasma, this is opposite of a Tokamak where the field strength decreases as you get farther from the centre of the plasma.  This makes Lockheed’s design inherently stable as opposed to the Tokamak being inherently unstable.

I’ve maintained for years that we don’t have to live in a 6 ft3 cubical with no heat, no light, and a strictly vegetarian diet in order to live in a sustainable manner, and now I believe we are finally headed in that direction.

Threats to that are the Agenda 21 crowd, who do believe that’s how we live, and on the opposite side of the fence, conservatives who would have us live in the same manner as we did in 1950.  However, I see more and more resistance forming to Agenda 21, and I see the conservatives dying off so I have reason to hope we’ll get there.

Preparing for the Future

The last fifty years or so, the data I’ve shuffled through suggests a warming trend of about .1°C / 11-year or so solar cycle with about a .3°C difference between solar minimum and solar maximum, and then a whole lot of random variation (weather) on top of that which obscures the signals, but they are obtainable by averaging out the noise.

We can argue all day about whether it’s natural or man-made or what percentage of the warming is attributable to CO2 but I think the bottom line is that even if it is all man-made, the political will to do anything about it doesn’t exist.

It would seem in light of that the wise thing to do would be to start preparing for it, and here in the Pacific Northwest, one obvious change will be the amount of snow pack in the Cascades.  We depend upon that snow pack not only for summer water but also for much of our energy needs in the form of hydroelectric power.

In preparation for that reduced snow pack, and also to prevent massive flooding in the event of winter precipitation coming down as rain rather than snow in the Cascades, we should build more and larger reservoirs, to both hold the run-off and provide summer water for our needs.

The other big adaptation we should make is how we use water for agriculture.  Right now, if you look at central and Eastern Washington with Google Earth, you’ll see a pattern of circles in squares.  These are aerial irrigation sprinklers in a square field.  This is an extremely cheap form of irrigation, providing water is inexpensive, but it is inefficient.

With aerial sprinkler irrigation, first you loose a large percentage of the water to evaporation.  But then without any monitoring of how far water is penetrating down in the soil, too much water is used, and the result of that is the leaching of minerals out of the soil which results in a number of bad consequences.

First, it increases the salinization of rivers, and where that water is used downstream for irrigation, of soil, which inhibits growth of many crops.  The increased salinity of the water reduces the normal differentiation where it enters the seas and drives ocean currents.

Farmers then add phosphorus and nitrogen to their fields to get plants to grow.  Those plants however are deficient in other minerals, which we as humans need in our diet.  So one consequence of this poor farming practice is soil depleted in nutrients resulting plants also depleted in nutrients.

Then that phosphorus and nitrogen washes off into streams and rivers where it drives surface algae blooms depleting the water under the surface of oxygen.  The result of this are streams and rivers where fish can’t survive and huge dead spaces in the ocean where only surface algae and anaerobic bacteria (which don’t rely on oxygen but instead derive energy by combining hydrogen and sulphur producing in the process hydrogen sulphide which is a strong contributor to what gives farts their odour (methane the main constituent of farts is odourless).

There is some evidence to suggest that at least one of the great mass extinctions of the past was caused by conditions that resulted in huge blooms of these anaerobic bacteria resulting in atmospheric levels of hydrogen sulphide which were toxic (anything above about 300ppm).

Suffice it to say that global warming or no, the irrigation situation is something we should address.  The solution is drip irrigation with sensors placed at maximum root depth to turn off the water when it’s reached that depth.

There is no way of knowing the trend will continue as it has for the last fifty years, we could enter another Maunder minimum, or maybe a full scale nuclear war will result in a nuclear winter, but the odds I think favour a continuation of global warming.

Either way both of these things are good investments.  If global warming halts, we can make more electricity to sell to California, and investment in more sane farming practices will preserve our soil and provide us with more nutritious food.

Googles New Ranking Scheme – Death by Consensus

     Google has altered their scheme to rank pages no longer based upon popularity, as determined by the number and quality of incoming links, but rather by what they are considering “truth“, as based upon the number of non-comforming “facts” upon a page.

     That is to say if your page agrees with the majority of tripe on the Internet as a whole, it is ranked high, if it disagrees, it is ranked low.  So mass-media, like, “Unfair and Unbalanced Fox News”, can flood the net with “facts“, and anyone who disagrees with them, no matter how valid and well supported their argument may be, simply won’t get heard because their page contains ideas that are counter to those of the majority.

     Do no evil?  I think not!  This is about as Orwellian as a twist as Google could have possibly given the Internet.

Why Haven’t We Been Back to the Moon?

Many explanations are given for the reason why we haven’t returned to the moon, ranging from general apathy to extraterrestrials warning us off.

I believe what we’re really seeing is a symptom of having reached peak society.  July 20, 1969 represents peak society.  That’s the real peak that should concern us, not peak oil.

The reason we made it then and can’t make it back now is that the coherence of society has decreased since that time.

In my view, society is a living thing, and like anything it reaches a peak and then declines.  We’ve hit the peak, just barely made it to the moon during that peak, and now we’re on the downside.

I, in my mid-50’s, have come to realize that most of my decline has been more from apathy than from physiology, and so it is also with our society.

Right now we’ve got some serious illnesses in our society, ever increasing prison populations, a loss of civil rights, privacy, individual autonomy, unsustainable energy production methods, unsustainable agriculture, unsustainable water usage patterns, unsustainable mineral extraction and usage, unsustainable disposal of waste products.

All of these are these things are solvable with current technology, only the will to solve them is lacking.

Take prison populations, science tells us that longer sentences actually result in higher recidivism rates, and this shouldn’t be surprising.  You take someone away from living in society for a period, they forget how, they lose access to the resources necessary to do so, so what alternative do they have except to return to what they know to survive?

Science tells us that for every dollar spent in genuine rehabilitation programs, job training, chemical dependence treatment, sex offender treatment, schooling, providing the resources needed for felons to get back on their feet, three dollars in future prison costs are saved.  The savings aren’t just economic though, the social benefits of helping to keep families intact, the human savings, are enormous.

What to do about crime then?  One thing that influences crime significantly is the distribution of incomes.  The greater the economic diversity, the greater the crime rate.

Another thing that doesn’t seem to get much note, is mental health.  Having spent time at Airway Heights correctional facility, it is obvious that a large percentage of the inmates there are either bipolar or schizophrenic, not in a subtle way that might be difficult to diagnose but in a blatant “these people are just plain not functional” way.

One person I was with there was a Vietnam veteran who has been hit with a mortar or some form of explosive and it was estimated flew some 250 feet in the air.  He suffered severe brain damage which left him in a coma for six months.  After coming out of the coma he joined the Hells Angles where while drunk he shot and killed someone and was sentenced to life imprisonment.  He had been there for 27 years when I was there.

Now maybe my thinking is distorted, but he didn’t volunteer to go to Vietnam, he was drafted and sent there against his will, severely damaged as a result, and then punished with life imprisonment for his damage.  Maybe it’s just me but that’s screwed up.

Lacking treatment, they will still be non-functional when returned to society.  It costs approximately $46,000 a year to house an inmate in prison, I have to think treatment would be less expensive economically, and certain less expensive socially.

Take the issue of civil rights, those are being eroded because we allow them to be, we decide it’s okay to silence our opponents through the law, it’s okay to spy on everyone in the name of “safety”, it’s okay to take half of what we produce and do what mostly benefits the powerful elite.  We have to disarm ourselves from any weapons that might be effective in fighting a totalitarian regime.

Energy production, a decade ago we were told that solar and wind would never be economically competitive with fossil fuels, today solar and wind are both competitive with the cheapest and most environmentally damaging fossil fuel, coal.  They keep telling us that neither wind nor solar can contribute more than 20% to our power grid because of their unreliability but both Germany and the Netherlands have been able to exceed a 30% contribution largely through geographical diversity, and yet the United States which has the potential for much greater geographical diversity only gets about 2% of it’s electrical energy needs from solar.

The argument is made that wind and solar can’t provide baseload capacity and thus have to be backed up by an equal amount of conventional generation.  This would only be true if there were no diversity and there were no relationship between peak production and peak load.  With both there is very much diversity available in the United States and with Solar the generation closely matches electrical load.

Then there is Geo-thermal, we have ample resources in this area although the most ample, those in Yellowstone, aren’t allowed to be tapped.  In terms of overall environment, we should not only allow but encourage geothermal resources in Yellowstone to be tapped.

Unsustainable water usage is another problem, there are two big things we can do to greatly improve this situation.  The bulk of our water usage is for agriculture.  The first thing we need to do is plant crops that are suitable to their environment.  The second, is switch from aerial sprayers for irrigation to drip irrigation with soil sensors that shut off water when it reaches appropriate depths.  This will not only reduce wasted water but it will also stop leaching valuable minerals out of the soil.

I could go on but the bottom line is all of these problems we are experiencing, there are social and technological fixes, the one problem we don’t seem to get over, is the same one that is keeping an extra fifty pounds around my mid-section, and that’s apathy.