A change in diet can help mitigate climate change

It’s already known that corporate agriculture and “the global food system is a major driver of climate change, land-use change, and biodiversity loss” as well as depletion of fresh water and pollution and ecological damage through fertilizer runoff.

Certain kinds of agriculture though are especially damaging and, despite western preferences and even government subsidies, meat and dairy production are particularly resource-intensive.

The concern is that as global population approaches 10 billion by 2050 and incomes rise in some formerly less developed nations, more people will choose “meat-rich western diets.”  To a point that may be positive; people “who are undernourished need to eat a little more meat and dairy.”  But, not in western nations; for example, “UK and US citizens need to cut beef by 90% and milk by 60% while increasing beans and nuts/seeds between 4 and 6 times.”  This “flexitarian” diet (less beef, less pork, fewer eggs, much more beans, nuts, and seeds) could “halve emissions from livestock.”  That, and technological changes in farming practices–how manure is managed, more universal water storage, “far more careful use of fertilizers”, etc.–will help further reduce the greenhouse gas emissions attributed to agriculture.

A positive is that the needed diet and technological changes “are already being implemented somewhere in the world.”  But, “global change is needed.”

The evidence is now unequivocal–we need to change our diets if we are to have a sustainable future.  The fact that it will also make us healthier makes it a no-brainer.”

Read the article; see the graphic (Damian Carrington, The Guardian, October 10, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

The consequences of warming half a degree; and the courage to chart a new future

The recent IPCC report described the consequences of the Earth warming 1.5 degrees Celsius (2.7 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial levels.  The Earth has already warmed 1 degree C since the 1800’s.

How big of a problem is half a degree more?  It’s huge!

See this article and graphic for a look at the consequences.

Keep in mind that the Earth will warm more than 1.5 degrees C.  That target was the aspiration of the Paris climate negotiations in 2015.  But, nations won’t meet that target.  “Holding warming to 1.5 degrees C would entail a staggering transformation of the global energy system beyond what world leaders are contemplating today.  Global greenhouse emissions would need to fall in half in just 12 years and zero out by 2050.”  “Virtually all of the coal plants and gasoline-burning vehicles on the planet would need to be quickly replaced with zero-carbon alternatives.”

Current national/international efforts are more consistent with an increase of 3.1 to 3.7 degrees C by 2100.  Keep that in mind when looking at the enormous consequences of 1.5 degrees C.

“Each time the Earth heats up an extra half degree, the effects aren’t uniform across the planet.  Some regions, such as the Arctic, will heat up 2 to 3 times faster.”  “The number of extremely hot days around the world … tends to rise exponentially as the global average temperature increases.”

The bottom line is that changes fueled by climate change are happening now especially in places like the United States.  They will continue to happen and will get worse.  But, we still have an opportunity individually and collectively to mitigate and adapt to the consequences.  That opportunity will require courage and bravery.  We can’t look to and live in the past.  It’s not about making something great again.  It’s about making a new future that is more responsive to the planet we live on.  It’s an opportunity; we need to take it.  It’s happening to us right now.

(Brad Plumer, Nadja Popovich, and Iris Gottlieb, New York Times, October 7, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.



100 years later, we are even more vulnerable to an influenza pandemic

100 years ago–in 1918–a global influenza pandemic killed 20 million to 50 million people worldwide; perhaps 20% to 33% of all people living at that time were infected.

100 years later, medical science has advanced tremendously in many ways and we have regular flu vaccines.  However, despite all that, “we are much more vulnerable today to a catastrophic influenza pandemic than we were in 1918.”

Why?  Compared to 1918, the global population has increased by at least 3 times.  For the vast majority of the world, crowded living conditions are worse.

And, while we do have regular flu vaccines today, the effectiveness of the vaccines is limited.  Plus, much of the world has no quick access to flu vaccines.  And, if vaccines continue to be made with eggs, distribution won’t improve and they will continue “to have only a limited impact.”

Also, “we are extremely vulnerable today to any disruption in international trade in lifesaving medicines and medical devices.”  “The vast majority of drugs that we use in [the United States] come from China.”  “There are no stockpiles [of drugs] anywhere.”  If China was affected by a pandemic or some other disaster or was disposed not to assist due to politics and this trade was impacted, “the collateral damage from people dying of all kinds of medical conditions will far exceed even the first months’ mortality associated with the flu.”

What is one large barrier to preparing adequately for a possible flu pandemic?  Science literacy … “so much antiscience has become the mainstay for how we make decisions.  You can’t do anything about … response to any of these issues if you don’t have a population that is willing to support them.”

Read the interview with Dr. Michael Osterholm (Rebecca Voelker, JAMA, September 28, 2018).

For more information about medical advances and preparedness, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.


Seeking information about a science topic–where do you go? Who do you trust?


Take the short survey (click the link above) … when you are looking for information about a science topic, where do you go?  And, which source/tool do you trust the most?

Much of our day-to-day society–globally–is based on the fruits and sometimes the hard lessons of scientific research.  The things we can do on a daily basis, the foods we eat, the tools we have available to us, the ways we can communicate,  the ways we travel, the ways we work, the ways we reproduce, and on and on … literally our entire lives (and even the ends of our lives) are all made available to us through scientific research.

Yet, at a time  when the world grapples with the sober realities of increasing climate change, when diseases thought controlled once again spread across countries and kill thousands, when the short-term view gains ascendancy among the power class, when people need to really understand challenges and options, then the communication of science needs to be as clear and straightforward as possible … and people likewise need to make extra effort to look behind the headlines and really understand the issues, the options, and the trade-offs.

Please take the survey and help us to understand the paths and preferences of the communication of science information.  Thank you!

(Kevin Engel, October 7, 2018)



Robotic farms may be a future for agriculture

Strategian Science is based in Iowa, USA–a region well-known for modern agricultural productivity.  Unlike the often promoted image of the happy and prosperous farm family, the reality is corporate.  There are fewer and fewer true family farms.  To survive in agriculture today often means corporate ownership of huge tracts of land tended by tenant farmers–a kind of modern throwback to a feudal arrangement.

A related and chronic problem in the U.S. today is the lack of agricultural workers; “the number of field and crop laborers available to farms has been rapidly declining” since the early 2000’s.  That has been very expensive to the U.S. economy in terms of lost farm production and revenue, plus the loss of revenue and jobs in related industries like trucking, marketing, and manufacturing.  Farm laborers are often immigrants; immigration crackdowns and harsh political rhetoric have greatly lowered the flow of new farm workers, and U.S.-born workers are not taking their place.

To meet this challenge, a company called Iron Ox is developing a largely automated indoor hydroponic facility where robots overseen by software replace human workers to grow, tend, and harvest a variety of leafy greens.  The production of the initial indoor facility may be comparable to an “outdoor farm that might be five times bigger.”

The potential of smaller, intensive, indoor automated growing facilities could solve two challenges–“the shortage of agricultural workers and the distances that fresh produce currently has to be shipped.”  Robotics here may not eliminate human jobs so much as fill existing gaps in the human workforce.  Plus, the smaller size of these growing facilities allows placing them “close to urban areas … [which] will enable stores to choose vegetables fresher than those that had to travel thousands of miles to get there.”

Read the article (Erin Winick, MIT Technology Review, October 3, 2018).

For more information about robotics, job automation, and its impacts, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.

A paint that reduces surface temperature

An innovation that fits under the category of trying to cope with the hotter weather brought on by climate change …

A team from the University of Colorado “has developed a passive radiative cooling plastic film.”  This new material, applied as paint to an existing outdoor surface, “could drop cooling costs by up to 15% in some climates.”  Air conditioning accounts for some 17% of all residential electricity use in the United States; using this film to reduce surface temperatures and lessening the need for air conditioning could mean substantial savings.

This innovation builds on the long-standing practice of painting homes white in tropical countries–the white color reflecting “as much sunlight as possible.”  But, normal white paint “typically reflects … about 80% of visible light” plus it still absorbs ultraviolet and near-infrared light–all of which warms buildings.

The new materials “reflect nearly all the sun’s incoming rays” and also deal with near-infrared and ultraviolet light as well (up to 99.6% overall).  The materials reflect the heat “without warming the surrounding air.”

Multiple research teams around the world are working on passive radiative cooling materials.  The efforts include a “polymer and silver film combo to cool water for use in air conditioning,” this plastic film/paint (embedded with tiny glass beads), and a polymer roofing material.  Each has been shown to cool surfaces by as much as 10 degrees C and save cooling costs.

The new cooling paint appears to solve an additional challenge as well–applying these new materials to existing buildings.  The paint has been successfully tested in the heat of Phoenix, Arizona where “painted surfaces remained 6 degrees C cooler than the surrounding air.”

Read the article (Robert F. Service, Science, September 27, 2018).

For more information about the impacts of climate change and attempts to adapt and mitigate, search the Science Primary Literature Database and the Headline Science Database.