Friday, May 24, 2013

We are Makeing Life Miserable for Ourselves.

Anyone who says genetically modified foods are harmless is not paying attention to biology.

Just like their fingerprints, no two people have the exact set of genetic materials. Most of the variations and innocuous, like eye or skin color, hair texture, all these small differences that give each of us our unique looks and personality.

Some of these genetic differences create no apparent difference whatsoever between two people. But these differences CAN show up later when the environmental conditions change. One specific set of apparently irrelevant genes in a person may allow that person’s white blood cells to react more quickly when an unknown chemical somehow enters our food supply. Whereas those individuals who lack that gene get sick, those few individuals who possess that odd, rare gene live better.

We humans don’t change very rapidly. Malaria became a serious disease for the human race long ago. It took a while, but over thousands of years, some evolved immunity to it.
It took as much as 20 generations, hundreds of years, for humans to evolve light skin and blond hair. Those changes were driven by an ongoing need to absorb more UV radiation from the sun to make sufficient Vitamin D as we moved into higher latitude with reduced sunlight.

Eventually, only people with that useful genetic trait may exist in the world, or a large region of it, the others having been very slowly eliminated from or reduced in the gene pool. This is not meant to be cruel or racist; it’s why our world is populated with the tremendous variety of people we have today. Those of our ancestors whose bodies could better cope with, say, the Yersinia pestis bacteria or the H1N1 flu virus survived the Bubonic Plague in the mid-14th century and the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.



                      Yersinia pestis bacteria                                                                H1N1 flu virus

People who had within their genetic makeup an extra resistance to either that bacterium or that virus survived. Those that didn’t, died, and ended their genetic line. Such genetic mutations occur slowly and randomly in humans, and are then passed to the offspring of those who possess it. We can’t do much to either speed it up or stop it from happening.

Bacteria generate random mutations in theior genetic makeup much more rapidly then we humans do. And bacteria, and for that matter viruses, have an extra “genetic” trick we humans lack: they can swap genes. And I don’t mean to mix their genes in their offspring, as we do every time we make a baby. A living bacterium can amble up to a complete stranger bacterium and exchange genes. Each one tends to offer up what seems to be most effective in the environment they currently live in.

So if, by mutation or ay other means, a single bacterium develops resistance to, say, an overused antibiotic drug, chemical, or a genetic change on a species they prey on, they can quickly pass that on to all their neighbors, who pass it on to their neighbors, and so on. In a relatively short period of time, virtually all the bacteria which haven’t already died from exposure to the antibiotic or chemical are immune to it. We have created superbugs.

All living things evolve over time in the sense that their exact genetic makeup changes. It seems that the more complex the creature, the slower this process is.

So what is the point of all of this? Simple. If we rapidly change our environment, because of widespread and heavy use of drugs, chemicals or even genetically altering our food sources, we will trigger a massive “biological war” with the bacteria, insects and weeds that already attack us or our crops, just as occurred naturally when bacteria exchanged genes and became resistant to penicillin. We are forcing pests to become superbugs, super weeds, etc. Genetically modifying our crops will, in the long run, make life miserable for us humans, just as antibiotics eventually created bacteria and viruses we can’t defeat.

Are you listening, Monsanto?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Forget About Global Warming and Concentrate on Carbon Dioxide.

Global warming is a contentious debate. There is more political debate then there is scientific debate: most scientists accept that human activity is, in fact, changing the climate. Among scientists, there is much greater scientific debate about just how much of an effect humans have than there is on whether or not humans are, in fact affecting the climate.

Put aside political, ideological and religious disagreements for a moment and consider this. The atmospheric level of carbon dioxide I(CO2) has been rising since the industrial revolution began more than 150 years ago. Tree rings, ice cores drilled from glaciers, fossil sea shells and other forms of evidence tell us what concentration of CO2 existed in the past compared to today. We have now reached 400 parts per million, a level that has not existed on Earth for nearly a million years (see for example

It is a simple, proven scientific fact that CO2, methane and other greenhouse gasses trap infrared radiation, or heat. It is a simple, provable scientific fact that CO2 levels in our atmosphere are increasing, and the rate at which it is increasing is accelerating exactly in lock step with our burning of fossil fuels. There is legitimate scientific debate about where that excess carbon in our atmosphere may eventually go if anywhere. Can the oceans absorb some of it? The answer seems to be “Yes,” but at the expense of acidifying the oceans waters and killing many species which can’t handle that excess acidification. Does it make plants grow faster? There is mixed evidence for this, but one thing is certain: one of the main sources of CO2 uptake is the planet’s rainforests, and we’re depleting them rapidly so we can raise more beef cattle, which, by the way, is one of the main sources of methane, and even more potent greenhouse gas.

My point is this: whether or not you believe that the temperature of the planet is actually warming, the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is growing and at an accelerating rate. Doesn’t it at all worry you that we are pumping tons and tons of this stuff into our atmosphere every single day without the simplest thought about what it MIGHT do? Doesn’t it make sense that we try to NOT change the atmosphere of the only planet that we know of that can sustain life when we can’t yet predict all the consequences of that change?

Forget about what we may or may not be doing and concentrate on what we KNOW we are doing: increasing the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere of our planet to a level not seen virtually since the dawn of humans.

That alone should be cause for concern.