Crisis Gardening: Fresh Food Fast

Food security should be job number one for everyone right about now. As our food supply is under increasing threat, taking matters into your own hands (by working with the soil and nature’s forces) can provide both food and sanity. You’d be amazed how much food you can grow in a small amount of space and how good you’ll feel working with living things. What are you waiting for?

System Error

Infinite economic growth flies in the face of real limits that exist in the Earth’s biosphere. Excessive loading of carbon into the atmosphere has disrupted the earth’s natural carbon cycle and has changed our weather patterns that were stable before the industrial revolution. Our monoculture and corresponding destruction of diversity has led to a global pandemic that is threatening to bring down civilization as we know it. These phenomena are integrally linked to humanity’s obsession with growth. Time for de-growth!

Corrupted Civilization – Part 1

health worker face mask

The CORVID-19 pandemic and our response to it has exposed systemic flaws in our civilization in a crescendo manner. The protagonist in this moment is the federal government, which was by benevolent design intended to have command and control of the resources necessary to mobilize a response at the scope and scale necessary to deal with a national emergency. In my emergency management career, I have worked for government at all levels, including FEMA. For the most part I’m an unabashed believer in government, at times like this especially. I shake my head when I see how government has been stripped of its power (and effectiveness) and replaced with laissez-faire economic liberalism and free market capitalism. Starting with Reagan, the solution to waste and inefficiency in government (not to mention increased taxes and regulations) was to reduce the size of government and shift its traditional duties and responsibilities to the private sector. A neutered government rendered incapable of mounting the necessary response in a timely manner. The end result? The circulation of do-it-yourself recipes for constructing face masks. Shame on us.

It wasn’t always like this. During the mobilization for WWII, the Richmond shipyards on the west coast built a ship a day. That’s right, a ship a day. That was before neoliberalism. Look at us now. When President Trump was pressed to enact the Defense Production Act to manufacture masks and ventilators that are in short supply and critical to mitigate the pandemic and save lives, he basically said the private sector will handle it, refusing to enact the statute. Excuse me? Do you mean to say that the private sector where parties are competing with one another relentlessly pursuing profitability are going to cooperate and scale up in a timely manner? The slogan now being heard in widening circles is ‘people before profits’. Hence the tyranny of private sector corporations that have no accountability to the people. None whatsoever. Of course, as everybody knows people can vote with their dollar and take it elsewhere. Meanwhile, how many people will become infected and die during this pandemic? Government anyone?

The rich and powerful who have by omission or commission neutered government are to blame for the present situation we find ourselves in. Their emissary in the White House is their wet dream come true, a person mentally deranged, a loose cannon if you will, but brazen enough to do the unthinkable. Like refusing to utilize the Defense Production Act. The elite who can afford treatment at any cost simply do not care. In this moment I witness neoliberalism as being vicious, cruel and uncaring. Democratic socialism anyone?

Psyops, Information Warfare and the Internet

For the first time in all the years it has operated, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists in charge of the Doomsday Clock has added an additional threat alongside nuclear weapons and climate change in their 2019 Doomsday Clock Statement, and that is the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem. Specifically they stated:

“Amid these unfortunate nuclear and climate developments, there was a rise during the last year in the intentional corruption of the information ecosystem on which modern civilization depends. In many forums, including particularly social media, nationalist leaders and their surrogates lied shamelessly, insisting that their lies were truth, and the truth “fake news.” These intentional attempts to distort reality exaggerate social divisions, undermine trust in science, and diminish confidence in elections and democratic institutions. Because these distortions attack the rational discourse required for solving the complex problems facing humanity, cyber-enabled information warfare aggravates other major global dangers—including those posed by nuclear weapons and climate change—as it undermines civilization generally.”

…and

“…threats must be acknowledged before they can be effectively confronted. The current situation—in which intersecting nuclear, climate, and information warfare threats all go insufficiently recognized and addressed, when they are not simply ignored or denied—is unsustainable. The longer world leaders and citizens carelessly inhabit this new and abnormal reality, the more likely the world is to experience catastrophe of historic proportions.”

The internet is arguably the largest battlefield for information warfare to be fought. We’re all subject to a barrage of information munitions in the form of psychological operations. Psyops is defined as “Psychological operations are planned operations to convey selected information and indicators to audiences to influence their emotions, motives, and objective reasoning, and ultimately the behavior of governments, organizations, groups, and individuals.” Even government is not exempt from using psyops against its own citizens.

So what can be done? We must apply critical thinking as never before. More importantly we must recreate information ecosystems that are real, not virtual, in which to place trust. Yes this will require a major restructuring of civilization as we know it. Human’s cleverness are our undoing and much of the rest of life sadly. Sometimes putting the vehicle in reverse to back out of a bad situation is the best solution.

‘Wood wide web’—the underground network of microbes that connects trees—mapped for first time

A fungus known as a Dermocybe forms part of the underground wood wide web that stitches together California’s forests.

Kabir Gabriel Peay

‘Wood wide web’—the underground network of microbes that connects trees—mapped for first time

Trees, from the mighty redwoods to slender dogwoods, would be nothing without their microbial sidekicks. Millions of species of fungi and bacteria swap nutrients between soil and the roots of trees, forming a vast, interconnected web of organisms throughout the woods. Now, for the first time, scientists have mapped this “wood wide web” on a global scale, using a database of more than 28,000 tree species living in more than 70 countries.

“I haven’t seen anybody do anything like that before,” says Kathleen Treseder, an ecologist at the University of California, Irvine. “I wish I had thought of it.”

Before scientists could map the forest’s underground ecosystem, they needed to know something more basic: where trees live. Ecologist Thomas Crowther, now at ETH Zurich in Switzerland, gathered vast amounts of data on this starting in 2012, from government agencies and individual scientists who had identified trees and measured their sizes around the world. In 2015, he mapped trees’ global distribution and reported that Earth has about 3 trillion trees.

Inspired by that paper, Kabir Peay, a biologist at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California, emailed Crowther and suggested doing the same for the web of underground organisms that connects forest trees. Each tree in Crowther’s database is closely associated with certain types of microbes. For example, oak and pine tree roots are surrounded by ectomycorrhizal (EM) fungi that can build vast underground networks in their search for nutrients. Maple and cedar trees, by contrast, prefer arbuscular mycorrhizae (AM), which burrow directly into trees’ root cells but form smaller soil webs. Still other trees, mainly in the legume family (related to crop plants such as soybeans and peanuts), associate with bacteria that turn nitrogen from the atmosphere into usable plant food, a process known as “fixing” nitrogen.

The researchers wrote a computer algorithm to search for correlations between the EM-, AM-, and nitrogen-fixer–associated trees in Crowther’s database and local environmental factors such as temperature, precipitation, soil chemistry, and topography. They then used the correlations found by the algorithm to fill in the global map and predict what kinds of fungi would live in places where they didn’t have data, which included much of Africa and Asia.

Local climate sets the stage for the wood wide web, the team reports today in Nature. In cool temperate and boreal forests, where wood and organic matter decay slowly, network-building EM fungi rule. About four in five trees in these regions associate with these fungi, the authors found, suggesting the webs found in local studies indeed permeate the soils of North America, Europe, and Asia.

By contrast, in the warmer tropics where wood and organic matter decay quickly, AM fungi dominate. These fungi form smaller webs and do less intertree swapping, meaning the tropical wood wide web is likely more localized. About 90% of all tree species associate with AM fungi; the vast majority are clustered in the hyperdiverse tropics. Nitrogen fixers were most abundant in hot, dry places such as the desert of the U.S. Southwest.

Charlie Koven, an Earth system scientist at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory in California, applauds what he says is the first global forest microbe map. But he wonders whether the authors missed some important factors that also shape the underground world. Hard-to-measure processes such as nutrient and gas loss from the soil could affect where different microbes live; if so, the study’s predictions could be less accurate, he says.

Despite such uncertainties, having the first hard numbers for which tree-associated microbes live where will be “very useful,” Treseder says. The findings could, for example, help researchers build better computer models to predict how much carbon forests will squirrel away and how much they will spew into the atmosphere as the climate warms, she says.

Crowther, however, is ready to make a prediction now. His results suggest that as the planet warms, about 10% of EM-associated trees could be replaced by AM-associated trees. Microbes in forests dominated by AM fungi churn through carbon-containing organic matter faster, so they could liberate lots of heat-trapping carbon dioxide quickly, potentially accelerating a climate change process that is already happening at a frightening pace.

That argument is “a little bit more tenuous” to Treseder. She says scientists are still puzzling out how different soil fungi interact with carbon. But, she adds, “I’m willing to be convinced.”

SCOTUS Upholds Vote Rigging

In another death blow to our democracy, the United States Supreme Court ruled last Thursday that extreme gerrymandered congressional maps will no longer be reviewed nor struck down by the federal federal courts. This means that the extreme gerrymandering of states like North Carolina and Maryland – which were previously struck down by the federal courts – are now sanctioned by the highest court.

This combined with the Citizens United decision and the systematic eroding of voting rights in the U.S. has ensured that the country will continue its trajectory of replacing democracy with corporatocracy.

Grassroots Politics on the Internet

I just stumbled across this video which talks about politics on the web. Of course despite this video’s misleading inference, before there was the web, the internet existed. Before the public rollout of hypertext, i.e. the web, full blown grassroot politics had already been going on for about a decade. I know this first hand because I was the programmer and director of ECONET in the mid-eighties, a network devoted to appropriate technology and environmentalism. For all you history buffs…enjoy!