Global soils are the stuff of life. We’re destroying everything they offer.

Global soils are the source of all life on land but their future looks “bleak” without action to halt degradation, according to the authors of a UN report.

A quarter of all the animal species on Earth live beneath our feet and provide the nutrients for all food. Soils also store as much carbon as all plants above ground and are therefore critical in tackling the climate emergency. But there also are major gaps in knowledge, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) report, which is the first on the global state of biodiversity in soils.

The report was compiled by 300 scientists, who describe the worsening state of soils as at least as important as the climate crisis and destruction of the natural world above ground. Crucially, it takes thousands of years for soils to form, meaning urgent protection and restoration of the soils that remain is needed.

The scientists describe soils as like the skin of the living world, vital but thin and fragile, and easily damaged by intensive farming, forest destruction, pollution and global heating…

Soils simultaneously produce food, store carbon and purify water, he said, so they are “at least as important” as the climate and above-ground biodiversity crises. “If you’re losing the top soil through bad treatment and then erosion, then it takes thousands of years until the soil is produced again.”

We know next to nothing about the life in our soils. Yes, we have categorized a great deal – with little or no information on how they act upon their environment. Which, in turn, is the growth medium for virtually all our food.

Asteroid impact simulation ends with a new hole in Europe

An international exercise to simulate an asteroid striking Earth has come to an end. With just six days to go before a fictitious impact, things don’t look good for a 298 km-wide region between Prague and Munich…

This may sound like a grim role-playing game, but it’s very serious business. Led by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s Centre for Near Earth Object Studies, the asteroid impact simulation is meant to prepare scientists, planners, and key decision makers for the real thing, should it ever occur…

…A key takeaway from this year’s simulation was the dramatic way in which key variables, such as the probable impact area and affected population size, were affected by new observations. At one point, for example, North Africa, the UK, and much of Scandinavia were inside the possible strike zone…

Previous tabletop exercises provided many years of warning time, but not this one. Accordingly, the focus of exercise was geared toward the disaster response and the importance of identifying dangerous asteroids in advance.

RTFA. Be prepared! Even if the only response possible in real time is RUN LIKE HELL!

81% of DuPont investors at annual meeting oppose corporation’s policies on plastic pollution

Some 81% of shareholders voted for a report that would disclose how much plastic the company releases into the environment each year and assess the effectiveness of DuPont’s pollution policies, according to a regulatory filing. DuPont’s management had advised investors to reject the proposal.

The level of support was the highest on record for an environmental resolution opposed by management, according to the Sustainable Investments Institute.

“This vote confirms a tidal wave of support by investors to confront a deadly contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at nonprofit shareholder advocate As You Sow, which filed the proposal.

Bravo! RTFA – and pushing the backwards DuPont management even further, 84% of the investors voted against management failure on increasing diversity in employment.

In Memoriam: John Coster-Mullen


Illustration of John Coster-Mullen and the Little Boy bomb

by Alex Wellerstein

I don’t know off-hand exactly when I started talking to John. A look through old e-mails suggests that in 2006 we had been talking, but that those e-mails reference earlier conversations. My guess is that we had been in touch in 2005, when I was working on my paper on how people draw atomic bombs…Around that time I probably bought John’s book and got in touch with him, and we began exchanging documents as well…

Over the next 15 years or so, we exchanged quite a bit of documents, I acquired three versions of his book, Atom Bombs, and we got to spend some time together in person at the Atomic Heritage Foundation’s conference for the 70th anniversary of the Manhattan Project. He was always generous and excited. He clearly really enjoyed that he, a truck driver (among other things), was producing research that academics from places like Harvard and Princeton thought was important and valuable

I enjoyed John as a friend, correspondent, and as a subject of study. John is what I call a “secret seeker” in my book, someone who — for whatever reason — is driven towards learning “nuclear secrets.”…With John, I never got the sense that he was strongly motivated by the politics of secrecy, though he sometimes could sound like that when he got irritated with the Department of Energy…Sometimes he would give the old Ted Taylor line, that the surprising thing about the atomic bombs is that they aren’t that hard to build (if you have the fuel, etc…

I think discovering “the secret” for him was more about proving himself as a researcher than probably any big statement about secrecy. Over the years I’ve gotten various documents from him trying to explain himself, and to my eye they come down to a sort of love for the work, the topic, and the people — one that only grew over time and he had more exposure to all three…

The Cold War mentality was premised in part on hiding science and technology from your competitors. The easiest part of that for American politicians was – and remains – casting all serious competitors as somehow inherently EVIL. That justified reliance on secrecy about absolutely everything…and still does. Including the banal which have already made it to the back pages of local, regional newspapers.

But, the tale, the personality of John Coster-Mullen grows through this dedication to the history of his work and achievements. I hope that recognition of his research will continue to grow, as well.

Future Steak?

The shoppers of the world don’t know it yet, and farmers are only just beginning to worry about it, but supermarket meat aisles are probably on the cusp of change. Another range of products will soon appear alongside the traditional steaks and lamb chops. They’ll be identical to what we know as meat, but with a major difference: they will have been made in an industrial-scale laboratory…

…A growing group of food scientists and food companies believes we are about to enter an era when no animal needs to be killed and no land grazed to create meat. The economics are getting better and better. It’s good news for lab meat pioneers, vegetarians and animal ethicists. For the Australian and New Zealand meat industries, its effect may depend on how they react.

America’s largest meat company, Tyson Foods, gave the economics of lab meat a vote of confidence in January 2018 when it bought into lab meat startup Memphis Meats. It joined global food production giant Cargill, a company with annual revenue of more than US$100 billion a year.

With these two industry giants now backing the lab meat push, development is likely to ramp up and costs are expected to come down. Lab meat could be on the menu even earlier than forecast. Most estimates now see it coming to market within 10 years.

When it arrives, lab meat will take its place alongside increasingly sophisticated plant-based “meat” products from companies such as Beyond Meat and the Bill Gates-backed Impossible Foods.

These last two are already widely available and easy to prepare into a delicious snack or main course. Sufficient fat and protein guarantee mouth feel, flavor and texture. So – for the time being – the vegan alternatives to traditional slaughterhouses is ahead. I buy and consume them on a weekly basis. Still…looking forward to see what the labgrown animal product will have to offer.

Texas’ utility incompetence brings havoc, steep price-tag, hundreds of miles North and South

Texas’ deep freeze didn’t just disrupt natural gas supplies throughout Lone Star country—its effects rippled across the country, extending as far north as Minnesota. There, gas utilities had to pay $800 million more than they anticipated during the event, and Minnesota regulators are furious.

“The ineptness and disregard for common-sense utility regulation in Texas makes my blood boil and keeps me up at night,” Katie Sieben, chairwoman of the Minnesota Public Utility Commission, told The Washington Post. “It is maddening and outrageous and completely inexcusable that Texas’s lack of sound utility regulation is having this impact on the rest of the country.”

The gas and electric markets in Texas are lightly regulated and highly competitive, which has pushed companies to deliver energy at the lowest possible cost. But it also means that many companies were ill-prepared when the mercury dropped. To save money, they had skimped on winterizing their equipment. As a result, gas lines across the state—which has about 23 percent of the country’s reserves—quite literally froze. The spot price of natural gas soared to 70-times what it would normally be in Minnesota, and gas utilities paid a hefty premium when they used the daily market to match demand.

Some places in this Land of Freedom … that slogan means local political hacks have all the freedom in the world to be dumb as a hoe handle.

How a train wreck in the 19th Century was recreated for a film…


Gare de l’Ouest train wreck – 1895
This extraordinary accident occurred on October 22, 1895 at Montparnasse, then known as Gare de l’Ouest. The driver of the express train from Granville to Paris, hoping to make up time for its 131 passengers, increased the train’s speed and the air brake failed…Smashing through the track buffers, the express careered across the station concourse, broke through the station wall, and crashed to the street below, where it remained for four days drawing crowds of curious onlookers.

For Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, New Deal Studios created a 1:4 scale train and station facade and street to recreate the 1895 Gare Montparnasse train derailment in Paris…

And here is how they did it.

[As soon as the final crash ends at 4 minutes 24 seconds, hit the cancel button at the bottom … unless you’re interested in several more short train-related videos. The video carries on into that link automagically.]

A seismic shift in Houston

“Even those who are not ideological believers are taking the cues from the financial markets, which have no interest in oil production growth anymore,” said Arnold, the former head of natural-gas derivatives at Enron Corp.

He also said capital available to oil and gas has dried up while “every” private equity firm in Houston is raising money for clean energy. “The markets are rewarding those in a growth industry (zero carbon energy) vs one in secular decline.”

Arnold said the shift has made him more optimistic about the speed of decarbonization, which requires the scale and financial resources that large companies possess. “The fossil fuel industry has that expertise and is now focusing on a low carbon future.”

I have to say this is a pretty positive statement — for the environment and our species — considering the source,