Report from 2050: Too Many Mouths to Feed

Scientists warn current food crisis will worsen as human population growth rate officially outpaces world food output

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 3, 2050 (New York) -- Over forty years ago, in a 2009 interview with 13.7 Billion Years, executive director of the Living Oceans Foundation Capt. Philip G. Renaud said, "We’re really stressing the Earth’s natural resources due to population explosion...This is one of the most difficult issues we humans must come to grips with...If population continues to expand unchecked, we'll be facing food and water shortages and we'll quickly deplete our world’s natural resources."

The following year, in his book "The Coming Famine: The Global Food Crisis and What We Can Do to Avoid It," Professor Julian Cribb wrote, "The world has ignored the ominous constellation of factors that now make feeding humanity sustainably our most pressing task -- even in times of economic and climatic crisis."

Now that the numbers are in, it is clear that humans did not come to grips with that issue back then. In 2010, the world human population was 6.9 billion. Today, with the population surpassing the 9.3 billion mark according to a new study released the U.S. Census Bureau, the demand for food and energy has jumped 50 percent and the demand for fresh water by 40 percent.

Central Africa faces another famine. Bolivia, Uruguay and Paraguay have been ravaged by near-constant food riots. China has placed a moratorium on food exports. Warlords across Central Asia exert power primarily by controlling regional water supplies.

In real terms, the world population growth rate has now officially outpaced the current global growth in food production and fresh water availability rates: There are simply too many mouths to feed.

"We have reached the apex of the perfect storm," said Professor Ignatius J. Reilly of the Institute of Climate Change Adaptation. "Unchecked human population growth has led to a list of worldwide crises -- the food crisis, the water crisis, the temperature crisis, the sea level rise, ocean acidification, desertification and the rapid loss of once-healthy ecosystems. Also, the spread of human habitat over the past several decades has put the final nails in the coffin of the Sixth Extinction."

Noting the United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change identification of human population growth as a "consistent contributor to growth in worldwide greenhouse gas," a Worldwatch Institute report released in 2010 argued that "assuring all women have access to contraception and taking steps to improve women's lives should be among key strategies in the fight against global climate change."

"Population is associated with sensitive issues like sexuality, contraception, abortion, migration and religion," wrote Worldwatch Vice President for Programs Robert Engelman, the report's author. "But increasing women's reproductive rights should be at the heart of the climate discussion, in the same basket as strategies like increasing energy efficiency and researching new technologies."

Though efforts like the Center for Biological Diversity's "Endangered Species Condom" Program (which distributes 350,000 free condoms annually in the United States), have expanded around the world, there simply hasn't been enough political or popular will to deal with the ills associated with human overpopulation, especially from the point of reproductive rights and contraception.

And when it comes to climate change, there has been a grand imbalance: The poor world is now paying for the past and current excesses of the rich world -- while having many more hungry mouths to feed.

"The dots have been there all along," said Professor Reilly. "But the rich world never really cared to connect them, as that would have revealed the cognitive dissonance that has marked the average Western-based consumerist lifestyle since the end of World War II. No one in the rich world wanted to change their behavior, and now the poor world is paying the heftier price."

image: world population from 1950 to 2050 (credit: U.S. Census Bureau International Database)

Report from 2050: Peruvian Tribe Declared Extinct

Oil companies blamed for the extinction of Peru's Mashco-Piro-Iñapari tribe

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 4, 2050 (New York) -- Over forty years ago, a coalition of more than 50 non-governmental organizations (NGOs) called for three major oil companies to withdraw their planned operations from a part of the Peruvian Amazon that is the home to two uncontacted tribes. Peru has the third largest number of the uncontacted tribes in the world, after Brazil (with 43 confirmed) and New Guinea.

Sent by the international non-profit tribal rights organization Survival International, the letter said that these uncontacted tribes are "extremely vulnerable as they lack immunity to outsidersʼ diseases and they face the very real threat of extinction if they are contacted."

"Operating in this area demonstrates an utter disregard for some of the most vulnerable people on the planet," said Stephen Corry, director of Survival International, according to a 2010 story by The Ecologist, part of the Guardian Environment Network. "If the companies have any sense, they will leave the area to its rightful owners before lives, and reputations, are ruined."

The oil companies never left. The government of Peru approved every single one of their requests. And now, according to a new report by the Lima-based non-profit conservation group Amazonas, Peru's Mashco-Piro-Iñapari tribe has been declared extinct, after the remaining three members of the group succumbed to chicken pox, a disease to which the tribe had not developed an immunity.

"The destructive quest for the South America's fossil fuel has caused the extinction of many endangered species over the last 100 years," said Amazonas executive director Arturo Peralta Miranda, in an email. "Now that quest can claim the destruction of a distinct group of Homo sapiens."

Last year, 13 members of the Mashco-Piro-Iñapari were killed in violent clashes with security forces guarding a drilling station deep in the forest.

Since construction began in 2012, over 700 miles (1,100 km) of oil pipeline has been built throughout Peru, impacting vast tracts of rainforest on either side along its length. Over 2,000 miles (1,200 km) of seismic lines have been cut in order to find oil, a process that includes clearing paths and detonating explosives throughout what once was one of the Earth's most biologically diverse regions.

By 2030, oil companies in the country had constructed over 220 heliports in the selva (jungle), which has reduced the ability of indigenous tribes to hunt for food. The heliports have also disrupted the habitats of many critically endangered species living in Yasuni National Park in neighboring Ecuador.

"In Peru, more than 50% of the previously-uncontacted Nahua tribe were wiped out following oil exploration on their land in the early 1980s, and the same tragedy engulfed the Murunahua in the mid-1990s after being forcibly contacted by illegal mahogany loggers," according to Survival International.

"One of the Murunahua survivors, Jorge, who lost an eye during first contact, told a Survival researcher, 'The disease came when the loggers made contact with us, although we didn’t know what a cold was then. The disease killed us. Half of us died. My aunt died, my nephew died. Half of my people died.'"

In 2010, Peru was ranked as the 10th worst country in terms of environmental impact according to "Evaluating the Relative Environmental Impact of Countries," a joint-study of 228 nations by Australia's University of Adelaide, the South Australian Research and Development Institute, the National University of Singapore, Princeton University and Harvard University.

"Now that the government has allowed oil companies to destroy our rainforests and bring diseases that have led to the extinction of one of our nation's remaining indigenous tribes," Miranda said, "Peru should be on top of that list."

image: Peruvian Amazon, 2004 (credit: George Kraus)

Report from 2050: Vertical Farming Takes Off in Abu Dhabi

Abu Dhabi becomes first major city to get most of its produce from vertical farms

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 5, 2050 (New York) -- Over half-a-century ago, in 1999, American ecologist Dickson Despommier, at the time a professor of public health in environmental health sciences at Columbia University, developed the concept of "vertical farming" with graduate students in a medical ecology class.

In 2010, he published "The Vertical Farm," an agri-eco-adaptation text that explored the possibility of farming in skyscrapers as a sustainable urban agriculture solution. The book is now required reading in "verti-agriculture" classes around the world.

That year, Smithsonian Magazine reported that "urban farms are seen as an antidote to industrialized agriculture’s excesses, including chemical fertilizers that pollute waterways and the high costs, both monetary and environmental, of transporting food to urban markets."

In the past four decades since, the human population has grown by almost two-and-a-half billion, reaching 9.3 billion people -- with 80% living in urban areas.

And now, Abu Dhabi is feeding the majority of its population with food grown in local vertical farms. According to a new study of the world's vertical farms by the Baffin Island-based Institute of Climate Change Adaptation (ICCA), the capital of the United Arab Emirates is the first city that can make this claim.

"The Abu Dhabi model is proof that vertical farming is not only possible on a grand scale, but necessary," said Professor Arkady Voronov of the ICCA, in an email. He also noted that since 2010, Abu Dhabi has lost approximately 445 square miles (1,155 square kilometers) of its coast due to the rise in sea level.

"As the rising sea continues to claim vast tracts of shoreline around the world and people migrate to urban centers, growing food vertically in cities will be a key part to any successful solution to the global food crisis," Voronov said. "The world is undergoing a large-scale loss of arable land due to the effects of climate change, desertification and human development -- and that is not likely to change anytime soon."

In the foreword to "The Vertical Farm," New York-based environmental justice activist Majora Carter wrote, "If the skyscraper farm is like a 747 jetliner, we are now at the stage of the Wright Brothers."

If Carter's prediction (and metaphor) holds, then the 747 of vertical farming is just a little over a few decades away. In the meantime, the residents of Abu Dhabi are currently reaping the benefits of a sustainable meal aboard something akin to a 1949 de Havilland DH 106 Comet.

image: Composite image showing vertical farm designs by Chris Jacobs, Gordon Graff and SOA ARCHITECTES (Wikipedia)

Report from 2050: San Francisco's Dead Zone

Pacific salmon is one of many native San Francisco Bay estuary species declared extinct

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 6, 2050 (San Francisco) -- Almost four decades ago, in 2011, the Washington, D.C.-based non-profit conservation network Endangered Species Coalition (ESC) published the report "It's Getting Hot Out There," which outlined the ten most threatened ecosystems in the United States at the time.

Now a new study by the San Francisco-based non-profit conservation group Bay Delta Wildlife Alliance (BDWA) has found that one of them, the San Francisco Bay and Delta ecosystem -- a complex system of rivers, inland and coastal estuaries and riparian habitats located at the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers -- is finally succumbing to the effects of anthropogenic climate change as well as various man-made stressors such as habitat encroachment, eutrophication and water redirection.

The health of this ecosystem is so degraded that scientists have little hope for its recovery. In 2011, 12 of the original 29 native delta species were declared either extinct or endangered. Today, all but one are extinct or endangered, according to the BDWA report.

The most difficult factor to combat -- the rise in temperature -- has warmed the waters of the Bay-Delta to such a degree that cool-water fish such as the Pacific salmon, Central Valley steelhead, green sturgeon and delta smelt simply cannot survive there any longer. Their populations are now extinct.

Though there have been many efforts to save these species over the past few decades -- including a ten-year fishing moratorium established in 2045 that has criminalized the catching, selling and buying of these food fish -- it has been a classic case of too little, too late.

"The combination of climate change, unchecked human activity and decades of rampant overfishing to satisfy consumer demand for these species has led directly to their ultimate demise," said BDWA executive director Harry Callahan. "The sad story of the San Francisco Bay-Delta ecosystem should be a warning to residents of other sensitive and critical regions around the world."

The report also declared extinct Swainson’s Hawk, California least tern, California black rail and clapper rail, Smith's blue butterfly, salt marsh harvest mouse, northwestern pond turtle, tiger salamander, tidewater goby, California freshwater shrimp and several vernal pool species.

The other threatened ecosystems that were listed in the 2011 ESC report include: Arctic sea ice, shallow water coral reefs, Hawaiian Islands, southwest deserts, California Sierra Mountains, Snake River Basin, Greater Yellowstone, Gulf Coast and the Greater Everglades.

"Climate change is no longer a distant threat on the horizon, it has arrived and is threatening ecosystems that we all depend upon, and our endangered species are particularly vulnerable," said ESC executive director Leda Huta at the time the report was released. "If we are serious about saving endangered species from global warming, then these are the places to start."

Now, as many of these fragile ecosystems and species are gone or teetering on the edge, it is becoming quite clear that we weren't really serious after all.

image: Male and female Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) (credit: Dave Menke)

Report from 2050: Cloudy Skies Frustrate Stargazers

Most ground-based telescopes declared "worthless"

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 7, 2050 (Kagawa, Japan) -- Over forty years ago, in 2006, science correspondent Paul Rincon of the BBC News reported that telescopes might be worthless in 2050, due to an increase in aircraft exhaust pollution and climate change.

"Climate change is...expected to increase the amount of water vapour in the atmosphere through evaporation, contributing to overall cloudiness," Rincon wrote. "The increase in cloud cover would affect both optical and infrared astronomy, which would have to be carried out from space."

"You either give up your cheap trips to Majorca, or you give up astronomy," said astronomer Gerry Gilmore of the Institute of Astronomy at Cambridge University in the article. "You can't do both."

Well, suffice it to say, at least we still have trips to Majorca, though they're not all that cheap.

"It is already clear that the lifetime of large ground-based telescopes is finite and is set by global warming," Gilmore said. "There are two factors. Climate change is increasing the amount of cloud cover globally. The second factor is cheap air travel.

According to a 2009 article in the Guardian, the UK advisory committee on climate change warned that "without steps to stop growth in aviation emissions, planes could account for as much as a fifth of all CO2 produced worldwide by 2050."

That prediction was close -- currently, aircraft contribute a sixth of man-made global carbon emissions. One reason that the emission percentage isn't higher is the fact that air travel today is actually more expensive than Professor Gilmore estimated.

In 2030, member states of the United Nations agreed to an international mandate that airlines must pay for their carbon emissions. As a result, air ticket prices worldwide have doubled, forcing down the total number of commercial flights.

But even though this scheme has been in place for 20 years, aircraft pollution has still contributed greatly to the opacity of the sky. To make matters worse, cloud feedback -- increased atmospheric warming from clouds trapping more surface heat -- is responsible for a significant portion of global warming during the last 50 years.

"It's a vicious cycle, warmer temperatures mean clouds trap more heat, which in turn leads to even more warming," said atmospheric scientist Andrew Dessler of Texas A&M University, in a 2010 ScienceDaily article.

There are few places on Earth that are not affected by increased cloud cover and air pollution, and astronomers have been relocating to two of them -- the poles.

"We are in the process of moving our telescope to the Arctic Circle to take advantage of clearer skies because it is virtually useless where we are now," said Professor Kimiyo Hoshi of the Large Photonic Telescope in Kagawa, Japan. "But I don't know if we'll be able to afford the airfare to get it there."

It seems that the future of ground-based astronomy is as murky as the world's skies.

image: Albert Einstein and the staff of Yerkes Observatory, Williams Bay, Wisconsin, in front of a 40-inch refractor telescope (credit: Yerkes Observatory)

Report from 2050: Our Acid Seas

Fisheries and corals succumb to ocean acidification, worsening the global food crisis

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 10, 2050 (Auckland) -- Forty-five years ago, in 2005, a study entitled "Anthropogenic ocean acidification over the twenty-first century and its impact on calcifying organisms" was published in the journal Nature. Though its findings were extremely frightening, it received little attention by the media.

The study was undertaken by almost 20 scientific and academic institutions, including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Seattle, Washington; Laboratoire d'Océanographie et du Climat: Expérimentations et Approches Numériques (LOCEAN), Plouzané, France; Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts; Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Los Angeles, California; Frontier Research Center for Global Change, Yokohama, Japan; Climate and Environmental Physics, Physics Institute, University of Bern, Switzerland; Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences (AOS) Program, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey; and Max Planck Institut für Meteorologie, Hamburg, Germany.

According to the report's authors, "Today's surface ocean is saturated with respect to calcium carbonate, but increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations are reducing ocean pH and carbonate ion concentrations, and thus the level of calcium carbonate saturation. Experimental evidence suggests that if these trends continue, key marine organisms -- such as corals and some plankton -- will have difficulty maintaining their external calcium carbonate skeletons...Our findings indicate that conditions detrimental to high-latitude ecosystems could develop within decades, not centuries as suggested previously."

Less than five decades later, their predictions -- based on 13 models of the ocean-carbon cycle used to assess calcium carbonate saturation under the IS92a "business-as-usual" scenario for future man-made carbon dioxide emissions -- have come true.

In 2010, Achim Steiner, then the head of the U.N. Environment Programme (UNEP), said, "Ocean acidification is yet another red flag being raised, carrying planetary health warnings about the uncontrolled growth in greenhouse gas emissions," according to Reuters.

"About 25 percent of the world's emissions of carbon dioxide, the main greenhouse gas, are absorbed by the seas, where it converts to carbonic acid," according to the Reuters article. "The pH value of the oceans, a scale from alkaline to acidic, has fallen 30 percent since the Industrial Revolution in a shift to acidity."

But neither the world's leaders nor the general public listened to such warnings, and as a result, the world's coral reefs and commercial fish stocks
have been devastated. Most marine animals that depend on the health of coral reefs -- about a quarter of all marine life on Earth -- have been declared extinct or threatened. Ocean acidity is on target to increase by 150% of its 2010 levels by the end of the century.

For the past five decades, humans have chosen the "business-as-usual" path of carbon dioxide emission, and as a result, the Earth's oceans are reeling from the greatest change in their chemistry in the last 65 million years, and it is fully man-made.

Shellfish like mussels, shrimp and lobsters are in extremely short supply as these animals cannot form their shells in their natural oceanic environment. The vast majority of them are now grown in a small number of high-tech food labs, which are expensive to maintain. As a result, market prices have skyrocketed. With the average price of lobster reaching upwards of 900 ameros per pound, shellfish are now eaten only by the super-rich.

Combined with the effects of overfishing, climate change, desertification and human overpopulation, the effects of ocean acidification have exacerbated the rapidly growing global food crisis -- particularly the over 1 billion people around the world who rely on fish as a main part of their diet.

"Part of the problem is education -- most humans have been unaware of the grave environmental situation that has plunged the world into several crises over the past fifty years," said Professor Ned Land of the Nautilus Underwater Ocean Observatory (NUOO), located about 300 miles west of Auckland in the Tasman Sea, via email.

Land noted a little-known 2011 Michigan State University study that found that most American college students did not grasp the scientific concept of the carbon cycle, one of the most important of Earth's natural cycles. As a result, Land said, "the vast majority of Americans -- and indeed, humans in general -- conducted their lives as if they were living in a bubble. And now, that bubble has finally popped."

image: Estimated change in annual mean sea surface pH between the pre-industrial period (1700s) and the present day (1990s). Δ pH here is in standard pH units. Calculated from fields of dissolved inorganic carbon and alkalinity from the Global Ocean Data Analysis Projectclimatology and temperature and salinity from the World Ocean Atlas (2005) climatology using Richard Zeebe's csys package. It is plotted here using a Mollweide projection (using MATLAB and the M_Map package). Note that the GLODAP climatology is missing data in certain oceanic provinces including the Arctic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, the Mediterranean Sea and the Malay Archipelago. (credit: Plumbago, Wikipedia)

Report from 2050: Collecting Solar Power with Help from Hornets

The world's most powerful solar collectors -- based on a hornet's exoskeleton -- debut in Israel

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 11, 2050 (Tel Aviv) -- Photosynthesis, the biological process by which sunlight is converted into electrical energy, was believed to be exclusively the domain of plants until 2011, when a team of researchers from Tel Aviv University discovered that the Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis) did the same thing.

Published in the German journal Naturwissenschaften, the study, "Solar energy harvesting in the epicuticle of the oriental hornet," found that the hornet accomplishes this remarkable feat through the unique physiology of its outer brown shell, which has light-diverting grooves and pinhole depressions that collect sunlight and which also contains a pigment called xanthopterin that converts sunlight into electrical energy,

This discovery led to decades of biomimicry research at Tel Aviv University's Supercenter, which is dedicated to the study of renewable energy. In 2046, the Supercenter created the world's first solar cell based on the hornet's exoskeleton. Named the "vespasolar cell" after the hornet's scientific name, it is 20% more efficient than solar cells of the past.

Last week, the Supercenter unveiled the first public vespasolar project -- a large bank of vespasolar cells erected at Israel's port city of Jaffa. By the end of the year, the cells will provide up to 80% of the city's electricity needs, including 100% of the power for Ajami, the city's Arab section, which Reuters noted was "once a slum slated for demolition." Ajami received international recognition with the success the 2009 joint Israeli-Palestinian film of the same name.

"We have finally achieved a level of biomimicry that effectively replicates the hornet's ability to turn sunlight into energy, proving yet again that nature has all the solutions we need," said Professor Britt Reid of the Supercenter, at a press conference in Tel Aviv. "And to be able to unveil the world's first public vespasolar bank at one of the oldest port cities has made the project very special indeed."

image: Oriental hornet (Vespa orientalis), Lato archaeological site, Agios Nikolaos, Crete, Greece. (credit: Kreta)

Report from 2050: Goodbye Adélies

Though they could have been saved, Antarctica's Adélie penguins have finally succumbed to global warming

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 12, 2050 (Tierra del Fuego, Argentina) -- In his 2010 book Fraser's Penguins: A Journey to the Future in Antarctica, Fen Montaigne wrote, "After flourishing for thousands of years in the harshest environment on earth, the Adélies in one part of Antarctica have encountered an obstacle they seem unable to overcome: Us."

Montaigne spent five months tracking penguins through the breeding season on the northwestern Antarctica Peninsula with biologist Bill Fraser, who spent his life studying Adélie penguins, one of the very few species to live and breed exclusively in Antarctica.

"Thanks largely to our emissions of greenhouse gases, the western Antarctica Peninsula has warmed faster than virtually any place on the planet, rendering sea ice-dependent Adélies in some areas unfit to live in an ecosystem where all forms of ice, on land and in the Southern Ocean, are in retreat," Montaigne wrote.

"Fraser attests that much has changed since he first arrived in the polar region in 1975," wrote Rick Roche in a Booklist review.

"Temperatures are up, the area’s glaciers have receded, and the ice shelf covering the nearby Weddell Sea has shrunk considerably. Krill that used to thrive under the blue ice are now harder for Adélie penguins to find. Receding ice has also allowed more predatory seals into the area. Sadly, Fraser has watched numerous penguin colonies established over 500 years ago disappear. In this sympathetic firsthand report, Montaigne describes the lives of both the researchers who brave the harsh weather and the penguins whose habitat is quickly becoming inhospitable to their reproduction. Montaigne’s compelling account is a clear and impassioned call for environmental action before the consequences of global warming turn catastrophic worldwide."

The call for action wasn't heeded, and now the Adélie penguins have been declared extinct. But this is not the end of the sad story of ecological disaster that has befallen the continent, an ongoing degradation that is a direct result of human activity. There are other species that are still there -- but on the brink. Seabirds and fish that call Antarctica home may no longer have a home to go to if warming trends continue. The melting sea ice is disappearing fast.

"Antarctica’s most pressing issue is its environment and how best to protect it," asserts Lonely Planet. "The major impacts on the Antarctic environment are caused by people who have never even visited it. Climate change and ozone depletion are prime examples of the way human activity elsewhere affects Antarctica. But studies have also found that lead particles from gasoline combustion are blown to Antarctica as soon as one month after they leave exhaust pipes in South America, Australia and New Zealand, and pesticide residue has been found both in seabird guano and in penguin tissues. Plastic and other rubbish washes up on Antarctica’s beaches in ever-increasing amounts."

"Human activity in the Antarctic is also having negative impacts. Longline fishing for Patagonian toothfish has been a twofold environmental disaster. Toothfish are caught in enormous and unsustainable numbers, with much of the catch illegal, and albatrosses in their thousands are also caught on the steel hooks, dragged down hundreds of meters and drowned -- an ignoble end for such magnificent fliers."

"The Adélies are gone, but there are still species that can possibly be spared from the effects of anthropogenic climate change and other destructive human activities, such as tourism and fishing," said Professor Fabian Gottlieb Benjamin von Bellingshausen of the Institute of Climate Change Adaptation, via email.

"I would like to think that the extinction of the Adélie penguins will at the very least provide a wake-up call," von Bellingshausen said. "But considering how humans have reacted to similar calls to action over the past 50 or 60 years, I'm not holding my breath. With regard to endangered species here and around the world, humans have generally been a huge disappointment."

image: Samuel Blanc, Wikimedia Commons

Report from 2050: America the Not-So-Beautiful

Climate change and human development have marred the landscape of America's national parks

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 13, 2050 (Twentynine Palms, California) -- Almost 40 years ago, in 2011, Emma Harris wrote an article in the journal Nature entitled "The End of the World."

"Imagine Montana’s Glacier National Park without glaciers; California’s Joshua Tree National Park with no Joshua trees; or the state’s Sequoia National Park with no sequoias," Harris wrote. "In 50 years’ time, climate change will have altered some U.S. parks so profoundly that their very names will be anachronisms."

"Jon Jarvis, who became director of the U.S. National Park Service in 2009, has called climate change 'the greatest threat to the integrity of our national parks that we have ever experienced.' The sentiment represents a dramatic shift from the position held during the Bush administration, when officials refused to fully acknowledge the existence of climate change."

It didn't take half a century to achieve the sad transformation of America's parks about which Harris warned almost four decades ago. Today, the majority of these once majestic lands are just shells of their former selves. Visitor numbers are at an all-time low; the few people who come to the nation's public wildlands come mostly to witness the devastation, the lack of wildlife and healthy forests, the absence of bird calls, the polluted rivers and streams.

Climate change isn't the only culprit. Since President Bill Clinton established the Giant Sequoia National Monument in 2000, the Forest Service has irresponsibly allowed extensive logging there. Energy exploration and human expansion from population growth have also negatively affected the nation's public lands and its wildlife populations. Waterways have become final repositories for pesticides due to agricultural runoff. Record numbers of Yellowstone's endangered bison have been killed by cattle ranchers for encroaching on land meant for livestock raised to feed a human population that is bursting at the seams.

President Theodore Roosevelt once said, "The things that will destroy America are prosperity at any price, peace at any price, safety first instead of duty first and love of soft living and the get-rich-quick theory of life."

A staunch environmentalist and conservationist (he created 150 national parks while in office), Roosevelt would likely have connected the dots between America's overpopulation, its addiction to fossil fuel and the destruction of the nation's wilderness.

Suffice it to say, "America the Beautiful" is now a thing of the past because the price of the country's so-called "prosperity" has included "purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain."

image: The upper end of St. Mary Lake, the second largest lake in Glacier National Park, after Lake McDonald, and Wild Goose Island. (credit: Ken Thomas)

Report from 2050: The Shrinking Amazon

40% of the Amazon rainforest has been destroyed

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 14, 2050 (Lima, Peru) -- Over four decades ago, in 2006, the journal Nature published "Modelling conservation in the Amazon basin," a joint study by researchers from Brazil and the United States.

"By 2050, current trends in agricultural expansion will eliminate a total of 40% of Amazon forests, including at least two-thirds of the forest cover of six major watersheds and 12 ecoregions, releasing 32 plus/minus 8 Pg of carbon to the atmosphere, according to the study, which was led by Britaldo Silveira Soares-Filho of the Universidade Federal de Minas Gerais in Belo Horizonte, Brazil.

The researchers also noted that "expansion of the cattle and soy industries in the Amazon basin has increased deforestation rates," predicting that "one-quarter of the 382 mammalian species examined will lose more than 40% of the forest within their Amazon ranges."

Unfortunately, they were right.

Due to the extensive deforestation, "an extra 30 billion tons of carbon have been added to the atmosphere," notes Futuretimeline.net. "Although the clean energy sources...have offset this, it can't save the many thousands of species of plant and animal life which depend on the rainforest for survival. A huge amount of biodiversity [has been] lost...Desperate efforts are [being] made by non-profit organisations to obtain DNA samples, in the hope of resurrecting these species at some point in the future."

"For the past half century, it has been 'business-as-usual' in regard to logging and human development," said Professor Isabel Leme of the Lima-based non-profit conservation group Amazonas, in an email.

"So if you've ever wanted to see the Amazon rainforest, you better book your eco-tour soon, because at the rate we're going, it is on target to becoming a vast and lifeless desert."

image: Soares-Filhos et. al. Nature 2006 (source: Futuretimeline.net)

Report from 2050: The Rise of the Cyclist

Automobiles lose steam as bicycles become the world's fastest growing mode of personal transportation

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

"When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the future of the human race." ~H.G. Wells

JANUARY 17, 2050 (San Diego) -- Four decades ago, in 2010, the San Diego Association of Governments introduced the 2050 Regional Transportation Plan, California's first RTP to reach the board of directors approval stage while trying to comply with state-mandated pollution reduction goals. It included $2.58 billion to create a system of expanded and interconnected bike paths to serve commuter and recreational cyclists.

Considering that the United States accounts for half of the total global emission of automobile carbon dioxide, the main global warming gas, the move towards human-powered transport has been a necessary one.

"The bicycle is a curious vehicle," Australian prime minister John Howard once said. "Its passenger is its engine." That curiosity is precisely what makes it healthy not only for the planet, but also for the rider. According to the American Heart Association, one pound equals 3,500 calories, and countless of them have been successfully burned off through bike riding (which many kinesiologists will agree is easier on your joints than running or speed-walking).

Also in 2010, Bicycling.com released "America's Best Bike Cities," a list of the 50 most two-wheel-friendly cities in the nation. The top 10 in descending order were Chicago, Tucson, New York, Madison, San Francisco, Eugene (Oregon), Seattle, Boulder, Portland (Oregon) and Minneapolis.

"In cities the number of street lanes dedicated to public vehicles and bicycles would increase and more people would choose to walk or ride a bike to work," predicted the 2005 report "Energy to 2050: Scenarios for a Sustainable Future" by the Paris-based International Energy Agency. "In many cities the trend towards increased urban sprawl would start to be reversed, and city planning would encourage more compact city development patterns."

Indeed, over the past four decades, the growth of urban sprawl has slowed down to a crawl as people have accumulated in cities. Some suburbs have emptied out. San Diego's population has doubled in the past four decades, to 2.6 million. California's population is approaching 60 million, adding nearly 23 million people in the last 50 years. The majority of them are in the mega-cities of Los Angeles, San Diego, San Jose and San Francisco. And a lot of them are riding bikes.

In addition to the rise of bike riding, public transportation has become central to urban life. Some mega-cities like New York have banned automobiles altogether. "The car system's resource appropriation is a black hole," according to BanTheCar.com. "It consumes an enormous amount of energy, labour and material in space monopolisation, collision remediation, the doughnut effect [and] inflated infrastructure costs."

High-end, super-efficient bicycles have eclipsed automobiles (even hybrid ones) as the latest status symbols. Apartments have remained relatively small in cities, while new houses continue to be downsized in the name of efficiency and carbon footprint reduction. In these compact spaces, bicycles make sense.

"As recently as 1965, world production of cars and bikes was essentially the same, with each at nearly 20 million, but as of 2003 bike production had climbed to over 100 million per year compared with 42 million cars," according to the statistics website Worldometers.


Many cities have adopted public transit systems for urban cyclists, such as the one introduced at the beginning of the century by the Colorado-based firm Bicycle Transit Systems (BTS), which features an enclosed airflow enhanced system to make cycling 90% more efficient than riding outdoors. In 2010, Transport for London (TFL) announced a 70% increase in bike ridership over the same period during the previous year thanks to the city's "Cycle Superhighways." That translates to less carbon dioxide emissions -- and better health for cycling Londoners.

But the rise of bicycles is not just a Western world trend. In Africa, sustainable and inexpensive bamboo bikes are now available across the continent. And four of the top five producers of bicycles are Asian -- China, India, Taiwan and Japan. Along with the European Union, these nations constitute 87% of global production, according to Worldometers, which also notes that in 2004, China alone had around 58% of the world market. It is nearly impossible to calculate, but there are billions of bicycles in the world. And it is probably safe to say that around half of them are in China.

"The bicycle is the most civilized conveyance known to man," wrote British author Iris Murdoch in her 1965 novel The Red and the Green. "Other forms of transport grow daily more nightmarish. Only the bicycle remains pure in heart."

Today, this pure-hearted, two-wheeled, human-powered vehicle is helping the Earth -- and Earthlings -- breathe an unpolluted sigh of relief.

image: poster for Motocycles Comiot, 1899 (credit: Théophile Alexandre Steinlen 1859-1923, Wikimedia Commons)

Report from 2050: The Sino-American Green Divide

For the past four decades, China has held the title of "World's Greenest Nation." America is also very green -- with envy

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 18, 2050 (New York) -- In 2009, UK army chief General Sir David Richard told The Times that the war in Afghanistan could last 40 more years. Sadly, he was right, and the fight has been paid for in copious amounts of blood and treasure.

For the past half century, America has spent its once vast wealth on the never-ending conflict, while China -- its main economic rival -- has invested mightily in green technologies both domestically and abroad, with a particular emphasis on investments in Africa. Once famous for its rampant pollution, China has been the world's greenest country since 2009 and has exported its advances in green technology to the developing world.

Along with the Afghanistan money pit, America's hopelessly partisan politics has also hampered any potentially transformative legislation that substantially invests in sustainable development or renewable energy. "While China is already boasting 'All aboard!' on a network of sleek passenger trains that zip 200 mph and beyond between major urban centers, the United States is still fussing about where to install a single high-speed rail line for a proposed California project," wrote Elizabeth McGowan in a 2011 article on SolveClimateNews.com.

"That’s just a snapshot of how this country continues to lag behind its Asian competitor on the clean technology front." McGowan wondered, "Can America ever catch up?" Fast forward forty years, and what Asian Sustainable Development Forum director Fan Li recently dubbed the "Sino-American green divide" is now bigger than ever.

"Americans have gotten used to big cars, big houses, big meals, big everything," Li wrote in an email. "The Chinese never went through that phase. They witnessed the fall of a bloated and dysfunctional American empire distracted by far-flung wars, and when their own middle class grew, they avoided that pitfall. They shunned military conflict. They saved their money. And when they spent it abroad, they invested in the future. Chinese companies don't do 'big.' They do 'smart.' China will likely never have to bail out the private sector like America did with the banks and the carmakers during the Great Recession."

"China...has set ambitious targets for wind, biomass and solar energy and, for the first time, took the top spot within the G-20 and globally for overall clean energy finance and investment," according to the 2010 Pew Charitable Trusts report "Who's Winning the Clean Energy Race?"

Noting that "the United States slipped to second place," the Pew report stated, "There are reasons to be concerned about America’s competitive position in the clean energy marketplace," adding that, "In all, 10 G-20 members devoted a greater percentage of gross domestic product to clean energy than the United States in 2009."

In 2011, ClimateProgress.org reported that in 2010 China installed about 16,000 megawatts of wind power, compared to only 5,000 in the United States. According to a report by American Superconductor Corporation, a maker of wind machine parts, China was "on a pace to surpass the United States by the end 2010 to become the world's largest wind market, with an installed wind capacity exceeding 40,000 MW."

By early 2011, China surpassed the United States in wind power, and has maintained its position as the world's wind energy leader for the past four decades, with the United States and Germany at second and third place, respectively.

In January 2011, the New York Times reported that Evergreen Solar, America's third largest maker of solar panels, laid off 800 workers, closed up shop and moved its business to China. Thus began America's slide in the solar energy market.

Where does the United States go from here? Considering the nation's sluggish investment in high-speed rails, the sky-high costs of air travel and the relative weakness of the newly-minted Amero currency, it will probably take a long time to get to wherever "there" is. And if the nation ever does bridge the growing "Sino-American green divide," it should probably bring along a Chinese-English dictionary.

image: The aze-mame (Japanese for "dike-bean") method of sustainable farming involves growing soybean on the dike of paddy field together with rice and is used in China, Japan and the Philippines. The protein-rich beans are used as a human food source, while the plant's nitrogen-rich leaves and stalks are used in the rice paddies as fertilizer. (credit: autan, Flickr Creative Commons)

Report from 2050: Livestock Production Breaks Safe Threshold

Rainforests and thousands of species wiped out as human demand for animal flesh finally exceeds Earth's limits

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 19, 2050 (Brussels) -- Four decades ago, in 2010, a study concluded that the projected global demand for meat, poultry, eggs and dairy could be responsible for 70 percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions by 2050, reaching a level considered to be a safe threshold for the planet.

The study, published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was conducted by Nathan Pelletier with Peter Tyedmers at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. They said that livestock could generate an even greater proportion of the sustainable threshold for other environmental indicators.

The researchers looked at current and future projections of levels of greenhouse gas emissions, biomass consumption and nitrogen emissions, and compared them to estimates of the Earth's safe limits.

"We're not suggesting that everyone in the world become vegan or vegetarian," said Pelletier, in a DiscoveryNews article. "We really stress the importance of policies aimed at production and consumption over time by changing not just how much we eat, but what we eat and how frequently we eat it."

Today, that "safe limit" has finally been breached, according to a new report released by the Brussels-based Institute of Planetary Change (IPC). "The increase in livestock production to feed the Earth's 9.3 billion humans has officially pushed the levels of greenhouse gas emissions and biomass consumption into the red zone," said IPC director Ty Thorn.

"With most rainforests destroyed to support livestock farming, there is simply no sink big enough to contain even a fraction of today's man-made carbon emissions," said Thorn. "The loss of untold numbers of species, while devastating, is currently the least of our problems. There are just too many mouths to feed, and the global food crisis is going to grow." Thorn is leading an international team of scientists to develop projections of when we will hit the Earth Sustainability Threshold (EST), what he calls the "final point of no return."

"We are in essence eating the world's tropical rainforests and savannas," said University of Minnesota ecology professor David Tilman, in a 2010 DailyClimate.org article. But, he adds, "There is no reason for even one more acre of rainforest to be cut. If we farmed them properly, the lands that have already been cleared could fully meet global food demand for at least the next 50 years," he said.

"Too bad no one listened to the warnings of scientists in the early part of the century," Thorn said. "Now it's only going get worse. We must prepare for the great human die-off."

image: PETA

Report from 2050: Nepal Crop Failure Challenges World Cup

Teamwork is the theme as FIFA and the U.N. help host nation through food crisis

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 20, 2050 (Zurich) -- "The games must go on," said FIFA director Romeo Beckham at a press conference here yesterday about the status of this year's World Cup, which will be held in June in Kathmandu, Nepal. "But at the same time, FIFA is committed to working with the United Nations, World Cup team countries and the people of Nepal to help our host nation survive a humanitarian crisis."

Preparations for the world's most famous soccer event have been impacted by Nepal's crop failure, which has affected the vast majority of the nation's 46 million inhabitants. FIFA officials are also concerned with feeding the more than 3 million people who are expected to attend the games. But out of the crisis, the kind of teamwork that is common among championship-winning soccer teams has helped to create new partnerships and innovative solutions.

"We are working with the United Nations World Food Programme to import supplies from China to ensure that all World Cup-associated restaurants, cafeterias, food carts and caterers have what they need," Beckham said. FIFA, the U.N. and the Nepalese government have also collaborated on a job training program to train hundreds of unemployed local farmers to be temporary food workers during the World Cup.

World Cup team countries are also pitching in. When the German team arrives in Kathmandu next month for training, they will bring with them a team of scientists from Bonn's Institute of Crop Science and Resource Conservation (INRES) who will work with Nepal's farmers on developing new irrigation techniques. The Brazilian team will arrive with a team of scientists from Brazil's Rice and Bean Research Center who will experiment with a new low-water, high-yield hybrid rice in Nepal's Terai region.

In 2011, IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), reported that "Nepal needs to improve irrigation management to achieve higher agricultural productivity and overcome 'dismal' water and crop shortages," noting a WFP report that found that "the 600,000 people living in the far and mid-west regions at the base of the Himalayan mountains...have the most problems growing and accessing enough food to survive."

"Until the 1970s, Nepal was as a food exporting nation, but in the past decade it has become a net food importing country, producing less than 2.5 tons of grain per hectare annually, according to the Ministry of Agriculture."

Water shortages, global warming, drought, land degradation and overpopulation have all contributed to the crop failure. Nepal is one of dozens of countries fighting the global food crisis.

Hailing the international level of teamwork in preparing for the World Cup in the face of Nepal's crop failure, Beckham noted the power of sports in bringing people together and recited a quote by the American soccer player Mia Hamm (the women's FIFA World Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002): "I am a member of a team, and I rely on the team, I defer to it and sacrifice for it, because the team, not the individual, is the ultimate champion."

image: FIFA World Cup 2050, Nepal's Bid Facebook

Report from 2050: Gardening on Mars

The first locally-sourced meal on Mars has been served -- plans for colonization on target

[Note: This was originally published on 13.7 Billion Years as part of "Reports from 2050," a series of imagined reports from the year 2050, based on current news, recent discoveries and scientific predictions. To see what's real and what's not, click on the links within the text.]

by Reynard Loki, 13.7 Billion Years

JANUARY 21, 2050 (RBO Press Office) -- Astronauts at the Free People of Earth Mars Station -- also known as "Red Base One" (RBO) -- celebrated the fruits of their "green thumb" labor yesterday when they sat down for the first meal made completely with vegetables grown in the Martian greenhouse.

"I would like to take this historic moment to thank all the astronauts and scientists of all the space agencies of the 21st century who have made the Martian greenhouse a great success," said Free People of Earth (FPE) president Willow Smith, at a press conference at Kid Cudi's Citadel, which will dock next week with the FPE Space Station for Jay-Z's 15th annual Roc-Tha-Planetz Tour.

"It was absolutely delicious and nutritious," said astroecologist Gaius Baltar, who arrived at RBO last month. "I was born and raised on a farm outside of the town of Cuffle's Breath Wash, so to be a part of the inaugural 100% locavore Martian dinner was a huge thrill that reminded me of how amazing food tastes when it's grown right in your own backyard."

The success of the Martian greenhouse is based on the groundbreaking HydroTropi research done four decades ago, in 2010, by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). The HydroTropi study (short for "Hydrotropism and Auxin-Inducible Gene Expression in Roots Grown Under Microgravity Conditions") showed astroecologists how to control directional root growth through hydrotropism stimulus. On Earth, roots grow up and down, but in microgravity situations, roots grow sideways.

"Martian fare will be 100% vegan," said FPE Secretary of Ethical Consumption Natalie Portman, who presided over the dinner on Mars. "Part of my reason for being vegan is because it practices respect and love for life all through the day, so three times a day, you make a decision to eat food from things that have not been killed or abused," Secretary Portman told the guests at the dinner's opening ceremony.

"And part of the reason that planet Earth is in such a bad state today is because of the meat industry, which has not only inhumanely slaughtered billions upon billions of sentient animals who can feel pain, but has also destroyed the atmosphere through greenhouse gas emissions and decimated the rainforests -- and the species that used to live in those ecosystems -- through land conversion for livestock feed lots," said Secretary Portman. "For life as we know it to survive -- and when I say 'life,' I mean all living things -- the human diet must be vegan. The alternative is simply not sustainable, both technically and morally."

In 2010, the United Nations told the world to eat less meat. But carnivorism still increased over the past 40 years as the human population exploded to the current and unsustainable 9.3 billion.

Secretary Portman's speech received a standing ovation by the dinner's attendees, who included Ambassador Sandra Oh, Ambassador Zooey Deschanel and Captain Lilliolani (“Lani”) Paula Lum Watson, the daughter of Captain Paul Watson, who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2030 for his work defending whales as the founder of Sea Shepherd. The dinner menu featured Seitan and Mushroom Stroganoff, Rosemary New Potatoes, Broccoli with Kasha and Black Bean Sauce and Fettucine Alfonso.

"The only thing missing was a big glass of Martian Nebbiolo," Dr. Baltar quipped, referring to the Italian wine grape variety that he brought to Mars last month. Dr. Baltar is leading a group of scientists working on the RBO Viniculture Program, which hopes to produce the first batch Martian wine and brandy in 2053.

This year, the meat industry officially broke through the Earth's "safe limit," according to a new report released by the Brussels-based Institute of Planetary Change (IPC). "The increase in livestock production to feed the Earth's humans has officially pushed the levels of greenhouse gas emissions, biomass consumption and nitrogen emissions into the red zone," said IPC director Ty Thorn.

"Earth has been our home for the hundreds of thousands of years," said President Smith. "But it will not last. We have used it and abused it and now it can no longer support us."

President Smith has been a longtime advocate of the Human Population Control Solution, also known as POCOSO, developed by the Center for Biological Diversity. According to a Cornell University study, "12 billion miserable humans will suffer a difficult life on Earth by the year 2100." The colonization of Mars will begin in earnest by 2065.

"Mars is our future," President Smith said. "But as we look forward, we must be very careful not to make the same mistakes that have led to the extinction of millions of species, the suffering of so many people and other sentient Earthlings and the destruction of so much of what made our Big Blue Marble so special. After all, as American philosopher George Santayana rightly said, 'Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.'"

image: garden on Mars (source: Obama Foodorama)