Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Industrialization is Driving Our Climate Wild

“Except for nuclear war or collision with an asteroid, no force has more potential to damage our planet’s web of life than global warming.”   Time, Feeling the Heat        

                                                                     Dr Abe V Rotor 

Living with Nature - School on Blog
Paaralang Bayan sa Himpapawid with Ms Melly C Tenorio
738 DZRB AM, 8 to 9 evening class, Monday to Friday
There is a ballad sang by Pat Boone, the theme aptly goes like this. “Sometimes, an April day will suddenly bring shower… rain to grow the flowers.” 

"Greenhouse gases" mainly Carbon and Sulfur form a gaseous soup in the atmosphere 

April in the Northern Luzon is normally the driest of all months. Pag-asa’s record for rain is nil. But a tropical depression may bring along rain that wakes up dormant seeds and make the fields green. But it also douses the fire of the flowers of the fire tree (Regia) and Dapdap (Erythrina)
Our climate is changing for the worse. April may still be the warmest month of the year but, at the same time, we are getting frequent thunderstorms that cause flashfloods and instant traffic jams. Early rains cause grasshoppers to prematurely change colors - brown to green too soon, while proceeding to turn beaches into jellyfish haven. 

A Different Kind of Summer 

Summer may need a new definition when cicadas fill the eerie summer air, while termites and winged ants swarm before June. The June beetle appears as early as in April. So much summer squash lay in waste in the fields, unharvested because of just one untimely rain. This phenomenon also wakes up the weeds, only to dry up in their juvenile stage. Such false signals of early rain could mean losses of early crops which farmers often plant at the start of the monsoon. 

Rainfall is as erratic towards the end of the year as at the beginning. For example, the price of vegetables soared in 2002 when the tail of the monsoon season stayed too long. Onions, garlic, most leafy vegetables, like cabbage and cauliflower, and practically all cucurbits (from ampalaya to cucumber), were adversely affected by unexpected summer rains.

Buildup of Pests and Diseases 

Creating a big problem for farmers is the buildup of fungal and bacterial diseases, along with the redoubling of pests. Many organisms, which include insects, nematodes, fungi and bacteria, aestivate during the dry season. Imagine these organisms rising from their dormancy like a sleeping genie, proceeding to attack the nearby plants. 
As a farmhand, one notes that when the day is hot and along comes a sudden rainfall, old folks would turn their heads around and, imitating the sound of the house lizard, sigh, “Agparuar manen iti igges.” (This untimely rain is going to breed pests.) 

There is something biblical in their prediction, but the scientific basis is that the rain softens the shell of aestivating insects, opens the spores of fungi and bacteria, converting the surrounding environment into one favorable for their growth and development. A sudden rain wakes up a colony of mites ensconced in a curled leaf, incubates a batch of locust eggs buried in the ground, activates resting spores of Pythium (a rot-causing fungus), and softens nematodes tough skin. Considering the short life cycle of these organisms, their mode of infestation coincides with the life cycle of their main and alternate host plants. Whole fields can be destroyed instantaneously.

But plant damage due to physical stress is also just as devastating. Imagine watering your garden on a very hot time of the day. Plant cells are directly damaged by sudden changes in temperature. It also affects the efficiency of osmosis (the intercellular movement of water and dissolved substances from one cell to another), which is vital to the plant’s physiology. 

Man-Induced Atmospheric Disturbances 
While too much rain falls unexpectedly in one area, there is equally the chance that other areas are not getting enough of it. This is one characteristic of the current global warming, despite of the increase in air moisture in the air by 10 percent in the last two decades. Uneven distribution of rainfall is exacerbated by factors that are mainly man-induced. 

Swarm of jellyfish spurred by global warming.

Carbon Dioxide from automobiles and industries is not only increasing the “greenhouse effect”, but is also creating uneven distribution of clouds. As a result we have unpredictable rainfall distribution. When this coincides with El Nino which is a cyclical phenomenon of unusual drought and flooding occurring in opposite places, a severe climatic condition, such as those that occurred in 1972, 1986 and 1995, occur. Crop losses alone over the world ran into billions of dollars. 

Industrialization and agriculture have become on the long run strange bedfellows, so to speak. And the irony is that, while agriculture spurred the growth and development of industrialization, it the latter’s by-product – pollution - that is destroying the relationship once conceived to be compatible, thus threatening the lives of millions of farmers all over the world. 

Erratic Weather and Pest Buildup

 Perhaps not many people know that infestation by migratory pests is enhanced by climatic adversities. But there is a correlation between weather and pest buildup. Migratory locust-(Locusta migratoria manilensis - (Photo) assemble into the migratory phase or what is called swarming, after small groups (congregans) coalesce repeatedly, snowballing into larger and larger populations. This is happening in drought stricken areas where there are patches of green, such as irrigated farmlands and small valleys. As food is consumed quickly with the drought worsening, the insects, in thousands or millions, migrate riding on air currents. Guided by instinct to places where they can find food and a mate, they thus sow famine and human desolation everywhere they visit. Devastations in China, India, Southern United States and Mindanao are not distant memories. 

As a witness to the locust control program in Lubao, Pampanga, one notices the lahar-affected areas starting to dry up as solitary locusts pack up into groups and begin attacking sugarcane, the only standing crop soon after harvesting rice and corn. That was 1995, an El Nino year.

Leafhoppers likewise ride on wind currents and could cross the sea that far in spite of their minuscule size. Leafhoppers are carriers of serious diseases of plants such as the dreaded tungro disease of rice that can wipe out a potential bumper crop. Spores of pathogens may also be transmitted this way, not to mention the foot-and-mouth pathogen that affects hoofed animals, blight and rust fungi of crops – and the dreaded influenza virus that affect man.

New Concept of Force Majeure

 Even as we bring back to the drawing board technologies from both old and new agricultural schools of thought, we may not be ready for solutions when it comes to an erratic climatic condition. Sometimes we are tempted to redefine force majeure to include vagaries of the climate that nonetheless result into crop failures as destructive as those caused by floods or typhoons. Traditional agriculture is often blamed as the first and easy culprit. In the open Philippine fields, our crops thrive on the mercy of the elements. Advanced countries on the other hand, have improved better facilities (such as drip irrigation and greenhouses) to minimize the effects of potentially unruly weather and changing climate. Even so, the cost of production is increased whenever such measures are used, imputing on the price of the commodity. 
Saltwater intrusion into farmlands and rivers, as a result of rising levels of our seas, is not clearly defined under the terms of crop insurance such as those of the Philippine Crop Insurance Corporation (PCIC). The same is true in the case of acid rain, which can wipe out an entire crop, or cause starvation of livestock. But with climatic conditions predisposing animals to foot-and-mouth diseases, as well as crop destruction through climate-induced pest buildup, insurance companies still have to rewrite their contract to have these claims covered. 

Acid Rain 

It is not only on the pattern and volume of rainfall distribution that bother us. On a number of occasions, this writer has seen field crops, lawns and gardens scorched by acid rain. Acidic reaction is manifested primarily by lesions of leaves with the leaf buds first affected, followed by gradual drying up around these spots under the heat of the sun. Either leaves dry up, or the whole plant defoliates, but in extreme cases trees suffer of dieback, which is the drying of growing tips of branches. Many plants do not recover from this stage, especially during summer, thereby providing the fuel for spontaneous forest fire. 

As we continue to spew noxious gases (such as sulfur and carbon dioxide) into the air, water molecules bind with the sulfur or carbon radicals, to form acid rain. The spiked water molecules condense into rain, reaching up to acidity levels of 4 pH. Most plants thrive best within neutral 7 pH. In acidic soils, plant nutrients become locked up, so that even soils that are fertile do not produce a good harvest as expected unless their pH is adjusted to normal range. This requires a tedious and expensive rehabilitation effort.

The increasing cases of climatic adversities endorse a re-definition of force majeure which shall serve as guide to banks and insurance companies. Meanwhile, planners are urged to go back to the drawing board to review current agricultural technologies, and land use policies. At the same time, more and more farmers are cultivating crops under greenhouses and other controlled conditions such as drip irrigation, zero tillage and natural farming to get rid of chemicals deleterious to human health. As this is done, 86 countries, signatories to the 1997 Kyoto Protocol (except the US), are working to effectively curve the deteriorating conditions of the earth’s atmosphere. 

Plants have different water, CO2 and temperature regimes 

What are the effects of changing climate on plants? First, it is important to classify plants according to their water requirement. There are those that thrive best under dry condition, the xerophytes, such as those living in the desert, while others are water loving such as rice.  Even our common crops are classified according to various levels of water regime, so that any significant change in their water supply greatly affects them. 
Imagine that as the sea level rises, more and more areas become flooded. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climatic Change (IPCC), much of the shorelines we know today will vanish if sea levels rise as predicted by computerized models. There will be changes in natural vegetation and it will be necessary to plan out cropping systems to fit into the changed landscape. The job would be as crucial as adjusting cropping systems with increasing temperature and Carbon Dioxide concentration. 

In a research conducted at the UST Graduate School, with Dr. Reynaldo Tabbada as adviser, any increase in CO2 concentrations from present levels estimated at 350 ppm, may be favorable to the early post-germination development of mungbean, a typical representative of legumes. Cereals also respond favorably to raised CO2, but it is the expected doubling of CO2 levels within the next 70 to 80 years that causes us some apprehension. 

Flooding also contributes to the increase in methane gas production as a result of expanding swamplands. Wider areas are likely to be planted to rice as the rate of precipitation increases. Rice culture is known to contribute significant amounts of methane gas into the atmosphere.

The levels of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide and methane gas have jumped 30 percent, 15 percent and 100 percent, respectively, from pre-industrial levels. All these indicate that our atmospheric blanket is getting thicker and heavier, and that more heat is being trapped. Even with holes in the ozone layer atop the Antarctic region, and lately on the Arctic, the earth cannot sufficiently dissipate the heat to a state of balance.

A average increase of a mere half degree Celsius in global temperature noticed during the last century may be dismissed as “slight” were it not for the consequences felt in alarming proportions, such as the heat waves. Even with the use of models, the global temperature will continue to rise from a low estimate of 1.4 degrees Celsius to as high as 5.8 degrees Celsius by year 2100. This is 50 percent higher than predicted only a few years ago.
Except in acclimatization studies, heat tolerance is something we have not given much attention to in our current crop researches. What we usually do is to assign plants to different temperature regimes, with broad classifications, such as tropical, temperate, or semi-tropical and semi-temperate. As global temperature builds up, the frontiers of agriculture will move northward to occupy areas normally too cool for certain crops to grow. Tropical crops on the other hand will follow suit, in effect replacing temperate crops.

Primer on Greenhouse Effect 

 Many of us must have heard the term “Greenhouse Effect” many times to a point that it has become part of the dictionary. Greenhouse effect is an analogy. And there is no simpler way to illustrate the “trapping” of heat inside a closed chamber such as a glass house where plants are raised even if the weather outside is unfavorable for plant growth and development. Greenhouses are not as popular in the tropics as they are in temperate countries. In these places, winter is severe. Sometimes it comes early as in a frost and the plants perish before they are harvested. 

Here is the mechanism of the greenhouse effect. Let us say that for every ten rays (heat value) of the sun that enter the glass roof, nine are reflected back to the atmosphere, and one is retained in the process. If this is repeated many times over, the inside of the greenhouse becomes hotter than outside. If out of ten ray units, seven are reflected back thereby causing three to stay, the heat buildup is proportionally more rapid and intense. 

Our atmosphere is like a greenhouse, its roof is the atmosphere. When the sun strikes the earth, the atmosphere retains the heat for sometime, otherwise our planet will be cooler than it is now. It is this heat level that maintains a climate favorable to life as we know it. When it is cold we need a blanket to keep us warm. Similarly the atmosphere serves as a blanket for our planet. 

This blanket is not at all fixed and stable; it had undergone changes in the past. The last Ice Age was preceded by a decrease of our atmospheric temperature, a phenomenon that had recurred cyclically during the succeeding millions of years. It is only at this time, at the advent of industrialization that man’s activities have definitely influenced the structure and behavior of our atmosphere.

In his masteral thesis, “Global Warming: Its Ethico-Theological Implications,” presented to the UST Graduate School, Fr. Allan M. Otodoy, concluded that the expansion of the greenhouse effect is a clear sign that modern civilization is on a destructive path. It raises ethical questions of environmental issues that all of us need to know and ponder upon.

We have tinkered, and continue to tinker, with our natural environment such as in the way we use energy, principally fossil fuel. By so doing, we alter, if not destroy, the ecosystem. We as a species always aimed at satisfying our needs and wants, while elevating our standards of living without regard for the finite resources of the earth.

Additionally, we have been indifferent to confront the problems of inequality in the distribution of these resources – agricultural and industrial, and well, natural resources – those we often consider as free. Poverty contributes as much to the degradation of out environment as the creation and use of goods and services that only the affluent can afford.

Industrialization has erased much of our gains in agriculture, and has negated our efforts to preserve the environment. We cannot have the best of two worlds, but we can come up with a formula of development that best serve mankind.  x x x

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