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Saturday, October 24, 2015

How Dry is Your Soil?

How Dry is Your Soil?
(Drought) By Michelle Orgel

Don’t know how moist your soil is? Soil moisture is essential for drought severity because it is about soil moisture rather than simply just rainfall. The easiest way to determine whether your soil  is being affected by the drought is by the Palmer Drought Severity Index. The PDSI was the first drought indicator in 1965 that assesses the status of moisture comprehensively. It is designed to measure water supply and demand by using temperature and precipitation data, primarily reflecting long-term droughts and ways for drought relief to play out. The objective of the PDSI was to provide documentary recordings of moisture measurements so that it was easier to compare those with different locations and time periods. Here is Daniel Griffin with the Blue Oak Study to explain the importance of soil moisture in the environment.

“We’re looking at the combined precipitation and temperature on soil moisture. Metric index of PDSI, which is basically an index of soil moisture and when we look at pdsi and compare that to tree ring reconstruction that go back in time to the past 1,200 years, that where the short term episode from 2012 stands out as exceptional.”

By providing a diverse biological habitat, soil can support the growth of many plants, animals and soil microorganisms. Diving deeper, we can learn why the moisture and characteristics of soil is so important to the environment and the species that live within it. Microbes rely on soil for food. From the soil, they get key nutrients from eating the plant residue left over. They also benefit from the amount of space from healthy soil, being able to move around more comfortably and more free. Plants, on the other hand, need soil for growth purposes. The intake plants get from moist soil allows them to maintain sufficient aeration, in relation to the exchange of soil air with the atmosphere. Animals and humans simply benefit from soil moisture through the idea of healthy growing plants and the essential nutrients from these plants when grown properly. Here is Daniel Griffin again to emphasize on this issue.

“They have a growth history that is closely related to precipitation, but as I described, temperature is also an important component of drought potentially in California and especially in terms of soil moisture. When u have a drier than average year with lower precipitation, soil is not recharged at the level that you might expect in an average year. When summer rolls around, temp starts to play an important role in drying out the soils even further, so when conditions are hot, the atmosphere evaporates moisture from the soil and from biosphere to dry it out even further.”

Biologically, organisms can only withstand a certain amount of heat before it becomes too much for their body to handle. A typical temperature range that soil organisms can handle is 0°C and 60°C, with the exception of some organisms who are able to adapt to such conditions. As Griffin explained,  “when summer comes around, temperature becomes a key role in drying out soils because the hot atmosphere evaporates moisture, drying it out even further.” With the rising temperatures of heat and the lowering amounts of moist soil, organisms are experiencing radical changes in their animations. In a USDA government approved study, researchers heated soil at different temperatures to determine the effects of different organisms in different soils. In their results, they found that as temperature increased, so did diversity. Three microbial groups, fungi, nitrate oxidizers and bacteria were all impacted with a result of inactive cells.

To learn more about this study, and other ways to help, please visit

Your Daily Dose of Synthetics

Your Daily Dose of Synthetics
(Farm Factories)

By Michelle Orgel

Hydrogen Sulfide, ammonia, growth hormones chemical gases; these are all examples of toxins that you could be consuming from buying and eating meats from animals raised in harsh factory farms. As Gene Bauer puts it, “anti-biotic pathogens that are sickening people and in some cases people are dying because the antibiotics that used to be able to treat these people are no longer able to do so.” Thus, meaning that people living in rural areas near farm factories are in danger of catching these chemicals second-hand, and people who buy these products without knowing the health risks are most definitely at risk of these severe injuries.

“When you have animals confined in these warehouses, there are toxic fumes that come from them and anti-biotic-resisten pathogens found in groundwater downstream from these farms because animals are kept in these filfthy, stressful conditions and continually fed enormous quantities of drugs to be kept alive resulting in products of anti-biotic pathogens that are sickening people and in some cases people are dying because the antibiotics that used to be able to treat these people are no longer able to do so.”

Another indirect way to catch these such diseases is through the underground water system. Here is Bauer himself to explain more in depth:

“Many streams across the US, I think the EPA estimated a majority of them have been impaired and animal agriculture has been a reason for that, not only in terms of animal manure leaching into groundwater and surface water and spilling out of lagoons. In terms of crops being grown, 70% of the corn and 90% of soybeans grown in the US  are fed to farm animals and those crops are grown with enormous amounts of pesticides which get into the groundwater and the environment which affects our health with consequences, as well as the effects of those with factory farm animals.”

The things that belong in streams are what have been there for millions of years, those of which are used by organisms to their benefits, including small bugs and plants and low concentrated chemicals. When animals are crammed tight next to each other in farms, their waste funnels into massive lagoons which are prone to breakage, ultimately sending the contaminated liquids to pollute bigger water supplies. If these chemicals and manure enter into the human body, the threats are dire.

As well as human risks, there are environmental risks, no doubt. Wrecks can range from lagoon leaks killing massive numbers of fish, to as destructive as a nutrient pollution in waterways. Water quality throughout the whole country is threatened from the chemicals associated with these spills. These chemicals are known to cause algae explosions, depriving water of oxygen, killing much sea-life.

These are only some of the examples of harm that factory farming can stress on the environment, but there is hope yet. Regulation of factory farms is key, accountability is crucial, and knowledge is strength. Know where your local CAFO’s is located, know your rights of participation, and start helping today. For more information, visit

Friday, October 23, 2015

How are you Unknowingly Slaughtering Thousands of Animals?

By Earthscope reporter, Jillian Johns

The ASPCA estimates that around 40% of households own a pet. That means about 40% of people have an animal living in their house in which they treat as they would a child. But what makes these animals different than pigs, chickens, cows, and goats? The Hindu society even worships and respects cows, feeling that they are superior to themselves. Why is it okay to slaughter and kill these types of animals so inhumanely, even though they are not much different than animals we keep at home?

Gene Baur, the creator of Farm Sanctuary, a place where abused farm animals can live in plenty of space with proper food, stated, “In those [animal exploitation and factory farming] businesses the animals are often fed the cheapest thing possible. It’s legal and common, for example, for cows to be fed chicken manure, which sounds crazy, but it is something that is done because it’s a cheap item that the cattle industry can get and at Farm Sanctuary the animals there are seen as our friends, not our food, so things there are completely different.”

Animals have consciousnesses and they all aren’t really different than humans either, however we still continue to slaughter, break, run over, confine the animals where they cannot even walk around, for the sole purpose of then being able to eat them. We kill living beings without anesthesia for our own consumption.

But the animals aren’t the only ones being harmed by the practice of factory farming. “The animals are kept in these filthy, stressful conditions and they are routinely fed enormous quantities of drugs just to be kept alive,” Baur explained, “and that’s resulting in the development of antibiotic resistant pathogens that are sickening people and, in some cases, people are dying because the antibiotics that used to treat these diseases are no longer able to do so.” While some may be able to turn their back on the animal abuses, they won’t be able to turn from human harm, especially if it is someone they love. How we treat these animals says so much about who we are as people and most, if they knew what was going on, would opt not to treat animals cruelly.

According to Baur, “[About] 70% of the corn and 90% of the soybeans grown in the US are fed to farm animals and those crops are grown with enormous amounts of herbicides and pesticides and those get into the groundwater, they get into the environment and they impact our health.” This is a substantial amount of resources we are using to obtain food. Plants get their energy directly from the sun, so when animals eat plants the energy is passed on to them, but usually only around 10% of the energy is able to be transferred. Let’s say there were 100 bean plants; those would only be able to feed 10 animals, and those 10 animals would only be able to feed one human. Now if we ate only plants, in the same amount of resources, 10 people would be fed, rather than just one. In order to feed the greatest amount of people, the most sustainable method would be to eat plants.

The huge amounts of animals bred in order to feed the growing human population, increases the environmental impact placed upon our planet. “Not only are we putting a lot of greenhouse gasses into the environment through the production process with animal agriculture but we’re also destroying some of the planet’s best ways to clean the air. The rain forests have been called the lungs of the planet and we’re cutting them down to grow feed crops for animals.” It has been estimated that 14.5% of greenhouse gas emissions are coming directly from farm animals, especially from cows and their methane emissions, causing global warming and climate change throughout the planet. And especially in the drought we are in, we must be even more environmentally conscious of the resources and huge amounts of water needed to support one animal.

So why are we allowing for this abuse to happen? And what can you do to help prevent it?  To oppose this factory farming, eat meat from humane sources, eat less meat, or become a vegetarian or vegan altogether. Tell people about these poor animals, go visit farms, educate yourself as well as others. If other people see what you are doing to change your ways, they may become inspired, change their own ways, and thus begin a domino effect. Be the start of that effect, just like Gene Baur was. And as he said, “If we can live well without causing unnecessary harm and unnecessary slaughter, why wouldn’t we?”

To learn more about Gene Baur, Farm Sanctuary, and what you can do, visit

Trees' Wisdom can Help us Understand the Drought we are Living In

By Earthscope Reporter, Jillian Johns

Trees can live for centuries, learning along the way. Much as humans become older and wiser, trees do too. However, increasing global temperatures and climate change are causing more frequent fires and droughts which in turn cause long-lived trees to die due to lack of water.

We can learn from trees because they are full of scientific evidence on the climate as recorded during the many years a single tree may have been alive. These pieces of evidence allow for scientists to discover climate information up to thousands of years longer than the technology we have now. These technologies have only been around for about 75 years, giving us only a glimpse of how the climate has changed, but not a fuller image, as the trees give. The area of scientific research titled dendrochronology is just this: the study of trees and their tree rings in order to find how the moisture levels in soils based on recent precipitation and temperatures (also known as PDSI - Palmer Drought Severity Index) has been changing throughout the years.

            Daniel Griffin, a dendrochronologist teaching at the University of Minnesota, conducted the Blue Oak Study* in which he and his colleague extracted data from the blue oak trees’ rings to discover how the climate has changed over the past 1,200 years.

By studying the tree rings inside the trunks of trees, Griffin was able to find that we are currently in a state of drought that is the worst in these last 1,200 years. As each ring represents one year of tree growth, the width of the ring tells us how much water the tree had access to during that time. If the ring is thinner, for example, that year must have been much drier. Rings over the past few years, especially in 2012, have been particularly thin compared to rings throughout the preceding years.

         This new data will help us to understand the range and severity of the drought as well as what the future has in store. As Griffin said, “The tree ring data can be an important and powerful catalyst for reshaping popular conception about drought and about water in California,” and that information is key to the sustainability of our future generations.

         This is a very important study that shows us that we should not take the drought for granted. About 1,200 years ago, the indigenous tribe of Mayans in Central America had a mass die off. Based on recent studies, many scientists believe that this was due to a severe drought. While I am sure we will not face the same end, we do need to be very careful about our decisions on how we manage and care for our water resources at this time.

         By examining the tree ring width and constructing a timeline using these rings, dendrochronologists are able to find years in which the area with the studied trees may have been in a drought. 

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Factory Animal Farming is Harmfully Affecting People and the Environment on a Local and Global Level
By Katherine Podoll

The cruel and harmful environment in which cows, chickens, and other animals are living in factory farms is not only affecting these poor animals, but is also affecting the people living around these farms, as well as the global atmosphere. In these farms, chickens are packed so tightly that they can never stretch their wings, and in some cases they live on top of each other in a way so that a chicken may never touch the ground. Pigs and cows are also confined to horrifically small spaces, and all of these animals are neglected, their living spaces never cleaned, their illnesses never treated. In 1986, after he began investigating factory farms and stockyards, journalist Gene Baur began Farm Sanctuary, an organization focused on protecting the lives of all animals. In the past 29 years, Baur’s organization has excelled, and after publishing two books on the topic, he has gained much knowledge on the issues associated with animal farming. He has discovered that the bad conditions they are living in not only affects the animals, but it directly affects all of us, as well.
    It is natural to have thoughts go to the animals when thinking about animal farming, but have you ever stopped to think that even just being near a factory farm can be extremely harmful to you as well? According to Baur, in these confined warehouses there are “toxic fumes that come from them. There are also antibiotic-resistant pathogens that have now been found in the groundwater. The reason for that is there are animals kept in these horrible conditions, and they are routinely fed enormous quantities of drugs just to be kept alive, which is resulting in the development of antibiotic-resistant pathogens, which is sickening people, and in some places people are dying.” This worst-case scenario is taking place because as the toxic fumes are escaping the warehouses, they are combining with the antibiotic-resistant pathogens and infecting the people, yet there are no antibiotics, or medicines, that can help cure the illness. Most people living near such harmful factory farms do not even realize the danger they are in, because of the quietness and secrecy with which factory farmers go about their work.

A lot of the dangers that come with animal farming are not directly linked to the animals themselves, and therefore can be hard to identify if you do not know exactly where to look. Another way that this practice is harming the local environment is by releasing herbicides into the water. And while some of this caused by the animals through their manure, the majority is caused by the food given to the animals. In fact, “70% of the corn, and 90% of the soybeans grown in the US are fed to farm animals, and those crops are grown with an enormous amount of herbicides, and pesticides. And those get into the groundwater, they get into the environment, and they impact our health,” says Baur. This is a very interesting connection to make, between animals and what they are fed. If the fact that the US is using up the land of an average 80% of corn and soybean production solely to feed harmfully kept animals is not shocking enough, the usually covered-up detail about how it is poisoning our water is not something that can be ignored.

However, not only is factory farming affecting the environment and its people on a local scale, but it is affecting it on a global scale, through climate change. “Factory farming has been found by the United Nations to be one of the top contributors to the most serious environmental problems we’re facing on the planet,” explains Baur. “They’re a greater contributor to climate change than the entire transportation industry, in fact, according to the United Nations.” He goes on to explain why this is: first, it is because of the amount of crops that need to be grown to feed the animals, which uses lots of energy every step of the way, such as pesticide and fertilizer use, which must be created with fossil fuels, and then the harvesting and transportation of the products; second, there is lots of energy behind the processes of the actual animals being raised on the farms; third, animals, particularly cows, are releasing vast amounts of methane into the atmosphere; and fourth, energy is used to transport the animals once again to slaughter houses, which use “lots and lots of energy, lots and lots of water, lots and lots of resources,” assures Baur. He adds that not only are we destroying the atmosphere by emitting huge amounts of greenhouse gases, but we are also destroying the planet by cutting down rainforests to create space to grow crops for these animals! “Not only are we putting a lot of greenhouse gases into the environment through the production process of animal agriculture, but we are also destroying some of the planet’s best ways to clean the air,” explains Baur.

So, what can we do to reduce or prevent factory farming and all of its side effects? The answer, Baur says, is to start small: with ourselves. If we can all begin to make small changes to our diet and our eating habits, then, with enough people aware and involved, it will make a large impact. “It is critically important, especially now with the [California] drought, to look at our food choices, and to shift those in a way that we’re going to have a lighter footprint,” reports Baur. “And the best way to do that is to eat plants instead of animals.” This doesn’t necessarily mean that we all need to completely cut meat out of our diet, but we must, as a society, begin to see it as a privilege and not as a nightly necessity. If we can begin to cherish the meat we are offered, and be conscientious in only obtaining meat from holistic farms who strive to limit their environmental footprint, then we have a chance to change the meat industry and begin saving the planet and our own lives along the way.  

To learn more about or support Gene Baur's work, go to his website:

Climate Change and Rising Temperatures Have Contributed to Making the Current California Drought the Worst in 1,200 Years

By Katherine Podoll

In the years 800 to 1200, the Earth was an extremely warm place. Ocean levels were higher than ever before, and with little snow far up north, exploration and colonization by the Norse people was at its peak. While this made it easier to travel for people globally, it also contributed to record droughts, and the period became known as the Medieval Warming Period.

Now, nearly 1,200 years later, California faces its fourth year in another serious drought. While it has made only small impacts on most people’s day-to-day lives, it is proving to be extremely detrimental to the environment. Over the past few years California residents have been asked to incrementally reduce their water usage.   But there remains a disconnect for most Californians and scientists were not aware of the severity, either, until they began to experiment on a vital species of the natural local environment: Blue Oak trees.

Centuries-old discoveries about the nature of the environment, particularly in relation to precipitation and drought severity, are made today as a product of dendrochronology, or tree ring data. Daniel Griffin, a dendrochronologist at the University of Minnesota, studied soil moisture and temperature in Blue Oak tree rings to determine how exceptional the current drought is in relation to others in the past 1,200 years. In his Blue Oak Study published in a partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Griffin described how, “We’re looking at the combined influence of precipitation and temperature on soil moisture, through this method known as the Palmer Drought Severity Index [PDSI], which is an index of available soil moisture. And when we look at PDSI, and we compare that to tree ring reconstructions of PDSI that go back in time for the last 1,200 years, that’s where this short term drought episode that began in 2012 stands out as exceptional.”

The current California drought’s severity is due in large part to temperature and precipitation change, which at its core is climate change. Climate change causes weather patterns to alter, creating uneven precipitation, and average global temperatures to increase due to growing greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. Griffin relates this back to the California drought: “These record high temperatures may be contributing about 20% of the magnitude of this drought. So there’s no doubt that this drought in California is predominantly the result of precipitation deficit, but it is being exacerbated by record high temperatures.”

So, if this drought is the result of climate change, what can we predict to see in the environment in the near future? “We’re moving into levels of carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere that have not been experienced any time during human history, and probably for the last 3.5 million years or more,” says Griffin. He adds that “this type of hot drought, where you’ve got low precipitation magnified by record high temperatures, is a pretty good prototype for the type of drought that we expect to see in the twenty first century as temperatures continue to rise in direct response to human emissions of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.”

Looking into the future, we will need to create better systems for managing water usage in a drought. The last civilization to experience a drought similar in degree to the current one was the Mayans in Central and South America. But when did that great civilization disappear? 1,200 years ago, exactly the time of the last drought.

As dire as the outlook for the future is with droughts such as our current one becoming a regularity, there is hope that these droughts will not be sustained as ongoing, decade-long events, such as the drought during the Medieval Warming Period, but rather short, punctual dry periods intermixed with wet years. This coming winter of the 2015-2016 season, we hope to end, or at least put on hold, this current dry spell with a possible “El Nino” rainy season. But despite what happens this winter, despite what happens in a year from now, it is our duty as residents of California in this critical time to do everything in our power to preserve our environment and keep California alive and flourishing: taking shorter showers, removing non-native grass lawns, and spreading awareness are all easy ways to help the land, and therefore the people. We must learn from the wisdom of the trees. We don’t want to end up like the Maya.