Test-tube Earth: The Anthropocene Experiment

Honeybee on Black Cohosh flower, Floyd County VA 2015

Innoculate, Feed, Wait, Observe

We are living in the midst and are each of us part of a great experiment. There is no control group laid out to co-exist on a planet where our species has NOT altered the chemistry of the atmosphere. And so we are destined to jump right to the increasingly-likely CONCLUSION: the more CO2 in the air, the lower the nutrient value of foods.

And this, as the global petri-dish population of us grows towards 8 billion and beyond. Beyond–well beyond–the carrying capacity to grow healthy bones, brains and bodies as the nutrient content of our food falls.

Quotes from The Great Nutrient Collapse, Politico / 13 Sept 2017

“Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO 2 levels keep rising,” Loladze said. “We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply.”

Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven’t accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes.”

And one consequence perhaps already seen outside our doors here in early Appalachian autumn–one caged canary in this massive one-off experiment might be the European honey bee feeding on goldenrod pollen:

“Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven’t bred it into new strains, it hasn’t changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat.

And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive–which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution–and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination.

Ziska’s paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.”

See also / The Guardian / Sept 26, 2017:

Sixth mass extinction of wildlife also threatens global food supplies |

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. I value science, and the discoveries being made that may (?) help us survive as the planet changes. Of course, that is not enough, since we need to be able to listen to and act upon the findings. We may not have the political will to do that. I find that most frightening. Lately, I have been studying the effects of industrial changes on the magnesium that used to be found in abundance in our food supply. This mineral is as necessary as water and air to our survival, yet it is very depleted in our land, and hence our food. Thanks Fred, for your continued excellent contributions in this blog, and for giving us an opportunity to learn and share.