A Disquieting Possibility

Could climate change be making us fat? Politico has published an article from a series on the future of health that suggests the answer may be yes.

The article began by describing a 1998 experiment in which scientists made algae grow faster in order to provide more food for zooplankton. They increased the algae by shining more light onto them, and gave the  zooplankton more to eat. But rather than flourishing, as expected, they began struggling just to survive.

The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

A mathematician and biologist named Loladze was intrigued–and spent the next 17 years exploring the obvious question:

Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? “It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition,” he said.

In the outside world, the problem isn’t that plants are suddenly getting more light: It’s that for years, they’ve been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn’t know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. “Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 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.”

Evidently, agricultural researchers have known for some time that many foods have been getting less nutritious. The mineral, vitamin and protein content of fruits and vegetables has dropped steadily over the past 50 years. Researchers had attributed the drop to the fact that farmers have been breeding crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition–that the “significant” decline in everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C could mostly be explained by the varieties farmers were choosing to grow.

More recent research suggests otherwise.

Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

Even climate change deniers concede that CO2 levels have risen. Plants require CO2, so the assumption has been that these higher levels were actually good for agriculture. The emerging research suggest that at certain levels, CO2 depletes the nutritional value of the crops–which contributes to the obesity epidemic, among other things.

The Politico article is lengthy, but it’s well worth reading. And pondering.

19 thoughts on “A Disquieting Possibility

  1. This looks to be very, very interesting. But don’t rule out the huge increase in chemicals, and their varying concentrations, now in our environment.
    Same thing, isn’t it?

  2. Well; this is a multi-faceted subject today, opening discussions on many issues most of us are overlooking, unaware of or deem unimportant. The subject of genetically monitored foods should certainly be an issue we “monitor” more closely as we all eat.

    I will toss this bit of scientific study in and leave it to you to decide if it has meaning to food, the masculinity of fowls and any connection to human health issues or sexuality…or any other connection to our lives in general. My best friend from Tech High School in 1953, has two Master’s Degrees in Social Work; one area of study included Color Psychology which studied incubating some goose eggs under pink lights and others under blue lights. Those incubated under pink lights produced male geese with larger gonads than those incubated under blue lights. Just a thought as to the accepted pink for girls and blue for boys believed to be appropriate attire. Some people do eat goose eggs and prefer a Christmas goose over the traditional turkey. Is this a frivolous issue or one of value?

    But; the studies mentioned in this blog are, or should be, of serious interest to us. Produce today in all supermarkets come from other areas of the world, harvested prior to ripening and reach our dinner tables mostly tasteless and bland. How much does this effect the nutritional value as well as the taste; keeping in mind we know nothing about chemicals used to promote growth…of produce and all meat products. How many of our health problems can be traced back to the foods we eat and the chemically treated fluids we drink?

    This is information I have mentally retained for a number of years; think back to the Three-Mile Island leak, deemed by out government to be of a safe level of exposure to nuclear power sources. Three-Mile Island is located near Hershey, Pennsylvania, where many of their wonderful chocolate goodies are produced. I am a former choclaholic but for some reason became allergic to chocolate about five years ago; is there a connection…to the addiction and/or the allergy? Per Helen Caldicott; the Hershey Corporation dumped all milk from all their herds for six weeks after the Three-Mile Island spill. Dumped it where, why only six weeks supply dumped when the half-life of plutonium (the basic ingredient in nuclear power) is measured in thousands of years and who made the decision? Take into consideration the spread of the spill into ground water, coming up in the plant life such as grass eaten by those herds of cows, some moisture being absorbed by clouds which spread across other areas of the country and fell back into the ground as rain – and the process was repeated many times over.

    Climate deniers are a sect of the Flat Earth Society; determined to maintain the mindset that our atmosphere is safe as it has always been…without knowing exactly how safe or unsafe it began and has become.

    Oh, how I would love to have a real, home-grown tomato which tastes like a tomato!

  3. Now here is a topic I can sink my teeth into.

    I’m with others here today on the unknown dangers of the treated drinking water we all consume daily. While most bacteria and some chemicals are screened out of our water, not all chemicals are. When the water companies issue their annual reports many chemicals are not even mentioned. Water from wells is of particular interest as the chemicals that have leached into the ground water have merged with all of the other chemicals that have leached to make a fine stew of god knows what.

    While most of us today are not in a position to grow our own food we could each of us grow at least one or two vegetables for our own use and to share. For vegetables that are NOT genetically modified there is the Heritage Seed Society in Iowa.

  4. Our agriculture industry grows food that ships well and looks good, without regard to flavor or nutritional value, but heh, isn’t it great to know we can’t be blamed for our obesity?

  5. Sink your teeth into, Theresa; I love it!

    Has anyone else noticed unfamiliar weeds cropping up in their yards the past few years? When I moved to this home, there was a narrow area of standing water in a slight dip across 3/4 of my back yard. It is now deeper and a second dip has formed; water stands for days after heavy rains. That water drainage comes from east of me; less than two blocks from Pleasant Run Creek and four blocks from Shadeland Avenue which is a high level business area dumping who knows what. To the west is a drainage ditch behind the Raytheon facility; the built-in sump pump in my basement is located in the southwest corner, water pumped into the back yard from the northeast corner toward the two dips. The drainage ditch behind Raytheon comes from the storm sewer under East 21st Street out of Windsor Village, curves through this small neighborhood and empties into Pleasant Run Creek near East 16th Street which is frequently tested. About 7-8 years ago someone from Division of Public Health tested water in the ditch responding to complaints about smells and rat infestation. The report stated there is a “safe level of e-coli in the ditch water”; I question the findings and the term “safe level of e-coli”.

    Too late for “long story, short”; my point at last is that my neighbors and I tried those small gardens Theresa mentioned. Neither of us or the man two doors east had any luck with decent size vegetables and taste was only OK. The man east of me now grows his “garden” in huge pots on his porch using safe, organic, expensive bags of soil. We not only do not know what chemicals are used in food and water but have no idea what is in our ground water or in the rain clouds which have absorbed toxic chemicals from plant life and waterways. No way to be completely safe from exposure to hazardous waste when we have no idea where it originated. Is organic food the answer or should we question the safe level of what is labeled “organically grown”? “Truth in advertising” is from a bygone era.

    Jeeze; what a downer today as I watch the rain and wonder what it is bringing with it and from where?

  6. Our star quarterback in high school (circa 1963) entered the science fair with a single tomato plant placed on a old 78 rpm phonograph turntable to determine impact of growth during constant rotation and centrifugal force. The plant produced tomatos he called ‘dizzy delights’. He won first place. A tennis buddy and I built an electric arc welder hand made from scratch including electrical coils beaten into shape. We won third place with a project that took 100 hours of hand labor. The star QB spent 10 minutes placing a store bought seedling on the turntable and plugging the damn thing into an outlet. Then he claimed the findings will help send people on the long journey to the moon. When the judges asked us what application our findings were, we asked how will the rocket ship be assembled?

  7. Rain? What’s that?

    I found out last spring that according to my DNA report, I will need to supplement Vit D for the rest of my life because no matter how much sunshine I get on my skin every day, I will never retain what I got from the sun. And until this weekend, it was so bloody hot here in AZ that I could barely stand to be outside. It was over 100 and humid and cabin fever was the word for August and September. I also gained weight because it was too hot to walk even when waking up at 5 or 6 am with it over 80 and humid. We are finally seeing a dip in temperatures. It was 67 degrees at 6 am yesterday and the neighbors all came out of their houses and did yard work. I don’t know if this comment ‘goes along’ with today’s discussion but here it is anyway.

    The world is falling apart and we have to take notice as another hurricane barrels toward the islands to destroy whatever is left there. Those poor people. sniff.

  8. When I read that article last week I thought the same thing also I think this could be why the science community says that we will lose 1/3 of the animal population. This could also be linked to the decrease in fertility. This could be one of the biggest implication of climate change yet.

  9. JoAnn Green re your 8:17 post

    YES to all you wrote.

    Also re your earlier post mentioning that the fruit and vegetables that we buy have become tasteless and bland. Again, you pointed out a real problem. We continue to eat more and more volume in an effort to be satisfied, yet to no avail.

  10. Nancy, thank you. I miss the taste of fresh tomatoes more than anything else; I throw away a great deal of produce after trying to use different dressings to make a simple salad worth eating.

  11. One of the points that those apathetic or hostile to re-sourcing energy to mitigate anthropogenic global warming miss is that what we are creating is an unprecedented climate certainty different that what we built our civilization to accommodate.

    We can’t possibly guess all of the things that will change.

    We will have to evolve our culture and infrastructure much like natural selection has life forms – through trial and error – as we did for what we have now.

    Some things will work well and grow, many things will fail and diminish.

    Some of those dragging our collective feet on making the changes for energy are inadvertently leading us to more profound and problematic changes later.

    Not to mention that the current US government is taking us backward at the very time that forward progress is most essential.

  12. This sounds like something our Fake President Trump should be able to do something about. It isn’t … but it sounds like it.

  13. The operative song for the Trump Regime is
    Don’t Worry Be Happy
    Bobby McFerrin

    Don’t worry, be happy
    In every life we have some trouble
    But when you worry you make it double
    Don’t worry, be happy
    Don’t worry, be happy now
    ==================================
    Do not worry about the environmental destruction focus on the latest cell phone and Be Happy.

    The Trumpet followers would rather believe in Noah’s Ark, rather than the science of NOAA.

  14. Ah, yes, for the taste of a good tomato, now apparently lost to the ravages of Monsanto, global warming (and its effects), increasing population etc. We got trouble, Houston, and with decreasing nutritional values of foods we thought were more nutritional, we apparently are on the road to widespread obesity. However, I think there are other factors which explain the fattening of America, and I think sugar is the culprit. My daughter, a federal worker in drug control, tells me that if sugar were just coming on the market, it would be classified as a Schedule A Drug, but that like alcohol, social tolerance prohibits such classification. There is no way to avoid sugar since it is a component of so many prepared foods, but heavily sweetened candy, cake, cookies, ice cream and the like can be blacklisted with good results. I know, because I personally went off sugar about six weeks ago and have lost ten pounds and regained a taste for what I thought were more nutritional and less fattening foods (until I just found that such foods are not necessarily all that nutritional). So Exhibit A > We are in the midst of a diabetes epidemic and that points to sugar intake, though less nutritional other food may be an additional causal factor as well. What to do? Get off of heavy sugar, raise your own food if possible, and put down global warming deniers.

  15. Agree with you, Joann, in your early morning post. I have long been talking about these things with few who would take the time to listen.

    Even without using sugar as a stand alone supplement to our foods, if you are an avid label reader, with readers as the print is SO SMALL, you might notice it, sugar, or a chemical substitute are in almost all packaged products, even the healthings foods.

  16. Agree with you Marv about the bombs (nuclear war), but much of premature death is due to a lack of food (starvation). If everything in the nutrition world is looking bad, why are people living longer, healthier lives? For us old-timers, compare the prospects you had for your life expectancy from 70 years ago with that you have today. Before we scream early death by food. let’s wait until the science has established the facts.

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