Blue Marble - August 2012

Will Bird Flu Research Cause a Bird Flu Outbreak?

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 9:30 AM PDT
Handle with care.

Five simple mutations in two genes were all it took for Ron Fouchier's team at the Erasmus Medical Centre in Rotterdam to develop a version of the H5N1 virus, commonly known as bird flu, that was airborne transmissible in mammals. In the wild, such a transformation requires more like 40 mutations, which would take years, numerous generations, and plenty of random chance.

In a controversial experiment, Fouchier's research team exposed ten generations of lab ferrets (many of which were euthanized after only a week) to a genetically modified strain of H5N1 that researchers had isolated from an infected human in Indonesia during the 2005 outbreak. (Ferrets have been used as human substitutes in flu research since 1933.) The goal of the experiment, their report states, was to investigate "whether A/H5N1 can aquire mutations that would increase the risk of mamalian transmission." The conclusion was an overwhelming yes—and around the world, the public reacted to the news by demanding an end to the research.

In January, 39 of the world's leading flu scientists announced a voluntary moratorium on avian flu transmission research. "We realize that governments and organizations around the world need time to find the best solutions for opportunities and challenges that stem from this work," the group said in a statement. The halt on research was supposed to last 60 days. Eight months later, it has yet to resume.

The "challenges" that stem from research like this are multifold. Initially, as Mother Jones senior editor Mike Mechanic reported, the concern was that publishing papers like Fouchier's (as well as a similar one by Yoshishiro Kawaoka of the University of Wisconisn that made H5N1 transmissible in just four mutations) would give any genetic scientist with a taste for bioterrorism the recipe for a global pandemic. H5N1 is deadly: It has wiped out flocks of poultry across Europe and Asia since the first outbreak in 1997, and New Science reports that since 2004, 565 people who were in close proximity to infected birds have caught the virus—and 331 of them have died. The number of human casualities is relatively low because H5N1 was a virus that could only be contracted through contact with infected birds, and would not spread from human to human.

That is, until Fouchier and Kawaoka's teams created strains that would.

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Medical Journal Blasts Komen for Overselling Mammograms

| Thu Aug. 9, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

Cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure announced a major shake-up on Wednesday, with CEO Nancy Brinker stepping down and President Liz Thompson leaving the organization in September. Brinker will move to a new role as the chairwoman of the board executive committee, the group announced. Two board members are also departing.

The announcement comes the same week as a new paper in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) takes aim at Komen for promoting early detection as the key to cancer survival. A recent ad campaign for the group features a smiling woman with the message, "Get screened now." 

"Early detection saves lives," the ads state, adding that the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent when it's caught early and only 23 percent when it's not. But Steven Woloshin of the Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Lisa M. Schwartz of the Center for Medicine and the Media at the Dartmouth Institute for Health Policy and Clinical Practice point out in their BMJ article that the ads "dramatically overstate the benefit of screening" and neglect to mention that screenings aren't always good for women.

The figure Komen's ad uses is bogus, the pair writes, because the short-term survival rate would most certainly be improved by spotting the cancer earlier. The five years is from the date of diagnosis, meaning screened women would have a longer lead time. Without screening, the cancer isn't caught until it's much farther along. "Comparing survival between screened and unscreened women is hopelessly biased," they write. And the stat says little about longer-term survival rates, which are far more important. They explain:

To see how much lead time can distort five year survival data, imagine a group of 100 women who received diagnoses of breast cancer because they felt a breast lump at age 67, all of whom die at age 70. Five year survival for this group is 0%. Now imagine the women were screened, given their diagnosis three years earlier, at age 64, but still die at age 70. Five year survival is now 100%, even though no one lived a second longer.

Meanwhile, the ads don't mention some of the problems caused by too much screening. Between 20 and 50 percent of women screened every year for ten years will experience at least one "false alarm," which could result in over-diagnosis (which also distorts survival rate figures). For every life saved by an early mammogram, 2 to 10 women are misdiagnosed and undergo unnecessary medical treatment, they write. This is why the US Preventive Services Task Force recommends that women wait until they're 50 to start getting mammograms, and then only get them every two years.

It's been a rough year for Komen, the ubiquitous cancer charity known for pink ribbons and walkathons. The group drew fire in February after it stopped its grants for cancer screenings at Planned Parenthood clinics. Komen later reversed course, but the controversy did serious damage to their brand

US Climate Envoy Pooh-Poohs 2 Degree Goal

| Wed Aug. 8, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

US climate envoy Todd Stern is stirring up some international debate after suggesting that the world should drop the goal of limiting global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6°F).

To recap, back during the 2009 climate negotiations in Copenhagen, the US and other countries reached a non-binding political agreement that, among other things, stated that they would aim to limit global warming to 2 degrees Celsius. (And that goal was contentious, as many of the most-impacted and least-developed countries wanted a goal of 1.5 degrees.) Two years later, in Durban, negotiators outlined a path forward for a legal agreement, stating that they would try to negotiate a deal by 2015 that would take effect in 2020.

So, when Stern suggested ditching that goal in recent remarks at Dartmouth College (via Climate Progress), other countries were none too happy. Here's what Stern said:

This kind of flexible, evolving legal agreement cannot guarantee that we meet a 2 degree goal, but insisting on a structure that would guarantee such a goal will only lead to deadlock. It is more important to start now with a regime that can get us going in the right direction and that is built in a way maximally conducive to raising ambition, spurring innovation, and building political will.

The European Union and small island states are understandably upset about the remark. It's worth noting that the world is on path right now to blow right past 2 degrees and head right to 4 degrees warming. But setting a goal of 2 degrees is one of the only things that countries have actually committed to over the past few years of tepid, wishy-washy half-agreements under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change. It's one of the few remotely ambitious commitments out there. And one of, if not the main, reasons that the commitments lack ambition has been the US, which keeps arguing for "flexible, evolving" agreements rather than a binding legal treaty.

UPDATE 8/8/12, 1:26 PM EDT:  Stern released a statement Wednesday claiming that his remarks were misinterpreted, while still saying that an approach that would "guarantee such a goal" would likely fail:

There have been some incorrect reports about comments I made in a recent speech relating to our global climate goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to below 2 degrees Celsius. Of course, the US continues to support this goal; we have not changed our policy. My point in the speech was that insisting on an approach that would purport to guarantee such a goal—essentially by dividing up carbon rights to the atmosphere—will only lead to stalemate given the very different views countries would have on how such apportionment should be made. My view is that a more flexible approach will give us a better chance to actually conclude an effective new agreement and meet the goal we all share.

Gibson Guitars and Feds Settle in Illegal Wood Case

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 1:44 PM PDT

In August 2011, the US Fish and Wildlife Service confiscated hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of wood from guitar giant Gibson's Tennessee locations, the second raid in two years. The incident blew up into a big brouhaha over federal regulations and enforcement: Gibson claimed no wrong-doing in regard to wood from both Madagascar and India, and the company and its right-wing allies flipped out, painting the incident as Big Government coming to take away "your right to rock." Now, nearly a year later, the government and Gibson have reached a settlement.

Under the settlement, Gibson agreed to pay a $300,000 fine for the ebony from Madagascar that was taken in the first raid. The company also agreed to make a $50,000 donation to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to promote conservation work and forfeited the seized illegal wood, which was valued at $261,844.

The company also acknowledged its violations. Sort of. In a statement, CEO Henry Juszkiewicz said that the company "felt compelled to settle as the costs of proving our case at trial would have cost millions of dollars and taken a very long time to resolve." The agreement allows Gibson to keep the rosewood and ebony from India that was taken in the second raid and continue importing from India. Juszkiewicz also didn't drop his claims that his company was "inappropriately targeted" in the raids and that the matter "could have been addressed with a simple contact" from a "caring human being representing the government." Gibson published all the settlement documents on on its website.

In exchange, the Department of Justice dropped its criminal investigation into Gibson. In its release, the DOJ notes that Madagascar is a country that has a major problem with illegal logging, and that its ebony is particularly threatened, which prompted the government to ban the export of unfinished ebony products in 2006. Importing those products would be considered illegal both under Malagasy law and under the Lacey Act, the 2008 US law that requires US importers to follow applicable domestic laws in purchasing wood products. In announcing the agreement, the DOJ released some additional information about the case, none of which makes Gibson look very good:

Gibson purchased “fingerboard blanks,” consisting of sawn boards of Madagascar ebony, for use in manufacturing guitars. The Madagascar ebony fingerboard blanks were ordered from a supplier who obtained them from an exporter in Madagascar. Gibson’s supplier continued to receive Madagascar ebony fingerboard blanks from its Madagascar exporter after the 2006 ban. The Madagascar exporter did not have authority to export ebony fingerboard blanks after the law issued in Madagascar in 2006.
In 2008, an employee of Gibson participated in a trip to Madagascar, sponsored by a non-profit organization. Participants on the trip, including the Gibson employee, were told that a law passed in 2006 in Madagascar banned the harvest of ebony and the export of any ebony products that were not in finished form. They were further told by trip organizers that instrument parts, such as fingerboard blanks, would be considered unfinished and therefore illegal to export under the 2006 law. Participants also visited the facility of the exporter in Madagascar, from which Gibson’s supplier sourced its Madagascar ebony, and were informed that the wood at the facility was under seizure at that time and could not be moved.
After the Gibson employee returned from Madagascar with this information, he conveyed the information to superiors and others at Gibson. The information received by the Gibson employee during the June 2008 trip, and sent to company management by the employee and others following the June 2008 trip, was not further investigated or acted upon prior to Gibson continuing to place orders with its supplier. Gibson received four shipments of Madagascar ebony fingerboard blanks from its supplier between October 2008 and September 2009.

 

My Trip to the Chevron Refinery Fire

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 9:49 AM PDT
The plume of smoke at the Chevron refinery, seen from the 80 East

When I heard about the fire at the Chevron refinery last night, I decided to hop in my car and check it out. At about 8:30, I headed out on the 80 freeway, east from Berkeley. Before I even saw the plume, I could smell it: an acrid odor similar to burning plastic. When I got to the plant, the security guards at the gate told me that no one was allowed inside, so I joined a half dozen news trucks across the street. Sirens began to sound, and another reporter told me he thought they were supposed to alert nearby residents to take cover.

He was right: Chevron issued a shelter-in-place alert—meaning that residents should stay inside, close the doors and windows, and block cracks with damp rags or tape—for the surrounding area soon after the fire began at 6:15 and didn't lift it until close to 11 PM, after the fire was out.

After about a half an hour of waiting around, Chevron spokeswoman Heather Kulp came out to talk to the assembled group of reporters outside. She told us that a diesel leak had caused a fire at the No. 4 crude unit, and that one worker was being treated for a minor burn on his wrist. She couldn't answer any questions about the air quality, or what exactly the health hazards of breathing in the fumes might be. But I later learned from local news reports that about 200 people flooded local hospitals complaining of difficulty breathing and eye irritation. The Chevron crew took air samples throughout the evening and said it didn't find any dangerous compounds.

Yet when I left the refinery at around 10:30, it still smelled awful, and my eyes were getting itchy. I could smell the fire for most of my drive back home to Oakland. Today the fire is out, but there's no official report on how much diesel burned. The refinery is one of the biggest in the US; it can process about 240,000 barrels of crude a day. There's speculation that the fire will cause a spike in California gas prices, though it's not clear yet how much.

 

Obama Knocks Romney for Saying True Things About Coal

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 9:19 AM PDT

Everyone knows election season is a time of craven politicking. But a new radio ad the Obama campaign is running in Ohio might be a new low, dinging Mitt Romney for remarking that coal "kills people."

Here's a clip of the ad, which is running in Ohio, via Politico:

"When he ran for President, Barack Obama pledged to support clean coal and invest in new technologies," the ad says.
"And Mitt Romney? He's attacking the president’s record on coal," the narrator says. "Here's what Romney said in 2003 at a press conference in front of a coal plant: 'I will not create jobs or hold jobs that kill people. And that plant, that plant kills people.'"

The ad refers Romney's remarks outside of the Salem Harbor Power Plant shortly after he was sworn in as governor of Massachusetts. Here's the thing: the plant Romney was talking about actually does kill people. A lawsuit enviros in the state filed to shut it down cited nearly 300 violations of the Federal Clean Air Act between 2005 and 2009. And if you factor in the human health problems burning coal creates, coal plants in general cost many million more dollars than our electric bills would indicate. Although Romney promised to shut down the plant, he never actually did; it's now slated to go offline in 2014.

But here's where Obama's ad is really off-base. For one, there's still no "clean coal" technology that's ready to be deployed for new plants, let alone 60-plus-year-old plants like Salem. And two, Vice President Joe Biden said exactly the same thing a few years ago, noting that "hundreds of thousands of people die and their lives are shortened because of coal plants." That's because it's true!

 

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14 Wacky "Facts" Kids Will Learn in Louisiana's Voucher Schools

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 3:00 AM PDT
Separation of church and what?

Thanks to a new law privatizing public education in Louisiana, Bible-based curriculum can now indoctrinate young, pliant minds with the good news of the Lord—all on the state taxpayers' dime.

Under Gov. Bobby Jindal's voucher program, considered the most sweeping in the country, Louisiana is poised to spend tens of millions of dollars to help poor and middle-class students from the state's notoriously terrible public schools receive a private education. While the governor's plan sounds great in the glittery parlance of the state's PR machine, the program is rife with accountability problems that actually haven't been solved by the new standards the Louisiana Department of Education adopted two weeks ago.

For one, of the 119 (mostly Christian) participating schools, Zack Kopplin, a gutsy college sophomore who's taken to Change.org to stonewall the program, has identified at least 19 that teach or champion creationist nonscience and will rake in nearly $4 million in public funding from the initial round of voucher designations.

Many of these schools, Kopplin notes, rely on Pensacola-based A Beka Book curriculum or Bob Jones University Press textbooks to teach their pupils Bible-based "facts," such as the existence of Nessie the Loch Ness Monster and all sorts of pseudoscience that researcher Rachel Tabachnick and writer Thomas Vinciguerra have thankfully pored over so the rest of world doesn't have to.

Here are some of my favorite lessons:

1. Dinosaurs and humans probably hung out: "Bible-believing Christians cannot accept any evolutionary interpretation. Dinosaurs and humans were definitely on the earth at the same time and may have even lived side by side within the past few thousand years."Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

Much like Whoopi and Teddy in the cinematic classic Theodore Rex. Screenshot: YouTubeMuch like tough cop Katie Coltrane and Teddy the T-rex in the direct-to-video hit Theodore Rex Screenshot: YouTube

2. Dragons were totally real: "[Is] it possible that a fire-breathing animal really existed? Today some scientists are saying yes. They have found large chambers in certain dinosaur skulls…The large skull chambers could have contained special chemical-producing glands. When the animal forced the chemicals out of its mouth or nose, these substances may have combined and produced fire and smoke."Life Science, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2007

3. "God used the Trail of Tears to bring many Indians to Christ."—America: Land That I Love, Teacher ed., A Beka Book, 1994

4. Africa needs religion: "Africa is a continent with many needs. It is still in need of the gospel…Only about ten percent of Africans can read and write. In some areas the mission schools have been shut down by Communists who have taken over the government."—Old World History and Geography in Christian Perspective, 3rd ed., A Beka Book, 2004

The literacy rate in Africa is "only about 10 percent"--give or take a few dozen percentage points. residentevil_stars2001/FlickrThe literacy rate in Africa is "only about 10 percent"…give or take a few dozen percentage points. residentevil_stars2001/Flickr

5. Slave masters were nice guys: "A few slave holders were undeniably cruel. Examples of slaves beaten to death were not common, neither were they unknown. The majority of slave holders treated their slaves well."United States History for Christian Schools, 2nd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 1991

Slaves and their masters: BFF 4lyfe!  Edward Williams Clay/Library of CongressDoesn't everyone look happy?! Edward Williams Clay/Library of Congress

6. The KKK was A-OK: "[The Ku Klux] Klan in some areas of the country tried to be a means of reform, fighting the decline in morality and using the symbol of the cross. Klan targets were bootleggers, wife-beaters, and immoral movies. In some communities it achieved a certain respectability as it worked with politicians."United States History for Christian Schools, 3rd ed., Bob Jones University Press, 2001

Just your friendly neighborhood Imperial Wizard! Unknown/Library of CongressJust your friendly neighborhood Imperial Wizard Unknown/Library of Congress

7. The Great Depression wasn't as bad as the liberals made it sound: "Perhaps the best known work of propaganda to come from the Depression was John Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath…Other forms of propaganda included rumors of mortgage foreclosures, mass evictions, and hunger riots and exaggerated statistics representing the number of unemployed and homeless people in America."United States History: Heritage of Freedom, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1996

Definitely Photoshopped.  U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/WikipediaDefinitely Photoshopped. U.S. National Archives and Records Administration/Wikipedia

8. SCOTUS enslaved fetuses: "Ignoring 3,500 years of Judeo-Christian civilization, religion, morality, and law, the Burger Court held that an unborn child was not a living person but rather the "property" of the mother (much like slaves were considered property in the 1857 case of Dred Scott v. Sandford)."American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997

9. The Red Scare isn't over yet: "It is no wonder that Satan hates the family and has hurled his venom against it in the form of Communism."— American Government in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1997

Meanwhile, God sneezes glitter snot in the form of Capitalism. Catechetical Guild/Wikipedia Catechetical Guild/Wikipedia

10. Mark Twain and Emily Dickinson were a couple of hacks: "[Mark] Twain's outlook was both self-centered and ultimately hopeless…Twain's skepticism was clearly not the honest questioning of a seeker of truth but the deliberate defiance of a confessed rebel."Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

"Several of [Emily Dickinson's] poems show a presumptuous attitude concerning her eternal destiny and a veiled disrespect for authority in general. Throughout her life she viewed salvation as a gamble, not a certainty. Although she did view the Bible as a source of poetic inspiration, she never accepted it as an inerrant guide to life."Elements of Literature for Christian Schools, Bob Jones University, 2001

And her grammar was just despicable! Ugh! Todd-Bingham picture collection, 1837-1966 (inclusive)/ Manuscripts & Archives, Yale UniversityTo say nothing of her poetry's Syntax and Punctuation—how odious it is.Todd-Bingham picture collection, 1837-1966 (inclusive)/ Manuscripts & Archives, Yale University

11. Abstract algebra is too dang complicated: "Unlike the 'modern math' theorists, who believe that mathematics is a creation of man and thus arbitrary and relative, A Beka Book teaches that the laws of mathematics are a creation of God and thus absolute…A Beka Book provides attractive, legible, and workable traditional mathematics texts that are not burdened with modern theories such as set theory."—ABeka.com

Maths is hard! Screenshot: MittRomney.comMATHS: Y U SO HARD? Screenshot: MittRomney.com

12. Gay people "have no more claims to special rights than child molesters or rapists."Teacher's Resource Guide to Current Events for Christian Schools, 1998-1999, Bob Jones University Press, 1998

13. "Global environmentalists have said and written enough to leave no doubt that their goal is to destroy the prosperous economies of the world's richest nations."Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999

Plotting world destruction, BRB.  Lynn Freeny, Department of Energy/FlickrPlotting economic apocalypse, BRB Lynn Freeny, Department of Energy/Flickr

14. Globalization is a precursor to rapture: "But instead of this world unification ushering in an age of prosperity and peace, as most globalists believe it will, it will be a time of unimaginable human suffering as recorded in God's Word. The Anti-christ will tightly regulate who may buy and sell."Economics: Work and Prosperity in Christian Perspective, 2nd ed., A Beka Book, 1999

He'll probably be in cahoots with the global environmentalists. Luca Signorelli/WikipediaSwapping insider-trading secrets is the devil's favorite pastime. Luca Signorelli/WikipediaWhew! Seems extreme. But perhaps we shouldn't be too surprised. Gov. Jindal, you remember, once tried to perform an exorcism on a college gal pal.

Crop Data Prepares Drought-Stricken Farmers to Get By With Less

| Tue Aug. 7, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

This story first appeared on the Guardian website.

The device keeping disaster away from Glenn Cox's farm in this summer's devastating drought could well be the laptop on his kitchen counter.

A few keystrokes and eventually his painfully slow dial-up connection pulls up graphs tracking temperature and moisture levels from his corn and peanut fields.

The real-time feed gives Cox an advantage over farmers across a vast swathe of the mid-west who are preparing to give up on their crops.

It's taken away the guess work. He knows where to water, and where not to water—giving Cox a critical advantage in a year when rain is elusive and groundwater is in short supply.

This stretch of Georgia is in its second year of drought—the worst since the 1950s, Cox said. "If we had not had irrigation we would be filing insurance right now," he said. "That's plain. I could plant it, and without irrigation we would be broke."

Cox's edge comes through technology developed over the last decade by the University of Georgia. The innovations are seen as the biggest advance on irrigation systems in decades.

The lower Flint River basin, where Cox farms, is one of the top agricultural areas in the south-east, producing the country's biggest pecan, peanut and cotton crops. But its weather is increasingly unpredictable, careening between flood and drought. Scientists see the extreme variability of the last 15 years as evidence of climate change and expect it to get worse over the coming decades.

Farmers are going to have to make smarter use of water to remain viable.

The technology developed at the University of Georgia, and rolled out in partnership with the Nature Conservancy and the Flint River Conservation Project, relies on GPS technology and low-cost sensors.

The sensors, encased in PVC pipes, gather temperature and moisture data from different soil depths and at multiple locations. Antennae fitted to the pipe then relay the soil conditions to a computer, where the data is reviewed and analysed by crop consultants.

Cox sees himself as a cautious man. His family has been farming in south-western Georgia for five generations, on lands that back up into the cypress, sycamore, and live oaks that line the Flint River. Cox is pushing, not very subtly, to make it a sixth when his daughter Casey finishes college.

For years now he has been planting virtually the same mix of peanuts and corn on his 850 acres, but conditions for farmers in Georgia are changing.

The last two years have brought drought so severe it killed mature trees. Five years ago, a flood left 4ft of water in his bedroom, along with a dead armadillo, and a live rattlesnake on the porch.

The technology promises a degree of certainty. He is not wasting electricity when there is no need to pump water onto his fields. He is not wasting water on the low-lying areas that soak up moisture or the wasteland that hugs the road.

"It's absolutely critical. Water costs money. Electricity costs money. Gas costs money," he said. "It costs a lost of money to bring this crop out of the ground."

Cox is also spared from driving miles each day checking conditions on his fields. It's all there in a few clicks, even on the sluggish internet connection of rural Georgia.

The University of Georgia scientists and the Flint River Project started working with farmers more than a decade ago to try to find ways to save water without sacrificing their crops.

They started by testing a low-pressure system for the giant centre pivot irrigation systems that circle the fields, spraying water from scores, sometimes hundreds, of spouts. Water at high pressure can be lost to wind or evaporation. That one change alone probably reduced water use by 20%, said David Reckford, who heads the project for the Nature Conservancy.

Next they introduced technology to control individual spouts, which saved farmers from spraying water on the road or nearby wasteland.

Then they moved into the world of sensors and data management. Some estimates suggest the technology could help farmers reduce water use by up to 30%.

Earlier versions of the variable irrigation systems developed at the University of Georgia are in demand in Kansas and Nebraska, both deep within the drought zone.

The systems typically save 1,000 gallons of water per minute, said Rick Heard, a consultant with the Australian firm Farmscan, which is marketing the systems. "On a really large system you may end up turning off three-quarters of the spigots," he said.

The next stage promises to be even bigger, said George Vellidis, the agricultural engineer who helped develop the systems.

"I think it's going to be huge," he said. "This is still a little premature but five years from now it's going to be ready for prime time."

Drought years impose a huge cost even on those farmers who have irrigation systems. They pay more for electricity, their equipment breaks down from overuse during dry spells. And then there is the realisation that the water will not last forever.

Vellidis went on: "Let's say you have limited water supply because you are in extreme drought. Now you have a very smart way to make a decision about how to apply water. You know which field is suffering so you can decide which fields to apply water on."

The technology could help defuse what are now politically loaded decisions in Georgia because of increasing competition for water from cities, industry, and power stations, in addition to farmers, and because of the implications of climate change.

The Republican governor, Nathan Deal, rejects the science of climate change. Late last year, he removed the state climatologist, David Stooksbury, reportedly for upholding established climate science.

"Most elected officials are in denial. They don't believe it's real," said Woody Hicks, a hydrologist advising the Flint River project.

But he said climate change would exert even greater pressure on water supply and use over the coming decades.

The groundwater Cox and other farmers pull up to water their fields is already on borrowed time, with scientists finding a direct connection between withdrawals from underground aquifers and levels in the Flint River.

Too much pumping of the underground aquifer sucks the water out of the Flint. It also threatens supplies to the aquifer that waters Florida, Mississippi, and Alabama.

As farmers are now discovering, they are going to have learn to get by with less. Now, however, they may be within reach of the technology to do so.

"The farming community now realises we are dealing with a finite resource," said Hicks. "The more straws that go into the can the less water for everyone."

6 Ways California Is Planning to Adapt to Climate Change

| Sat Aug. 4, 2012 3:00 AM PDT

North Carolina is dealing with sea level rise by banning science. California is doing something else: actually making plans.

The Golden State has made itself a leader on climate change in recent years, with initiatives to slash greenhouse gas emissions and amp up renewable energy, and has now just released a hefty report on global warming's impacts on the state and how it plans to adapt to a hot new West.

The report, put out by the California Energy Commission and Natural Resources Agency on Tuesday, combines the work of dozens of research teams and will lay the foundation for a climate change adaptation strategy for the state, due out by the end of this year. Here are some of the solutions they've brainstormed:

1. Chill-out stations. Life in a hotter California is not going to be fun. The state is projected to warm up to 8 degrees by 2100, according to the report, which means more dehydration, more heart attacks, more infectious diseases floating about. The study says cooling centers in cities will be key, and the public health department is pushing to green urban areas, install "cool" roofs and pavement that reflect sunlight, and up the capacity of health centers.

The Wall Street Journal's Long War on Science

| Fri Aug. 3, 2012 8:20 AM PDT

The Wall Street Journal editorial page has claimed in recent years that the science of climate change is "disputable," that global warming is just a "fad-scare," and that proposals to deal with it are merely attempts to exert "political control." That the paper keeps repeating these tired claims is not news.

It is news, though, that the Journal's editorial board has made the same series of claims about every major environmental concern in recent history—not only climate change, but acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer, too. Media Matters for America has put together a series of timelines showing the Journal repeatedly arguing that we don't know enough about an environmental problem, protesting that dealing with it would cost too much money, and dismissing questions about what to do as too "political." The full analysis is here. This is the acid rain timeline: