GMOs in the News

A genetically modified organism, otherwise known as a GMO, is an organism that has had their genetic material modified by genetic engineering. The genes from various sources are combined to create a new gene and these genes are then transferred into an organism.

The American-based Digital Journal website recently published an article on the “rootworm resistant” corn losing its resistance. This genetically modified corn, produced by the Monsanto Company, is said to be toxic to plant-damaging pests, such as the rootworm, thus reducing the use of insecticide on soil. However, scientists have reported that these corns are losing their effectiveness and may be making the corn more susceptible to the pests. In response, Monsanto has proposed farmers to rotate their crops with one of their other biotech products, like soybeans, or use a different genetically modified corn together with insecticide. To which scientists have rebutted by stating that continuing a failing technology will only increase the potential of resistance and that due to Monsanto taking over the “seed” business there are less options on the market for those opting for non-GMO. The scientists also state that using insecticide on genetically modified corn only increases production costs and would only increase the risk of resistance. They also argue that the use of insecticide on genetically modified corn demonstrates that the genetically modified corn is no longer effective.

On March 21st, the North Shore News website reported that Greenpeace has officially ended its campaign against China’s proposal of commercializing GMO rice. Greenpeace was concerned that genetically modified rice would disrupt China’s traditional farming techniques for farming rice. Although the victory was in part due to pressure within the country, China has suspended its GMO project. The article reports that GMO food is monitored by government agencies (Health Canada for our country) for toxicity, potential of provoke allergic reactions, nutritional effects, and other factors. According to Greenpeace up to 70% of processed foods found in our grocery store are genetically engineered.

Articles can be found here:

London’s air quality

The London Metropolitan area has 76 air quality monitoring sites. The London Air Quality Network (LAQN) provides hourly updates of all their monitoring stations on their website. The LAQN classifies their pollution concentrations according to Defra’s Air Pollution Index system which ranges from 1 to 10 with 1 being low and 10 being very high. For the day of March 15 from 12:00am to 1:00am GMT most of the stations have an index level of around 1 or 2, some 4 and 5, and 6s and 7s. LAQN classifys an index of 1-3 as low, 4-6 as moderate, 7-9 as high and 10 as very high. The two stations that have a level 7 index are the Kensington and Chelsea – North Ken location and the Greenwich and Bexley – Falconwood FDMS location. In the Kensington and Chelsea – North Ken site they have a nitrogen dioxide air pollution index of 2, ozone index of 1, PM10 particulate of 4, PM2.5 particulate of 7 and a sulphur index of 1. PM2.5 and PM10 have potentially adverse health effects. They are small enough that they can get into the lungs. The other monitoring sites that have relatively high overall indexes, mainly have high particulate indexes with some having low indexes of other pollutants. From the monitoring sites that I had viewed, it seems like London’s biggest air pollutant is particulates. On their website they also post health warnings when the index is moderate to high, the LAQN advises those at risk, such as people with lung or heart problems, to refrain from or reduce any strenous activity, especially outdoors. For the general public at high levels, they recommend those who are experiencing sore eyes, cough or sore throat to avoid physical activity, especially outdoors.

London air quality website:


My ecological footprint is 5.7 global hectares, which is less than the Calgary average and the Canadian average. The amount of land need to maintain the current rate of my consumption is 7 Canadian football fields and if everyone in the world lived like I do, we would need 3.1 earths. Most of my footprint comes from food, shelter and mobility As I currently live at home with my family (we have 6 members in total) in a home that is approximately 20 km away from UBC, it is quite difficult for me to change the mobility portion of my footprint. Although I do bus to school, I do drive to some extent but only to nearby locations and usually with another passanger. To lower the my footprint I can use more energy efficient lights which would reduce my shelter portion and if I were to switch my windows to double-paned windows that would also reduce the amount of natural gas my household uses to heat up our home. These two factors reduce my ecological footprint to 5.3 global hectares. Another scenario that I tested was if I was a vegan but all my living conditions remained the same as they are now. My ‘vegan’ ecological footprint is 5 global hectares from the original 5.7.

Climate Mitigation: Geologic storage

The geologic storage of carbon dioxide involves the sequestration of carbon dioxide from sources that produce large amounts of this molecule such as power plants. The carbon dioxide is compressed and transported via pipelines to empty oil and gas reservoirs, deep sedimentary brine-filled formations and deep coral beds that are of no use and are unmineable. This technique could potentially contribute to a full wedge because it has the capabilities of sequesting carbon to stabilize atmospheric carbon dioxide at 350, 450, 550, 650, and 750 ppmv with only about 0.01% leakage occurring.  Some sequestration by geologic storage is already in place, making this technique a promising mitigation strategy.


Town Hall Meeting: Biofuels

Biofuels cause Controversy

This week’s town hall meeting discussion caused many to question the use of biofuels. Government officials, NGOs, scientists, and farmers, all were present to give their two cents on the issue. The main focus of the this week’s meeting was whether or not we should use ethanol as proper replacement for petroleum. Those in favour of biofuels, such as of Government officials, scientists and farmers, argued that ethanol or biofuels in general burn cleaner decreasing carbon dioxide emissions, are sustainable and provide a solution to the rising costs of gasoline. However, those against the use of biofuels (NGOs, local farmers, and scientists) argued that the disadvantages greatly outweighed the advantages. They questioned the ethics behind using land for fuel for our vehicles rather than using that same land to put food in our mouths. They suggested on decreasing funding on biofuels and putting those funds towards new renewable sources such as solar or wind energy. However, as those in favour of biofuels rebutted, those renewable sources  would require more land usage to build the infrastructure necessary to accommodate those renewable sources and the costs for these sources are just not viable. The Pros also argued that the ethanol can be used directly in cars in a mixture with gasoline without citizens having to change engine or upgrading their vehicle. As of now its seems like the only option we’ve got in finding a solution towards our depleting oil reserves are biofuels.

New Biofuels

Last Friday the Vancouver Sun published an article titled, “Turning Seaweed into Biofuel” written by Agence France-Presse. This article outlines the processes for turning seaweed into a biofuel that may potentially replace or at least reduce the amount of coal and oil usage. Researchers have engineered a type of E.coli bacteria that can degrade the major sugars present in brown seaweed and have found a way to harness the energy produced. Currently, they have four aquafarming sites in Chile in hopes of taking the necessary steps in order to produce it commercially. Seaweed is also gaining attention for it is cultivated on coastlines unlike sugar and corn biofuels who use land and compete with other crops used for food.

Also, a UK/Scotland based news-website, Business7, recently reported that the Edinburgh Napier University has spun out a new company called Celtic Renewables Ltd. that intends to use the byproducts of whiskey to create a biofuel that may have a huge global impact. The whiskey industry produces 500,000 tonnes of draff each year which is used to make bio-butanol. Unlike some other biofuels, bio-butanol can replace petrol and also be blended with it as well. Consumers will thereby not need to modify their vehicles in order to use this biofuel.

articles can be found here:


Climate Change Skeptic

Larry Bell, a professor at the University of Houston and the head of the graduate program in space architecture, is a contributor of (the website of the renowned business-orientated magazine) and is also a skeptic of the anthropogenic impact on climate change. Bell’s most recent article on titled “Global Warming? No, Natural, Predictable Climate Change” discusses a recent peer-reviewed study that (as Bell puts it) “indicates” that climate change is not due to human causes but rather because of the oscillations of our solar system. Bell reiterates the study’s findings and argues that climate changes as far back as 1850 can be associated with solar cycles in 9, 10, 20 and 60 year long intervals that affect the cloud systems and tide oscillations that in turn affect the climate. These solar cycles mainly involve the influence of Jupiter and Saturn on our plant. The 60 year interval is also related with many traditional calendars that are associated with astronomical cycles. As Bell says, the study also shows that the IPCC’s climate forecasting model has overestimated the human contributions towards climate change and that the model fails to incorporate any astronomical influence towards our climate. The study, using its own astronomical model and basing it on the 60 year cycle alone, states that in comparison to the IPCC model that suggests that the earth will increase 1.0-3.6 degrees C by 2100, their model predicts that the earth will only increase 0.3-1.2 degrees C. Bell also shows, however, the limits of the study for it only includes 4 astronomical harmonics whereas ocean tides are forecasted using 30-40 harmonics. The amount of scientific information and evidence that Bell uses makes for a rather convincing article. Bell also includes a segment where he asks the researcher behind the study a few questions and directly quotes the researcher himself making the article more credible. However, Bell does display some logical fallacies in his argument. For example, the fallacy of stacking the deck can be seen in his article because all of his argument is against the anthropogenic impact on the climate. He does not discuss any details as to why people would think that there is a human impact. Also, the logical fallacy of either/or can be seen. Bell not does explore the possibility that both the solar cycle and human impact may be contributing factors of global warming.

Original Article can be found here:

Bell, L. (2012, January 10). Global warming? No, natural, predictable, climate change. Forbes. Retrieved from