Human-caused Climate Change is a major global threat

Human-caused Climate Change is a major global threat

How Big Oil distorts climate change reality with tweaks in language

 

Sylvia Jaworska, of University of Reading explains that :

Almost every climate scientist agrees human-caused climate change is a major global threat. Yet, despite efforts over the past 30 years to do something about it, emissions keep increasing.

Any successful coordinated international response will require action from businesses. However, some organisations, especially those in sectors that significantly contribute to environmental degradation such as the oil industry, seem rather reluctant to embrace the challenge.

Those climate initiatives they have embraced were more often than not prompted by litigation risks or enforced by governmental policies rather than a result of an intrinsic “green” commitment.

This isn’t the impression the industry likes to give off, of course, and it’s no wonder oil companies’ statements on corporate social responsibility and environmental reporting tend to highlight their greenest side. Yet the fact these documents give the oil firms the opportunity to construct their own narrative means they are a useful source for my research in applied linguistics. When a huge volume of language is analysed, features and patterns can emerge that would be invisible to the casual human reader.

My latest study looked at the “climate change reality” constructed by oil industry in its corporate reporting, what language was used to create this reality, and how this changed over time. This sort of analysis of language is important. Language not only mirrors the social world but acts as a lens through which objects, situations and people are given meaning. Features and associations that are foregrounded can point to some level of significance, while what is kept in the background or not mentioned at all can highlight a lack of interest.

‘Climate change’ or ‘global warming’? ‘Fixable problem’ or ‘unavoidable risk’?
Giorgiogp2 / NCDC, CC BY-SA

This is why I used corpus-linguistic tools – essentially, using a computer to analyse vast amounts of text for certain patterns – to investigate nearly 500 corporate documents produced between 2000 and 2013 by major oil companies (including all the big names). This comprised some 14.8m words published in corporate social responsibility and environmental reports and relevant chapters in annual reports. That’s a lot of words – roughly equivalent to 25 copies of War and Peace.

Using software program Sketch Engine, I looked at how frequently the key corporate terms “climate change”, “greenhouse effect”, and “global warming” were used in each year to reveal how patterns of attention changed over time.

My analysis shows that the most frequently adopted term in the studied sample is “climate change”, while other terms such as “global warming” and “greenhouse effect” are rarely used. The preference for “climate change” and near absence of “global warming” reflects patterns observed in public and media discourse, too.

The use of the term “climate change” experienced peaks and troughs over time, with most mentions between 2004 and 2008, and fewer and fewer mentions since 2010. Less attention to climate change in public debates and overt anti-climate change attitudes on the parts of some governments in recent years might have contributed to the decline in attention given to climate change in corporate reporting.

The rise and fall of ‘climate change’ (frequency per million words).
Sylvia Jaworska, Author provided

I then looked at words used alongside “climate change” to gather clues as to the company’s attitude towards it. This showed a significant change in the way it has been portrayed. In the mid-2000s, the most frequent associated terms were “tackle”, “combat” and “fight”, showing climate change was seen as a phenomenon that something could be done about.

However, in recent years, the corporate discourse has increasingly emphasised the notion of “risks”. Climate change is portrayed as an unpredictable agent “causing harm” to the oil industry. The industry tends to present itself as a technological leader, but the measures it proposes to tackle climate change are mainly technological or market-based and thus firmly embedded within the corporate world’s drive for profits. Meanwhile, social, ethical, or alternative solutions are largely absent.

It seems that climate change has become an elusive concept that is losing its relevance even as an impression management strategy. The proactive stance of a decade earlier is now offset by a distancing strategy, often indicated through the use of qualifying words like “potential” or “eventual”, which push the problem into the future or pass responsibility to others.

The ConversationIn doing so, the discourse obscures the oil sector’s large contribution to environmental degradation and “grooms” the public to believe that the industry is serious about tackling climate change.

Sylvia Jaworska, Associate Professor in Applied Linguistics, University of Reading

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

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Ground-breaking test bed for new offshore Wind Technologies

Ground-breaking test bed for new offshore Wind Technologies

Clean Technica in an article dated April 10th, 2018 by reported that the world’s most powerful wind turbine, the first of two 8.8 megawatt (MW) turbines, has been successfully installed at Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre off the coast of North East Scotland, which is set to be a ground-breaking test bed for new offshore wind technologies.

Vattenfall is a leading European energy company, that for more than 100 years has electrified industries, supplied energy to people’s homes and modernised our way of living through innovation and cooperation.

World’s Most Powerful Wind Turbine Installed At Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre


 

The European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre (EOWDC) in Aberdeen Bay, Scotland, was conceived as a 92.4 MW, 11 turbine offshore wind test and demonstration facility. The project was initially caught up in a protracted legal battle with none other than then-real estate magnate Donald Trump — who promptly lost all legal challenges to prevent the construction of an offshore wind farm he considered would be an eyesore for members of his nearby Trump International Golf Club.

Since then, however, progress has proceeded rapidly, and the hopes of many have come to fruition with the creation of a next-generation testbed for new offshore wind technologies, such as the recently demonstrated suction bucket jacket foundations — which I maintain are cooler than they sound. Supported by the massive 25,000 tonne Asian Hercules III floating crane (seen below), the foundations for the EOWDC are being installed using a new method of securing the massive towers to the seafloor that is faster, more environmentally friendly and quiet, and much easier to uninstall if and when necessary.

Now, the next phase of construction has resulted in the installation of one of two wind turbines which have been specifically enhanced to increase their output by modifying their internal power modes. Specifically, the two turbines have been increased from 8.4 MW to 8.8 MW, which in turn increases EOWDC’s output to 93.2 MW, and as such it will generate 70% of Aberdeen’s domestic electricity demand while displacing 134,128 tonnes of CO2 annually. This is the first time an 8.8 MW wind turbine has been installed for commercial application.

It might not sound a lot — an increase of 0.4 MW — but the EOWDC is intended to serve as a demonstration facility, first and foremost, and testing the application of these incremental increases to wind turbine output could yield significant benefits. Two wind turbines modified such may only increase overall output by 0.8 MW, but a wind farm made up of 100 of these turbines would benefit from a 40 MW increase, simply by modifying existing turbines.

“The turbines for the EOWDC, Scotland’s largest offshore wind test and demonstration facility, help secure Vattenfall’s vision to be fossil fuel free within one generation,” said Gunnar Groebler, Vattenfall’s Head of Business Area Wind. “The EOWDC, through its innovative approach to cost reduction and pioneering technologies, leads the industry drive towards generating clean and competitive wind energy power – one that will reinforce Scotland’s global energy status.”

The V164-8.4 MW and V164-8.8 MW wind turbines were manufactured and modified by MHI Vestas, and have an enormous tip height of 191 meters, with 80 meter blades.

“The first turbine installation is a significant achievement and credit to the diligence and engineering know-how of the project team and contractors,” added EOWDC project director at Vattenfall, Adam Ezzamel. “For it to be one of the 8.8MW models makes it an even more momentous moment because it further endorses the EOWDC as a world-class hub of offshore wind innovation.

“We are very excited by the cutting-edge technology deployed on all the turbines and it is remarkable that just one rotation of the blades can power the average UK home for a day.”

The news was unsurprisingly met with appreciation from UK environmental groups as well.

“Scotland is home to approximately 25% of Europe’s offshore wind resource and projects like Vattenfall’s European Offshore Wind Deployment Centre in Aberdeen promise to harness this potential on a massive scale,” said Stephanie Conesa, Policy Manager at Scottish Renewables. “This ground-breaking facility leads Aberdeen’s ongoing transition from fossil fuels to renewables, and reinforces Scotland’s global energy status.

“As the windiest country in Europe with some of the deepest waters, we should be proud of Scotland’s burgeoning offshore wind industry,” Conesa added. “With many more promising offshore wind sites on our doorstep, we hope to see similar facilities deployed in Scottish waters in future so we can fully utilise our country’s natural resources.”

“The installation of the first of these powerful turbines at Aberdeen Bay is another milestone in Scotland’s renewables story,” added Gina Hanrahan, Acting Head of Policy at WWF Scotland. “Offshore wind, which has halved in cost in recent years, is critical in the fight against climate change, helping to reduce emissions, keep the lights on and create thousands of jobs across the Scotland and the UK.

“Developments like this have an important role to play in securing the Scottish Government’s target to meet half of all Scotland’s energy demand from renewables by 2030.”

via April 11 Energy News

Projects that outmanoeuvred Low Oil Prices

Projects that outmanoeuvred Low Oil Prices

The world’s future of oil and gas demand does more and more appear to be tied with that of China and India, as demand from the OECD countries declines. Italy as a typical OECD country never had an oil industry to speak of but did manage to have gone through all the ups and downs of the oil price during the last decades with relative caution and total mastery of its related international trade. The oil price posed challenges that Italy always confronted whilst focusing its energy policy around the quasi-general assumption that oil and gas would be expensive and scarce forever. Ironically low prices of these past two years looked as if these somehow were harder than expected on Italy’s domestic oil industry, as these had to shift their strategy from a “dash for resources” to a focus on countries and projects that outmanoeuvred low oil prices as so well described in the following article. Its authors are Claudio Descalzi is the CEO of ENI and Rik Kirkland is the senior managing editor of McKinsey Publishing and is based McKinsey’s New York office.

How an oil and gas giant outmanoeuvred low oil prices

Italian oil and gas company ENI has transformed under a leader determined to reduce costs without cutting jobs—instead including employees in the turnaround mission.

Transforming a business that must reduce costs doesn’t always have to mean pain for employees—even if that business is a multinational energy company hit hard by dropping oil prices. In this interview, Eni CEO Claudio Descalzi speaks with McKinsey’s Rik Kirkland about navigating the oil and gas company amid drastic drops in oil prices, securing exploration successes, reinvesting capital gains, and driving a comprehensive culture change.

Transforming an oil and gas giant

I wanted to reduce costs without cutting head count, and I wanted to optimize the structure of the company. Reorganization was very useful, and we got about €800 million per year of cost reduction by just changing the organization and distributing resources in a different way. Those were the first steps.

Then we turned to the refinery. The refinery was exceeding capacity in Italy—which was also the case in Europe overall, but in Italy especially—by about 40, 50 million tons per year. So we shut down the one refinery that caused the big losses for the company, and the same thing was done for the chemical business.

I had to study, because I had to talk to and convince the people that we have to change. Not just culture in terms of costs, but culture in terms of technology, applications, and final output for the chemical and refinery businesses. It was an interesting and intense activity. I had to be involved personally because I had to convince my people—not just give an order or use a consultant—I had to work with them. That was a big three-year effort.

What’s the right amount of risk?

My main objective at the very beginning was to bring the cash neutrality from about $120 per barrel—which is very high, because if you have a cash neutrality at $120 per barrel and the price is $110, you lose $10 per barrel—so the issue was to go from $120 down to about $50 per barrel, where it is now.

I started in 2011, 2012. I called it dual exploration. What I thought to do, is say, “I take a high stake in the asset.” Between 70 percent and 100 percent. I take the risk. I go and select an asset with a low risk, but in a good place, as I told you, close to our facilities. Once I give value to this asset, I can sell at a very high value. Because I have big stake, I can sell at 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent.

I remain with the 40 percent; that is a typical stake to operate. And I operate, but I can’t anticipate the cash in. You can imagine when I started this, we start the exploration, then we develop. Before cashing in, you can wait for four, five, or six years, then you can cash in immediately. So you reduce your risk. You de-risk your position in the country. In the last three and a half years, we got €9.1 billion from exploration selling, with a capital gain of €8.1 billion, so a very high capital gain, that allowed us to reinvest. That is something that we started immediately.

Retraining to support a transformation

When you retrain, you have the opportunity to communicate, to explain not just what your employees are going to do—so you give them a drive, direction—but also what is happening in the company. Because we are a big company, and when you talk with the first line or the second line, they know what is happening.

Then you go down, down, down in the scale, and people don’t know. They are scared. They don’t understand. They receive very scary messages from outside, from the press, from the television, from the world. So you have to explain where you are going.

The market for energy in Africa and beyond

We are the biggest exploration and production company in terms of equity production and research; we are in 15 countries. In Africa there is a lot to do in terms of access to energy, so we need to develop the African energy market. Consumption, it has to grow. But it is still at the very beginning, considering that it represents 15 percent of the worldwide population, which uses 3 percent, 4 percent of the worldwide energy. Europe is 7 percent, and consumption is at 12 percent, 13 percent. And Africa needs energy. Normally the model was different, so we’d find gas and oil and do exports. Africa has a lot of energy, but it doesn’t have access to energy. More than 650 million people don’t have access to electricity, so you cannot think that they can develop themselves. That is a wonderful market.

I don’t think that oil and gas is going to disappear because it’s not sustainable, as some argue. We cannot do differently, because when we talk about renewables and electrical cars, we talk about ourselves—we think about Europe, we think about the US, and we represent the US, Europe, Japan, New Zealand, and Australia, or 14 percent of the world population. Eighty-six percent are in a different kind of situation. They don’t have gasoline. They don’t have electricity. They don’t have power.

So they need oil and gas. They need renewables, clearly. They need a different energy mix.

 

WorldSkills 2017 Competition in Abu Dhabi

WorldSkills 2017 Competition in Abu Dhabi

The 44th WorldSkills Competition were held at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Centre, AbuDhabi, United Arab Emirates from 14 through 19 October 2017. For more information visit worldskillsabudhabi2017.com . As can be seen in the competition results provided in the WorldSkills 2017 Competition in Abu Dhabi site, there is not a single presence of any of the MENA region countries Youth.
Per Wikipedia, Tes, formerly known as the Times Educational Supplement, is a weekly UK publication aimed primarily at school teachers in the UK. It was first published in 1910 as a pull-out supplement in The Times newspaper. Such was its popularity that in 1914, the supplement became a separate publication selling for one penny.
Here is how it is reported by Tes’s Julia Belgutay on 19th October 2017 republished here below.

 

WorldSkills Abu Dhabi: Team UK claims seven medals

The UK’s competitors at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017 have claimed seven medals, including one gold for beauty therapist Kaiya Swain

Team UK secured seven medals at WorldSkills Abu Dhabi 2017  – with beauty therapist Kaiya Swain winning gold after four days of competition.

The UK’s final position in the medal table, however, will not be announced until later this evening, once the medallions of exellence – awarded to all competitors who achieved world-class standards of performance –  have been presented.

Twenty-two-year old Swain, from Stone Cross, East Sussex earlier this week told Tes she had been able to set a new personal best and was happy with her performance.

On top of the WorldSkills

Silver medals were won by architectural stonemason Archie Stoke-Faiers, 22 from Uplyme, Devon, car painter Daryl Head, 21, from Swindon and visual merchandiser Catherine Abbott, 21, from Reading.

Team UK also secured three bronze medals, with plumber Dan Martins, 20, from Northampton, cabinet maker Angus Bruce-Gardner, 22, from Kendal, Cumbria, and auto repairer Andrew Gault, 20, from Cookstown, Northern Ireland, making the podium in Abu Dhabi’s du Arena this evening.

The full results, including the UK’s position in the medal table, will be published later this evening on www.tes.com/FEnews.

Want to keep up with the latest education news and opinion? Follow Tes FE News on Twitter, like us on Facebook and follow us on LinkedIn 

 

Britain’s switch to low-carbon energy could boost its economy

Britain’s switch to low-carbon energy could boost its economy

At a time when some of the MENA countries are taking drastic measures such as opting for Shale Oil and / or reinforcing their production cut, most other countries are considering all segments of the renewable energy for obvious purposes as agreed upon in the Paris Agreement. In the United Kingdom, many were wondering whether after the Brexit, the economy would somehow falter with Britain missing out on, as it were, few things. Here is a story of The Conversation that should comfort all scepticism: Britain’s switch to low-carbon energy could boost its economy.

Britain’s switch to low-carbon energy could give a £21 billion boost to the economy

File 20170928 1456 1rx16ue
Joe Dunckley / shutterstock

Stephen Hall, University of Leeds and Jeffrey Hardy, Imperial College London

To fight climate change and meet the Paris Agreement targets the world will need to rapidly switch from fossil fuels to renewable or nuclear energy. According to the International Energy Agency, this will require up to US$5 trillion (£3.7 trillion) of new investment by 2040.

There’s always lots of talk about how much this will cost and whether low-carbon electricity can still be cheap for consumers. But the flip side to every cost is a revenue – and what has received less attention is the size of the opportunity that will be created for green growth and new investment.

To figure this out, we need to explore which “mixes” of technology would meet decarbonisation targets. In some UK scenarios, for instance, existing fossil fuel power stations would be converted to capture and store their carbon emissions, while others involve a complete renewal of the whole sector through bottom-up, localised energy systems.

Modelling and scenario building is a great way to test out possible futures without having to experiment with the whole electricity system in real time. But, while they can tell us a lot about what technology is required and what it will cost, these scenarios don’t say very much about what kind of value new energy systems will create and for whom.

This is where our research comes in. Together with colleagues, we have analysed how new markets are created and destroyed within these UK electricity system scenarios. These new markets include large-scale low-carbon generation, such as offshore wind or new nuclear power stations, and the provision of new services, such as charging infrastructure for electric vehicles.

Our work shows that in these new markets electricity utilities could access up to £21 billion per year of new value by 2050. In context, that would be worth up to 30% of the total energy market that year.

Offshore wind could be big business…or not.
DJ Mattaar / shutterstock

Understanding how the transition to low-carbon energy might cause certain sectors to grow or shrink is important because, first, it helps utilities plan for the future. Our work shows that large-scale low-carbon generation, for example offshore wind, could be worth up to £8 billion annually by 2050. However, in scenarios in which electricity demand is met through decentralised, smaller-scale systems, big offshore wind farms are needed much less. In that scenario the market would be worth less than £1 billion per year.

Second, focusing always on “cost” as opposed to “opportunity” misses the critical point that new investment leads to new jobs and technological innovation. If the UK focuses on offshore wind or solar, for instance, it would need a plan for when the wind doesn’t blow or the sun doesn’t shine. This would mean a big boost for the “flexibility” market, which includes everything from batteries to services which encourage people to use energy at certain times. In a high-renewables future, it could be worth more than £1 billion per year. But if the UK instead goes for large carbon capture plants, the flexibility market will be worth almost nothing.

Finally, by demonstrating how different markets are created and destroyed in different energy futures, we can better understand the effects of energy policy on market creation. The UK is leading the world in the development of offshore wind power, as shown by a dramatic fall in the cost of government subsidies. Rather than focus on lowest total cost, this type of analysis shows how government can make policies which both achieve low-carbon ambitions and foster new export sectors. This requires innovation policy as well as subsidy support and new environmental regulation.

The ConversationBy calculating the “size of the prize” in clean energy futures our work shows that up to £21 billion of new value is available – but new value for whom? Clean energy policy cannot simply be about developing new technology. The value created by the UK’s offshore wind farms, nuclear power plants or carbon capture needs to flow towards its citizens, while export opportunities in offshore wind and storage technologies are maximised.

Stephen Hall, Research Fellow in energy economics and policy, University of Leeds and Jeffrey Hardy, Senior Research Fellow, Grantham Institute for Climate Change and the Environment, Imperial College London

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

The Conversation

Those seeds from the Fertile Crescent

Those seeds from the Fertile Crescent

Mark Schapiro as an investigative journalist specializing in the environment wrote this article for The FERN’S AG INSIDER to bring us this alluring piece of news coming out of Syria for a change. It is about those seeds from the Fertile Crescent coming to the help of the world of hunger. Here it is with our compliments to the publishers..

Syrian seeds shake up Europe’s plant patent regime

By Mark Schapiro,  September 13, 2017

Salvatore Ceccarelli knew he was engaging in a subversive act when, in 2010, he took two 20 kilo sacks of bread and durum wheat seeds from a seed bank outside of Aleppo, Syria and brought them to Italy during a visit back to his home country. Now, seven years later, those seeds from the Fertile Crescent, the birthplace of domesticated agriculture, with thousands of years of evolution behind them, are poised to challenge the system of plant patenting in Europe, and, soon enough perhaps, the United States.

Ceccarelli, one of the world’s foremost seed scholars and practitioners and an honorary research fellow at Biodiversity International, has consulted with governments on policies to encourage biodiversity. He has also been a leading advocate of participatory plant breeding—which, as he describes it, means engaging farmers in the process of breeding new crop varieties, rather than leaving that to the rapidly consolidating group of global seed companies.

Ceccarelli arrived in Syria in 1984 and stayed for the next quarter-century as a senior breeder and researcher at the International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA), one of nine UN specialized agencies founded to protect regionally evolved seeds. His specialty is wheat, barley and other cereals, bred for dry and hot climates — precisely the conditions that many of the earth’s food-growing lands now face as climate change raises the temperature and disrupts precipitation patterns.

ICARDA was based in Tal Hadya, a town about 20 miles outside of Aleppo, until it was finally abandoned last year when the city became a focus of the Assad government’s brutal counter-offensive against Syrian rebels, including the Islamic State. Ceccarelli was gone by the time the last Syrian scientists were forced to evacuate, but he had ensured that at least a part of the seed bank’s legacy lives on in Italy.  (ICARDA’s work continues in Morocco and Lebanon and a collection of its seeds is stored at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway).

In each one of those sacks Ceccarelli took from Syria were dozens of different wheat varieties. Working with a Tuscany-based NGO, the Rural Seed Network (Reto Semali Rurali, RSR) Ceccarelli arranged to have the seeds planted with a farmer in Sicily and another in Tuscany.

The RSR and a coalition of environmental NGOs from the UK, Germany, Austria, Denmark, and France went to work lobbying in Brussels, to convince the European Council of Ministers – the EU’s executive body – to amend a key provision which requires that all seeds sold in Europe be registered as single seeds with uniform, distinct and stable characteristics. In other words, each seed remains uniform and distinct from other varieties year after year, a registration requirement that is also a key precursor to what is often the next step – patenting. But this uniformity, the coalition argued, makes them uniquely unsuited to the extreme volatility in growing conditions being wrought by climate change – a hot-button question in Italy and throughout much of Europe, which has been facing record-breaking temperatures and, in some regions including Italy, a multi-year drought.

In 2014, the coalition succeeded. The EU agreed to waive those registration requirements on four crops for what it described as “a temporary experiment … for the marketing of populations of the plant species wheat, barley, maize and oats.” For the first time, populations of seeds, evolving and changing and sharing genes in the ways that plants do naturally, could be registered for sale.

The Syrian seeds have already provided a lesson in ‘Evolution 101’ on the Italian farms. Within four growing seasons, the two populations growing in different parts of Italy showed significantly different characteristics, a live illustration of the adaptation process, Ceccarelli said.

In Sicily, which receives a fraction of the rainfall of Tuscany, the wheat is maturing several weeks earlier, and is as many as two to four inches shorter than the Tuscan varieties, which, in the more moderate and moist climate, mature later and deliver more protein per plant.

“Compare the two in the same environment,” says Ceccarelli, “and it’s day and night.” Ceccarelli argues that its their diversity which gives the fields the ability to adapt to new conditions. “Explain to me how a crop that is uniform and stable responds to climate change?” he says. “Today if you are a dynamic seed company you are working on varieties for 2025. For which sort of climate? How many more degrees hotter will it be? Do they know what pests and diseases will come with the new conditions? These population mixtures are extremely dynamic, the cheapest and most dynamic way to cope with climate change.”

The experience of field inspecting a diverse population was a first for the seed inspectors in from Rome, recalled Riccardo Franciolini of the RSR. “It was interesting to see their response,” he said from the group’s headquarters near Florence. “We asked them to do the opposite of what they’re used to doing. They’re used to seeing a single variety, all the same in a field. But the idea of a ‘population’ changes the vision in a profound way.”

In June, the Italian Agriculture Ministry authorized the farmer in Sicily, Giuseppe li Rosi to sell up to two tons per year of the seeds cultivated there; the Tuscan farmer, Rosario Floriddia, could sell up to three tons per year of the seeds he had grown. The difference reflects the different yields of each of the two distinct populations, which of course had been just one single population back in Tel Hadya, Syria. At least 100 farmers are now growing the wheat from those seeds in Italy, according to Ceccarelli. The yields may not match bushel for bushel the yields of neighboring farms — many of which require intensive synthetic chemical inputs. But, he says, they’re showing “high rates of yield stability, year in and year out, which is what farmers care about.” And the bread and pastas made with their wheat are finding a budding market.

The movement is now bigger than the fields Ceccarelli seeded. The EU directive gives each member-state the right to authorize seed populations in the four designated crops. At least 20 such ‘cross-composite populations’ — the technical term for them — have also received authorization from national seed authorities in the UK, Germany, Denmark and France, representing a total of about 300 to 400 tons of seed, according to Klaus Rapf, a Board Member and Adviser to Arche Noah (Noah’s Ark), a seed-saving and research institution in Austria that was part of the coalition fighting for the change. More exact totals won’t be known until next year, said Rapf, when the EU compiles all the registrations held by national authorities, in their respective languages, and releases the Europe-wide figures to the public. The registrations come after years of research throughout Europe comparing the performance and resilience of diverse versus single seed populations, including by Ceccarelli and other scientists.

The fields are now a long-running fuse that could present the first major challenge to the plant-patenting system in either Europe or the U.S., proponents believe. When the first phase of the experiment is completed, at the end of 2018, there will be an assessment of its success. The program could be expanded to other crops, sustained, or stopped.

If it continues beyond 2018, the global dimensions of the seed business suggest it would not take long for the principles to make their way into the United States, where similar research is underway. The experiment could force a reassessment of existing rules, which prioritize individual varieties. You can’t ‘patent’ a population, or at least in ways that patents are currently defined. Populations are dynamic, changing in response to changing conditions – unlike hybrids or genetically engineered seeds, the patenting of which has been the foundation for the companies that now dominate the global seed trade, and which rely on standardized regulations to export their seeds.

“What’s at stake is the very concept of ‘variety’,” said Klaus Rupf of Arche Noah. “Defining something as a ‘variety’ is an abstract concept created to defend turning a seed into a protected intellectual property, based on the notion of very high uniformity.”  

Or, as Ceccarelli puts it, “We are registering and certifying something that is evolving—next year will be different. You start with one thing and you end up with another thing totally different … Yes, it is a little radical,” he said.

Researchers Link Syrian Conflict to a Drought Made Worse by Climate Change by the NYT 2015

Mark Schapiro’s latest book, Seeds of Resistance, a journey in search of the seeds we need to respond to climate chaos in our food-growing lands, will be published by Skyhorse Publishing in early 2018. He is also a Lecturer at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.