The Green Blues Show – Edition 41

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As Earth’s atmosphere warms, so do its oceans – at an accelerating rate. Lebanon’s illustrious cedars have long been under threat. Now they’re being restored. And, alternative strategies for feeding ourselves, on a planet that has only so much to give.

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Drug-resistant bacteria, some impervious to virtually all antibiotics, are one of humanity’s great emerging threats. They just pop up, in response to the antibiotics we douse them with. What doesn’t kill them makes them stronger. Bacteria resistant to most or all antibiotics – superbugs, they’re called – just laugh at whatever we throw at them.

On the bright side, mounting defenses against drugs comes at a cost. Bacteria expend energy defending themselves. Stop exposing them, and their defenses go down.

A nice thought, but antibiotics are an essential tool in the arsenal against infectious disease.

So, in a constant game of cat and mouse, medical science relentlessly searches for novel drugs that the bugs haven’t seen yet. Drug discovery takes lots of imagination and costs money.

Now, a group of researchers at McMaster University, in Hamilton, Ontario, have turned over an interesting stone – so to speak. Cannabis. Prospecting for antibacterial cannabinoids, they’ve found something very interesting: a non-psychoactive component called cannabigerol. CBG.

Unlike those drugs mother gives you that don’t do anything at all, CBG actually does do something – to bacteria. It messes up their boundary membranes, weakening them and making them fall apart at the seams. Even better, in combination with the well-known drug Polymyxin, CBG is effective against Gram-negative bacteria.

Eric Brown & Jerry Wright (David Kattenburg)

Gram negatives like Pseudomonas and Acenitobacter have an outer membrane system that blocks antibiotics, or pumps them out. Weakening outer Gram-negative membranes with Polymyxin, then exposing them to CBG, is like a one-two punch.

Eric Brown and his colleagues at McMaster have inhibited the growth of various Gram-negatives in just this way. In the fight against drug-resistant superbugs, its definitely a stone worth turning.

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Almost three quarters of Earth’s surface is covered in ocean. Not surprisingly, the Atlantic, Pacific, Indian and great polar oceans absorb colossal amounts of heat. (measured in multiple zetajoules, as it happens).

Earth’s oceans have absorbed over ninety percent of the atmospheric heat humans have generated, relentlessly pumping greenhouse gases out of their smokestacks and tail pipes.

Warming ocean waters expand, compounding sea level rise from polar ice melt. Where warm surface waters pool, violent hurricanes and monsoons are spawned. Warm waters hold less oxygen. Marine organisms already stressed out by the heat suffocate.

According to a new study in the journal Advances in Atmospheric Sciences, surface ocean waters were warmer in 2019 than at any time in recorded history. And the pace of warming is accelerating.

Kevin Trenberth is one of the authors of the study. Trenberth is a Distinguished Scholar at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, in Boulder, Colorado. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast.

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The cedar is Lebanon’s national symbol. It’s on its flag, its banknotes, a source of identity and pride.

Jouzour Loubnan’s seed bank

But Lebanon’s cedar forests aren’t what they used to be – overharvested, threatened by grazing, and now climate change.

A Lebanese NGO called Jouzour Loubnan (‘Lebanon Roots’) is working to restore the country’s cedars, together with the diverse forest ecosystems of which they are a part. I visited Lebanon this past summer, and paid the group a visit.

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While in Lebanon last summer, I sat down with a gentleman named Rami Zurayk. Zurayk is professor and chairperson of the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management at the Faculty of Agricultural and Food Sciences, American University of Beirut. Landscapes and livelihoods, food politics, and the sustainability of global food production are what interest him the most.

Baking traditional biscuits in south Lebanon

Rami helped found the Association for Lebanese Organic Agriculture, Slow Food Beirut and Healthy Basket, Lebanon’s first community supported agriculture program.

The last time I visited Rami, back in 2007, he was working on a project called Land and People. He took me down to south Lebanon to visit several Shia communities that were trying to commercialize their agricultural products: traditional biscuits; soap scented with laurel oil.

Rami Zurayk

These days, Rami Zurayk is a member of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet and Health, that’s been exploring food futures on this stressed planet of ours.

I sat down with Rami in his office in the Department of Landscape Design and Ecosystem Management, in downtown Beirut. Listen to our conversation in today’s podcast.

In today’s edition of the Green Blues Show, songs by Steve Mann, Robert Johnson and J.B. Lenoir.

All images by David Kattenburg.

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