On 10 April 1815, Tambora produced the largest eruption known on the planet during the past 10,000 years. As described in Gillen D'Arcy Wood's new book, the explosion was only the first dose of Tambora's destructive power. In terms of its enduring presence in folklore, as well as its status in the scientific literature, 1816’s cold summer was the most significant meteorological event of the nineteenth century. After the tsunami and famine came cholera, opium, and failed Arctic expeditions. [more inside]
Epigenetics (prev) is the study of changes in gene expression or cellular phenotype, caused by mechanisms other than changes in the underlying DNA sequence. David Epstein, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated has written about this topic for his book The Sports Gene (not as reductive as the title might suggest), but cut the chapter because the material he researched was so new as to require that he "caveat the writing rather heavily." Instead, he shared his chapter How an 1836 Famine Altered the Genes of Children Born Decades Later on IO9. You can read or hear more about the book in a half-hour segment from NPR's Fresh Air, opening with a story of Jennie Finch, a softball pitcher who "just whiff[ed] the best hitters in the world." (Related video clip: FSN Sport Science - Episode 7: Myths - Jennie Finch, on the force of fast baseball vs softball; ends with smarmy teaser for a "sex test")
A documentary film about Norman Borlaug, the Iowa farm boy who saved over a billion people from starvation. (1:06:47) Americans have little knowledge of one of their greatest sons. Why do schoolchildren in China, India, Mexico, and Pakistan know the name and work of Nobel Peace Prize winner [His speech] Norman Borlaug while so few of his countrymen have never heard of him? How did a dirt-poor farm boy from rural Iowa grow up to save a billion people worldwide from starvation and malnutrition and become the father of the Green Revolution? What were the inherited traits and environmental factors that shaped his astonishing journey and led to successes that surprised even him? What can we learn from his life and views that might help the human race survive the next critical century? [more inside]
...and the news ain't good: "Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans. This evidence has been compiled by scientists and engineers from around the world, using satellites, weather balloons, thermometers, buoys, and other observing systems. The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: the planet is warming." Overview letter is here, Executive Summary is here, and the full download is here. [WARNING: Full download runs to 147MB).
With East Africa facing its worst drought in 60 years, affecting more than 11 million people, the United Nations has declared a famine in the region for the first time in a generation. Alan Taylor's In Focus quickly brings home the scale of the suffering, with a link to the CNN article listing several ways to donate.
An ongoing drought in Niger has resulted in a famine that threatens millions of people. "These are very high levels of child malnutrition, the situation is bad," said Gianluca Ferrera, deputy director for the UN world food programme (WFP) in Niger. "The loss in harvest last year was worse than expected, and the lean season started earlier than anticipated for a larger share of the population. "In some areas, there is a 50% malnutrition rate for children under 2. Many of these children will not survive." [more inside]
Alexis Soyer lived quite an an amazing life. According to his wiki, he "was a French chef who became the most celebrated cook in Victorian England" who also "during the Great Irish Famine in April 1847, ... invented the soup kitchen and was asked by the Government to go to Ireland to implement his idea. This was opened in Dublin and his "famine soup" was served to thousands of the poor for free. Whilst in Ireland he wrote Soyer's Charitable Cookery. He gave the proceeds of the book to various charities. He also opened an art gallery in London, and donated the entrance fees to charity to feed the poor." And then there is also the remarkable story of Soyer's Magic Stove.
The winter of 1944–45 is known as the ‘Hunger Winter’ in The Netherlands, which was occupied by the Germans in May 1940. Beginning in September 1944, Allied troops had liberated most of the South of the country, but their advance towards the North came to a stop at the Waal and Rhine rivers and the battle of Arnhem. In support of the Allied war effort, the Dutch government in exile in London called for a national railway strike to hinder German military initiatives. In retaliation, in October 1944, the German authorities blocked all food supplies to the occupied West of the country. Despite the war, nutrition in The Netherlands had generally been adequate up to October 1944. Thereafter, food supplies became increasingly scarce. By November 26, 1944, official rations, which eventually consisted of little more than bread and potatoes, had fallen below 1000 kcal per day, and by April 1945, they were as low as 500 kcal per day. Widespread starvation was seen especially in the cities of the western Netherlands. Food supplies were restored immediately after liberation on May 5, 1945.But for many, who weren't even born when it started, the hongerwinter continues. Why? In part because "certain environmental conditions early in human development can result in persistent changes in epigenetic information" via DNA methylation. Epigenetics seems like a little bit of Lamarckism: environmental effects on a parent -- or even a grandparent -- can be passed to offspring, even without permanent changes to DNA. (previously)
Today marks the first National Famine Memorial Day in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. Actually the first day in a week of activities (.pdf), Skibbereen was one of many areas in western Ireland hard-hit by the famine (or Great Hunger). [more inside]
In 1943, while the Allies were busy battling the Axis Powers and the Nazi Regime, there was another kind of war that was being waged against a helpless populace (living on the Indian Sub-continent). A war that has been largely ignored by the mass media and the history books of our time. It is known as the Great Bengal Famine, and ended up causing the death of an estimated 1.5 million to 4 million people.
Worried about food prices? Don't be, if you've got capital! You can lease land from starving countries like Sudan to ease your own food problems. This ain't Food Force (previously), but the gamesmanship (via) is underway (pdf). On the bright side, let them eat lobster!
Earth2100.tv is a project by ABC (video preview) to solicit ideas from the public and experts about the dangers facing world in the next 100 years. "The world’s brightest minds agree that the “perfect storm” of population growth, resource depletion and climate change could converge with catastrophic results. We need you to bring this story to life."
Land turned to biofuels in the US alone in the last two years would have fed nearly 250 million people with average grain needs. Prices of all staple food has risen 80% in three years. 33 countries face unrest because of these price rises. Subsidiziation of Biofuel is driving the poor to starvation. In Bangladesh Biofuel production hits food security. Half of Pakistan population at the risk of food insecurity, warns WFP. Cost of food increases hunger in Nepal. wiki
This year marks the 75th anniversary of the Holodomor. The Holodomor was the starvation of millions of Ukranians at the hands of the Soviets. The Ukranian government is using this year to push for greater recognition for the genocide. Ukranian communities in Australia, Canada and all over the globe are holding events all year in the lead up to this years Holodomor day on November 25.
In 1798, English economist Thomas Malthus promised "Famine ... the last, the most dreadful resource of nature." It took another 125 years for world population to double, but only 50 more for it to redouble. By the 1940s, Mexico, China, India, Russia, and Europe were hungry.
With "freedom" as a goal of US policy, what are the real benefits of democracy? In the developing world, no democracy has ever had a famine as Nobel-winner Amartya Sen demonstrated, and citizens of democratic nations have equivalent economies, longer lifespans and better educations than autocracies. Unfortunately, it appears that democracies do go to war with each other (although less, statistically). On the other hand, high levels of political freedom decrease terrorism and prevent genocides. Obviously, democracies also do bad things, but is there a better form of government?
The Top 10 Most Underreported Humanitarian Stories of 2004 as compiled by Doctors Without Borders - wars, disease, famine, and repression that has gone largely unnoticed in mainstream media [via PBS' NewsHour - real audio streaming link].
selling your daughter for £50, sounds like things are infinitely better for the inhabitants of afghanistan. They must be beside themselves with gratitude.