Doctors want statins served with fast food

Jeremy Laurence, The Independent
Customers of fast food restaurants could be offered a free statin along with the burger, salt and ketchup, to mitigate the meal’s damaging effects on the heart, doctors suggest.

Providing the cholesterol lowering drug with every burger would help combat its artery clogging tendency, they say. The statin would perform a function equivalent to a filter on a cigarette or a seat-belt in a car. People will continue to pursue unhealthy habits but with a slightly reduced risk.

Darrel Francis from the National Heart and Lung Institute at Imperial College, London, says in the American Journal of Cardiology that the reduction in risk offered by a statin approximately equals the increase in risk from eating a cheeseburger and a milkshake…
(13 August 2010)
The link to the study is here.

Artificial meat? Food for thought by 2050

John Vidal, The Guardian
Artificial meat grown in vats may be needed if the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050 are to be adequately fed without destroying the earth, some of the world’s leading scientists report today.

But a major academic assessment of future global food supplies, led by John Beddington, the UK government chief scientist, suggests that even with new technologies such as genetic modification and nanotechnology, hundreds of millions of people may still go hungry owing to a combination of climate change, water shortages and increasing food consumption.

In a set of 21 papers published by the Royal Society, the scientists from many disciplines and countries say that little more land is available for food production, but add that the challenge of increasing global food supplies by as much as 70% in the next 40 years is not insurmountable.

Although more than one in seven people do not have enough protein and energy in their diet today, many of the papers are optimistic.

A team of scientists at Rothamsted, the UK’s largest agricultural research centre, suggests that extra carbon dioxide in the air from global warming, along with better fertilisers and chemicals to protect arable crops, could hugely increase yields and reduce water consumption…
(16 August 2010)
All the papers are on line here Theme issue ‘Food security: feeding the world in 2050’.

Towering Lunacy

George Monbiot,
No one is immune to it; in some respects it is the foundation of our lives. Magical thinking is a universal affliction. We see what we want to see, deny what we don’t. Confronted by uncomfortable facts, we burrow back into the darkness of our cherished beliefs. We will do almost anything – cheat, lie, stand for high office, go to war – to shut out challenges to the way we see the world.

I spend much of my time confronting one aspect of denial: the virulent repudiation of environmental constraints by those who admit no challenge to their vision of the world. But it pains me to report that denial and wishful thinking are almost as common on the other side of the argument. I find myself at odds with other greens almost as often as I find myself fighting our common enemies. I’ve had bruising battles over a long series of miracle solutions supported by my friends: liquid biofuels(1), hydrogen cars and planes(2), biochar plantations(3,4), solar electricity in the UK(5), scrappage payments(6), feed-in tariffs(7). But no green delusion is as crazy as the one I am about to explain. The idea itself might not interest you. But the insight it gives into the filtering techniques human beings use is fascinating. So please bear with me while I spell out the latest madness.

That there’s a problem is undeniable. As some of the papers published yesterday by the Royal Society show, farmland is in short supply, water shortages could impose ever tighter constraints on agriculture and there are grave questions about whether or not a growing population can continue to be fed(8). There are a number of plausible solutions. But none of them appeals to some environmentalists as much as the towering lunacy promoted by a parasitologist at Columbia University called Dickson Despommier.

Despommier points out that while horizontal space for growing crops is limited, vertical space remains abundant. So he proposes that crops should be grown in skyscrapers, which he calls vertical farms(9). These, he claims, will feed the growing population so efficiently that ordinary farmland will be allowed to revert to forest. Vertical farms will feed the urban populations that surround them, eliminating the need for long-distance transport.

You can, if you shield your eyes very carefully, see the attraction. But even a brief reading of Despommier’s essays reveals a few trifling problems. He proposes that 30-storey towers should be built to feed local people in places like Manhattan. You wouldn’t see any change from $100m, possibly $200m. The only crop which could cover such costs is high-grade cannabis. But a 30-storey hydroponic skunk tower would be quite hard to conceal.

Without offering any explanation for this amazing claim, Despommier asserts that his system will require “no herbicides, pesticides, or fertilizers”(10). Perhaps he has never seen a fungal infestation in a greenhouse. And what does he expect the plants to grow on: water and air alone? He also insists that there will be “no need for fossil-fueled machinery”, which suggests that he intends to farm a 30-storey building without pumps, heating or cooling systems…
(16 August 2010)