Friday, September 29, 2017


This is an article about emotional labor.  We talked about this in the 1960s.  It hasn't changed a lot.  What do you think?

GettyPerri Tomkiewicz


Emotional labor is the unpaid job men still don't understand.

For Mother's Day I asked for one thing: a house cleaning service. Bathrooms and floors specifically, windows if the extra expense was reasonable. The gift, for me, was not so much in the cleaning itself but the fact that for once I would not be in charge of the household office work. I would not have to make the calls, get multiple quotes, research and vet each service, arrange payment and schedule the appointment. The real gift I wanted was to be relieved of the emotional labor of a single task that had been nagging at the back of my mind. The clean house would simply be a bonus.

My husband waited for me to change my mind to an "easier" gift than housecleaning, something he could one-click order on Amazon. Disappointed by my unwavering desire, the day before Mother's Day he called a single service, decided they were too expensive, and vowed to clean the bathrooms himself. He still gave me the choice, of course. He told me the high dollar amount of completing the cleaning services I requested (since I control the budget) and asked incredulously if I still wanted him to book it.

What I wanted was for him to ask friends on Facebook for a recommendation, call four or five more services, do the emotional labor I would have done if the job had fallen to me. I had wanted to hire out deep cleaning for a while, especially since my freelance work had picked up considerably. The reason I hadn't done it yet was part guilt over not doing my housework, and an even larger part of not wanting to deal with the work of hiring a service. I knew exactly how exhausting it was going to be. That's why I asked my husband to do it as a gift.


According to Dr. Michele Ramsey, Associate Professor of Communication Arts and Sciences at Penn State Berks, emotional labor is often conflated with problem solving. "The gendered assumption is that 'men are the problem solvers because women are too emotional,'" she explains. "But who is really solving the bulk of the world's problems at home and in the office?" As the household manager for my husband and three kids, I'm fairly certain I know the answer. I was gifted a necklace for Mother's Day while my husband stole away to deep clean the bathrooms, leaving me to care for our children as the rest of the house fell into total disarray.

In his mind, he was doing the thing I had most wanted—giving me sparkling bathrooms without having to do it myself. Which is why he was frustrated when I ungratefully passed by, not looking at his handiwork as I put away his shoes, shirt and socks that had been left on the floor. I stumbled over the box of gift wrap he had pulled off a high shelf two days earlier and left in the center of our closet. In order to put it back, I had to get a kitchen chair and drag it into our closet so I could reach the shelf where it belonged.

"All you have to do is ask me to put it back," he said, watching me struggle.

It was obvious that the box was in the way, that it needed to be put back. It would have been easy for him to just reach up and put it away, but instead he had stepped around it, willfully ignoring it for two days. It was up to me to tell him that he should put away something he got out in the first place.

"That's the point," I said, now in tears, "I don't want to have to ask."

The crying, the snapping at him—it all required damage control. I had to tell him how much I appreciated the bathroom cleaning, but perhaps he could do it another time (like when our kids were in bed). Then I tried to gingerly explain the concept of emotional labor: that I was the manager of the household, and that being manager was a lot of thankless work. Delegating work to other people, i.e. telling him to do something he should instinctively know to do, is exhausting. I tried to tell him that I noticed the box at least 20 times over the past two days. He had noticed it only when I was heaving it onto the top shelf instead of asking for help. The whole explanation took a lot of restraint.


Walking that fine line to keep the peace and not upset your partner is something women are taught to accept as their duty from an early age. "In general, we gender emotions in our society by continuing to reinforce the false idea that women are always, naturally and biologically able to feel, express, and manage our emotions better than men," says Dr. Lisa Huebner, a sociologist of gender, who both publishes and teaches on the subject of emotional labor at West Chester University of Pennsylvania. "This is not to say that some individuals do not manage emotion better than others as part of their own individual personality, but I would argue that we still have no firm evidence that this ability is biologically determined by sex. At the same time (and I would argue because it is not a natural difference) we find all kinds of ways in society to ensure that girls and women are responsible for emotions and, then, men get a pass."

My husband is a good man, and a good feminist ally. I could tell, as I walked him through it, that he was trying to grasp what I was getting at. But he didn't. He said he'd try to do more cleaning around the house to help me out. He restated that all I ever needed to do was ask him for help, but therein lies the problem. I don't want to micromanage housework. I want a partner with equal initiative.

However, it's not as easy as telling him that. My husband, despite his good nature and admirable intentions, still responds to criticism in a very patriarchal way. Forcing him to see emotional labor for the work it is feels like a personal attack on his character. If I were to point out random emotional labor duties I carry out—reminding him of his family's birthdays, carrying in my head the entire school handbook and dietary guidelines for lunches, updating the calendar to include everyone's schedules, asking his mother to babysit the kids when we go out, keeping track of what food and household items we are running low on, tidying everyone's strewn about belongings, the unending hell that is laundry—he would take it as me saying, "Look at everything I'm doing that you're not. You're a bad person for ignoring me and not pulling your weight."

Bearing the brunt of all this emotional labor in a household is frustrating. It's the word I hear most commonly when talking to friends about the subject of all the behind-the-scenes work they do. It's frustrating to be saddled with all of these responsibilities, no one to acknowledge the work you are doing, and no way to change it without a major confrontation.

"What bothers me the most about having any conversation around emotional labor is being seen as a nag," says Kelly Burch, a freelance journalist who works primarily from home. "My partner feels irritated and defensive by the fact that I'm always pointing out what he's not doing. It shuts him down. I understand why it would be frustrating from his perspective, but I haven't figured out another way to make him aware of all the emotional and mental energy I'm spending to keep the house running."

Thursday, September 28, 2017

ANS -- addendum to Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

A reader sent me the link to the piece about beliefs.  Here it is -- with the other eight parts.  

8. Beliefs are nothing to be proud of.

Believing something is not an accomplishment. I grew up thinking that beliefs are something to be proud of, but they're really nothing but opinions one refuses to reconsider. Beliefs are easy. The stronger your beliefs are, the less open you are to growth and wisdom, because "strength of belief" is only the intensity with which you resist questioning yourself. As soon as you are proud of a belief, as soon as you think it adds something to who you are, then you've made it a part of your ego. Listen to any "die-hard" conservative or liberal talk about their deepest beliefs and you are listening to somebody who will never hear what you say on any matter that matters to them — unless you believe the same. It is gratifying to speak forcefully, it is gratifying to be agreed with, and this high is what the die-hards are chasing. Wherever there is a belief, there is a closed door. Take on the beliefs that stand up to your most honest, humble scrutiny, and never be afraid to lose them.

ANS -- Fuel-cell cars finally drive off the lot

Here's a medium length article (there's a summary too) on the new hydrogen fuel cell cars now available in a few places.  It's starting.  Takes less than 5 minutes to fill, range of 300 miles.  When we can make the hydrogen with solar power it will be much cleaner, but it's already better than gasoline (and less dangerous than gasoline).  

Volume 95 Issue 38 | pp. 28-32
Issue Date: September 25, 2017


Fuel-cell cars finally drive off the lot

While consumers can now buy their own hydrogen-powered vehicles, industry looks to expand the refueling infrastructure and lower the cost of fuel-cell cars
A photo of a fuel cell under the hood of a Toyota Mirai.
Credit: Toyota

In brief

The idea of powering a car with a fuel cell has been around for decades. In principle, these cars, which run on electricity generated on board by electrochemically combining hydrogen with oxygen from the air, could reduce global dependence on petroleum while emitting just water from their tailpipes. But despite extensive fleet testing, fuel-cell passenger cars have always seemed to be another five years away. No longer. Motorists can now buy or lease their very own fuel-cell cars. The numbers today are low, and the cars are available only in a few geographic regions equipped with public hydrogen-filling stations. But the industry is gearing up to manufacture more of these cars and expand refueling infrastructure. And researchers continue to look for ways to reduce fuel-cell costs and improve durability.

Raymond Lim, a psychology and statistics instructor, describes himself as an "automobile enthusiast who likes to try out new technology." Celso Pierre also has a thing for cool gadgets. He's a mechanical engineer who loves hiking and the great outdoors. Anytime Pierre hears about new technology, he rushes to learn about it. For both men, that excitement has long included electric vehicles and fuel-efficient cars. So Lim and Pierre jumped at the opportunity to join the small but growing number of motorists who zip around California's roadways in their own fuel-cell vehicles. Lim drives a Toyota Mirai and Pierre motors around in a Hyundai Tucson.

These hydrogen-powered, all-electric cars have been in development for decades as alternatives to conventional cars; they do not depend on fossil fuels and do not pollute—they emit just water vapor. During that time of development, numerous prototypes and fleets of fuel-cell demonstration vehicles logged millions of miles, advancing the transportation technology far beyond the laboratory test stage. Yet industry watchers grew disheartened at the seemingly endless delays that kept fuel-cell vehicles from auto dealers' showrooms. And upon hearing projections year after year that these cars would hit the market "five years down the road," technology enthusiasts figured the automobile industry had largely given up on mass-producing fuel-cell cars.

That impression is just plain wrong. The industry continued working away on the technology, and those "five years down the road" projections finally came true in the past couple of years. Although the numbers of fuel-cell cars for sale or for lease today are relatively low and the vehicles are available only in select geographical areas, it is finally possible for a private motorist to drive one off the lot. Meanwhile, industry is expanding the hydrogen-refueling infrastructure in the U.S. and other countries and continuing to find ways to make the vehicles cheaper and more durable.

Rise of the fuel cell

The fuel-cell concept dates back to the 1800s. But it wasn't until the past century that various types of demonstration units proved that these electrochemical devices could reliably produce electric current. They came to be recognized as reliable devices when the U.S. National Aeronautics & Space Administration used these power generators in the 1960s and 1970s in the Gemini and Apollo missions and other space programs.

Similar to their electrochemical cousin the battery, fuel cells contain electrodes that extract usable electricity from chemical reactions. In both batteries and fuel cells, redox reactions occur when a positive electrode is connected to a negative electrode through an external circuit. When oxidation reactions take place at an anode and reductions proceed at a cathode, electrons flow through the circuit, powering the device connected to it—an electric motor, in the case of a fuel-cell car.

Fuel-cell cars by the numbers

Manufacturer's suggested retail price for 2017 Toyota Mirai

Number of fuel 
cells in Mirai's 
fuel-cell stack

Mass in kilograms of hydrogen stored in Mirai's fuel tanks

≥480 and <240
Driving range in kilometers on one tank of hydrogen and range for various battery-powered electric cars, respectively

<5 and 30–720 
Minutes for hydrogen refueling and electric-car battery recharging, respectively

But unlike batteries, which store the oxidant and reductant within the electrochemical package, fuel cells draw oxidizers and fuels from the outside. As a result, fuel cells don't get used up or need to be recharged like batteries do. In principle, fuel cells can continue generating electricity as long as fresh reactants continue to flow into the devices.

Numerous types of fuel cells have made their way through research and development stages, and several versions have been commercialized. The devices differ principally in terms of the electrolyte, which is the medium that transports ions between the electrodes; the materials that make up the electrodes and other components; and the intended application.

Fuels also vary from device to device. In a basic fuel cell, hydrogen serves as the fuel and oxygen as the oxidant. But there are also systems that derive hydrogen from alcohols or hydrocarbons, as well as ones that use methanol directly, without first converting it to hydrogen.

Fuel cells in automobiles rely on a polymer electrolyte membrane (PEM). The micrometers-thick film serves two functions: It's a solid electrolyte that conducts hydrogen ions from the anode to the cathode, and it's a gas separator that prevents direct, uncontrolled mixing of hydrogen and oxygen. Such mixing wastes fuel, causes the fuel cell to operate inefficiently, and leads to by-products that can degrade fuel-cell components.

The number of fuel-cell vehicles has been growing steadily since they entered the retail market in mid-2015, when Toyota began selling them in Japan and California. Hyundai and Honda have also moved into the retail market, and so the numbers are starting to climb.

In 2016, Toyota boosted production of its four-seat fuel-cell car, the Mirai, which means "future" in Japanese, from the 2015 level of 700 units to approximately 2,000 cars. This year the carmaker plans to produce about 3,000 of them.

According to Bo Ki Hong, a research fellow at Hyundai's Fuel Cell Research Lab, the South Korean carmaker expects to produce about 1,000 of its Tucson Fuel Cell compact sport-utility vehicles by the end of this year and distribute them to 18 countries. Honda is producing similar numbers of its Clarity, a sporty five-passenger fuel-cell sedan. And all three automakers, which are currently the only companies selling or leasing fuel-cell passenger cars in the U.S., collectively aim to boost production levels to the tens of thousands by the end of the decade.

So what allowed fuel-cell cars to move from perpetually five years away from dealership lots to finally parking in people's garages? To begin with, carmakers have continuously been gaining engineering and manufacturing experience, which has helped lower production costs. They have also steadily improved the efficiency of PEM fuel cells and learned how to significantly reduce the amount of costly platinum needed to make the devices work effectively. Those advances translate to less-expensive, smaller, and more-powerful devices that provide flexibility to design cars in a range of sizes and prices attractive to customers.

This diagram shows the main components of the Toyota Mirai fuel-cell car.

How hydrogen powers a car

Credit: Adapted from Toyota

Room for growth

But whether or not carmakers will reach their production goals will depend in large part on how satisfied owners are with their fuel-cell cars. "Customers expect the same level of performance and overall driving experience they get with gasoline- and diesel-powered vehicles," Hong says.

Lim raves about the handling and performance of his Mirai. "This car is wonderful," he says. "The ride is smooth, quiet, and powerful." And when it comes to refueling, the process is quick—"less than five minutes, and that gets me over 300 miles [about 480 km] of driving," he says.

These similarities to gasoline-powered vehicles stand out as advantages for fuel-cell vehicles over battery-powered, all-electric cars. Many of those kinds of cars, which are also known as plug-in electrics, require from 30 minutes to 12 hours for a full charge, depending on the type of charger. And many of them travel less than 150 miles (about 240 km) per charge.

Those factors seem to make a strong case for fuel-cell vehicles. But fuel-cell cars need hydrogen, and currently there are only 29 retail hydrogen filling stations in the U.S., all in California.

"It's a chicken-and-egg scenario," says Joseph Cargnelli, chief technology officer at Hydrogenics, a Toronto-area fuel-cell manufacturer.

Fuel-cell carmakers hesitate to ramp up production if customers don't have convenient access to hydrogen, he says. And gas suppliers are iffy about building hydrogen filling stations without ample demand for the fuel.

But the number of hydrogen stations is about to grow. California expects to see 36 more stations by 2018, half in the north and half in the south.

Hydrogen filling stations are also coming to the Northeast. According to Jana L. Hartline, a Toyota communications manager, Toyota, in partnership with Air Liquide, is supporting construction of 12 hydrogen fueling stations in New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. The first of those stations should be completed before the end of the year, she says. And in Japan, Air Liquide, Toyota, and nine other Japanese companies agreed to build 160 hydrogen stations and aim to put 40,000 fuel-cell vehicles on Japan's roads by 2020.

Fuel-cell passenger cars massively outnumber other types of vehicles powered by this electrochemical technology, and as a result, they get the most attention. Yet other vehicle types have seen notable success. For example, nonpolluting, fuel-cell-powered transit buses have traversed congested city streets since the early 2000s. According to a U.S. Department of Energy report, worldwide, 370 fuel-cell buses were delivered or were on order in 2015.

Also, although 18-wheelers aren't likely to be propelled down the highway by fuel cells anytime soon, Toyota earlier this year began experimenting with one prototype semitrailer at the Port of Los Angeles.

Fuel-cell forklifts rack up far larger numbers than higher road vehicles. Major warehouse operators in North America, including Amazon, Walmart, and FedEx, use some 15,000 of these indoor vehicles to shuttle products and equipment to and fro. Unlike standard battery-powered versions, these fuel-cell-powered versions don't have to sit idle for 30 minutes or longer to recharge.

You may have issues viewing the animation below when using Internet Explorer. Please try another browser, or view it as a PDF here.

Credit:Ty Finocchiaro / Yang Ku / C&EN



Problems to solve

Even as the numbers of commercially available fuel-cell vehicles rise, researchers continue to search for ways to reduce costs and improve durability. One of the best-studied options for lowering the sticker price calls for reducing the amount of platinum used as the fuel-cell electrode catalyst to mediate the electrochemical reactions.

"Platinum has long been the poster child for fuel-cell cost," says Mark F. Mathias, director of fuel-cell R&D at General Motors. In the past 10 years, GM, like other manufacturers of fuel-cell vehicles, has succeeded in reducing the amount of platinum used in a vehicle's fuel-cell stack from roughly 80 g to below 30 g per vehicle. Currently, 10 g per vehicle is the target, a value that is well within reach, Mathias says.

Fuel-cell makers have employed numerous strategies to reduce the mass of precious metal required while ensuring that the fuel cells operate reliably. One key approach has been dispersing the platinum as thoroughly as possible—for example, on a high-surface-area carbon support material, which maximizes the surface area of platinum available for fuel-cell reactions.

Some researchers are exploring the possibility of reducing costs by avoiding platinum and other precious metals altogether. Piotr Zelenay of Los Alamos National Laboratory and colleagues have prepared catalysts consisting of nitrogen, carbon, and an inexpensive transition metal such as iron or cobalt that exhibits high activity for the oxygen-reduction reaction, a key process in hydrogen-driven fuel cells.

Boosting the performance of these promising catalysts requires a detailed understanding of the nature of their active sites. So the Los Alamos group teamed up with researchers at Oak Ridge National Laboratory to analyze Fe-N-C fuel-cell catalysts by using advanced electron microscopy and computational techniques. The study revealed a carbon-embedded nitrogen-coordinated FeN4 unit as the species most likely responsible for the high catalytic activity (Science 2017, DOI: 10.1126/science.aan2255).

Meanwhile, the University of Delaware's Ajay K. Prasad, Dionisios G. Vlachos, and coworkers are working on improving fuel-cell durability. The team devised a simple, low-cost way to improve the durability of the perfluorosulfonic acid membranes commonly used in PEM fuel cells. Leakage of even a small amount of hydrogen and oxygen through the membrane, a common problem, leads to reactions responsible for degrading these membranes and shortening device lifetimes. The leak, or "crossover," results in the formation of hydrogen peroxide and free radicals, including OH• and OOH•, that attack the membrane's C–S bonds and form defects and eventually pinholes. The team showed that treating the membrane with inexpensive tungsten carbide nanoparticles extends its lifetime via a mechanism in which the particles capture the free radicals and inhibit formation of hydrogen peroxide (Nat. Commun. 2017, DOI: 10.1038/s41467-017-00507-6).

As automakers continue to lower vehicle sticker prices and boost production of fuel-cell passenger cars, more and more private motorists will have the opportunity to own one. Some will be motivated by the cars' environmentally friendly zero emissions, while others will be drawn by a love of latest technology or intrigued by hydrogen power.

Still others may catch the bug directly from proud Mirai owner Lim. "I get asked about the car all the time," he says gleefully. "People are always looking in my direction and waving at me." Lim enjoys talking with them about his hydrogen-powered fuel-cell vehicle and makes sure to keep a large stack of car brochures handy. "I've already passed out more than 100 of them," he says.

Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2017 American Chemical Society

ANS -- Tyranny of the Minority

This is a fairly short article on the divide between rural and urban voters and how it's getting unfair.  

A protest in December outside the Pennsylvania Capitol while electors in the Electoral College arrived to cast their votes. CreditMark Makela/Getty Images

This is Michelle Goldberg's debut column.

Since Donald Trump's cataclysmic election, the unthinkable has become ordinary. We've grown used to naked profiteering off the presidency, an administration that calls for the firing of private citizens for political dissent and nuclear diplomacy conducted via Twitter taunts. Here, in my debut as a New York Times columnist, I want to discuss a structural problem that both underlies and transcends our current political nightmare: We have entered a period of minority rule.

I don't just mean the fact that Trump became president despite his decisive loss in the popular vote, though that shouldn't be forgotten. Worse, the majority of voters who disapprove of Trump have little power to force Congress to curb him.

A combination of gerrymandering and the tight clustering of Democrats in urban areas means that even if Democrats get significantly more overall votes than Republicans in the midterms — which polls show is probable — they may not take back the House of Representatives. (According to a Brookings Institution analysis, in 2016, Republicans won 55.2 percent of seats with just under 50 percent of votes cast for Congress.)

And because of the quirks of the 2018 Senate map, Democrats are extremely unlikely to reclaim that chamber, even if most voters would prefer Democratic control. Some analysts have even suggested that Republicans could emerge from 2018 with a filibuster-proof 60-seat majority.

Our Constitution has always had a small-state bias, but the effects have become more pronounced as the population discrepancy between the smallest states and the largest states has grown. "Given contemporary demography, a little bit less than 50 percent of the country lives in 40 of the 50 states," Sanford Levinson, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Texas, told me. "Roughly half the country gets 80 percent of the votes in the Senate, and the other half of the country gets 20 percent."

Continue reading the main story below

The distortion carries over to the Electoral College, where each state's number of electors is determined by the size of its congressional delegation. This would matter less if the United States weren't so geographically polarized. But America is now two countries, eyeing each other across a chasm of distrust and contempt. One is urban, diverse and outward-looking. This is the America that's growing. The other is white, provincial and culturally revanchist. This is the America that's in charge.

Twice in the last 17 years, Republicans have lost the popular vote but won the presidency, and it could happen again. In July, Senator Sherrod Browntold The Washington Post, "It's not out of the question that in 2020, if nothing changes, Democrats could win the popular vote by five million and lose the Electoral College because of the Great Lakes states." He meant that as a warning to Democrats to pay attention to the Midwest. But it could just as easily be taken as a warning about the stability of our democracy.

I recently had the chance to ask Gov. Jerry Brown of California what might happen if we have more elections like 2016, where a majority of voters and a supermajority of Californians are thwarted. Polls already show a third of Californians favor secession. Could that fringe movement become mainstream? Brown said it was "not beyond the realm of possibility" that the country could eventually break apart, even if he doesn't think it's likely.

Conservatives are often unmoved by complaints that our system is undemocratic, arguing that America was intended not as a democracy but a republic. But if this was true at the founding, it's probably not how most Americans understand their country today, when "undemocratic" is considered a political epithet.

Before Trump, there was enough overlap between popular will and electoral outcome to make the issue largely semantic. Now it's existential. Certainly, we need checks on the tyranny of the majority. But what we have now is the tyranny of the minority.

There are ways out.

The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact — a plan in which states agree to award all their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner — could circumvent the Electoral College if enough states enacted it.

Don Beyer, a Democratic representative from Virginia, has introduced the Fair Representation Act, which would change the way the House is elected, replacing single-member districts with larger districts represented by several people. They'd be chosen by a system of ranked voting that would allow third parties to compete without becoming spoilers, while giving political minorities a say in the process. The resulting delegations, Beyer told me, would be more likely to be proportional, creating space for Massachusetts Republicans as well as Oklahoma Democrats.

Enactment of either of these plans, which would transform the ways we choose our leaders, is remote. But absent reform, our system could eventually face a legitimacy crisis. Levinson, perhaps the most prominent among progressive critics of the Constitution, argues that the crisis is already here: "At some point we need to discuss the extent to which the entire constitutional system is full of these anti-majoritarian aspects."

Trump's election has revealed many dark truths about this country. One of them is: We're a lot less democratic than we might think.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

ANS -- Beliefs Are Nothing to Be Proud Of

This was given to me by one of our readers.  It's about being open-minded -- or not.  
no link available. 

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

ANS -- The great nutrient collapse

This is a big one -- only medium in length, but big in impact -- something new and not good.  It seems that rising CO2 levels are reducing the nutritional value of plants -- and may even be contributing to the decimation of bees.  There's lots of pictures at the site -- if they didn't come through go look at them.  


Geoff Johnson for POLITICO

The great nutrient collapse

The atmosphere is literally changing the food we eat, for the worse. And almost nobody is paying attention.

Irakli Loladze is a mathematician by training, but he was in a biology lab when he encountered the puzzle that would change his life. It was in 1998, and Loladze was studying for his Ph.D. at Arizona State University. Against a backdrop of glass containers glowing with bright green algae, a biologist told Loladze and a half-dozen other graduate students that scientists had discovered something mysterious about zooplankton.

Zooplankton are microscopic animals that float in the world's oceans and lakes, and for food they rely on algae, which are essentially tiny plants. Scientists found that they could make algae grow faster by shining more light onto them—increasing the food supply for the zooplankton, which should have flourished. But it didn't work out that way. When the researchers shined more light on the algae, the algae grew faster, and the tiny animals had lots and lots to eat—but at a certain point they started struggling to survive. This was a paradox. More food should lead to more growth. How could more algae be a problem?

Loladze was technically in the math department, but he loved biology and couldn't stop thinking about this. The biologists had an idea of what was going on: The increased light was making the algae grow faster, but they ended up containing fewer of the nutrients the zooplankton needed to thrive. By speeding up their growth, the researchers had essentially turned the algae into junk food. The zooplankton had plenty to eat, but their food was less nutritious, and so they were starving.

Loladze used his math training to help measure and explain the algae-zooplankton dynamic. He and his colleagues devised a model that captured the relationship between a food source and a grazer that depends on the food. They published that first paper in 2000. But Loladze was also captivated by a much larger question raised by the experiment: Just how far this problem might extend.

"What struck me is that its application is wider," Loladze recalled in an interview. Could the same problem affect grass and cows? What about rice and people? "It was kind of a watershed moment for me when I started thinking about human nutrition," he said.

In the outside world, the problem isn't that plants are suddenly getting more light: It's that for years, they've been getting more carbon dioxide. Plants rely on both light and carbon dioxide to grow. If shining more light results in faster-growing, less nutritious algae—junk-food algae whose ratio of sugar to nutrients was out of whack—then it seemed logical to assume that ramping up carbon dioxide might do the same. And it could also be playing out in plants all over the planet. What might that mean for the plants that people eat?

What Loladze found is that scientists simply didn't know. It was already well documented that CO2levels were rising in the atmosphere, but he was astonished at how little research had been done on how it affected the quality of the plants we eat. For the next 17 years, as he pursued his math career, Loladze scoured the scientific literature for any studies and data he could find. The results, as he collected them, all seemed to point in the same direction: The junk-food effect he had learned about in that Arizona lab also appeared to be occurring in fields and forests around the world. "Every leaf and every grass blade on earth makes more and more sugars as CO2 levels keep rising," Loladze said. "We are witnessing the greatest injection of carbohydrates into the biosphere in human history―[an] injection that dilutes other nutrients in our food supply."

He published those findings just a few years ago, adding to the concerns of a small but increasingly worried group of researchers who are raising unsettling questions about the future of our food supply. Could carbon dioxide have an effect on human health we haven't accounted for yet? The answer appears to be yes—and along the way, it has steered Loladze and other scientists, directly into some of the thorniest questions in their profession, including just how hard it is to do research in a field that doesn't quite exist yet.

IN AGRICULTURAL RESEARCH, it's been understood for some time that many of our most important foods have been getting less nutritious. Measurements of fruits and vegetables show that their minerals, vitamin and protein content has measurably dropped over the past 50 to 70 years. Researchers have generally assumed the reason is fairly straightforward: We've been breeding and choosing crops for higher yields, rather than nutrition, and higher-yielding crops—whether broccoli, tomatoes, or wheat—tend to be less nutrient-packed.

In 2004, a landmark study of fruits and vegetables found that everything from protein to calcium, iron and vitamin C had declined significantly across most garden crops since 1950. The researchers concluded this could mostly be explained by the varieties we were choosing to grow.

Loladze and a handful of other scientists have come to suspect that's not the whole story and that the atmosphere itself may be changing the food we eat. Plants need carbon dioxide to live the same way humans need oxygen. And in the increasingly polarized debate about climate science, one thing that isn't up for debate is that the level of CO2 in the atmosphere is rising. Before the industrial revolution, the earth's atmosphere had about 280 parts per million of carbon dioxide. Last year, the planet crossed over the 400 parts per million threshold; scientists predict we will likely reach 550 parts per million within the next half-century—essentially twice the amount that was in the air when Americans started farming with tractors.

If you're someone who thinks about plant growth, this seems like a good thing. It has also been useful ammunition for politicians looking for reasons to worry less about the implications of climate change. Rep. Lamar Smith, a Republican who chairs the House Committee on Science, recently argued that people shouldn't be so worried about rising CO2 levels because it's good for plants, and what's good for plants is good for us.

"A higher concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere would aid photosynthesis, which in turn contributes to increased plant growth," the Texas Republican wrote. "This correlates to a greater volume of food production and better quality food."

But as the zooplankton experiment showed, greater volume and better quality might not go hand-in-hand. In fact, they might be inversely linked. As best scientists can tell, this is what happens: Rising CO2 revs up photosynthesis, the process that helps plants transform sunlight to food. This makes plants grow, but it also leads to them pack in more carbohydrates like glucose at the expense of other nutrients that we depend on, like protein, iron and zinc.

In 2002, while a postdoctoral fellow at Princeton University, Loladze published a seminal research paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution, a leading journal,arguing that rising CO2 and human nutrition were inextricably linked through a global shift in the quality of plants. In the paper, Loladze complained about the dearth of data: Among thousands of publications he had reviewed on plants and rising CO2, he found only one that looked specifically at how it affected the balance of nutrients in rice, a crop that billions of people rely on. (The paper, published in 1997, found a drop in zinc and iron.)

Loladze's paper was first to tie the impact of CO2 on plant quality to human nutrition. But he also raised more questions than he answered, arguing that there were fundamental holes in the research. If these nutritional shifts were happening up and down the food chain, the phenomenon needed to be measured and understood.

Part of the problem, Loladze was finding, lay in the research world itself. Answering the question required an understanding of plant physiology, agriculture and nutrition―as well as a healthy dollop of math. He could do the math, but he was a young academic trying to establish himself, and math departments weren't especially interested in solving problems in farming and human health. Loladze struggled to get funding to generate new data and continued to obsessively collect published data from researchers across the globe. He headed to the heartland to take an assistant professor position at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It was a major agricultural school, which seemed like a good sign, but Loladze was still a math professor. He was told he could pursue his research interests as long as he brought in funding, but he struggled. Biology grant makers said his proposals were too math-heavy; math grant makers said his proposals contained too much biology.

"It was year after year, rejection after rejection," he said. "It was so frustrating. I don't think people grasp the scale of this."

It's not just in the fields of math and biology that this issue has fallen through the cracks. To say that it's little known that key crops are getting less nutritious due to rising CO2 is an understatement. It is simply not discussed in the agriculture, public health or nutrition communities. At all.

When POLITICO contacted top nutrition experts about the growing body of research on the topic, they were almost universally perplexed and asked to see the research. One leading nutrition scientist at Johns Hopkins University said it was interesting, but admitted he didn't know anything about it. He referred me to another expert. She said they didn't know about the subject, either. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, an association representing an army of nutrition experts across the country, connected me with Robin Foroutan, an integrative medicine nutritionist who was also not familiar with the research.

"It's really interesting, and you're right, it's not on many people's radar," wrote Foroutan, in an email, after being sent some papers on the topic. Foroutan said she would like to see a whole lot more data, particularly on how a subtle shift toward more carbohydrates in plants could affect public health.

"We don't know what a minor shift in the carbohydrate ratio in the diet is ultimately going to do," she said, noting that the overall trend toward more starch and carbohydrate consumption has been associated with an increase in diet-related disease like obesity and diabetes. "To what degree would a shift in the food system contribute to that? We can't really say."

Asked to comment for this story, Marion Nestle, a nutrition policy professor at New York University who's one of the best-known nutrition experts in the country, initially expressed skepticism about the whole concept but offered to dig into a file she keeps on climate issues.

After reviewing the evidence, she changed her tune. "I'm convinced," she said, in an email, while also urging caution: It wasn't clear whether CO2-driven nutrient depletion would have a meaningful impact on public health. We need to know a whole lot more, she said.

Kristie Ebi, a researcher at the University of Washington who's studied the intersection of climate change and global health for two decades, is one of a handful of scientists in the U.S. who is keyed into the potentially sweeping consequences of the CO2-nutrition dynamic, and brings it up in every talk she gives.

"It's a hidden issue," Ebi said. "The fact that my bread doesn't have the micronutrients it did 20 years ago―how would you know?"

As Ebi sees it, the CO2-nutrition link has been slow to break through, much as it took the academic community a long time to start seriously looking at the intersection of climate and human health in general. "This is before the change," she said. "This is what it looks like before the change."

LOLADZE'S EARLY PAPER raised some big questions that are difficult, but not impossible, to answer. How does rising atmospheric CO2 change how plants grow? How much of the long-term nutrient drop is caused by the atmosphere, and how much by other factors, like breeding?

It's also difficult, but not impossible, to run farm-scale experiments on how CO2affects plants. Researchers use a technique that essentially turns an entire field into a lab. The current gold standard for this type of research is called a FACE experiment (for "free-air carbon dioxide enrichment"), in which researchers create large open-air structures that blow CO2 onto the plants in a given area. Small sensors keep track of the CO2 levels. When too much CO2 escapes the perimeter, the contraption puffs more into the air to keep the levels stable. Scientists can then compare those plants directly to others growing in normal air nearby.

These experiments and others like them have shown scientists that plants change in important ways when they're grown at elevated CO2 levels. Within the category of plants known as "C3"―which includes approximately 95 percent of plant species on earth, including ones we eat like wheat, rice, barley and potatoes―elevated CO2has been shown to drive down important minerals like calcium, potassium, zinc and iron. The data we have, which look at how plants would respond to the kind of CO2 concentrations we may see in our lifetimes, show these important minerals drop by 8 percent, on average. The same conditions have been shown to drive down the protein content of C3 crops, in some cases significantly, with wheat and rice dropping 6 percent and 8 percent, respectively.

Earlier this summer, a group of researchers published the first studies attempting to estimate what these shifts could mean for the global population. Plants are a crucial source of protein for people in the developing world, and by 2050, they estimate, 150 million people could be put at risk of protein deficiency, particularly in countries like India and Bangladesh. Researchers found a loss of zinc, which is particularly essential for maternal and infant health, could put 138 million people at risk. They also estimated that more than 1 billion mothers and 354 million children live in countries where dietary iron is projected to drop significantly, which could exacerbate the already widespread public health problem of anemia.

There aren't any projections for the United States, where we for the most part enjoy a diverse diet with no shortage of protein, but some researchers look at the growing proportion of sugars in plants and hypothesize that a systemic shift in plants could further contribute to our already alarming rates of obesity and cardiovascular disease.

Another new and important strain of research on CO2 and plant nutrition is now coming out of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Lewis Ziska, a plant physiologist at the Agricultural Research Service headquarters in Beltsville, Maryland, is drilling down on some of the questions that Loladze first raised 15 years ago with a number of new studies that focus on nutrition.

Ziska devised an experiment that eliminated the complicating factor of plant breeding: He decided to look at bee food.

Goldenrod, a wildflower many consider a weed, is extremely important to bees. It flowers late in the season, and its pollen provides an important source of protein for bees as they head into the harshness of winter. Since goldenrod is wild and humans haven't bred it into new strains, it hasn't changed over time as much as, say, corn or wheat. And the Smithsonian Institution also happens to have hundreds of samples of goldenrod, dating back to 1842, in its massive historical archive—which gave Ziska and his colleagues a chance to figure out how one plant has changed over time.

They found that the protein content of goldenrod pollen has declined by a third since the industrial revolution—and the change closely tracks with the rise in CO2. Scientists have been trying to figure out why bee populations around the world have been in decline, which threatens many crops that rely on bees for pollination. Ziska's paper suggested that a decline in protein prior to winter could be an additional factor making it hard for bees to survive other stressors.

Ziska worries we're not studying all the ways CO2 affects the plants we depend on with enough urgency, especially considering the fact that retooling crops takes a long time.

"We're falling behind in our ability to intercede and begin to use the traditional agricultural tools, like breeding, to compensate," he said. "Right now it can take 15 to 20 years before we get from the laboratory to the field."

AS LOLADZE AND others have found, tackling globe-spanning new questions that cross the boundaries of scientific fields can be difficult. There are plenty of plant physiologists researching crops, but most are dedicated to studying factors like yield and pest resistance—qualities that have nothing to do with nutrition. Math departments, as Loladze discovered, don't exactly prioritize food research. And studying living things can be costly and slow: It takes several years and huge sums of money to get a FACE experiment to generate enough data to draw any conclusions.

Despite these challenges, researchers are increasingly studying these questions, which means we may have more answers in the coming years. Ziska and Loladze, who now teaches math at Bryan College of Health Sciences in Lincoln, Nebraska, are collaborating with a coalition of researchers in China, Japan, Australia and elsewhere in the U.S. on a large study looking at rising CO2 and the nutritional profile of rice, one of humankind's most important crops. Their study also includes vitamins, an important nutritional component, that to date has almost not been studied at all.

USDA researchers also recently dug up varieties of rice, wheat and soy that USDA had saved from the 1950s and 1960s and planted them in plots around the U.S. where previous researchers had grown the same cultivars decades ago, with the aim of better understanding how today's higher levels of COaffect them.

In a USDA research field in Maryland, researchers are running experiments on bell peppers to measure how vitamin C changes under elevated CO2. They're also looking at coffee to see whether caffeine declines. "There are lots of questions," Ziska said as he showed me around his research campus in Beltsville. "We're just putting our toe in the water."

Ziska is part of a small band of researchers now trying to measure these changes and figure out what it means for humans. Another key figure studying this nexus is Samuel Myers, a doctor turned climate researcher at Harvard University who leads the Planetary Health Alliance, a new global effort to connect the dots between climate science and human health.

Myers is also concerned that the research community is not more focused on understanding the CO2-nutrition dynamic, since it's a crucial piece of a much larger picture of how such changes might ripple through ecosystems. "This is the tip of the iceberg," said Myers. "It's been hard for us to get people to understand how many questions they should have."

In 2014, Myers and a team of other scientists published a large, data-rich study in the journal Nature that looked at key crops grown at several sites in Japan, Australia and the United States that also found rising CO2 led to a drop in protein, iron and zinc. It was the first time the issue had attracted any real media attention.

"The public health implications of global climate change are difficult to predict, and we expect many surprises," the researchers wrote. "The finding that raising atmospheric CO2 lowers the nutritional value of C3 crops is one such surprise that we can now better predict and prepare for."

The same year―in fact, on the same day―Loladze, then teaching math at the The Catholic University of Daegu in South Korea, published his own paper, the result of more than 15 years of gathering data on the same subject. It was the largest study in the world on rising CO2 and its impact on plant nutrients. Loladze likes to describe plant science as ""noisy"―research-speak for cluttered with complicating data, through which it can be difficult to detect the signal you're looking for. His new data set was finally big enough to see the signal through the noise, to detect the "hidden shift," as he put it.


What he found is that his 2002 theory—or, rather, the strong suspicion he had articulated back then—appeared to be borne out. Across nearly 130 varieties of plants and more than 15,000 samples collected from experiments over the past three decades, the overall concentration of minerals like calcium, magnesium, potassium, zinc and iron had dropped by 8 percent on average. The ratio of carbohydrates to minerals was going up. The plants, like the algae, were becoming junk food.

What that means for humans―whose main food intake is plants―is only just starting to be investigated. Researchers who dive into it will have to surmount obstacles like its low profile and slow pace, and a political environment where the word "climate" is enough to derail a funding conversation. It will also require entirely new bridges to be built in the world of science―a problem that Loladze himself wryly acknowledges in his own research. When his paper was finally published in 2014, Loladze listed his grant rejections in the acknowledgements.

Helena Bottemiller Evich is a senior food and agriculture reporter for POLITICO Pro.