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Discovered: High CO2 levels make office workers dumb; drought drags down GDP; there's no reason why green farming can't make money; warming oceans drive plankton toward the poles.

You can now try blaming poor work performance on CO2. Oh, so now we know why all those stock photo office works look so spaced out. Their sleek, modern work environments are congested with carbon dioxide, clouding their minds and compromising their  ability to work effectively. That's what researchers from Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and SUNY Upstate Medical University found by studying how CO2 levels affect workplace productivity. The CO2-spewing culprits in these experiments weren't oil refineries. They were just people. Humans exhale CO2, after all. And when subjects were exposed to anything above 1,000 ppm of CO2 in an "office-like chamber" for two-and-a-half-hour sessions, their decision-making skills dropped off noticeably. This news doesn't bode well for the offices sporting new environmentally sustainable designs, which typically feature less ventilation so as to save on energy costs. The researchers conclude that ventilation should be taken into account for next-generation green office designs, writing, "It seems unlikely that recommended minimum ventilation rates in future standards would be low enough to cause CO2 levels above 2,500 ppm, a level at which decrements in decision-making performance in our findings were large, but standards with rates that result in 1,500 ppm of indoor CO2 are conceivable." [FastCo]

Drought takes a toll on the economy. Today's GDP report was mostly good, but those who read the Bureau of Economic Analysis' fine print know that it could've been better. Widespread drought   brought on in part by climate change "subtracted 0.42 percentage point from the third-quarter change in real GDP," thanks to a decline in farm inventories. "BEA’s GDP estimates reflect the effects of this summer’s extreme hot weather and drought in the Midwest on farm production," the report noted. Though a wide range of factors go into determining GDP, the BEA says it can confidently estimate how certain components, like farm inventories, affect the number. The bottom line, according to Grist's Philip Bump, is that the drought caused GDP to take ...

a hit of about 15 percent. With a GDP of $15.094 trillion last year, those fractions of a percent amount to $86 billion in economic damage — using last year’s smaller GDP figure! And that’s only considering direct agricultural effects.

 [Grist]

Green farmers could feasibly get rich. Even politicians who support sustainable farming reforms tend to worry about the economics of going green with our nation's food supply. But they have no cause for fear, because green farming schemes have come a long way toward profitability in recent years. New studies in PLOS ONE show that "integrated pest management," a process by which many crops are grown together with less pesticides and fertilizer, can be just as productive and lucrative as conventional farming methods. Agronomists used 20 acres of farmland in Iowa for eight years to compare different strategies for growing crops, finding that even though environmentally sustainable methods needed more labor, they made up for it in decreased material inputs. "With integrated pest management, then, perhaps farmers can go green while staying in the black," concludes Discover's Ashley P. Taylor. [Discover]

Plankton sent packing for the poles. For such tiny organisms, phytoplankton play an enormous role in the health of marine ecosystems. They're the base of the fish food chain, meaning that anything that happens to them will induce trickle-up effects throughout the entire sea kingdom. So if a third of plankton were to disappear from tropical sea beds—which is what will happen by 2100, according to a new study from Michigan State University and University of Southern California ecologists—that would have catastrophic effects on warm ocean regions. With waters heating up, phytoplankton will start making their way toward polar regions, disrupting currently lush tropical ocean ecosystems. [ScienceNow]