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In France’s Red Zones, World War I never ended
More than a century after the end of hostilities in 1918, some battlefields of WWI are still deadly enough to kill you.
- More than a century after the end of WWI, an area the size of Paris is still off limits.
- This archipelago of Red Zones remains pockmarked with deadly explosives and chemicals.
- They are silent witnesses to the long-lasting environmental impact of modern warfare.
War on the moon
Australian soldiers passing through Chateau Wood near Ypres, 29 October 1917. The picture is from Belgium, but the level of devastation was similar in large parts of France.
Credit: Frank Hurley, public domain.
In some parts of France, World War I has never ended. These are the Zones rouges – an archipelago of former battlegrounds so pockmarked and polluted by war that, more than a century after the end of hostilities, they remain unfit to live or even farm on.
WWI was the first industrial war, and a laboratory for all kinds of military innovations, including the first use of tanks and poison gas. Both the German and the Allied war machines belched out deadly explosives and lethal chemicals on a massive scale. It is estimated that around 60 million shells rained down near Verdun during the fierce battles over that city in 1916 – of which 15 million didn't explode upon impact.
Four years of war stripped a zone on either side of the largely immobile frontline of any sign of life. Roads and bridges, canals and railways were destroyed. Cities were pummeled into dust. Entire villages 'died for France' and were wiped off the map for good.
Bombardments were so thorough that even grass and trees disappeared. When the war ended in November 1918, a large swathe of northern to eastern France was so cratered up and chewed out that it looked like a moonscape. In all, about 7 percent of French territory was destroyed during the war, in a zone stretching over 4,000 municipalities across 13 departments, from the Nord at the coast to the Bas-Rhin on the Swiss border.
By 1919, the French Ministry for the Liberated Territories had divided the afflicted areas into three zones, depending on the degree of destruction:
- Zones vertes ('Green Zones'), with minimal damage;
- Zones jaunes ('Yellow Zones'), with heavy but limited damage; and
- Zones rouges ('Red Zones'), usually closest to the former front lines, which were completely destroyed.
The primary task was to clear the affected areas of ammunition and corpses. This involved the efforts of German PoWs, foreign workers from as far afield as China, and Quaker volunteers, among others.
Massive amounts of unidentified human remains were gathered in places like the Douaumont Ossuary, the last resting place of 130,000 German and French soldiers who fell at Verdun. Soldier bones continue to turn up. As recently as April 2012, authorities were able to identify the remains of a French soldier named Albert Dadure.
700 years to clear
The total area of the Red Zones has shrunk since 1919, but they still add up to the size of Paris.
Credit: Guicherd, J. & Matriot, C.: La terre des régions dévastées – Journal d'Agriculture Pratique 34 (1921). CC BY-SA 2.5
The green and yellow zones were returned to civilian use relatively early. The red zones were different. They were, in the words of one official post-war report, "completely devastated. Damage to properties: 100%. Damage to agriculture: 100%. Impossible to clean. Human life impossible." Red zones were cleared only superficially, and mostly just closed off.
In 1919, these red zones covered around 690 square miles (1,800 km2). Here, the ground remained saturated with unexploded ordnance. High concentrations of heavy metals and chemicals in the soil further increased the risk to life and limb. For reasons of safety and sanitation, these areas were strictly off-limits for housing, farming, and even forestry.
By 1927, the red zones had been reduced by 70 percent to around 190 square miles (490 km2), in part due to pressure from local farmers, who wanted to return their fields and pastures to productivity and profit.
Today, the red zone archipelago has shrunk to about 40 square miles (100 km2), about the size of Paris. Yet it's unlikely that these islands will disappear soon. They are the most tenacious residue of a long-lasting environmental problem.
Each year, farmers in former red zones plough up an 'iron harvest' of close to 900 tons of unexploded ordnance. Near Verdun, road signs point to dumping grounds where they can leave these shells for the authorities to collect.
France's Sécurité Civile, which is charged with removing them, estimates that at current rates, it could take up to 700 years to completely clear all remaining WWI shells and grenades from France's soil.
And then there are the gases, acids, and other chemicals polluting the soil – in some parts, the ground still contains so much arsenic that nothing will grow. In less affected areas, biologists still note the lack of floral and faunal diversity related to the pollution, which some estimate may take about 10,000 years to clear.
The War to End All War
Foreground: Verdun battlefield kept clear of vegetation to show the battle scars on the landscape. Background: Verdun Forest, as it has emerged after WWI.
Credit: F. Lamiot, CC BY-SA 2.5
WWI was supposed to be the 'War to End All War'. That went… less well than could have been hoped for. One of the lessons not learned from that conflict is that modern wars have long-lasting impacts on health and the environment. The issue has remained largely dormant, resurfacing only in the 1990s, when more than 1 in 3 U.S. veterans of the First Gulf War reported a range of symptoms ascribed to exposure to toxic substances.
Even in France itself, not much thought is given to the lingering effects of WWI, or to the remaining Zones rouges – perhaps because so much of the affected areas were left to the trees, becoming so-called forêts de guerre (war forests), notably in the Champagne region. Yet the invisible environmental legacy of the Great War has very real consequences.
- In 2012, the consumption of locally sourced drinking water was prohibited in 544 municipalities, due to high levels of perchlorate, which was used to make WWI ammo. All of those municipalities are located close to former battlefield zones.
- Experts warn that mushrooms, game meat, and even food cooked over wood collected in red zones or former red zones might be a source of toxins.
- It has been established that the livers of wild boars roaming the forests around Verdun contain abnormally high levels of lead.
- And the relatively elevated levels of lead in certain French wines may result from the wood of the barrels in which they matured, from oak harvested in former red zones.
Strange Maps #1069
Got a strange map? Let me know at email@example.com.
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A new study finds that dogs fed fresh human-grade food don't need to eat—or do their business—as much.
- Most dogs eat a diet that's primarily kibble.
- When fed a fresh-food diet, however, they don't need to consume as much.
- Dogs on fresh-food diets have healthier gut biomes.
Four diets were tested<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1NjY0NjIxMn0._w0k-qFOC86AqmtPHJBK_i-9F5oVyVYsYtUrdvfUxWQ/img.jpg?width=980" id="1b1e4" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="87937436a81c700a8ab3b1d763354843" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: AntonioDiaz/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tested refrigerated and fresh human-grade foods against kibble, the food most dogs live on. The <a href="https://frontierpets.com.au/blogs/news/how-kibble-or-dry-dog-food-is-made" target="_blank">ingredients</a> of kibble are mashed into a dough and then extruded, forced through a die of some kind into the desired shape — think a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Food_extrusion" target="_blank">pasta maker</a>. The resulting pellets are sprayed with additional flavor and color.</p><p>For four weeks, researchers fed 12 beagles one of four diets:</p><ol><li>a extruded diet — Blue Buffalo Chicken and Brown Rice Recipe</li><li>a fresh refrigerated diet — Freshpet Roasted Meals Tender Chicken Recipe</li><li>a fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Beef & Russet Potato Recipe</li><li>another fresh diet — JustFoodforDogs Chicken & White Rice Recipe.</li></ol><p>The two fresh diets contained minimally processed beef, chicken, broccoli, rice, carrots, and various food chunks in a canine casserole of sorts. </p><p>(One can't help but think how hard it would be to get finicky cats to test new diets. As if.)</p><p>Senior author <a href="https://ansc.illinois.edu/directory/ksswanso" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Kelly S. Swanson</a> of U of I's Department of Animal Sciences and the Division of Nutritional Sciences, was a bit surprised at how much better dogs did on people food than even refrigerated dog chow. "Based on past research we've conducted I'm not surprised with the results when feeding human-grade compared to an extruded dry diet," he <a href="https://aces.illinois.edu/news/feed-fido-fresh-human-grade-dog-food-scoop-less-poop" target="_blank">says</a>, adding, "However, I did not expect to see how well the human-grade fresh food performed, even compared to a fresh commercial processed brand."</p>
Tracking the effect of each diet<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTU5ODI1OC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY3NjY1NTgyOX0.AdyMb8OEcjCD6iWYnXjToDmcnjfTSn-0-dfG96SIpUA/img.jpg?width=980" id="da892" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="880d952420679aeccd1eaf32b5339810" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="1440" data-height="960" />
Credit: Patryk Kosmider/Adobe Stock<p>The researchers tracked the dogs' weights and analyzed the microbiota in their fecal matter.</p><p>It turned out that the dogs on kibble had to eat more to maintain their body weight. This resulted in their producing 1.5 to 2.9 times the amount of poop produced by dogs on the fresh diets.</p><p>Says Swanson, "This is consistent with a 2019 National Institute of Health study in humans that found people eating a fresh whole food diet consumed on average 500 less calories per day, and reported being more satisfied, than people eating a more processed diet."</p><p>Maybe even more interesting was the effect of fresh food on the gut biome. Though there remains much we don't yet know about microbiota, it was nonetheless the case that the microbial communities found in fresh-food poo was different.</p><p>"Because a healthy gut means a healthy mutt," says Swanson, "fecal microbial and metabolite profiles are important readouts of diet assessment. As we have shown in <a href="https://academic.oup.com/jas/article/92/9/3781/4702209#110855647" target="_blank">previous studies</a>, the fecal microbial communities of healthy dogs fed fresh diets were different than those fed kibble. These unique microbial profiles were likely due to differences in diet processing, ingredient source, and the concentration and type of dietary fibers, proteins, and fats that are known to influence what is digested by the dog and what reaches the colon for fermentation."</p>
How did kibble take over canine diets?<p>Historically, dogs ate scraps left over by humans. It has only been <a href="https://www.thefarmersdog.com/digest/the-history-of-commercial-pet-food-a-great-american-marketing-story/" target="_blank">since 1870</a>, with the arrival of the luxe Spratt's Meat Fibrine Dog Cakes—made from "the dried unsalted gelatinous parts of Prairie Beef", mmm—that commercial dog food began to take hold. Dog bone-shaped biscuits first appeared in 1907. Ken-L Ration dates from 1922. Kibble was first extruded in 1956. Pet food had become a great way to turn <a href="https://www.dogfoodadvisor.com/choosing-dog-food/animal-by-products/" target="_blank">human-food waste</a> into profit.</p><p>Commercial dog food became the norm for most household canines only after a massive marketing campaign led by a group of dog-food industry lobbyists called the Pet Food Institute in 1964. Over time, for most households, dog food was what dogs ate — what else? Human food? These days more than half of U.S. dogs are <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2014/08/03/magazine/who-made-that-dog-biscuit.html" target="_blank">overweight or obese</a>, and certainly their diet is a factor.<span></span></p><p>We're not so special among animals after all. If something's healthy for us to eat—we're <em>not</em> looking at you, chocolate—maybe we should remember to share with our canine compatriots. Not from the table, though.</p>
New study suggests the placebo effect can be as powerful as microdosing LSD.
- New research from Imperial College London investigated the psychological effects of microdosing LSD in 191 volunteers.
- While microdosers experienced beneficial mental health effects, the placebo group performed statistically similar to those who took LSD.
- Researchers believe the expectation of a trip could produce some of the same sensations as actually ingesting psychedelics.
Psychedelics: The scientific renaissance of mind-altering drugs<span style="display:block;position:relative;padding-top:56.25%;" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="92360c805fe66c11de38a75b0967f417"><iframe type="lazy-iframe" data-runner-src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/5T0LmbWROKY?rel=0" width="100%" height="auto" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" style="position:absolute;top:0;left:0;width:100%;height:100%;"></iframe></span><p>For the study published in eLife, the team recruited 191 citizen cosmonauts to microdose either LSD or a placebo over the course of several weeks and note the psychological effects. Volunteers were already microdosing LSD, so there was no true control. Each volunteer was given instructions on creating their own low-dose gel capsules, some containing LSD, others not. Then they mixed the capsules in envelopes so they didn't know if they were taking the real thing or not.</p><p>The trial design was ingenious: each capsule featured a QR code that was scanned after the addition of ingredients but before they were placed in the envelope so that researchers knew what they were ingesting.</p><p>The problem: volunteers sourced their own LSD. Lack of quality control could have had a profound effect on the results. </p><p>The results: LSD microdosers reported feeling more mindful, satisfied with life, and better overall; they also noticed a reduction in feelings of paranoia. </p><p>The catch: the control group felt the same thing, with no statistical difference between the groups. </p><p>Lead author Balázs Szigeti comments on the findings: "This suggests that the improvements may not be due to the pharmacological action of the drug but can instead be explained by the placebo effect." </p>
Credit: Alexander / Adobe Stock<p>Psychedelics are notoriously difficult to control for given the intensity of the experience. Yet there is precedent for the above findings. A <a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s00213-020-05464-5" target="_blank">2019 study</a> found that 61 percent of volunteers that took a placebo instead of psilocybin felt some psychedelic effects, with a few volunteers experiencing full-on trips.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Several stated that they saw the paintings on the walls 'move' or 'reshape' themselves, others felt 'heavy. . . as if gravity [had] a stronger hold', and one had a 'come down' before another 'wave' hit her."</p><p>The Imperial team believes the expectation of a trip might have been enough to produce similar results. Senior author David Erritzoe is excited for future studies on the topic, believing they tapped into a new wave of citizen science that could push forward our knowledge of psychedelic substances.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Accounting for the placebo effect is important when assessing trends such as the use of cannabidiol oils, fad diets or supplements where social pressure or users' expectations can lead to a strong placebo response. Self-blinding citizen science initiatives could be used as an inexpensive, initial screening tool before launching expensive clinical studies."</p><p>As investments into the psychedelics market explode, with one company <a href="https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-03-03/thiel-backed-magic-mushroom-firm-atai-hits-2-billion-valuation" target="_blank">reaching a $2 billion valuation</a>, a recurring irony appears in the long arc of psychedelics and research: the power of our minds might be enough to feel greater life satisfaction and a deeper sense of mindfulness. If that's possible with a placebo, we have to question why the rush to create more pharmacology is necessary. </p><p>This is, mind you, a separate conversation over the role of psychedelics and rituals for group bonding. The function of group cohesion around consciousness-altering substances will continue to play an important role in many communities. </p><p>Of course, we should continue to explore the efficacy of psychedelics on anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, PTSD, and addiction. <a href="https://bigthink.com/surprising-science/antidepressant-effects" target="_self">Pharmacological dependence</a> is a stain on the psychiatry industry. Whether or not psychedelics can be prescribed for daily use remains to be seen, but we know a moneyed interest is expecting a return on investment—the above company, ATAI Life Sciences, raised $157 million in its Series D round. </p><p>When it comes to wellbeing, some things money just can't buy. How we navigate the tricky terrain of mainstreaming psychedelics remains to be seen. </p><p>--</p><p><em>Stay in touch with Derek on <a href="http://www.twitter.com/derekberes" target="_blank">Twitter</a> and <a href="https://www.facebook.com/DerekBeresdotcom" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Facebook</a>. His most recent book is</em> "<em><a href="https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B08KRVMP2M?pf_rd_r=MDJW43337675SZ0X00FH&pf_rd_p=edaba0ee-c2fe-4124-9f5d-b31d6b1bfbee" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Hero's Dose: The Case For Psychedelics in Ritual and Therapy</a>."</em></p>
What makes some people more likely to shiver than others?
Some people just aren't bothered by the cold, no matter how low the temperature dips. And the reason for this may be in a person's genes.