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Associated Press

Nitrogen levels in the soil, water and atmosphere have increased fivefold globally in the past 60 years – largely due to human activities in the agricultural sector, according to a new study. Too much nitrogen can affect human health, reduce biodiversity and amplify global warming.

"Just as carbon fueled the Industrial Revolution, nitrogen has fueled an Agricultural Revolution," the study authors wrote. "The use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and the cultivation of nitrogen-fixing crops both expanded exponentially during the last century, with most of the increase occurring after 1960."

Where it is coming from: Nitrogen fertilizers are made by converting inert nitrogen in the atmosphere to a "fixed" chemical form plants can use as a nutrient. (The industrial process mirrors a natural one done by microbes on the roots of plants themselves.) But "fixed" nitrogen run-off can pollute neighboring land and water, and the fertilizers can spur the production of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide by the microbes on the plants' roots. Earth has never seen this much fixed nitrogen in ecosystems worldwide, the researchers said.

Open questions: The researchers acknowledged further studies are needed to understand what such an increase in the nitrogen balance means, but preliminary estimates are unsettling. Just how much fixed nitrogen is released as greenhouse gas is still unclear but the authors said the increase in nitrogen could significantly add to problems the world is already facing from carbon and methane in the atmosphere.

Go deeper

3 hours ago - Health

Fauci: COVID vaccine rollout needs to prioritize people of color

Anthony Fauci. Photo: Alex Wong via Getty Images

Infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci highlighted the need to address racial disparities in the COVID-19 vaccination process, per an interview with The New England Journal of Medicine on Wednesday.

What he’s saying: "I think that's the one thing we really got to be careful of. We don't want in the beginning ... most of the people who are getting it are otherwise, well, middle-class white people."

The Mischief Makers

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Several Republican and Democratic lawmakers are emerging as troublemakers within their parties and political thorns for their leadership.

Why it matters: We're calling this group "The Mischief Makers" — members who threaten to upend party unity — the theme eclipsing Washington at the moment — and potentially jeopardize the Democrats' or Republicans' position heading into the 2022 midterms.

5 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Obama speechwriter fears Biden unity drive is one-sided

Cody Keenan (right) is shown heading to Marine One in December 2009. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

President Obama's former speechwriter says he's "preemptively frustrated" with President Biden's effort to find unity with Republicans.

What they're saying: Cody Keenan told Axios that Biden's messaging team has "struck all the right chords," but at some point "they're gonna have to answer questions like, 'Why didn't you achieve unity?' when there's an entire political party that's already acting to stop it."