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Showing posts from 2014

The End of Deforestation

I like Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General.He doesn’t just talk about doing things; he makes things happen.I refer specifically to a new collaboration between the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).These two organizations intend to restore at least 150 million hectares of forest by 2020 (a hectare is slightly more than 2 acres).Their joint effort will be announced at the Secretary-General’s Climate Summit on September 23, 2014.
Restoring 150 million hectares of forest, an area about the size of Alaska, would sequester roughly 1 gigaton of carbon dioxide and/or the equivalent thereof every year, reducing the current emissions gap by 11 – 17 percent.The target date of 2020 is ambitious, but would generate US$85 billion per year in ecosystem services that would benefit the rural poor all  over the world.
The rate of global deforestation has slowed significantly since the beginning of the 21st century.However, we still …

Do Something

July 16, 2014 - Stephen Leahy has just written a landmark article, which can be found at  I kind
of wish he wouldn't use that phrase, "the new ddt," though I understand why he does.  He's actually talking about neonicotinoids, which I've written about here previously.  His article is based on a science article published in the journal Nature on July 9.  The name of the article begins "Declines in insectivorous birds ... ."

Neonicotinoids were introduced 20 years ago.  Their usage has increased every year since then.  When did their manufacturers realize that these toxins were 5,000 - 10,000 times more poisonous than DDT?
As the now-adage goes, what did they know, and when did they know it?  The contagion makers have unleashed on an unsuspecting world amounts to a lethal pandemic.  You see, neonicotinoids don't stay put.  They are absorbed not just by crops, but by …

Tiny Steps

May 12, 2014 - The Daily Climate features an article by Al Kesselheim today.Kesselheim writes about the need for Americans to notice the beauty of nature in their own backyards, rather than expecting to encounter nature only when they visit a state or national park.Actually, Kesselheim writes about wilderness; I will, too, but on a very small scale.
For many Americans, what Kesselheim advises is a bland prospect, at best.First-time homeowners many times own just enough yard to mow, a miniature imitation pasture of sorts that has been scraped off and graded.Those lucky enough to own property that has been tended and loved (or, better yet, neglected!) probably would find a great deal going on in their private outdoors that would be worth noticing.What so many of us lack is the time it would take to do so.
The bugs and the birds are, nevertheless, right there under ignorant and knowledgeable noses alike.What if you were to decide that your own natural paradise consisted of the square ya…

Demitarians Unite!

April 27, 2014 – A report that makes a very thorough assessment of the environmental gains to be made by reshaping our farming methods was issued last Friday. The study was authored by scientists at two consulting firms: Climate Focus (CF) and California Environmental Associates (CEA).It was funded by the Climate and Land Use Alliance, a coalition of major U.S. foundations.Strategies studied were numerous; they include managing soil nutrients, halting deforestation, reductions in animal husbandry, using less fertilizer, storing carbon in croplands, and converting manure into compost and biogas through anaerobic digestion.Consumers, for their part, need to eat less meat and reduce food waste.A “demitarian” – a term I’d never heard before - is someone who cuts their consumption of red meat in half.
Countries poised to make the biggest contributions in this area are, no surprise, big ones: Brazil, China, India, the EU, and the United States.According to the report, yearly greenhouse ga…

Fungal Forest Fire

April 21, 2014 – Life just got more interesting.A fast-spreading wheat rust has scoured farmers’ fields from Africa to Latin America, the Middle East and Europe.Wheat is the world’s second most important grain crop, after rice.This modern epidemic began in North America’s wheat belt back in the 1950s, when the fungus that causes wheat rust destroyed 40 percent of the crop.Since that time it has traveled to other parts of the world.In response, rust-resistant varieties of wheat were developed.
A new era dawned in 1999, when an outbreak in Uganda was found to be the result of a virulent mutation of the wheat rust fungus.According to Dr. David Hodson of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center in Addis Ababa, the mutation causes “large-scale destruction in a very short period of time over very large cultivated areas.”The speed with which the fungus spreads can be likened to a forest fire, says Hodson.Its wind-borne spores, which reproduce in the millions, are each capable of…

Time to Transition

April 14, 2014 – Alex Smith, of Radio Ecoshock, recently conducted a thoughtful interview with Dr. David Korowicz of Dublin.Honestly, the adjective hair-raising would be far more accurate, in light of the fact that Korowicz dares to examine, in all its particulars, how the world as we know it will come apart at the seams.He calls it rapid collapse.
Korowicz begins by studying a micro version of global collapse, that is, the economic disaster suffered by his own country of Ireland almost six years ago. He believes that the Irish were able to put the pieces back together, at least in part, because Ireland is a small country where people feel personally involved with the day-to-day running of national matters.This engenders societal trust, and a feeling that, with effort, things can once again be made right.The Irish economy is broad-based, with a manageable level of poverty.Since poverty is a leading cause of corruption, problems like nepotism, bribery, and tax avoidance didn’t need fi…

Know Your Limits

April 10, 2014 – I wrote this article a little while ago, and Transition Voice hasn’t used it.I think it’s useful, so I thought I’d publish it here.

Know Your Limits
There is a growing consensus that 2 degrees Celsius of global warming will be too much ( ).As the winter of 2013-2014 gradually winds down, we see the evidence of what less than 1 degree of warming can do all around us.The costs have yet to be tallied, but there is universal acknowledgement that budgets were virtually meaningless this winter.In order to keep the United States functioning at a level anywhere near normal, states and corporations had to break the bank.The alternative was inconceivable.
Yet merrily we roll along, calmly averring that there is still time before the climate will begin to wreak major havoc.The notion that 2 degrees of warming are somehow “ok” has become foundational to both national and international planning.After all, the thinki…

A Solution to Leftovers

March 31, 2014 - My husband and I used to waste more food than we do now.  I frequently overbought, partly because I liked to make believe that we were big vegetable and fruit eaters.  All in the valiant effort to turn us into what we've never been and probably never will be (big vegetable and fruit eaters).  Ok, so we've closed that chapter after having made only modest gains.  And I do like to experiment, both with recipes I've previously made successfully, and with recipes being tried for the first time.  Somehow sticking with the same old same old week after week just isn't satisfying.  Neither, however, is an inedible meal, of which I've made a few (ahem).  So we've thrown out food which was at its peak when it came through the door, not so much on its way out.

But 40 percent??  You read that right: that's how much perfectly good food gets thrown out in the United States, week after month after year.  Can you guess how much money is being spent on all …

Small Farmers Will Be the Big Players

March 24, 2014 – The Post Carbon Institute has put together a fine talking heads documentary called “Agriculture in a Changing World.”I learned a bit from it, so I thought I might summarize it for you.You can find the film at .
The half hour film consists of brief remarks made by leaders in the agriculture and climate change worlds.I’ll start with Lester Brown, formerly of the World Watch Institute, now heading up the Earth Policy Institute.He shocked me by stating that families in a number of countries around the world, among them Nigeria, Haiti, Ethiopia, India, and Peru, must go without food a certain number of days during the week.While I was aware that Haitians have suffered this degree of deprivation for decades, I didn’t know that food supply was so precarious in other parts of the world.He went on to say that water shortages are now a problem everywhere.
Dennis Meadows, one of the authors of “The Limits to Growt…

From Petro to Plastic and Back Again

March 17, 2014 – I didn’t know that plastic could be melted and returned to its petroleum state, but it appears that it can.Plants already exist in England for that very purpose.After spending years in a business incubation facility in Akron, Ohio, one such plant is now ready to go online in Ohio next month.
Certainly from the standpoint of putting plastic refuse someplace other than landfill, this sounds like a good idea.It seems unlikely we will run out of plastic anytime soon.It’s the diesel fuel that literally comes out at the other end that worries me.While diesel produces no carbon dioxide pollution, particulate matter is another problem entirely.Because diesel particles are extremely fine, they can penetrate deeply into the lungs.The rough surfaces of the particles cause them to catch, and combine with, other toxic inhalants.
The primary health concerns which result from exposure to these particles are heart and lung disease, including lung cancer.So while the conversion plant…

Cities Lead Climate Action

March 11, 2014 – The C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group is responsible for a near doubling of climate actions by their 63 member cities since 2011.Member cities, the world’s largest, have implemented 8,000 climate actions in the last three years.It will come as no surprise that the vast majority of member cities are coastal.You can learn more about C40 at
The organization’s most recent international meeting took place in Johannesburg, South Africa.Three new cities were welcomed to the ranks at that meeting: Cape Town, Dar es Salaam, and Nairobi.Michael Bloomberg presides over the C40 board, and plans to work closely with UN Secretary Ban Ki-moon in creating support for a UN Summit on Climate Change in September.
Bloomberg, of course, just retired as mayor of New York City after 12 years on the job.During his time in office, greenhouse gas emissions declined 19%.“Mayors don’t have time to debate politics, they have to deliver results, and mayors around the world increasingly…

The End of Organic Food?

March 4, 2014 – It’s March, everybody!Spring cannot be too far away.The birds are singing up a storm, and though we’ve just gotten a fresh coat of snow on the ground, temperatures will be in the 40’s later this week.Thank heaven, the sun is shining very brightly.
You will be unsurprised to learn that Monsanto continues its march toward world domination.Are you as baffled as I am that they do so with Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack’s complicity?Is EVERYBODY on their payroll?What does Vilsack stand to gain by helping Monsanto, et. al. to own the world’s food sources?Can this truly be some form of horribly dysfunctional patriotism??
In 2011, Vilsack convened an industry-controlled panel of stakeholders (known as AC21) in the ongoing confrontation between biotech companies and organic farmers.He ostensibly was seeking a fair solution to the problem of transgenic contamination.After he and his corporate cohorts racked their brains, trying to figure out what would serve their duplicit…

Military Preparations Underway

February 24, 2014 – While the American Congress dithers, militaries across the globe are gearing up for the threats presented by climate change.In England, where this month a 250-year flood washed away train lines, knocked out power lines, and made 5,800 homes unlivable, the armed forces see their role as one of offering relief at home.Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti, formerly of the Royal Navy, says that military planners are examining how the various branches can be put to their best use elsewhere in the event of future floods, droughts and other natural disasters.The UK’s long supply chains, which are used to import 40% of its food and over 50% of its fuel, rely on shipping “choke points” which must not be closed off.
At NATO Headquarters, Hartmund Behrend, a climate risks expert in Germany’s army, says that “ … health risks, climate change, water security and increasing energy needs will further shape the future security environment in areas of concern to NATO, and have the potential…

2015: Some Like It Hot

February 18, 2014 – A new El Nino prediction method is stirring up controversy.Developed by researchers from Germany, Russia, Israel and the U.S., they maintain they can predict El Nino events with 76% accuracy up to a year in advance.The current method has yet to surmount a so-called ”spring predictability barrier,” thereby limiting forecasts to a six month lead time.
As a reminder, El Nino’s begin in the Pacific Ocean, off the equatorial coast of South America, which includes the countries of Ecuador and Peru.The water of the ocean in this location heats up.They have increased in severity over the years, causing climatic chaos around the world.Hot, humid weather in the U.S. and South America, along with heavy rain, often leads to flooding on these two continents.The opposite effect takes hold in southeast Asia and Australia, where intense drought has lead to greatly extended wildfire seasons.El Nino’s are actually part of a larger event known as the El Nino-Southern Oscillation (EN…

No More Dress Rehearsals

February 14, 2014 – If you listen real closely, you can hear the number of climate denialists falling, even as I write.I say that because I don’t know of a single state that’s dodged the bullet this winter.(I actually don’t know what Hawaii’s weather has been like, so maybe 1 out of 50.)Do you suppose that Republicans now understand that mitigation would cost far less than playing catch up?Of course, we’ll HAVE to play catch up after this winter.(All of you who have solar panels on your home and live in a city with readily available mass transit have my permission to look smug.)Our situation can best be described with the words “far too little, far too late.”
The weather is the lead story on the news these days.Was it really just five years ago that the oh-so-sycophantic TV stations never mentioned it at all?Unfortunately, the fact that we’ve taken to believing that corporations are in charge hasn’t changed during that time.That is why we’re in the state we’re in.The corporations pay…

Ignorance No Longer an Excuse

February 10, 2014 - Hampered these five years by a do-nothing Congress, Pres. Obama is finally making slow inroads in combatting climate change.  One measure designed to help farmers and ranchers was announced just last week.  To begin immediately, the administration is setting up 10 climate centers and sub-centers across the country that will act as clearinghouses of agricultural information, intended to help farmers and livestock producers better deal with climatic extremes like those of the last few decades.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack made the announcement, in which he referred to the extended fire seasons, invasive pests (see my article in Transition Voice about the mountain pine bark beetle),  flooding, and drought as ongoing emergencies farmers must attempt to either mitigate or adapt to.  The growing season in the Midwest is now two weeks longer than sixty years ago, and the fire season is a full two months longer than it was in 1980.  Vilsack also made mention of the wi…

Genetic Engineering: Where Do We Stand?

February 3, 2014 - We live in a disjointed world.  To wit: I read, probably 10 days ago, that Monsanto isn't introducing any new GE seeds this year.  Meanwhile, GE superweeds have overrun American farms, with 50 percent of American farmers reporting Roundup-resistant weed infestations.  Then there's the USDA, which has extended its public comment period on its Advisory Community's recommendations vis-a-vis better relations between conventional and organic farmers (kind of reminds me of that song from the musical Oklahoma!: "Oh, the farmer and the cowman should be friends ...").  Are we turning a corner, where GE seeds are concerned?  Read on, and ponder.

First, there's the issue of GE labeling.   Oh sure, Monsanto has defeated GE labeling bills in California and Washington, but labeling bills just keep "cropping up," nonetheless.  In fact, last year over half the states introduced GE labeling legislation.  On top of that, U.S. wheat exports to Japan…