A beekeeper, an olive farmer, and a mushroom grower share their stories
The seminars offered at the Syngrou Ranch — home of the Athens Institute of Agricultural Sciences — are in high demand, proving that agriculture is trending in Greece. “This semester, we have 699 students enrolled in 24 seminars on 19 different topics,” says Georgos Balotis, director of the Institute of Agricultural Sciences. “A third of our students study to become apiarists.” This makes beekeeping the most popular subject. “The world of the bees is fascinating and beekeeper is a profession you can do in addition to other pursuits,” Balotis explains. This is why so many residents of Athens find this type of work so appealing. “We currently have five beekeeping courses,” he continues, “but our classes on winegrowing, arboriculture, olive culture and aromatic plants are also very popular.” Interest in these seminars peaked in 2013. “During that academic year, we had 400 prospective beekeepers and a total of 2,600 enrolled students.”
photo by Kostas Katrios
Vassilis Gionis: “When I’m out in nature, I lose track of time.”
When Vassilis Gionis signed up for a honey-making seminar, he was not looking for an additional source of income, but rather for a way to unwind from his stressful life as an engineer. Today, he is a professional beekeeper in the Prefecture of Ilia on the Peloponnese. Vassilis had been working since his college days and found himself at the verge of burnout. “I was working for two different companies as an engineer. At one point, I worked for two and a half months straight without a single day or weekend off,” he remembers.
“So I started blocking certain afternoons off so I could attend the class,” he says. “And I enjoyed the classes, even though I had been up and running around since six in the morning.” Beekeeping is a family tradition handed down from his grandfather, who used to keep bees to provide honey for the family. Vassilis even got his recently retired mom to attend the class. “Each week she would get on the bus and come to Athens for three days,” he proudly reports. Mother and son both loved the course.
Photo courtesy of Vassilios Gionis
On a field trip to a beekeeping operation …more
A look at how resource-intensive essential oils are made and disposed of
Essential oils have enjoyed a boom in sales over the last decade as Western consumers search for alternatives to chemical-laden products that are toxic both to their bodies and to the planet. Since the first recorded essential oil blend was recorded in Egypt in 1,500 BC, people around the world have been using essential oils for their perceived medicinal properties. A market research study by Grand View Research estimates that the global essential-oils market is expected to reach $11.67 billion by 2022. Such a high level of demand raises two vital questions: Where are all these essential oils coming from, and what is their impact on the environment?
Photo by Kate Ware
To begin with, in order to produce a single pound of essential oil, enormous quantities of plants are required: 10,000 pounds of rose petals, 250 pounds of lavender, 6,000 pounds of melissa plant, 1,500 lemons, and so forth. According to Nicole Nelson, marketing coordinator for herbal distribution retailer Mountain Rose Herbs, due to a variety of factors, large amounts of produce are needed to produce oils. For example, some oils are more difficult to extract because instead of being externally secreted by the plant, the oils are stored in tiny cavities or ducts within the plant. Other oils provide small yields in general. For example, Bay Leaf can be expected to provide a 3 percent yield during distillation, whereas Rose Petals typically provide only a .006 percent yield. “Weather can also greatly affect the amount of oil that a plant produces from year to year,” Nelson adds.
In light of this, it’s important to understand how plants for these resource-intensive products are farmed. The majority of popular essential-oils companies source their raw materials from corporate farms that turn out large quantities of plants. As with the cultivation of products on many large farms, pesticide usage is common. And there are currently no organic certifications specifically for essential oils, which large companies like YoungLiving and DoTerra cite as a reason for foregoing organic certification all together. In the end, consumers are left largely on their own when it comes to discovering which pesticides are used on crops that are used for essential oils — especially since most companies aren’t voluntarily giving up that information.
One solution to large, corporate farming is wild harvesting, but this too …more
Laos accused of breaking CITES treaty to protect endangered species, China of encouraging live animal trade
Dozens of elephants from Laos are being illegally bought by China to be displayed in zoos and safari parks across the country, according to wildlife investigator and film-maker Karl Ammann.
Photo by Garrett Ziegler
According to Ammann, so-called captive elephants in Laos sell for about £23,000 before being walked across the border into China by handlers or “mahouts” near the border town of Boten. Thereafter they are transported to receiving facilities, which buy them from the agents for up to £230,000 per animal. “That is a nice mark-up,” says Ammann, “and makes it exactly the kind of commercial transaction which under CITES rules is not acceptable.”
Ammann and his crew stumbled on the illicit trade between Laos and China earlier this year, while investigating the sale of 16 Asian elephants from Laos to a safari park in Dubai. None of the elephants had the necessary permits for export. The translocation was stopped by a direct order from the new Laotian prime minister at the last moment, while an Emirates Airlines Cargo 747 was already on the tarmac in Vientiane, the country’s capital.
“We then looked into the background of these elephants and met with several of the owners of the elephants, as well as the local agent who arranged this sale,” explains Ammann. Delving deeper, he and his investigative team discovered that the trade in live elephants from Laos mainly involved China, with almost 100 animals ending up in Chinese zoos and facilities.
Many mahouts told Ammann on camera that their elephants are captive-bred but have been sired by a wild bull elephant. To avoid stud costs, mahouts in Laos tie captive-bred females to trees in the forest so that they can be mated with wild bulls. Under Cites Appendix I, an elephant with a wild parent in an uncontrolled setting is not considered captive-bred and therefore may not be sold commercially.
Almost 100 Asian elephants are believed to have been sold from Laos to China over the past couple of years. Chunmei Hu, an animal welfare advocate in China, says she has already established that six zoos — all government-owned — have a confirmed 38 elephants from Laos, with 50 more likely to be Laotian. …more
In Honduras, coastal communities are embracing native plants as a means to mitigate climate impacts
Aurelia Arzú inspects the cocoplum patch and reaches in to pluck the ripest fruits. It’s early in the year, and the season is just beginning, so the bush is loaded with edible, plum-sized fruit ripening from yellow to pink in the unrelenting afternoon sun.
Arzú bites into the cocoplum, quite literally eating the fruits of her labor. Together with other local Garifuna women, she planted cocoplum, seagrape, and other native coastal plants on and around the sand dunes in an effort to halt their advance and prevent further displacement of Santa Rosa de Aguán community residents.
photo Sandra Cuffe
“It fills me with pride to see this and to know that the women helped protect our community,” says Arzú, looking out at the burgeoning vegetation.
Arzú's footprints crisscross the sandy expanse, tracing a path from the Caribbean Sea lapping at the northern coast of Honduras to the dunes now dotted with cocoplum and seagrape. Twenty years ago, the area looked nothing like this. Where there are now dunes, there used to be houses. One of the three main streets in Santa Rosa de Aguán once ran roughly where a narrow beach now separates the dunes from the sea, says Arzú.
In 1998, Hurricane Mitch and subsequent flooding altered the landscape and coastline. A year or so later, wind whipping in from the sea began to shape sand dunes, and the dunes started to advance into the community. Between the flooding, altered coastline, and blowing sand, hundreds of local residents were displaced, forced to relocate to other settlements and communities. The advancing sand swept through a row of houses, as well as the entire northwestern tip of the community. Today, however, the vegetation planted around the community by Garifuna women helps hold the dunes at bay and creates a natural barrier offering some protection from future storms and coastal erosion.
Honduras has the distinction of being one of the countries most vulnerable to climate change. In the face of such great risk, Santa Rosa de Aguán is just one of several coastal communities taking action to protect themselves from the impacts of climate change. Their solution isn't high-tech or even high-cost: it's native plants and trees.
Honduras tops the list of countries that have been most vulnerable to extreme weather events over the past two decades. Each year, Germanwatch, …more
Coast Guard issues warning as House considers opening Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to drilling
For months now America’s climate denying President, Donald Trump, has been manoeuvring to open up the Arctic to oil drilling, in another act of defiance against his predecessor, Barak Obama.
Photo by Coast Guard News
Back in April, Trump signed an executive order to extend offshore oil and gas drilling to large parts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic oceans.
“We’re opening it up…. Today we’re unleashing American energy and clearing the way for thousands and thousands of high-paying American energy jobs,” Trump said as he signed the America-First Offshore Energy Strategy.
The executive order instructed the Interior Department to re-examine policies put into place by Obama, who in one of his last acts as President had restricted offshore drilling in the Atlantic and Arctic until 2022. Obama had banned drilling in both areas saying they were “simply not right to lease.”
As Trump signed the order his Interior Secretary, Ryan Zinke, told reporters “We’re going to look at everything. A new administration should look at the policies and make sure the policies are appropriate.”
Interior Secretary Zinke said in a speech: “There’s a consequence when you put 94 percent of our offshore off limits. There’s a consequence of not harvesting trees. There’s a consequence of not using some of our public lands for creation of wealth and jobs.”
Then earlier this month, the Trump administration granted Italian oil company Eni the right to drill exploratory wells off the coast of Alaska. As InsideClimate News reported “Eni’s leases were exempt from Obama’s ban because the leases are not new.”
In response, Kristen Monsell, an attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, said: “An oil spill here would do incredible damage, and it’d be impossible to clean up.”
And now in a devastating uncompromising rebuke to Trump and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, the head of the US Coast Guard has agreed with the Center for Biological Diversity: The United States cannot successfully clean up an oil spill in the Arctic.
Admiral Paul Zukunft, who was the Federal on-scene coordinator for the Deepwater Horizon oil …more
Catholic order files religious freedom lawsuit to keep Atlantic Sunrise pipeline off their land
Catholic nuns in Pennsylvania are resisting plans to build a $3 billion pipeline for gas obtained by fracking through its land by creating a rudimentary chapel along the proposed route and launching a legal challenge, citing religious freedom.
Photo by Mark Dixon
The Adorers of the Blood of Christ order has filed a complaint against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) in a bid to keep the pipeline off their land. The nuns’ lawyers argue in court papers that a decision by FERC to force them to accommodate the pipeline is “antithetical to the deeply held religious beliefs and convictions of the Adorers.”
The Adorers, an order of 2,000 nuns across the world, have made protection of the environment central to their mission. The plan for the pipeline “goes against everything we believe in — we believe in the sustenance of all creation,” Sister Linda Fischer, 74, told the Washington Post.
The 183-mile Atlantic Sunrise pipeline is “designed to supply enough natural gas to meet the daily needs of more than 7 million American homes by connecting producing regions in northeastern Pennsylvania to markets in the Mid-Atlantic and southeastern states,” its website says.
It is an extension of the Transco pipeline, which runs more than 10,000 miles from from Texas to New York, and will carry gas extracted from the Marcellus shale region since fracking was permitted by the state.
Photo by Adorers of the Blood of Christ
Williams, the company building the pipeline, wants to pay farm owners to allow it to dig up land, install the line, and return the land to farm use. It has offered compensation for lost crops and regular inspections to ascertain if the pipeline affects agricultural output.
About 30 landowners who refused to do a deal with Williams now face being forced to comply by …more
Species is the first known lizard to make its way to the city
On a warm, sunny, late June afternoon, Colin Donihue, a postdoctoral fellow at Harvard University in the department of organismic and evolutionary biology, spots a greenish-colored lizard scrambling into a large compost pile in the Fenway Victory Gardens, a seven-and-a-half-acre public gardening area in Boston. He carefully stalks the reptile, then moves into position with his lizard noose — a collapsible, 14-foot-long graphite pole with a loop of thread on the end.
photo Tim Beaulieu
Siting the lizard in a pile of dead twigs and branches, Donihue slowly maneuvers the tip of the pole toward the skittish animal. While he had spotted a few other lizards earlier, he was unable to get close enough to catch them. The pole trembles a bit, but he manages to slip the tiny noose over the lizard’s head. As he lifts the animal off the compost pile it flops around wildly like a fish on a line. As Donihue gently wraps his hand around the feisty creature, it opens its jaws wide to try to bite him before eventually settling down.
“All right, it’s a male,” proclaims Donihue. “Podarcis siculus, the Italian wall lizard.”
The lizard is quite colorful, mostly green on its back with a line of dark brown patches down the middle and along its sides, and a whitish belly. He can tell it’s a male by its relatively large size, as well as its triangular-shaped head and wide jaws.
Had Donihue caught this lizard in Italy or adjacent Mediterranean countries, its natural home range, or even in New York City or Greenwich, Connecticut, where they’ve been introduced and have managed to thrive for many years, it would have been no big deal. But this is the first time these animals have ever been documented in Massachusetts. In fact, there are no known lizards of any type in Massachusetts, so this is quite a surprising discovery. “It’s really incredible that they’re this far north,” says Donihue. "This is their northernmost range in North America and certainly the coldest climate they're found in."
Elizabeth Bertolozzi, vice president of the Fenway Victory Gardens, had emailed Donihue photos of lizards she had seen in her garden plot last fall, which he identified as Italian wall lizards. “I first found out about them in an email …more