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Malawian Farmers Adapt in the Face of Climate Change

Government is encouraging climate smart practices to increase yields and improve resilience

Kenson Mulapula is an exceptional farmer. While most of the neighboring households are struggling with acute food shortages, he has enough maize to last his household the next six months. In Lunzu, an area outside commercial hub of Blantyre, Malawi, his success stands out, especially as farmers begin to contend with the changes wrought by climate change. It’s no surprise that resilience of the 52-year-old’s agricultural practices is attracting other farmers too.

image of Malawian farmerPhoto by Deogracias Benjamin Kalima Malawian farmer Kenson Mulapula next to compost mounds on his land. Composting is one of several climate smart practices Mulapula has implemented.

“It has been a tough two successive farming seasons with flood and then drought, [and we have] seen complete failure of crops here,” Mulapula says." However, I have been able to harvest enough for my household thanks to climate smart agriculture techniques I use.”

Malawi has not been spared from the early impacts of climate change. Rising temperatures and changing precipitation patterns are already affecting the southeast African nation, particularly the agricultural sector. The El Nino weather phenomenon, which has been impacting southern Africa for the past two years, is exacerbating the situation. In 2015, for example, unprecedented flooding washed away thousands of hectares of crop fields, most in the densely populated southern part of Malawi, affecting more than 200,000 people. Earlier this year, severe drought left over 8 million people in need of emergency food in the central and southern provinces of the country.

In response to these changes, agricultural experts — mainly Ministry of Agriculture extension workers who are assigned and stationed in a specific agricultural extension region — are engaging local farmers, training them in climate smart agriculture practices. These “lead” farmers help train others in climate smart practices their communities. These practices are popularly known as Mleranthaka in the local vernacular.

Climate smart agriculture refers to an approach for transforming and reorienting agricultural development under the new realities of climate change. The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) defines it as agricultural practices that sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience (adaptation), reduce greenhouse gas emissions where possible, and help with achievement of national food security and development goals. The principal goal of climate smart agriculture, according to the FAO, is food security and development. Productivity, adaptation, and mitigation are identified as three interlinked pillars necessary for achieving these goals.

Mulapula is a lead farmer in his area. He explains that one big difference …more

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Making Eco- and Animal-Friendly “Meat”

Dutch “butcher” is on a mission to compete with industrial meat production

At first sight, it seems to be a regular butcher’s shop. The scales on the counter, the knife, the cutting machine — it’s all there. The cooling section presents a mouth-watering bonanza for barbecue-lovers: sausages, hamburgers, meatballs, poultry kabobs. Even tuna and calamari are available. What more do you need for a great cookout?

image of Dutch butcherPhoto by Bart HomburgVegetarian "butcher" Jaap Korteweg, a ninth-generation farmer, makes popular meat-like products that are entirely plant-based.

Yes, you can indeed cook out with the culinary delights that Jaap Korteweg offers in his concept store in The Hague. However, no animals are harmed here; all the food is plant-based. “Made from soy beans and peas, lupin seeds and cereals,” the 54-year-old farmer explains as he gets a package of ‘Little Willies’ English breakfast sausages from the refrigerated counter: “One of our latest and most popular products!” he proudly reports, pointing out the round logo, which says De Vegetarian Slager, the vegetarian butcher.

“Meat must become an ancillary item on our plates.”

This is the name of the company Kortewegw founded on World Animal Day in 2010. His goal is to offer even confirmed meat-lovers an alternative that is both eco- and animal-friendly. His specialties look and taste like meat products, yet vegetarians can enjoy them without remorse. No animals need to suffer, and his production does not put extreme stress on the environment as “normal” meat products do: “We need only half as much agricultural surface, and only a third of the water and fertilizer.”

Korteweg was pushed into action by the last outbreak of swine fever that ravaged Europe in the fall of 1997. The Netherlands with their extreme mass livestock farming were worst hit by the disease: With 15 million pigs, matching the number of human inhabitants, it is the country with the highest ‘pig density’ in the world. To keep the disease from spreading like wildfire, 12 million pigs were preventatively killed within 13 months. Only about 700,000 were actually infected. But where to put the millions of carcasses? Korteweg, a ninth-generation farmer in the south of the country, was also asked to help out by storing dead pigs in his cooling cells until the animal crematories caught up. “That was the moment I told myself: You don’t want to be a part of this miserable system anymore,” the farmer remembers. His own farm had already gone organic a while before. And, as his wife and four daughters, he …more

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Making the Connection Between Climate Change and Hurricane Harvey

As President Trump visits Texas, it's time to discuss how global warming likely intensified the superstorm

Texas has never seen rain like it. Some forty to sixty inches of rain in some places. Over 9 trillion gallons of water or maybe even more. There has been so much rain that the National Weather Service had to add extra colors to its rainfall map.

image of hurricane harvey rescuePhoto by Texas Military DepartmentTexas National Guard soldiers aid Houston residents during Hurricane Harvey.

Anyone watching the unfolding catastrophe in Texas caused by superstorm Harvey cannot but offer thoughts and solidarity to those affected communities in their hour of need.

You hope everyone reaches safety and stays safe as the waters continue to rise. If you are looking for ways to help, there are simple ways to do so.

But the best response to a disaster is to learn lessons to prevent the next one. No one who has witnessed the horror of losing their home to the ever-increasing flood waters and who is now effectively homeless and who will spend months, if not years, rebuilding their lives, would wish the same on anyone else.

So what are the lessons?

We know that Trump’s visit later today will be a political charade for the news networks. This is a climate denying President who just a couple of weeks before the disaster announced a new Executive Order, which would have unrolled a previous Order by President Obama, which had been designed to improve “climate resilience” and protect critical infrastructure threatened by climate change.

At the time, Sierra Club Executive Director, Michael Brune, said: “This is climate science denial at its most dangerous, as Trump is putting vulnerable communities, federal employees, and families at risk by throwing out any guarantee that our infrastructure will be safe.”

Don’t forget Trump has form on this: apart from removing references to climate change on websites and disbanding scientific committees, he had previously told his Administration that the federal government did not need to treat climate change as a national security threat, despite nearly 130 military bases being considered at risk from climate change.

What are the longer-term lessons from Harvey?

The US may never have experienced a storm with so much water as Harvey before, but it will again. And we were warned that this would happen. But the politicians were not listening. They were warned again. But they did not listen. Because this is climate change in action.

We know climate change is making weather more extreme. …more

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Climate Denier Congressman Lamar Smith Contends with New Foe: Declining Voter Support

House science committee chairman has made it his mission to combat environmental regulation

For those keeping score, the “Making [Everything] Great Again” naming committee is on a roll, and, from his perch as chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology (HCSST), Congressman Lamar Smith is well positioned to keep things rolling. Since 1987, the inveterate Republican politician has held the seat representing Texas’s 21st District in the House of Representatives, a district that includes concentrated liberal pockets near Austin and San Antonio (Smith’s hometown), and part of the conservative expanse of Texas Hill Country. He’s obviously well received by his constituents, but the details of his tenure are even more impressive: from 1988 to 2002, the congressman never won reelection with less than 72 percent of the vote.

photo of lamar smithPhoto by NASA HQ PHOTO, Flickr Congressman Lamar Smith, who has received hundreds of thousands of dollars from the oil and gas industry, is facing declining voter support in Texas's 21st District.

The secret to his winning ways? After receiving the Award for Conservative Excellence, Smith stated, “My votes represent my constituents. I continue to stand for liberty, personal responsibility, traditional values, and a strong national defense.” Simple as that — keep your constituents happy, keep your job. Yet, as important as ideology is to attracting voters, campaign contributions are what keep the lights on, and in Texas, donors in the energy business hold sway over anyone seeking public office. True to its big motto, Texas is the nation’s leading energy producer and consumer, responsible for more than one-third of total US oil production and home to one-quarter of proven natural gas reserves. With more operable oil refineries than any other state, the industry generates enormous levels of revenue — last year, it pumped $9.4 billion into state and local government budgets. For politicians, these industrial goliaths present a choice: either advocate for their interests or scrutinize their means of production. Not that it’s that cut and dry, but what is clear is that Rep. Smith forged his alliance long ago, having received over the course of his career more than $700,000 from the oil and gas industry.

As such, Smith’s enduring interest in dismantling regulations geared toward combating climate change can be interpreted as “bought.” There’s nothing conservative about his skepticism of climate science — he is an outspoken denier of the causes and dire expected outcomes of anthropogenic climate change, and since being appointed the HCSST chairman, he has made it his mission to …more

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Generation Wild

A look inside the burgeoning international youth nature movement

The sun is setting on a bright and balmy summer evening. A group of teenagers and twenty somethings are sitting in a small garden area with barbecues alight. Plates of burned halloumi and veggie sausages, and full (and half-full) cans of beer, sit on the picnic benches. There’s raucous laughter, cut through only by the piercing whirr of grasshoppers. Suddenly someone cries out ‘turtle dove!!’ and a hush falls over the group. Smartphones are set facedown, tweets left half written as everyone listens intently. From a distant tree a faint purring sound drifts on the still air. Everyone’s faces light up with smiles and then the conversation slowly picks up again. After the food is finished the group picks up the beers and heads across the fields to check whether the moth traps have begun to attract any interesting insects and to see if they can find a barn owl out hunting.

image of young person in naturePhoto by Nina UhlíkováThe international youth nature movement is picking up steam across the globe.

This group of young friends was visiting the Knepp Estate in Sussex, England in 2016, to see first-hand the rewilding work being done there. The group  ourselves included — is part of a growing movement of young nature lovers in the UK and beyond, made up of millennials and Generation Zers who photograph wildlife, birdwatch, identify moths, and write about nature. Together, we are part of the growing, international youth nature movement.

Being interested in wildlife, birdwatching, lepidoptery (the study of moths and butterflies): these pursuits aren’t what typically come to mind when people think of Millennials. (A recent article does suggest, however, that bird watching is the latest hipster pursuit, right up there with cereal cafes and cauliflower.) But that may be changing.

Social media has allowed young people to connect with others around the world in new and unpredictable ways. For those with a specialized interest like birdwatching or moth trapping, social media allows them to make contact with other young people many miles away, and sometimes even overseas, who share that interest. Social media has broken down the social isolation that is often associated with hobbies that are seen as geeky or embarrassing. And from there the options multiply. Across the UK, young people are setting up their own organizations based around their love of wildlife. These organizations are not just operating online (although the online platforms they rely on …more

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Judge Awards Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline Builder Rights to Seize Last Five Holdout Properties

Company granted possession of land held by nuns who built chapel in the pipeline’s path

Builders of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline now possess the five remaining holdout properties in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, following a federal judge's decision Wednesday.

The ruling from Judge Jeffrey Schmehl granted Transcontinental Pipe Line Co.'s (Transco) motion to condemn the rights of way on the properties and granted the company immediate possession of the land, Lancaster Online reports. This includes land owned by the Adorers of the Blood of Christ near the town of Colum The order of Catholic nuns consider the fracked gas pipeline — a project of Oklahoma-based pipeline developer and Transco owner Williams Partners — a violation of their beliefs and environmental values.

image of chapel in cornfieldPhoto courtesy of The Adorers of the Blood of ChristLast month the Adorers of the Blood of Christ built a chapel on farmland in the path of the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline. A judge recently awarded the pipeline builder right to seize the land.

Last month, the Adorers and their fellow pipeline opponents built an open-air chapel on a strip of the nun's farmland where the pipeline is set to go through to fight the fossil fuel company's efforts to seize the land.

"We are disappointed that the federal judge today made the decision to condemn the rights of way and grant immediate possession of our (and others') property in Lancaster County to the Transcontinental Pipe Line Co. for the Atlantic Sunrise gas pipeline project," the nuns said in a statement.

"We will be evaluating our next steps."

Williams Partners said the chapel does not have to be removed immediately but will eventually have to be relocated before pipeline construction.

Dwight Yoder, a lawyer for the nuns, declined Lancaster Online's request to comment on Wednesday's ruling but noted the limited right for appeal in eminent domain cases.

Meanwhile, the nuns' lawsuit against the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission is still pending. The nuns claim that the interstate natural gas pipeline violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as it "places a substantial burden on their exercise of religion by taking their land, which they want to protect and preserve as part of their faith, and forces the Adorers to use their land in a manner and for a purpose they believe is harmful to the Earth."

The four other condemned properties are in the Conestoga and Manor townships. They are owned by Stephen Hoffman, Hilltop Hollow Partnership, Blair and Megan Mohn and Lynda Like, none …more

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Convincing Banks Not to Fund Oil Pipelines

Nationwide Indigenous-led campaign is putting pressure on financial institutions to defund four proposed tar sands pipelines

On Friday, climate activists led by Indigenous leaders and environmental groups gathered outside branches of JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo in downtown Seattle to protest their financing of tar sands pipelines. It’s not the first time the banks have been besieged by activists — and probably won’t be the last.

The action was part of a new nationwide campaign launched in May to put pressure on banks to defund four proposed tar sands pipelines. It builds on the movement that led cities, tribes, and individuals to divest billions of dollars from banks funding the Dakota Access pipeline over the past year.

photo of divest signPhoto by James Ennis A nationwide campaign launched in May is putting pressure on banks to defund four proposed tar sands pipelines.

Many of the banks that fund DAPL — including JP Morgan Chase and Wells Fargo — also fund the four tar sands pipelines. The 17 banks that fund all five pipelines are the primary targets of the campaign. And like the divest movement launched during the Standing Rock resistance last year, this new campaign is led by Indigenous groups, including the 121 First Nations and tribes that signed the Treaty Alliance Against Tar Sands Expansion.

But there are some differences. While the Defund DAPL campaign goal was to get banks to pull out of loan commitments on a project already begun, this new campaign is trying to convince banks not to get involved in financing tar sands pipelines at all.

“Part of our thinking with amping up a lot of these actions is, let’s apply enough pressure now so that these banks will think that this is a risky investment,” said Matt Remle, a member of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and co-founder of Mazaska Talks, one of the organizations coordinating the campaign.

Remle added that the strategies used by divestment organizers have also shifted since early divestment organizing, especially since February, when Seattle passed an ordinance terminating the city’s over $3 billion contract with Wells Fargo, and other cities followed suit. Then in April, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to avoid making contracts with the banks financing the Keystone XL.

Now they’re hoping more cities will follow Seattle’s lead. That’s one reason why Mazaska Talks was established, Remle said. The grassroots organization hosts a website that serves as a clearinghouse for sample ordinances and resolutions that cities, tribes, and others groups can …more

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