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The Food Saviors

In five Argentine cities, volunteers rescue leftovers from parties and events and take them to community meal programs

Three strangers meet at midnight, take a ride in a car, and then knock on the back door of a party venue. When they get inside, they cover themselves from head to toe: face masks, hairnets, aprons, and gloves; they don’t want to leave any traces. Discreet and perfectly coordinated, they pile kilos of food onto plastic trays; it’s freshly prepared food that will not be sent to the party’s buffet line. They wrap the trays, load them into the car, and leave.

photo of food rescuePhoto by Marcelo EscayolaGonzalo Martínez heads one of the volunteer teams during a food rescue that saved 120 kilos of food from a Christmas party.

Minutes later, in the early morning hours, they knock on the door of a home for children. When they get inside, they unload almost 200 portions of food, say goodbye, and leave. The car drops each passenger at their house. The spontaneous team dissolves into the night. They may never see each other again. This is how, like a commando of on-call superheroes, Proyecto Plato Lleno (“Project Full Plate”) functions. It’s an Argentine non-profit initiative that serves as a nexus between leftover food from large events and community soup kitchens that feed those in need. A simple idea that reduces food waste and provides an example of how avoiding waste is simpler than it seems. Their motto is #LaComidaNoSeTira (Food is not something to be thrown out).

The Case Against Waste

According to figures gathered by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a third of all food produced on a global level is thrown away without being consumed. In the world of catering, it’s calculated that for every event close to five percent of the food will end up in the dumpster. Catering budgets must factor in this “loss.” For weddings and banquets, around one kilo of food per person is prepared. This means that at an event with 1000 guests, 50 kilos of freshly prepared food will go directly into a trash bin without ever having left the kitchen.

Alexis Vidal and Paula Martino know this reality firsthand because they both work in event planning and sustainability. In 2014 they met while working at a banquet and shared the same contempt for the systematic waste of food. Alexis proposed a simple idea: to ask the catering companies for permission to save the leftover portions and take them to those in need, to soup kitchens or shelters. They talked …more

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WTO Ruling on Mexican Tuna Fisheries Is a Blow for Dolphins

Conservationists denounce trade body ruling that US “Dolphin Safe” tuna-labeling rules discriminate against Mexico

In a setback for dolphins, the World Trade Organization ruled on Tuesday that the United States’ “Dolphin Safe” tuna-labeling regulations unfairly discriminates against Mexico by restricting its access to US markets and that Mexico can seek $163 million a year in trade tariffs against the US for economic damages.

photo of tuna cansPhoto by The Hamster Factor, Flickr The WTO ruling on Tuesday is the latest in a long-running trade dispute between the US and Mexico.

The decision is the latest development in a long-running trade dispute between the two countries that dates back to the establishment of the Dolphin Safe tuna label in 1990.

Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project, which established the labeling program and monitors tuna companies around the world for compliance, denounced the ruling, calling it a “a ploy to undermine the highly successful and popular” labeling program. It said that the trade body has consistently put trade considerations above environmental protections, working to overturn national laws around the world that are perceived to have any adverse impacts on trade.

“Shame on the WTO and shame on Mexico for trying to force dolphin deadly tuna back onto US supermarket shelves,” IMMP director David Phillips said in a statement. “Mexican fishermen should comply with the same Dolphin Safe label requirements that every other tuna fishing country uses. Chasing, netting, and killing dolphins is not Dolphin Safe and it never will be.”

The US government, too, criticized the ruling. "We are disappointed in the WTO Arbitrator's decision regarding US dolphin-safe labeling standards," a spokesperson for the US Trade Representative’s Office said in a statement made to the Associated Press. “Regrettably, the WTO Arbitrator's decision does not take into account the United States' most recent dolphin-safe labeling updates and dramatically overstates the actual level of trade effects on sales of Mexican tuna caught by intentionally chasing and capturing dolphins in nets.”

The office plans to consult Congress and other stakeholders about next steps.

The dolphin-safe label has helped save countless dolphins in the Eastern Tropical Pacific Ocean (ETPO) — a large marine region running from Southern California to Peru and extending out into the Pacific Ocean almost to Hawai’i  — where schools of tuna tend to swim along with dolphins. Mexico and several other countries allow their tuna industry to deliberately target, chase, and surround the dolphins with nets in order to get to the tuna. 

Dolphin pods are herded for miles by tuna …more

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Famine in Africa and Yemen Gives Us a Glimpse of What a Climate-Changed Planet Might Look Like

Failing to halt the advance of global warming means complicity with mass annihilation

Not since World War II have more human beings been at risk from disease and starvation than at this very moment. On March 10, Stephen O’Brien, under secretary-general of the United Nations for humanitarian affairs, informed the Security Council that 20 million people in three African countries — Nigeria, Somalia, and South Sudan — as well as in Yemen were likely to die if not provided with emergency food and medical aid. “We are at a critical point in history,” he declared. “Already at the beginning of the year we are facing the largest humanitarian crisis since the creation of the UN.”  Without coordinated international action, he added, “people will simply starve to death [or] suffer and die from disease.”

photo of famine in SomaliaPhoto by United Nations Photo/Tobin Jones Young girls line up at a food center in Mogadishu, Somalia. The UN estimates that 2.9 million people are at risk of famine in the drought-stricken country.

Major famines have, of course, occurred before, but never in memory on such a scale in four places simultaneously. According to O’Brien, 7.3 million people are at risk in Yemen, 5.1 million in the Lake Chad area of northeastern Nigeria, 5 million in South Sudan, and 2.9 million in Somalia. In each of these countries, some lethal combination of war, persistent drought, and political instability is causing drastic cuts in essential food and water supplies. Of those 20 million people at risk of death, an estimated 1.4 million are young children.

Despite the potential severity of the crisis, UN officials remain confident that many of those at risk can be saved if sufficient food and medical assistance is provided in time and the warring parties allow humanitarian aid workers to reach those in the greatest need. “We have strategic, coordinated, and prioritized plans in every country,” O’Brien said. “With sufficient and timely financial support, humanitarians can still help to prevent the worst-case scenario.”

All in all, the cost of such an intervention is not great: an estimated $4.4 billion to implement that UN action plan and save most of those 20 million lives. 

The international response? Essentially, a giant shrug of indifference.

To have time to deliver sufficient supplies, UN officials indicated that the money would need to be in pocket by the end of March. It’s now April and international donors have given only a paltry $423 million — less than a tenth of what’s …more

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‘When You Unite to Defend Your Home, Winning is Just a Matter of Time and Persistence’

2017 Goldman Environmental Prize winners offer hope and inspiration for grassroots activism

Prafulla Samantara has been fighting the forces of industrialization and their impact on the environment and rural communities in India tirelessly for more than four decades. Most recently, the 65-year-old grassroots activist has been actively involved in elevating the voice of the Dongria Kondh, an Indigenous hunter-gatherer tribe in his home state of Odisha, against mining interests that are seeking to dig up bauxite from the Niyamgiri Hills. The hills, one of the most pristine and biodiverse regions in Odisha, are home to many endangered animals. They are also sacred to the Dongria Kondhs.

photo of Prafulla Samantaraphoto courtesy of Goldman Environmental PrizeSamantara, who has been fighting the forces of industrialization in India for more than four decades, was honored with the Goldman Environmental Prize last night in San Francisco.

In 2004, without consulting the Dongria Kondh, the Odisha State Mining Company (OMC) signed an agreement with London-based Vedanta Resources to construct a $2 billion open-pit bauxite mine in the Niyamgiri Hills. The mine would destroy 1,660 acres of untouched forestland in order to extract more than 70 million tons of bauxite, polluting critical water sources in the process. It would also require roads to transport the bauxite, which would leave the forest vulnerable to loggers and poachers.

Samantara’s insistence that Indigenous peoples should have a say in how their land is used, particularly in relation to industrial interests, helped put pressure on the Supreme Court of India, which in 2013 reinforced decision-making power to local village councils so that they could decide whether or not to allow bauxite mining. The Dongria Kondh village councils unanimously voted against allowing bauxite mining. Because the decision was made at the national level, the ruling provides the same decision-making power to all village councils across India.

Samantara appreciates the Supreme Court’s decision to honor the voices of the Indigenous people, but says that it is far too easy for corporations and local interests to work around the ruling if they wish. He says the government of India must do more to protect its people from the ravages of industrialization. He criticized the government’s promotion of industry at the expense of the country’s most marginalized people, saying that it often destroys good agricultural land and forests, replacing it with fewer jobs and displacing people. “People are thrown to the streets,” to the benefit of a small number of people, and if this trend continues, Indian people in rural areas, representing 70 percent …more

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Enduring Torture and Death Threats in Service of Conservation

If Virunga is threatened again, “I will be there,” says Congolese ranger and Goldman Prize recipient

The trials that Rodrigue Mugaruka Katembo have overcome as a warden in Virunga National Park are hard to imagine from my Bay Area home — he’s been beaten and kidnapped, threatened with death, and tortured. He’s gone undercover to document the transgressions of a British oil giant, been offered bribes to look the other way, and been told he’s a disgrace to his country. But he’s endured it all in service to his community and to conservation.  

photo of chinstrap penguinsphoto courtesy of Goldman Environmental PrizeRodrigue Katembo, who has put is life on the line to protect Virunga National Park, will receive the Goldman Environmental Prize this evening in San Francisco.

In 2003, Katembo, now 41, joined the Congolese Wildlife Authority (ICCN) as a ranger in Virunga, the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s flagship national park and a UNESCO world heritage site. Going into the job, he knew there would be risks — the Congo has suffered from decades of civil unrest and terrible violence, and Virunga is considered among the most dangerous national parks in Africa to work in. It’s also home to a quarter of the world’s 880 critically endangered mountain gorillas, and dozens of other threatened species, including hippos, elephants, and okapi.

His first years at Virunga went smoothly. Park staff worked together with an eye to the future and to restoring the war ravaged park. But in 2010, SOCO, an international oil and gas exploration and production company headquartered in London, arrived in the Congo with plans to look for oil within the park bounds. (SOCO received a concession from the Congolese government to explore in Virunga despite the fact that, under the UNESCO convention, oil exploration is not permitted in world heritage sites.) Things in the park took a turn for the worse.

Katembo remembers when SOCO representatives first arrived in Virunga saying they had authorization to explore for oil in a region known as Block V, part of which extended into the park. Katembo was a sector warden by then, and this region was under his management. “I said, it’s not possible that the Congolese government is giving them authorizations when it’s well known that the law is against any kind of exploration,” he says, speaking through a translator. “I said they were wasting their time and they had to go back to Kinshasa,” the Congo’s capital city.

Katembo says SOCO then began bribing everyone, from officials in Kinshasa, to the military, to Wildlife Authority officials. …more

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Marching for Indigenous Science

“Let us remember that long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here”

This Earth Day, four leading Native American scientists and scholars, Robin Kimmerer (Potawatomi), Rosalyn LaPier (Blackfeet/Métis), Melissa Nelson (Anishinaabe), and Kyle Whyte, (Potawatomi) will participate in the March for Science, in the main event in Washington DC, and at satellite marches in cities across the country tomorrow.

Santa Rita MountainsPhoto courtesy of USDALeech Lake Band of Ojibwe youth tends to a rice crop on the Leech Lake Reservation in Minnesota.There is a growing recognition — both among the mainstream scientific community as well as among the wider public — of the validity and value of Indigenous science.

And although they’ll be marching in disparate locations, they are all committed to engaging the power of both Western and Indigenous science. Kimmerer, LaPier, Nelson and Whyte are the co-authors of a declaration, Let Our Indigenous Voices Be Heard, which endorses the March for Science, and at the same time celebrates Indigenous science as a respected partner for answering scientific questions and supports pluralism in scientific research.

“As original peoples, we have long memories, centuries-old wisdom and deep knowledge of this land and the importance of empirical, scientific inquiry as fundamental to the well-being of people and planet,” the declaration says.

“Let us remember that long before Western science came to these shores, there were Indigenous scientists here. Native astronomers, agronomists, geneticists, ecologists, engineers, botanists, zoologists, watershed hydrologists, pharmacologists, physicians and more — all engaged in the creation and application of knowledge, which promoted the flourishing of both human societies and the beings with who we share the planet. We give gratitude for all their contributions to knowledge. Native science supported indigenous culture, governance and decision making for a sustainable future –the same needs which bring us together today.”

Tens of thousands of supporters around the world will be celebrating science in the March for Science tomorrow, but its genesis was anything but a celebration. It grew out of discussions about new public policies in the US to discredit scientific consensus, and restrict scientific discovery, even as scientists and supporters were scrambling to archive scientific data before it could be scrubbed from government websites.

Right after President Trump signed two executive orders upon taking office, one expediting environmental reviews for high priority infrastructure, the other green-lighting the Keystone XL and Dakota Access pipelines, LaPier joined the national steering committee of the March for Science. “Both cases were related to science and the role of scientists in helping provide information to communities …more

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Science Strikes Back: Anti-Trump March Set to Draw Thousands to Washington

Scientists are ditching their labs for the streets in a mass protest against the Trump administration’s war on facts, but will the effort resonate with skeptics?

On Saturday, thousands of scientists are set to abandon the cloistered neutrality of their laboratories to plunge into the political fray against Donald Trump in what will likely be the largest-ever protest by science advocates.

The March for Science, a demonstration modeled in part on January’s huge Women’s March, will inundate Washington DC’s national mall with a jumble of marine biologists, birdwatchers, climate researchers and others enraged by what they see as an assault by Trump’s administration upon evidence-based thinking and scientists themselves.

woman holding protest posterPhoto by Lindzi Wessel via Twitter @LindziWessel An enthusiastic sign maker at a rally in Boston in February. Tomorrow's March for Science will inundate Washington DC with biologists, climate researchers, and other science advocates.

The march is a visceral response to a presidency that has set about the evisceration of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and many of its science-based rules, the dismissal of basic climate change tenets by the president and his appointees and a proposed budget that would remove around $7bn from science programs, ranging from cancer research to oceanography to NASA’s monitoring of the Earth.

Many scientists at federal agencies, concerned their work may be sidelined or censored for political purposes, will take the unusual step of publicly damning the administration.

“It’s important for scientists to get out of the lab and talk about what’s important,” said Andrew Rosenberg, who spent a decade at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and is now at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “You don’t check your citizenship at the door when you get a PhD. No one would tell an architect they can’t have a view on HUD [the Department of Housing and Urban Development]. That would be nonsense.”

Rosenberg said younger scientists, in particular, are increasingly rejecting a stance of studied silence when faced with what they see as threats to their profession.

“They don’t accept that they have to wait until tenure, comfortable in a lab to maybe then speak out,” he said. “Academia is less appealing to many of them these days, so they want to know how they can have an impact now. They aren’t content that people will just read their papers in academic journals. I think retreating to your lab and hoping it will all go away is not going to be the best strategy.”

The idea to march was first tossed …more

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