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Setting Free the Urban Tomato

Swiss project has city dwellers enthusiastically farming rare vegetable varieties while producing free seeds for all

Slivi Limonje looks like a lemon. Bulging Vincent’s appearance is deceptive, too: Is it a bell pepper or a tomato? Both are masters of disguise. Looking at a “bull’s heart,” we are quite certain it is a tomato — we’ve seen that one in our stores. In our minds, a tomato is supposed to be round and red, because our perception of variety is limited to what is offered at the supermarket.

photo of tomatoesPhoto Zacharias Thiel/ProSpecieRara The Swiss foundation ProSpecieRara engages urban dwellers in gardening rare species of tomatoes and other vegetables.

The people at ProSpecieRara want to change all of that by reintroducing old varieties that will turn our definition of a tomato on its head: pink giants, green minis, varieties that are striped red and yellow. The Swiss foundation cultivates 140 different types of tomatoes, helping to protect a total of 3,800 old cultivated plants and a few species of farm animals from extinction. Since its founding 34 years ago, wooly pigs, Appenzeller Spitzhauben chickens, and booted mountain goats have come back to live amongst the Holstein cattle; black corn and yellow raspberries have made Swiss fields and gardens more colorful. The Urban Tomatoes campaign seeks to raise botanical diversity in cityscapes, as well — all the way up to urban balconies! But how does one stir the interest of city dwellers in earthy agrarian topics? With seeds, shovels, and social media.

DIY-gardening is on the rise

For the past five years, ProSpecieRara, in collaboration with the cities of Geneva, Lausanne, and Zurich, has been producing tomato starter kits — seeds and a tutorial — which can be ordered on their website and via social media. Similar kits featuring lettuce and bell peppers are recent additions to the foundation’s portfolio. With a few posts in early spring, Nicole Egloff gets the ball, or rather the tomato, rolling. As soon as the first orders land in her inbox, her Basel office morphs into a veritable shipping factory. “We are able to process the large volume of orders thanks to many volunteers, interns, and our flexible office staff,” the 34-year-old head of communications explains. Ever since she came on board as a public relations intern over nine years ago, she has been driving fresh publicity campaigns together with project manager Anna Kornicker and advising hobby-gardeners when they run into problems, from brown leaves to white flies. Her PR skills were particularly needed this past year because the Urban Tomato …more

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Major Publishers Defend Greenpeace in Dispute with Logging Firm

Publishers concerned case could set dangerous precedent, have silencing effect on environmental organizations

The world’s biggest book publishers have been dragged into a bitter dispute between a US logging company and environmental campaigners Greenpeace. It follows legal action taken by the logging company, Resolute Forest Products, which campaigners and publishers fear has implications for freedom of speech.

photo of boreal forestPhoto by peupleloup, Flickr Greenpeace claims that Resolute Forest Product is repsonsible for the destruction of large areas of Canada's boreal forest.

The dispute centers on claims by Greenpeace about the company’s logging practices in sections of Canada’s boreal forest, which are home to Indigenous peoples as well as endangered wildlife. Greenpeace alleges that Resolute: “Is responsible for the destruction of vast areas of Canada’s magnificent boreal forest, damaging critical woodland caribou habitat and logging without the consent of impacted First Nations.”

Resolute strongly disputes the claims. Last year, it followed up a 2013 defamation and economic interference lawsuit launched in Canada with a $226 million US claim under the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act (RICO). Passed in 1970 to counter organized crime, the use of the act has been criticized as an attempt to silence both Resolute’s critics and for setting a “dangerous” precedent for whistleblowers and NGOs.

Publishers, including Penguin Random House and Murdoch-owned HarperCollins, became involved after a petition signed by more than 100 authors in support of Greenpeace was handed in at US publishing trade show BookExpo. The petition called for publishers using Resolute products to use their clout to pressure the company into dropping the lawsuit and addressing alleged logging practices.

Hachette Livre, whose UK subsidiaries publish among others Ian Rankin, JK Rowling, and Cressida Cowell, expressed concern that the Rico action poses a threat to free speech and could be used to silence environmental organizations at a time when the US government has stated its intention to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement on climate change.

Emphasizing that Hachette had “no intention of taking sides,” but was “reaffirming our commitment to free speech,” Ronald Blunden, senior vice-president of corporate communications said: “It is the [scale] of the damages being sought in the suit. We are concerned that it is about muzzling Greenpeace at a time when the US government is pulling out of the Paris accord on climate change.”

He added: “You need these NGOs to be able to do their work and be whistleblowers, because if they disappear, and if the US pulls out …more

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Adventures in Canyonlands

On car troubles, nuclear power, and life in the desert

“Next services on I-70 110 miles,” warns the sign on the side of the highway just outside Green River, Utah, the longest stretch of Interstate in the country without a gas station.

And that’s one of the reasons I love Utah. Despite twenty-first century safety culture, where our own cars harass us if we don’t buckle up, the Beehive State is one of the last places in the US that respects our God-given right to risk an untimely death.

photo of canyonlandsPhoto by PDTillman The author has traveled to the desert every season for the last several years.

The gas gauge reads three-fourths full, which I figure is enough to get me to my destination and back out again, while the spare tire I bought two weeks earlier gives me that extra dose of confidence.

It’s late August and I’m coming back to the desert again, as I’ve done nearly every season for the last few years since moving to Colorado. I’m not sure what my obsession with canyon country is exactly, but it might have something to do with having spent most of my life among the sopping treescapes of the Northeast and Pacific Northwest. Enchanted for decades by the curve of emerald leaves and lush, frilly undergrowth, I’m now fixated on the stark bonework beneath.

I take the Hanksville exit and hurtle south on Highway 24 for 50 miles, the San Rafael Swell heaving off to my right. I pass the turnoff for Goblin Valley State Park and its globular mud fungi and take a quick left onto a nondescript red dirt road. The wooden sign at the intersection reads, “Horsehoe Canyon 32. Ranger Station 46. The Maze 4WD 80. Doll House 4WD 87. Hite Crossing 4WD 107.”

I’m at the brink of nowhere and my goal is to reach the middle, the Maze. The most difficult to access region of Canyonlands National Park, Backpacker Magazine has ranked the Maze as the most dangerous hike in America. My plan is to drive to its edge, set up camp, and enjoy a few days of backcountry exploration.

Though I’ll only be out here for four days, I’ve brought a week’s worth of food: pre-cooked packages of Tandoori rice and Mushroom Lo Mein, hardboiled eggs, salmon jerky, string cheese, almond bars, dried bananas, and a bag of kettle chips. Also, seven gallons of water, as temperatures still reach into the mid 90’s.

For the next 25 miles the …more

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Trump’s Planned EPA Cuts Will Hurt America’s Most Vulnerable

Administration's actions embrace a time when rivers caught fire and pollution darkened the skies

The Trump administration is using a deliberate and systematic approach to undermine, weaken, and disempower America's most vulnerable communities. The US Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed budget cuts are a clear-cut example of this attack. The cuts will gravely reduce the ability to enhance communities across the US — including low-income communities made up of white, black, Latino, Indigenous, and Asian Americans, in urban and rural settings alike.

photo of power plantPhoto by glasseyes view, Flickr The road the Trump administration is taking us down puts of full-speed in reverse when it comes to environmental protections.

Now that Trump's appointed leader of the EPA testified on Capitol Hill Thursday, it is important to understand the consequences of the actions they want to take. The bottom line is that real people will get sick and many will prematurely die. Communities, particularly our most vulnerable, will greatly suffer if these cuts happen.

The road the Trump administration is taking us down puts us full-speed in reverse. Almost like a scene from Back to the Future, their actions would embrace a time when rivers caught fire and air pollution darkened the skies over our cities. A time when many communities of color were relegated to the back of the bus, and their voices did not have an influence in the decision-making process. Yep, the good ol' days were actually not so good for many of our citizens.

It is no secret on where the Trump administration is getting their ideas. They are running a systematic playbook put together by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank that has been around since the 1980s and is well funded by the infamous Koch brothers, among other individuals and corporations.

Their main office is just steps from the United States Capitol and the halls of Congress, where they wield unparalleled influence. Executing this game plan is a far cry from the "help the little guy" and "drain the swamp" mantra the president continues to tout. If you want to see what they will try to do next, just take a look at their report.

The EPA's proposed 2018 budget slashes protections, and slashes the workforce made up of good and honest people working long and difficult hours to uphold them. These protections are in place for a reason, each having been thoroughly developed after years of public input from millions of individuals across the …more

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Embracing Earth-Centric Learning

When today's students inherit a host of environmental problems, they will the knowledge and courage to act

It was 1992. Laurette Rogers, a fourth-grade teacher in San Anselmo, California, had shown her students a film about rainforest destruction. Distressed, they asked what they could do about it. “I just couldn’t give a pat answer about writing letters and making donations,” Rogers recalls. Instead, she took the advice of a trainer for a former Adopt-a-Species program: “Pick any species. Find out all about it, and you’ll fall in love with it.”

photo of environmental educationPhoto by Brisbane City Council, Flickr Children in Brisbane, Australia participate in an environmental education program.

Rogers wanted a local species, and she wanted it to be obscure, to counter bias toward beautiful and charismatic species. Her class chose an endangered shrimp that lived in only 15 streams within a few kilometers of the school. They studied the ecology and lifecycle of the shrimp, which they learned are one strand of a web that encompasses insects, songbirds, streams, dairy ranches, watersheds, and, ultimately, the San Francisco Bay. They discovered that habitat restoration on behalf of the shrimp — planting willows and blackberries while ranchers built bridges and fencing to keep cattle out of the streams —required nurturing a network of people who sometimes see themselves as adversaries: ranchers and environmentalists; for-profit companies and public officials; teachers, students, and parents.

They persevered, prospects for the shrimp improved, and the California Freshwater Shrimp Project evolved into STRAW (Students and Teachers Restoring a Watershed), cosponsored by The Bay Institute and the Berkeley-based Center for Ecoliteracy. STRAW has since expanded to address additional watershed issues, and celebrated its five-hundredth restoration in 2015. Some 40,000 students — kindergarten through high school — have restored more than 56 kilometers of creek banks. And it’s been good for more than shrimp. As one of the original fourth graders later reflected, “I think this project changed everything we thought we could do.... I feel it did show me that kids can make a difference in the world, and we are not just little dots.”

STRAW is a powerful example of education for ecoliteracy. The need is evident to prepare students as they inherit a host of environmental challenges: climate change, biodiversity loss, the end of cheap energy, resource depletion, gross wealth inequities, and more. This generation will require leaders who can understand the interconnectedness of human and natural systems and who have the knowledge, will, ability, and courage to act. Responses to this imperative go by many names: ecological literacy, education …more

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EPA Proposes Delaying Air Pollution Rule Despite ‘Disproportionate’ Effect on Children

Omaba administration measure meant to prevent leaks from oil and gas industry

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed delaying a federal air pollution rule for two years, despite acknowledging that children will be disproportionately harmed by the decision.

The regulator plans to suspend standards aimed at preventing leaks from the oil and gas industry while it reconsiders the rule, which was introduced in June 2016 under Barack Obama’s administration.

photo of oil drillingPhoto by CGP Grey, Flickr Oil pumps in California. The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed delaying an air pollution rule meant to decrease leaks from the oil and gas industry.

In its announcement of the proposed stay, the EPA said it “believes that the environmental health or safety risk addressed by this action may have a disproportionate effect on children.”

The EPA said, however, that any harm to children would last only for a “limited” time. “Any impacts on children’s health caused by the delay in the rule will be limited, because the length of the proposed stay is limited. The agency therefore believes it is more appropriate to consider the impact on children’s health in the context of any substantive changes proposed as part of reconsideration.”

The EPA said it had received petitions from “interested parties” to reconsider the rule, which is designed to reduce methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, and emissions that can cause smog. Oil and gas companies are required to monitor and plug any leaks from well sites and compressor stations under the regulation.

Environmental groups castigated the EPA over the delay, saying children would be at heightened risk from cancer-forming pollutants such as benzene if the rule were lifted. The regulation applies to about 18,000 oil and gas facilities in 22 states.

“It is unconscionable that this unprecedented loophole for oil and gas pollution will increase dangerous smog, methane, and cancer-causing benzene when commonsense solutions are at hand,” said Peter Zalzal, lead attorney at the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).

“Every day that these clean air safeguards are delayed, thousands of oil and gas wells across the country will emit dangerous pollution in the air, harming the health of our children.”

The EDF, along with other green groups, is already suing the EPA over its decision last week to delay the oil and gas standards for three months. This delay is now set to stretch to 2019, following a period of public comment and a final EPA decision.

“This isn’t simply mean-spirited, it’s …more

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Renewable Energy Projects Are Uplifting Maasai Women

Solar panel and clean cookstove programs are reducing emissions, electrifying remote parts of Kenya and Tanzania

Not so long ago, few remote Maasai villages in southern Kenya or northern Tanzania had access to electricity. But now, women in these villages are championing the use of clean, renewable energy in the form of solar panels, as well as clean, efficient cook stoves.. At the same time, they are forging new roles for themselves as community leaders and entrepreneurs.

photo of women installing solar panelPhoto Christabel Ligami Maasai women install a solar panel on top of a house in Tanzania.

This is a unique development in a community unaccustomed to women taking on leadership roles. The Maasai are a marginalized, nomadic community that is almost entirely dependent on livestock for its livelihood. Raising livestock is an occupation performed exclusively by the men of the community. Customarily, the only work open to women has been taking care of their homes and children.

In Tanzania, an international collaborative called the Maasai Stoves and Solar Project has begun to change that norm by introducing the use of clean-energy cookstoves and solar power to the Maasai community. The project trains women to distribute and install cookstoves and solar panels in their manyatta (traditional mud houses), work that in the past would have fallen to men.

According to Kisioki Moitiko, the project manager in Tanzania, in each of the villages, the Maasai women work in groups of five to ten, selected by fellow women during a community meeting. Within these working groups the women elect their own leaders, who manage them and organize their daily work. The women are trained in approximately ten days to install the stoves and solar panels.

Leah Laiza from Ngarash village in Tanzania, a widow and mother of five, is a leader in her group. Her job is to ensure that all requests for installations of cookstoves and solar power are honored in a timely fashion. She also manages the workflow of the members of her group, ensuring that they work efficiently and effectively.

Esupat Loseku, a 29-year-old mother of six from Enguiki village, has been installing solar panels in her village for the last six years. She says that her team can install solar panels and cookstoves in at least four homes a week, and that they even get requests from other villages where the project has not yet been initiated. “People come to us asking for solar because they have seen it work well at their neighbors’ [house] or through referrals,” she says. “Compared with …more

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