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Twenty Years of Resistance Come to a Climax in Intag, Ecuador as Community Groups Fight Copper Mine

Anti-mining activists face challenges as they take on state-planned project

"We have always defended our land peacefully, not once turning to violence. Regardless, the government stationed over two hundred federal police throughout our community to maintain order when the mining officials came to conduct their 'Environmental Impact Assessment.' The assessment took only one week, but dozens of police still occupy our village," Marcia Ramírez, a community activist in Intag, Ecuador, told us, referring to an assessment of a proposed copper mine in the area. The forest enveloping our lodge filled the cool night air with the humming of insects and voices of frogs as Ramírez paused to reposition her nursing baby. Moths of countless colors, shapes, and sizes fluttered around the bulb dimly lighting the porch where I sat listening in a group of about a dozen other Americans.

Photo of Intag, Ecuador Photo by pato chavez, on Flickr Beneath Intag’s forests and farms lie an estimated 2.26 million tons of copper.

She continued, "Our community is not united as it used to be. The government has divided the people by promising prosperity and paying off those who come out in favor of the planned mine. Families get lots of money from the government for providing room and board to the police — several families are almost competing to host them. We are simple campesinos, making it easy for the authorities to trick us into thinking that we are a foolish and uneducated people, that it is the officials in Quito who know what is best for us. The police have penetrated deep into our community — some are even flaunting their power and sophistication to seduce our local girls."

I was in Intag listening to Marcia's story as part of The Intag Project, an interdisciplinary group of students and faculty at Cornell University and Ithaca College. The project was initiated two years ago by a Cornell undergraduate from Intag to connect American students with key community-based organizations that are fighting mining in the region and working for sustainable alternative. The idea is that many of these organizations in Ecuador are lacking in the technological and institutional resources that US college students take for granted, and that US college students can reciprocally benefit through the rare learning opportunity to engage directly with organizations addressing real-world environmental and social problems.

After months of preparation, …more

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The Lush Life of Our “Harsh,” “Inhospitable” Deserts

Often simplified in books and movies, deserts have much to offer

If you’ve seen Lawrence of Arabia, you cannot forget a sun-smacked Peter O’Toole dressed in an Arab robe and headdress as Omar Sharif on his camel appears myth-like out of the endless horizon. (If you’ve not seen the film, do.) That is the desert for many; the sort of sweep of landscape John Wayne surveys as he and the soldiers, bugling, come around the headland chasing hapless never-to-win Indians. These are the parched “wastes” you cross as quickly as possible on your way somewhere else. These are the harsh “wilderness” areas into which our prophets retreated to hear the voice of their gods.

Photo of MojavePhoto by James Marvin Phelps, on Flickr Valley of Fires State Park in Nevada, CA, located in the Mojave Desert.

Despite these simplified portrayals, our deserts and those around the world are so much more. Here, landscapes are endless yet intimate, seeming inhospitable yet home for many creatures phenomenally well adapted to their niche. Home, too, for desert-loving people. One was Mary Austin, whose classic The Land of Little Rain evokes her life in the Mojave.

“Some wonder how so many people came to settle in lonely desert landscapes, what they do there, and why they stay,” she wrote. “But these questions quickly vanish for anyone who has lived in the desert. None other than brown land lays such a hold on the affections. The rainbow hills, the tender bluish mists, and the luminous radiance of the spring have the lotus charm. They trick the sense of time, so that once in having there you always mean to go away without quite realizing that you have not done it.”

Deserts hold secrets not easily pried loose, but patience rewards our curiosity with knowledge. Take Joseph Wood Krutch, a New York theatre critic who moved to then-small Tucson in 1952 and came to admire the frugal kangaroo rat, Dipodomys merriami, the mouse that never drinks. For a time he kept one in a glass case, naming him Dipo. [“H]e is the most triumphant possible example of adaptation to the most characteristic desert difficulty, the lack of water,” he wrote. “It is not that that he can get along without water He will not take it if it is offered to him … no economy can explain a complete …more

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A Record Year for Sea Lion Pup Strandings

Since January, more than 3,000 starving pups have washed up on California beaches

The little orphaned sea lion pup struggled to climb into the kayak. Tuckered out, cold, shivering and very hungry, the roughly seven-month-old pinniped was on its own, abandoned by its beleaguered mother, no doubt starving herself.

Eventually the sea lion pup managed to climb into my friend’s boat and ultimately into his lap to seek some much needed warmth and rest. The pup stayed with us for over two hours on the water until we landed in a crescent moon-shaped cove on the southeast end of Santa Cruz Island. Reluctantly, the young sea lion flopped out of the kayak and stumbled onto the cobbled beach before finding a warm patch of sand to haul out on.

close up photo of a sea lionall photos by Chuck GrahamClick or tap this photo to view more in a photo-essay

This has been a record year for stranded sea lion pups on the Southern California coastline. In February 2015, 850 sea lion pups were rescued from mainland beaches in California. In March, 1,050 pups were retrieved, and in April and May, a combined total of 1,090 pups were found. So far this year, more than 3,000 sea lion pups have been stranded on beaches in southern and central California, more than the total number of strandings from 2004 through 2012. These numbers do not include the number of sea lions that have died.

Some of these pups are lucky. They are spotted by beach-goers who contact the Marine Mammal Rescue Center, a nonprofit dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating ill and injured marine mammals, or other wildlife centers for assistance. From there, the pups are retrieved by volunteers, rehabilitated if possible, and eventually released in the open ocean. Unfortunately, scores of other starving pups go undiscovered on inaccessible portions of the coast or on any of California’s eight windswept Channel Islands.

Researchers believe the mass strandings are related to warmer-than-average water temperatures. Over the past year, warm currents in Southern California have wreaked havoc on cold upwelling systems that generate nutrient rich waters. Portions of the food web like squid and baitfish have been forced to retreat to deeper, colder waters, making things tough on female sea lions and their hungry 6- to 8- month-old pups.

photo of people …<a href='' title='continue reading A Record Year for Sea Lion Pup Strandings'>more</a></li></ul></p>
<p class=by Chuck Graham – June 25, 2015

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Americans Are Paying Attention to Food Waste, But Still Throw Away More Food Than They Think

New survey finds nearly three-fourths of Americans believe they toss less food than the average consumer

We all throw away food. In fact, in the United States, an estimated 40 percent of all food is trashed as it makes it way from farm to table, or more aptly, as it doesn’t. But how aware are we of our own waste? And what motivates us to rethink our shopping habits or reconsider that wilting lettuce in the back of the fridge?

Photo of Food Waste Photo by Stephen Rees, on Flickr Nearly three-quarters of the 1,010 survey respondents said they waste less food than the average American.

Those are the questions a team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University set out to answer in the first national consumer food waste survey conducted in the United States. The results were published this month in PLOS ONE. It turns out that a lot of us are giving ourselves more credit than we probably deserve. In fact, nearly three-quarters of the 1,010 survey respondents said they waste less food than the average American. What is more, 13 percent of respondents indicated that they don’t discard any food and 56 percent estimated that they discard only 10 percent of their food, though the estimated average food waste for consumers is around 25 percent.

Researchers also looked at consumer motivations for reducing food waste, including considerations like saving money, setting an example for children, guilt about waste, thinking about those who are hungry, and environmental concerns. Perhaps expectedly, saving money came first. Among parents, setting a good example for children. Concern about the environmental — including greenhouse gas emissions, water use, and energy associated with food waste — was ranked last by respondents.

“From an environmental perspective, one thing that was very striking was that we asked people what is their top motivation for reducing waste, and environmental issues came out dead last on that list,” says Roni Neff, assistant professor at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the authors of the article. Neff noted that this outcome could mean one of two things: people just aren’t that aware of the environmental footprint of their food, or environmental impacts aren’t a big motivator for those considering food waste.

JoAnne Berkenkamp, senior advocate for the food and agriculture program at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wasn’t quite as surprised. …more

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Tea Industry Boosts Forest Cover in Kenya, But Will Trees Remain Standing?

Tea processing factories in Kenya have pledged to plant at least 10 million indigenous and exotic trees every year to increase forest cover as well as supply wood to power operations

Tea processing factories in Kenya are implementing a conservation program that will see them scale up the area of land under forest cover while at the same time sustainably using exotic trees, especially eucalyptus, to generate power for their operations.

Photo of Cassava in Danforth GreenhousePhoto by hobokenvie Kenya’s tea industry has pledged to plant at least 10 million indigenous and exotic trees every year.

The Kenya Tea Development Agency (KTDA), which manages the 65 tea processing factories in Kenya, says it has partnered with communities in tea growing areas, including 560,000 small-scale tea growers, to expand the area covered by indigenous and exotic trees. The exotic trees are increasingly used to generate heat for steam boilers, as the factories seek to reduce their reliance on expensive and unreliable grid-connected electricity and switch from petroleum-based fuels.

Going forward, KTDA, in partnership with the factories and tea farmers, will plant at least 10 million indigenous and exotic trees each year both to conserve the environment and ensure adequate wood fuel supply to power tea processing factories. “The key pillar of KTDA is environmental sustainability, which we want to pursue by ensuring at least 560,000 small-scale tea growers conserve the environment,” said the agency’s CEO Lerionka Tiampati.

KTDA has acquired 13,800 acres of land from the state and individuals for the planting of trees to meet the factories’ wood fuel needs, with Tiampati saying there is potential to increase the acreage to 40,300 acres. Under the program, the tea factories will develop tree nurseries and supply tea farmers with seedlings for planting in their farms to complement those grown on the KTDA acquired land. An estimated 157,720 hectares are under tea cultivation in Kenya.

“The wood fuel program is going hand-in-hand with our environmental conservation program,” says Tiampati. “The factories propagate both exotic and indigenous tree seedlings and issue them to the farmers to plant in their farms.”

Between 2009 and 2014, the agency supplied communities in tea growing areas with an estimated 20.4 million seedlings for planting, which is equivalent to 4.7 million cubic meters of expected firewood. “The factories are acquiring their own land to plant trees, both to meet their wood fuel needs as well as for conservation,” he says.

The factories, which use the crush, tear, and curl processing …more

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Is Plant Science the Answer to Improved Food Security?

In a world of climate change and growing global population, some researchers believe plants are key to adaptation

Nigel Taylor spreads apart the wilted and discolored leaves of a cassava plant. He wants us to see its sickness on full display. Taylor leads a team of scientists in St. Louis attempting to genetically engineer a virus-resistant version of the plant, and is working with researchers in Uganda and Kenya, where cassava is a staple crop. Once created, this plant will be delivered to small-landholder farmers for widespread use in parts of sub-Saharan Africa.

Photo of Cassava in Danforth GreenhousePhoto by Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Cassava grow in a greenhouse at the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center. Researchers at the center are trying to engineer a virus-resistant version of the plant.

“Cassava is an incredibly important source of calories in the tropics,” Taylor explains to a group of journalists visiting the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center in Missouri in early May. The ultimate goal of this not-for-profit center, founded in 1998, is to double production of the world’s most important crops while lowering agriculture’s environmental footprint. More than 200 employees are on the case, and for these scientists, answers lie in an obvious place: “We think plants are a wonderful solution to a lot of global challenges,” vice president of research Dr. Toni Kutchan tells us. 

Among the biggest challenges is a growing global population expected to reach nearly 10 billion by 2050, which will need to be fed without degrading more natural resources. Other challenges include regions around the world suffering from increased salinity in soil, water supplies tainted with fertilizer, declining crop yields due to plant disease, and intensifying droughts. The agricultural powerhouse of California, for instance — responsible for producing about half of the United States’ vegetables, fruits and nuts — has entered the fourth year of a historic drought with no relief in sight. Danforth scientists are developing crops to withstand these environmental stressors as we brace for the impacts of climate change.

“Human-induced climate change is here and now. It’s not just something we need to think about for our grandchildren,” says Kathy Jacobs at the second National Adaptation Forum in St. Louis, where she joined more than 800 representatives from the private and public sector in May. 

Photo of Nigel Taylor at Donald Danforth Plant …<a href='' title='continue reading Is Plant Science the Answer to Improved Food Security?'>more</a></li></ul></p>
<p class=by Sena Christian – June 22, 2015

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‘We Are Going to Get an Agreement’ in Paris, Says UN Climate Chief

In a visit to San Francisco, the UN’s top climate diplomat explains why she is so confident countries will reach a global climate agreement in December

In six months, delegates from nearly 200 countries will gather in Paris with the intention of signing the first truly global climate agreement. Don’t expect a replay of the fractious talks held in Copenhagen, in December 2009, Christiana Figueres, the UN’s top climate diplomat, said on Tuesday.

Photo of Christiana Figueres Photo by UNclimatechange High Level Youth Briefing with UNFCCC Executive Secretary Christiana Figueres. Bonn Climate Change Conference, June 11, 2015. Figueresis confident that we will reach a global climate agreement in Paris.

In a conversation at Climate One, in San Francisco, Figueres, the Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, returned time and again to the political and economic shifts evident since Copenhagen that augur well for a positive outcome when negotiators convene in Paris in December.

At negotiating sessions during 2009, including in Copenhagen, I often heard from negotiators and NGO observers that political leaders in their home countries told them that renewable energy technologies could not compete on cost against, and were not ready to displace, fossil fuel power plants. Politicians can no longer justifiably make such claims. In a report released earlier this year, the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) noted that solar photovoltaic (PV) module prices have dropped by 75 percent since 2009 and continue to fall, that between 2010 and 2014 the total installed costs of utility-scale solar PV systems fell by as much as 65 percent, and that for the 1.3 billion people around the globe who lack access to electricity, renewables are the cheapest source of energy.

Figueres apparently heard much the same during 2009. “The implicit assumption was that [climate change] was in the future, and we don’t know if we have the solutions,” she said at Climate One. “What has fundamentally changed is that the problem is no longer in the future — the problem is in the present — and furthermore the solutions are in the present. We do have the technologies. We have the capital. We have a growing number of regulations and pieces of legislation in place.”

Forces are at work, Figueres said, that have upended the status quo in the global electric power sector. An ever-growing number of governments are requiring that renewables be added to the grid, and customers …more

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