A local university is leading the charge in transforming the food system in Washington DC
"Nature will be just fine. The question is whether it’ll be just fine with us or without us. Nature might just decide to jettison us." So says Sabine O’Hara, dean of the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences (CAUSES) at the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to a class of eager area residents who have come to learn about sustainable urban farming. Through CAUSES, O’Hara is working to transform every aspect of the food system in Washington, D.C. – from cultivation, preparation, and distribution to food waste management – in a way that provides food security for city residents but does not compromise Earth’s systems or the ability of our species to survive. As impossible as this sounds, CAUSES may just offer a model for creating sustainable urban food systems in the constrained future ahead.
Photo by Erik Assadourian.
Cultivating a New Urban Food Path
While cultivation is just one component of the food cycle, it is perhaps the most visible one, and CAUSES has experimented with a wide variety of techniques to get as much food as possible out of the high-priced landscape of the nation’s capital. As O’Hara explains, "We are not a city like Baltimore or Detroit where urban agriculture is the new big thing. D.C. is not emptying out, like it is there. D.C. is growing by a rate of 1,500 per month."
Right on campus is the largest rooftop farm in the city – 20,000 square feet – growing plump Cherokee Purple heirloom tomatoes and crisp red-stemmed Swiss Chard along the edges (areas of the roof that have the structural integrity to handle larger crops) as well as greens, flowers, and sedum in the interior sections (for insulation and water capture benefits). Much of this rooftop produce – grown mostly by volunteers – gets distributed to UDC’s faculty and staff through a community-supported agriculture program and to D.C. food banks as donations.
Photo by Erik Assadourian.
Beyond the campus, at the end of the Green Metro Line, is the 143-acre Firebird Farm. Here UDC is experimenting with a wide selection of crops and techniques to sustainably provide food for a growing city: 1.5 acres of sweet potatoes, an Asian pear orchard, a more-sustainable dryland rice variety, a cluster of half-acre allotment gardens available to entrepreneurial D.C. residents. There’s even a …more
Standing Rock water protectors on what they are standing up for
Over the past month, members of more than 100 tribal nations from across the continent have gathered at the edge of the Standing Rock Indian Reservation in North Dakota in opposition to the Dakota Access Pipeline. Over 1,000 people are now camped a few miles south of where the proposed pipeline will cross the Missouri River, the main source of water for the reservation.
Photo by Devin Currens
The $3.8 billion Dakota Access Pipeline will bring fracked oil from the Bakken shale deposits across four states to Patoka, IL, where it will connect with existing pipeline infrastructure. The proposed route for the pipeline is roughly seven miles shorter than that of the infamous Keystone XL pipeline that Obama rejected last year.
On September 3, a private security company hired by the company behind the pipeline (Energy Transfers Partners) used pepper spray and attack dogs on those attempting to non-violently halt the destruction of documented burial grounds and sacred sites. Six people were bitten by dogs, including a young girl and a pregnant woman.
On September 9, a federal judge rejected the tribe's request for an injunction that would halt construction. Minutes later however, the Department of Justice, Army Corps of Engineers and Department of Interior released a joint statement temporarily barring construction under the Missouri River and requesting that “pipeline company voluntarily pause all construction activity” in the immediate area, while the Army Corps reconsiders its previously issued permits.
The struggle against this pipeline is far from over.
Native people and allies continue to arrive at the camps where the Cannonball River meets the Missouri. They remain committed to non-violent direct action.
Photo by Devin Currens
Ladonna Tamakawastewin Allard,
Cannonball, North Dakota
I am the owner of Sacred Stone camp. I own the land here, this is my family’s land.
In 2014, I was invited to a meeting where Dakota Access came to the tribe to tell them about a proposed pipeline. They had a big map, and I noticed I’m the closest land owner. Nobody told me they were going to build a pipeline outside my home.
At the end of the meeting I remember one of these ladies from Dakota Access — I walked …more
The Olympics are all about cooperation and celebration, the slaughter of marine mammals are anything but.
Since the International Whaling Commission's moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in 1986, Japan has repeatedly flaunted the will of the IWC by issuing hundreds of scientific permits to Japan whalers for "research whaling." The scam has been repeatedly denounced by the IWC, by other nations, and was deemed illegal by the World Court in The Hague. Much of the killing, in addition to violating the moratorium, was conducted in the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary, designated by the IWC as a protected zone for whales.
photo by Taymaz Valley/Flickr
In 2009, Japan's bloody hunting of dolphins was exposed by the release of the Academy Award-winning documentary The Cove. The film caused a global sensation. Hundreds of intelligent dolphins – males, females and calves – die each year in the worst way imaginable.
Last winter (the Antarctic summer), Japan killed 333 minke whales for "scientific research" whaling. During the last 6-month dolphin-hunting season in Taiji, Japan, the hunters killed 652 dolphins (while catching another 117 live dolphins to be brokered to aquariums around the world).
Japan remains unmoved. Powerful rural legislators have joined with the Japan Fisheries Agency, the fishing industry and fishermen's unions in opposing any end to whaling and dolphin hunting. 80% of Japan's protein comes from the sea, and Japan is the largest importer of fish in the world. Extreme nationalists have adopted the issues as if Japan's very soul is bound up in the history of whaling and dolphin killing.
In fact, it is all nonsense. Few Japanese eat whale or dolphin meat anymore, despite clumsy Fisheries Agency attempts from time to time to mount pro-eating whale meat advertising and publicity stunts. Frozen whale meat stacks up in warehouses unsold; the meat is turned into jerky and pet food to get rid of it. The claim that whaling and dolphin hunting are "traditions" is very weak, as industrial whaling did not begin in Japan until the beginning of the 20th century (often with opposition from local Japanese fishermen who resented the blood and offal shore whaling stations dumped in fishing ports), with Antarctic trips not starting until the 1930's. Dolphin hunting is even more tenuous: Taiji's "traditional" dolphin drive hunts, depicted in The Cove, did not begin until 1969.
Japan has bigger fish to fry, if you will excuse the pun. The …more
The Dakota Access Pipeline has rallied Native Americans tribes like no other issue in recent history
“Mni Wiconi” – pronounced “Min-nee wi-chon-ey,” roughly translates to “Water of life” or “Water is life” and this rings sacred and true to the tribes that rely on the Missouri River as a source of water for themselves and their land. This water has now been threatened, as the North Dakota Access Pipeline, which would pump up to half a million barrels of crude oil under the Missouri River, directly under their life supply.
Photo by Sara Lefleur-Vetter
Time and time again we’ve seen the environmental disasters that follow big oil, displace people and animals. The movement at Standing Rock Reservation, where members of over 200 tribes have set up a massive encampment, the largest gathering of different Native Americans in history, is calling for a ban on the Dakota Access Pipeline. Mainstream media calls them “protestors” but they prefer the term “water protectors.” Many of the folks here have quit their jobs to be a permanent fixture of this movement, leaving behind their families and the comforts of home to live in a tent and off the grid.
In the early hours of Friday, September 9, tribal elders and war veterans led a march from the encampment to the blockade and the burial site of their ancestors that’s now been reduced to a pile of dirt, hardly resembling the sacred site it was just days before the bulldozers arrived for the $3.8 billion pipeline. They led a pipe ceremony at the site followed by a drum and dance where hundreds held hands, chanting and praying in solidarity.
Photo by Sara Lefleur-Vetter
“Would you like to put down your sacred camera over there with my things?” Asked the man to my left. “I think we will dance now.”
The elder to my right sobbed as he sang. I couldn’t help feeling like I was in the middle of something momentous. At the end of the ceremony, the man to my left unclasped hands with me and told me “good job,” as we turned to leave.
On the news you've probably seen the brave Dale “Happi” Americanhorse lock himself to construction equipment for six …more
For sustainable conservation, women’s reproductive health and rights need to be guaranteed
The clock is ticking and global environmental problems are mounting, with droughts, biodiversity loss, and acidic oceans and much more taking a toll on the planet.
The International Union for the Conservation of Nature’s World Congress, currently taking place in Hawai’i, is tackling this growing list of threats to the environment. The IUCN is recognized for its Red List of Threatened Species, an “inventory” of the world’s plant and animal species. The latest list was just released, and of the more than 82,000 species assessed by the IUCN, nearly 30 percent are threatened with extinction.
Photo by Max Phillips/Jeremy Buckingham MLC
The conference theme is “Planet at the Crossroads.” The question facing the world today is, which direction will humanity choose, business as usual or saving the planet? Fortunately, there are some solutions to more effective conservation that today’s environmentalists are beginning to realize are too important to ignore.
Women at the Center
One of these solutions is to empower women and girls. Investing in women’s rights will allow women — who bear the larger brunt of environmental degradation and climate change — to deal with the increasingly severe environmental problems affecting communities worldwide.
This means ensuring education for women and girls, providing access to healthcare (including voluntary family planning services), recognizing greater land rights, reducing and eradicating gender and economic inequality, ending child marriage, and improving economic opportunities. When women’s needs are met, they are able to better manage resources, confront the effects of climate change and handle climate mitigation and adaptation, and support sustainable communities.
The IUCN Congress will conclude with a series of commitments, or motions, to help devise a conservation agenda for the coming years. Yet despite increasing awareness and commitments on how women’s empowerment benefits nature, women and gender issues are conspicuously absent from the final motions presented in Hawai’i.
“It’s absolutely shocking that none of the IUCN motions include any mention of women and gender,” says A Tianna Scozzaro, conference attendee and director of the Sierra Club’s Global Population and Environment Program, “especially given that gender inequalities, environmental degradation, and climate impacts hit women first and worst.”
Linking Conservation and Health
The only realistic solution to this conflict is to retire the grazing allotments on public lands
The recent killing of six members of the Profanity Peak wolf pack in NE Washington in retribution for the loss of a few cattle is emblematic of what is wrong with public land policy. As I write, trappers are out to kill the remaining pack members- including 4-month old pups.
What is significant about the destruction of this pack is that the Profanity Peak wolves roamed national forest lands. These are our lands. They belong to all Americans and are part of our national patrimony.
Currently private commercial businesses such as the livestock industry are allowed to use public lands if they do not damage, degrade and impoverish our public lands heritage. Clearly the killing of this pack violates that obligation and responsibility.
What is particularly egregious about the on-going slaughter of the Profanity Pack is that it was essentially a preventable conflict. Had the rancher, whose cows invaded the wolf pack’s territory, been required to use other public lands, or better yet, simply lease private pasture, there would have been no livestock losses, hence wolf deaths.
Placing cows on top of a wolf pack territory is analogous to, and irresponsible as leaving picnic baskets or coolers out in a campground. In most national parks, if you leave a cooler or other food available to bears, you are fined for this careless behavior. We don’t blame the bear if it happens to eat that food. But when it comes to the livestock industry, we essentially allow four-legged picnic baskets to roam at will on our lands, and should a predator – be it a coyote, cougar, bear or wolf – kill one of those mobile picnic baskets, we don’t hold the rancher responsible, we kill the public wildlife.
This represents the wrong priorities.
We expect different behavior from people using public resources. I can, and do, mark up and highlight passages in books that I own in my personal library, but it would be inappropriate for me to mark up or otherwise damage books in a public library.
In a similar manner, we should expect different consequences for livestock owners who willingly use public lands (at almost no cost I might add) for their private commercial interests. In this case and others like it across the public lands of the West, we should expect ranchers …more
Largest drop recorded in China and India as both nations begin to move away from coal
The amount of coal power capacity under development worldwide saw a dramatic drop in the first half of 2016, mainly due to shifting policies in Asia, according to a survey by CoalSwarm's Global Coal Plant Tracker.
Overall, the “coal plant pipeline”—the total amount of coal-fired generating capacity in pre-construction planning—dropped from 1,090 gigawatts (GW) at the beginning of 2016 to 932 GW in July. The total reduction, 158 GW, or 14% of the previous total, is nearly equal to the entire coal-fired generating capacity of the European Union (162 GW).
The largest drop in the pre-construction pipeline was recorded in China (114 GW), followed by India (40 GW). Both countries recently announced major policy moves away from coal.
In April, China announced sweeping restrictions aimed at proposed coal-fired power plants in 13 provinces. In June, India’s Ministry of Power issued an assessment stating that no further power plants would be needed in the next three years, and “any thermal power plant that has yet to begin construction should back off.”
In Southeast Asia, several countries have taken steps toward reducing or delaying new coal power capacity. In March, Vietnam revised its Power Development Plan VII, canceling or postponing 23 GW of planned coal plants. Indonesia's RUPTL 2016-2025, covering all power development in the coming decade, showed a rescheduling of over 7 GW of proposed coal power capacity to later years. In July, Philippines Environment and Natural Resources Secretary Gina Lopez announced new plans to prioritize renewable energy over coal in the permitting process.
Despite the global reduction in the coal power pipeline, the level of capacity still in planning and construction worldwide is enough to exceed the global carbon budget for limiting warming to 1.5°C. Further, a new report from the IEA shows 6.5 million deaths a year from air pollution, with coal a main factor.
Among world regions, East Asia continues to have the highest amount of capacity under development in all status categories* except permitted proposals, followed by South Asia:
Altogether there are 932 GW of pre-construction coal proposals (announced, pre-permit, and permitted) and an additional 350 GW under construction.
While slowing in East and South Asia, coal proposals ticked up in Africa and Eurasia. Egypt in particular has been aggressively pursuing new coal plants as an alternative to natural gas. Proposals also increased in Mongolia, mainly for mega coal projects to export power …more