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Grooming the Next Generation of Farmers

Urban ag groups are engaging youth to build sustainable community food systems in New York State

Many urban centers in Upstate and Western New York have a stronger reputation for blight and struggling post-industrial economies than for innovation and vibrant food production. However, two organizations  — VINES and the Massachusetts Avenue Project — are looking to change that, capitalizing on vacant urban spaces to build sustainable community food systems and train tomorrow’s young farmers and environmentalists.

photo of youth farmingPhoto by Kevin Brouillard High school studnets harvest the last peppers of the season at the Massachusetts Avenue Project's urban farm in New York state.

Urban farming has been increasingly gaining attention for its trendy aesthetic and as a means of improving access to healthy food in cities across the US. But the debate continues regarding whether this niche farming model can be implemented on larger scales as an economically viable practice while reducing food deserts and improving public health. With an aging population of farmers, increasing demand for local organic food, and growing urban population, a new generation of farmers and innovators is needed. And the youth faction driving the urban farming movement provides some hope.

Situated on the confluence of the Susquehanna and Chenango Rivers, Binghamton is home to VINES, which stands for Volunteers Improving Neighborhood Environments. Having just celebrated its tenth anniversary, VINES is well known throughout the Binghamton community for its impressive community garden initiative, which by 2020 will add eight more gardens to the area, for a total of twenty. Truly embodying the “V” in VINES, the 11th and 12th gardens were completed with massive volunteer support, according to Kaitlyn Sirna, VINES’ community garden and youth program manager. The 12th garden marks the first outside Binghamton, and is located in neighboring Johnson City. Once the notorious Binghamton winter passes, the nonprofit will be breaking ground on several more.

VINES’ youth program is equally noteworthy, employing roughly 20 high-school students each summer for a six-week immersive educational and professional experience. The student demand to partake in VINES’ summer youth program far exceeds capacity, but a handful of participants are selected to return each year in leadership positions. And one 2013 summer crew member even returned as an AmeriCorps volunteer.

The youth program is oriented around VINES’ downtown urban farm, but the scope of the training extends well beyond fieldwork. In addition to a comprehensive understanding of composting and crop rotations, youth participants develop skills in resume writing, financial literacy, and interviewing for jobs. Sirna stressed the importance of these real-world skills, …more

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Winter Olympics Are at Major Risk from Climate Change. Why is NBC Silent on the Subject?

Environmental groups launch Twitter storm pushing netork to end its 'climate whiteout'

Environmental and public health groups are launching a "Twitter storm" on Friday to compel NBC to end its "climate whiteout" and cover the impacts of global warming on the Winter Olympics. So far, the network, which calls itself "the proud home for all US coverage of the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyeongChang," has failed to address the fact that increased temperatures due to climate change are threatening the future of outdoor winter sports.

photo of bobsledPhoto from Pxhere Nine of the past Winter Olympic host cities will likely not be cold enough for outdoor sports like bobsled and snowboarding in the future.

"For weeks, NBC has been putting out stories as part of its 'Road to PyeongChang' coverage — featuring profiles on the athletes and stories about their journey to qualifying for Team USA," said Allison Fisher, outreach director for Public Citizen's Energy Program, in an email. "Not one has mentioned climate change."

In a statement, the groups — Public Citizen, Protect Our Winters, and Climate Nexus — said that they are "organizing a twitterstorm to push NBC to end its #ClimateWhiteout in its coverage of the #Pyeongchang2018 #WinterOlympics. Winter sports are taking a huge hit from our warming planet and the athletes who depend on cold weather and snow are witnessing and experiencing climate change first hand. We can no longer talk about the Winter Olympics without warming."

They're asking Twitter users to "urge NBC to cover climate change impacts on the athletes and the games," which open Friday in Pyeongchang, South Korea, and run till February 25.

"NBC has hired a record 89 commentators to cover the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang and is expecting to fill over 2,400 hours of coverage across its channels," the campaigners said. "How many commentators will ask about the impact of climate change on training and preparing for Olympics competition? Will NBC acknowledge the climate elephant in the room?"

Could NBC's climate silence during the run-up to the Olympics be tied to a larger programming shift? In 2015, of all the major networks, NBC had the most climate change coverage on coverage on evening newscasts and Sunday shows, with 50 minutes, according to Media Matters. But in 2016, the station logged the biggest decrease in climate coverage, dropping to a mere 10 minutes.

And while the Olympics sponsors have dumped some $800 million into NBC's coffers for advertising spots, and some, …more

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The Old Man of Algonquin Park

As Ontario's famous fox recovers from car injury, he serves of a reminder of the perils of feeding wild animals

In early November 2017 a fox known as the Old Man leaves the cover of the coniferous pines of Ontario’s Algonquin Provincial Park’s dense forest, and totters towards a gravel back road.  The Old Man stops, and cranes his ears, listening. His tail — matted and worn with age — drags along the ground behind him as he heads towards to the road. His hips move uncomfortably, stiff with arthritis, but he’s hungry so he carries on. Somewhere nearby his mate is making the same journey along with their kit, following the unmistakeable sound of a slowing car.

photo of Old Man foxPhoto by Andrew Budziak In October 2017, a month before he was hit by a car, the Old Man enjoyed a meal left for him by park visitors. Feeding wild animals is strictly against the rules of Algonquin Provincial Park.

The Old Man knows the road well, but can’t predict where the car might stop. When he gets to the road, he mistimes, and pops out in the path of the moving vehicle. He realizes his mistake too late.  In his younger days, he may have been able to get away unharmed. But not now.  The Old Man’s legs no longer have that spring that allows for a quick getaway. The car clips his front left leg. The Old Man hobbles away into the cover of the pines.

As the Old Man hides among the forest cover, his injures weaken his body and his immune system begins to struggle. Mange begins to wreak havoc on his fur. To fight the itch, the Old Man gnaws at his tail. Within a few days, most of his tail is furless. His injured leg coupled with his bad hips makes walking painful and slow.

The Old Man’s partner and kit are also hit by cars either on the same day as the Old Man, or shortly after.

***

It’s difficult to know for sure what happened to the Old Man and family, but this scenario is probably pretty close to the truth. So why would a family of wild foxes be so eager to rush towards the sound of a car? Over the years, slowing cars and slamming doors have signified an easy meal for the Old Man. Park visitors have learned that by crouching down and holding out food, the friendly fox who would become known as the Old …more

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China Is Financing a Petrochemical Refining and Storage Hub in Appalachia

Proposed hub has a powerful set of political and industry backers

Over the past year, oil and gas industry plans to build a petrochemical refining and storage hub along the Ohio River have steadily gained traction. Proponents hope this potential hub, which would straddle Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia, and Kentucky, could someday rival the industrial corridor found along the Gulf Coast in Texas and Louisiana.

Those plans center around creating what is known as the Appalachian Storage Hub, which received a major boost on November 9 during a trade mission to China attended by President Donald Trump and US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross. At that trade mission, also attended by Chinese President Xi Jinping, the China Energy Investment Corp. announced the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub over 20 years. For comparison, West Virginia's gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016 was $72.9 billion.

photo of swanson occupationPhoto courtesy of West Virginia Department of Commerce US President Trump, Chinese President Xi Jinping, and West Virginia Commerce Sec. Thrasher join in the Great Hall in Beijing to sign an MOU to invest $83.7 billion into the planned storage hub.

Though called the Appalachian Storage Hub as a broad-sweeping term, in practice the hub could encompass natural gas liquids storage, a market trading index center, a key pipeline feeding epicenter, and a petrochemical refinery row. Its prospective development has been spurred by the current construction of a $6 billion petrochemical refining facility in Pennsylvania owned by Shell Oil.

The proposed hub has come under fire from grassroots groups. But this proposal also has a powerful set of backers, including West Virginia's five-member congressional delegation, the state's Governor and Secretary of Commerce, West Virginia University, the chemical industry's trade association, Shell Oil, and the Trump administration, among others.

Detractors of the planned petrochemical hub believe that its construction would buoy the oil and gas industry in its efforts to further develop drilling and hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) projects in Pennsylvania's Marcellus Shale and Ohio's Utica Shale basins.

A “major concern we have about the whole complex is that it will encourage a second or third wave of gas fracking in our region, from the Marcellus, the Utica, and the Rogersville field, which is a much deeper layer of shale gas and oil and has been recently tested and a few commercial wells have been built into it,” Robin Blakeman, project coordinator with the Ohio Valley Environmental Coalition, recently told the radio show Between the …more

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Ozone Layer Thinning Over Non-Polar Regions, Scientists Warn

Though the hole over Antarctica has been closing, protective ozone isn't recovering over populated areas

The ozone layer that protects people from the sun’s ultraviolet radiation is not recovering over most highly populated regions, scientists warned on Tuesday.

photo of Earth’s AtmospherePhoto by NASA’s Earth ObservatoryThe Earth’s atmosphere, as observed from the international Space Station in 2011. New research indicates that the ozone layer, which wraps around the entire Earth, is thinning over non-polar areas.

The greatest losses in ozone occurred over Antarctica but the hole there has been closing since the chemicals causing the problem were banned by the Montreal protocol. But the ozone layer wraps the entire Earth and new research has revealed it is thinning in the lower stratosphere over the non-polar areas.

Reduced protection from cancer-causing UV rays is especially concerning towards the equator, where sunlight is stronger and billions of people live. The reason for the falling ozone at lower latitudes is not known, though scientists suspect a chemical used in paint stripper and a change in atmospheric circulation caused by climate change.

“The study is in lower to mid latitudes, where the sunshine is more intense, so that is not a good signal for skin cancer,” said Prof Joanna Haigh at Imperial College London, a member of the international research team. “It is a worry. Although the Montreal protocol has done what we wanted it to do in the upper stratosphere, there are other things going on that we don’t understand.”

Anna Jones, an atmospheric chemist at the British Antarctic Survey and not involved in the new study, said: “To identify what action might be needed to prevent further decreases, it is extremely important to understand what is causing the observed downward trend.” Scientists say budget threats to US satellite monitoring programmes must be reversed.

The new research, published in the journal Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics, carefully combined measurements of atmospheric ozone from 11 different datasets to produce a record of the last 30 years. It looked at ozone levels between the 60th parallels, an area that ranges from Scandinavia, Russia, and Alaska in the north to the tip of South America. (London is 51 deg N, Sydney is 34 deg S and New York city is at 41 deg N.)

The stratosphere stretches from 10km above the Earth to 50km and ozone is slowly rising in the upper stratosphere, back towards the levels …more

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First Nations Face Off against Open-Pen Salmon Farms in British Columbia

Protesters have been occupying offshore aquaculture facilities in their waters for five months fighting license renewals

For thousands of years, wild salmon has been central to the livelihood and traditional culture of First Nations communities along the British Columbia coastline. They have eaten fish from the same waters for generations; young people they have learned and danced the same Salmon Dance as their elders. Wild salmon are also key to a healthy and stunning ecosystem that includes orcas, grizzly bears, and bald eagles, and that draws millions of tourists to the region every year providing billions of dollars in local revenue. 

photo of swanson occupationPhoto courtesy of Swanson Occupation, Facebook First Nation activists occupy a Marine Harvest fish farm facility near Swanson Island in British Columbia.

But according to activists from British Columbia First Nations, a robust aquaculture industry is putting this all at risk. In particular, activists believe open-pen fish farming — raising fish enclosed in nets that are submerged and open to surrounding waters — has exposed wild fish to sea lice and disease such as the piscine reovirus that puts wild salmon stocks at risk. In addition, there is the potential for farmed fish to escape, which also threatens wild Pacific populations with contamination. 

Although there has been fish farming in the region for 30 years, the First Nations did not consent to these farms in their traditional territory. And they are committed to putting an end to the practice.

Since last August, protesters have occupied facilities associated with two open-pen fish farming sites, both of which are up for relicensing in June. The facilities, operated by Norwegian company Marine Harvest, are located on Swanson Island and Midsummer Island in the Broughton Archipelago in northern British Columbia, an important wild salmon migratory route. Occupiers are sending a clear message to government they want their rights as Indigenous people upheld and the licenses cancelled.

On Midsummer Island, protesters erected wooden structures directly on top of the walkways that run between the fish pens, with assistance provided by the Tiny House Warriors team gearing up to battle the Kinder Morgan pipeline in the coming months. On Swanson, abandoned Marine Harvest cabins were occupied in an area overlooking but not directly interfering with farming operations.

Shortly after the occupation got underway, Marine Harvest went to court and won an injunction — those occupying the Midsummer fish farm were given 81 days to get off Marine Harvest property, prompting a relocation to nearby Cedar Island. The fight continues on Cedar and on Swanson, and could soon be …more

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By Logging Wetland Forests for Corporate Profit, the American South Is Losing Its Backyard

A wetland forest left standing is worth 15 times more than a forest cut for timber

The Forest Service estimates that the US once held over a billion acres of old-growth forest in the lower 48. Now, less than 10 percent of old-growth forest remains in the continental US, and most of it is concentrated in the Pacific Northwest, where the terrain is simply too difficult to traverse with logging equipment. Wetland forests — the swamps, bayous, pocosins, and coastal forests of the South — have not fared much better. Some estimate that over 80 percent of wetland forests have disappeared since colonial times: dammed, ditched, and drained for agriculture, timber harvest, commercial and residential development, and pine plantations.  

photo of wetland forestPhoto courtesy of Dogwood Alliance A wetland forest clearcut in North Carolina linked to the biomass industry. By some estimates, 80 percent of wetland forests have disappeared since colonial times.

The impacts of forest loss are felt most strongly in wetland forests. These forests — any forest that is submerged for part of the year — don’t look like much, but they do the dirty work for us. Scientific studies have shown that wetland forests provide twice the value of upland pine forests in many categories of ecosystem services, including wildlife habitat, pollution treatment, flood control, and water supply for downstream communities. They also provide a significant increase in carbon sequestration.

Perhaps most importantly, our recent research, released today on World Wetlands Day, shows that a wetland forest left standing is worth 15 times more than one cut for timber. How’s that for a return on investment? All they ask in return is that we let them stay right where they are. But wetland forests, much like other forests in the South, are being destroyed to serve the forest products market. With every tree lost, we lose out on valuable ecosystem services like clean water, carbon sequestration, and protection from natural disasters.

The ongoing degradation of wetland forests in the region fits into the larger pattern of commercializing our southern forests. The US South only has about 2 percent of the world’s forest cover, but regularly produces over a fifth of its forest products. All said and done, forests in the South are being logged at a rate four times that of South American rainforests.

photo of wetland forestImage courtesy of Dogwood Alliance

Much noise is made — and rightfully so — about the destruction of primary forest in Malaysia and Borneo to make way …more

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