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Can Canada Lead on Climate Change?

In major climate march this weekend, activists aim to put pressure on national government

This weekend, before Canadian premiers gather in Quebec City on April 14 to discuss climate change, activists from across the country are taking to the streets to deliver a simple message: Canada needs to do its part to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and until now, it has failed miserably to do so. As one activist wrote on the Act on Climate March website, “Remember when Canada used to be an environmental leader?” Those days seem to be a distant memory.

tar sandsPhoto by Chris Yakimov, on Flickr The People's Climate March in Vancouver in September 2014. Activists hope the Act on Climate March will put pressure on their leaders to address climate change and take a stand on tar sands development. 

The aim of the summit, which will bring together representatives of Canada’s provinces and territories, is to come up with a set of benchmarks for national climate action in advance of the UN’s Climate Change Conference in Paris in December. Yet activists have little faith in their elected officials’ commitment to reduce Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. In what is being dubbed “Canada’s biggest climate march” environmental activists, union leaders, and student groups hope to pressure their leaders into taking a much stronger stand on Canadian tar sands development and the many pipeline projects that would accelerate its production.

“We’re hoping that climate change will be a huge issue in Canadian politics in the year ahead,” says Mike Hudema, an organizer with Greenpeace Edmonton. Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who is up for reelection in October, has been a major friend and supporter of the oil and gas industry. In Alberta, the heart of tar sands production, a conservative government, closely aligned with the energy industry, has held onto power for more than 45 years. Alberta Premier Jim Prentice recently announced that provincial elections would take place in May, but Hudema says it is unlikely that things will change.

“In terms of government support,” Hudema says, “they’re definitely pushing fairly heavily against us.” He points to proposed counter terrorism legislation that activists fear could be used to target environmental groups. For years the Royal Canadian Mounted Police has suggested that “environmental extremism” poses a threat to Canada’s energy sector. “There really has been a witch hunt on behalf of the federal government to dismantle opposition to the pro-tar …more

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Republicans Try to Prevent Wisconsin Official Working on Climate Change

Critics say Matt Adamczyk’s proposal to prohibit Tia Nelson from ‘engaging in global warming or climate change work’ on the job is politically motivated

By Katherine Krueger 

Wisconsin Republicans are looking to place a Florida-style moratorium on the ability of a key public official to work on matters related to climate change on state time.

 emissions Photo by Ian Britton, on Flickr Adamczyk alleges that Nelson’s co-authoring of a report on policy recommendations for the state to address climate change amounted to theft of the state’s time.

State treasurer Matt Adamczyk, a Republican, says his plan to prohibit Tia Nelson, the executive secretary of the state’s Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, from “engaging in global warming or climate change work” on the job is part of an attempt to trim government spending, which has included fighting for his own office to be eliminated.

The committee tasked with managing some of Wisconsin’s public land, along with a trust to fund school libraries, is set to vote on the measure in its 7 April meeting.

Nelson’s supporters on the board, including Wisconsin secretary of state Doug La Follette, have characterised the vote as a politically motivated witchhunt which comes as the result of Nelson’s participation in a global warming taskforce created by then-governor Jim Doyle, a Democrat, in 2008.

Adamczyk alleges that Nelson’s co-authoring of a report on policy recommendations for the state to address climate change amounted to theft of the state’s time.

Nelson declined to comment on the allegations.

She said that in 10 years leading the agency and working with both Republican and Democratic majority boards, this marked “the first time climate change has been a part of the conversation”.

Adamczyk has taken a special interest in the commission’s spending since he took office in November, reportedly calling for Nelson, who is the daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson, to be removed from BCPL’s letterhead within a week of taking office, and telling Nelson he was “beyond disappointed” that the office maintained a New York Times subscription, and urging its cancellation.

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Weeds – They’re What’s for Dinner

Urban foraging could help boost nutrition in food deserts, researchers say

A few summers back I was in the middle of coordinating the weekly community harvest at San Francisco’s Alemany Farm when a few of our regular “customers” showed up to cut and collect some of the bounty. A lot of the farm’s neighbors are recent immigrants, and the other farm managers and I try our best to create a crop plan that the nearby residents will appreciate. The Latino families seem to especially enjoy our rows of squash and tomatoes (whether green or red). The Chinese families usually go for the broccoli, various chois, and snap peas. Everyone likes the green beans. On that particular afternoon, I noticed that the neighbors were also harvesting plants that we normally consider nuisances – that is, weeds. A couple of the Mexican-American women were searching out and plucking from the soil clumps of verdulaga, an annual succulent called purslane in English that is also a favorite of the raw food crowd. The Cantonese-speaking folks were eagerly tearing out clumps of lamb’s quarters, a spinach-esque plant that is common in China, where it’s served either as a raw salad or put into soups and stews.

photo of people picking greens in a fieldphoto by foam, on FlickrForaging for edible weeds.

Then it hit me: Who needs chemical herbicides when you’ve got neighbors who will do all the weeding in the course of gathering their dinner? And, more to the point, what’s the difference between a “weed” and a crop anyway? If only we were more attentive to the food growing all around us – the huge range of edible weeds growing in vacant lots and unkempt yards – we might be able get one step closer to addressing the nutrition crisis in America’s low income communities, the so-called food deserts.

A multi-disciplinary group of researchers at UC-Berkeley thinks so, and they are busing trying to map the nutrition potential of urban foraging and to chart some strategies for overcoming the cultural and legal barriers to getting some of your supper from the sidewalk. “What’s better than sowing and then reaping? Reaping without sowing,” says Philip Stark, one of the Cal professors who has been funded by the Berkeley Food Institute to research the prospects for boosting urban and surburban foraging. “You already have a food garden …more

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The Island Fox Returns

This tiny fox’s recovery is probably the fastest rebound of any land mammal in the history of the Endangered Species Act

If you come out to Santa Cruz Island today, you’re virtually guaranteed a sighting of an endangered island fox, the little rascals bounding across the largest of California’s Channel Islands.  That wasn’t the case 15 years ago when the small fox, which is native to six of the eight Channel Islands and is the chain’s largest land mammal, teetered on the brink of extinction.

At about 18 to 20 inches long and weighing anything from 2.2 to 6 pounds, the island fox (Urocyon littoralis) is probably the smallest fox in North America. The fox, which shares the same genus as the mainland gray fox, is thought to have “rafted” to the northern Catalina islands some 10,400 to 16,000 years ago. Evolutionary biologists say they shrank in size over the ages in order to adapt to the limited resources available in the island environment. There are six subspecies of the island fox, each of which is native to a specific Channel Island, and which evolved there independently of the others.

photo of two small foxes sittingall photos by Chuck GrahamClick or tap this image to view a slideshow of photos from California’s Channel Islands

The foxes thrived on the islands until about two decades ago when they began to be preyed on by golden eagles. Back then a 5,000 strong feral pig population had lured more than 40 golden eagles from the California mainland. The decline of the local bald eagle population in the 1950s and 60s due to persecution by humans and exposure to organochlorine chemicals such as DDT, may have made it easier for the golden eagles to settle on the islands. The bald eagle, which subsisted on fish, would have deterred the golden eagle from settling on the islands.  In any case, the new-to-the islands raptors, which colonized the northern islands of the Channel Islands National Park, soon realized it was easier to hunt island foxes than the scruffy swine. (The golden eagle is four times the size of the island fox.)

By 1999, roughly 55 island foxes were left on Santa Cruz Island, looking over their shoulders, wary about their time being up. Island fox populations on Santa Rosa and San Miguel Islands also plummeted due to golden eagle predation, and an outbreak of canine distemper in 1998 killed off about 90 …more

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Want Babies? Eat Organic Produce

Pesticide residues in fruit and vegetables linked to poor semen quality, says study

For couples struggling with infertility issues, the list of probable causes can be long, running the whole gamut from genetics to age to sexually transmitted diseases. Now there’s one more to add to the list, at least in the case of men: their diet of conventionally produced fruits and veggies.

A new study shows that men who eat conventionally-grown produce with higher levels of pesticide residues — like peppers, spinach, strawberries, apples, and pears — have lower sperm counts and percentages of normally-formed sperm than those who eat produce with lower pesticide residues. (Check out my earlier report about the variations in pesticide exposure risk from conventional produce.)

 Beer sampler Photo by Suzie’s Farm The study found that that men who ate the highest amount of fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue had a 49 percent lower sperm count than men who consumed the least amount.

The study by researchers at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health is the first ever to investigate the connection between exposure to pesticide residues from produce consumption and the quality of men's semen. Previous studies have shown that occupational exposure to pesticides might have an effect on semen quality of farmers and farmworkers, but until now, there has been little investigation of the effects of pesticides in men’s diet.

The Harvard researchers found that that men who ate the highest amount of fruit and vegetables with high levels of pesticide residue had a 49 percent lower sperm count and a 32 percent lower percentage of normally formed sperm than men who consumed the least amount. Their report was published online last week in Human Reproduction, one of the world's leading reproductive medicine journals.

The researchers’ findings are based on an analysis of 338 semen samples from 155 men, ages 18 to 55, attending a fertility center between 2007-2012. The men were divided into four groups, ranging from those who ate the greatest amount of fruit and vegetables high in pesticides residues (1.5 servings or more a day) to those who ate the least amount (less than half a serving a day). They also looked at men who ate fruit and vegetables with low-to-moderate pesticide residues.

The fruit and vegetables were categorized as being high, moderate or low in pesticide residues based on data from …more

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Audubon Society Responds to Jonathan Franzen’s Half Baked New Yorker Essay

“Bird lover” Jonathan Franzen commits an act of extreme intellectual dishonesty, Audubon says

Here are a couple of warnings I offer, free of charge, to savvy consumers of glossy-magazine think pieces: 1) Beware rhetorical questions in headlines or subheads (e.g., “Has climate change made it harder for environmentalists to care about conservation?”) [1]; and 2) Beware paraphrased quotes in which the writer doing the paraphrasing manages to preserve just a single word from the original. [2]

Jonathan Franzen begins his essay “Carbon Capture,” in this week’s New Yorker, with a beautifully apposite anecdote centered on the publication last September of a report by the National Audubon Society about the potential effects of climate change on North American birds. Our report, based on a seven-year peer-reviewed study by our science department, found that roughly half of all North American bird species face serious and possibly existential threats from global warming in this century.

Jonathan_Franzenphoto by TownePost NetworkFranzen’s entire argument — that an “overriding” focus on the longer-term peril to birds from
global warming might undercut bird conservation today — rests on a wafer-thin foundation.

“Audubon’s announcement,” Franzen writes, “was credulously retransmitted by national and local media, including the Minneapolis Star Tribune, whose blogger on bird-related subjects, Jim Williams, drew the inevitable inference: Why argue about stadium glass when the real threat to birds was climate change? In comparison, Williams said, a few thousand bird deaths would be ‘nothing.’ ”

“Stadium glass” is a reference to the long struggle by birders in Minnesota and beyond to push the Vikings ownership to cover the team’s new football stadium in a kind of glass birds can see, thereby saving perhaps thousands from fatal collisions each year. If that effort fails, Franzen, an avowed bird lover, seems to feel that it will have been people like Mr. Williams who sapped its energy. “It wasn’t that I didn’t share Williams’s anxiety about the future,” he writes. “What upset me was how a dire prophecy like Audubon’s could lead to indifference toward birds in the present.”

That would upset me, too, if there were a shred of evidence that the suggestion was valid.

Franzen’s entire argument—that an “overriding” focus on the longer-term peril to birds from global warming might undercut bird conservation today—rests on the wafer-thin foundation of Mr. Williams’s quote. The blogger’s dismissal …more

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As the Snowline Recedes, A Remote Himalayan Village Prepares to Abandon its Ancient Way of Life

A clue to the puzzle of what ails Kumik was recently found buried in ice thousands of miles away

If you were making a movie about life in the Himalaya, seeking a setting that shouts pastoral harmony, at first glance you might be inclined to film it in Kumik. On the surface, at least, Kumik is a little Shangri-La, a comely oasis in the sparsely populated, arid mountain reaches of Zanskar, a remote valley in northwest India.

En Route to Zanskar ValleyPhoto by travel photographythe only road that leads to Zanskar, one of remotest valleys in India, where residents have observed a pronounced decline in snowfall and warmer and earlier springs recent decades. The resulting change in the timing of water availability is seriously threatening their agrarian lifestyle.

Its thirty-nine whitewashed mud homes cascade down a southwest facing hillside that overlooks sun- kissed terrace fields of barley laced with intricate irrigation canals and interspersed with groves of swaying poplars and willows, which the Kumikpas coppice for saplings and ceiling materials. Several ranthaks, elegant water-powered grain mills, turn roasted barley into flour, the centerpiece of the Zanskari diet. A hanging glacier caps Sultan Largo, which towers above the phu, the high pastures where animals graze in the summer. Laughing children race up and down the narrow footpaths, past amiable grandfathers spinning prayer wheels and grandmothers doing clockwise skoras around the small lhakhang temple. Even the acrid smoke that wafts down the alleys has a cheering tang, conjuring the hidden warmth of dung-fired hearths. And if you crouch down on a summer evening among the ripening barley up on the ridge above the lhakhang, as the children skip and shout to greet the return of the rarzepa, the shepherd of the day, with every house hold’s sheep and goats, and you listen to the stalks rustle and rub against each other, with a sound like spreading rumors – a shimmery whisper of snowmelt transmuted into life – well, all talk of crisis and catastrophe seems ridiculous. Crazy Chicken Little stuff.

After all, Kumik is thought to be the oldest village in Zanskar, one of the highest, most remote, permanently inhabited places on the planet. The Kumikpas seem to have life in the rain shadow pretty well figured out. Yet the Kumikpas are busily preparing to abandon it all.

“The older people think Kumik is the perfect village,” notes Tsewang Rigzin, a …more

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