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LA’s Gritty Sodbusters

In Review: Can You Dig This

During the Age of Reason, Voltaire wrote the philosophical novel Candide about a youth who travels around the world and upon returning home to Europe at the end of his odyssey towards self-discovery, realizes: “We must cultivate our gardens.”

Los Angeles-born and raised Delila Vallot’s 83-minute documentary Can You Dig This transplants Voltaire’s notion to South Central Los Angeles, following a handful of latter- day Candides as they pursue urban gardening on their own paths to enlightenment in an area where movies such as Boyz n the Hood and Straight Outta Compton were set.

Twenty-three-year-old ex-gangmember Mychael “Spicey” Evans and the tattooed 21-year-old, formerly “gang affiliated” Kenya Johnson till the land at the Compton Community Garden. Hosea Smith, who served 30 years for killing someone, tends a garden at a halfway house for ex-cons. In a plot of earth at the projects where she lives, adorable eight-year-old Quimonie Lewis grows food to sustain her struggling family.

Perhaps the most prolific and fascinating of these Candides in the ’hood is Ron Finley, the so-called “Gangster Gardener.” The middle-aged, goateed thinker laments living inside a “food desert” with fast food restaurants, convenience and liquor stores but few, if any outlets selling healthy groceries and cuisine. “The obesity rate in my neighborhood is five times that of Beverly Hills, eight, six miles away,” observes Finley, who grows his own food at home and provides produce free of charge to his South LA neighbors.

However, it turns out that growing vegetables, fruits, etc., on the parkway in front of his house – the landscaped area located between the sidewalk and parallel public street – violates municipal ordinances. Finley grouses, “I became an outlaw criminal for growing carrots on my parkway… I’m not a cow – I can’t eat grass… Growing your own food is defiant.”  Refusing to uproot his urban oasis, Finley – who, throughout the documentary, wears a t-shirt bearing the words “Renegade Gardener” – becomes an activist, taking on the powers that be.

Finley hypothesizes that “because of the legacy of slavery lots of Blacks fell out of contact with the soil.” Each of Can you Dig This’ mostly African American city farmers finds renewed meaning in their agricultural activities that endows them with purpose and optimism amidst their troubled urban landscape. Getting back to the …more

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EPA Mulls Ban on Nation’s Most Heavily Used Insecticide

Numerous studies have shown that Chlorpyrifos causes serious harm to children and farmworkers

Scott Krogstad grows soybeans and sugar beets in the heart of the Red River Valley near Grand Forks, North Dakota. Like most sugar beet farmers in the Midwest, he wages a difficult war with the unpredictable infestations of the sugar beet root maggot. The maggot, the larva of a small two-winged fly, can completely sever the roots from a beet with its hooked mouth.

Photo of Farm Workers in CaliforniaPhoto by Dan Long Farm workers cut and pack celery in Salinas Valley, California. Many farmers view the insecticide chlorpyrifos as indespensable in their battles with bugs.

Meanwhile, a thousand miles away in fruit orchards near Provo, Utah, farmer Alan Riley fights off the San Jose scale, an aphid-like insect that sucks sap from his apple, peach, and cherry trees. It can turn apples from red to purple around feeding sites and result in small, deformed fruit.

Despite their many miles of separation, Krogstad and Riley have one key thing in common with each other and countless farmers across the country. They view the insecticide chlorpyrifos as indispensable in their respective battles with bugs. So naturally, they, and many other farmers are dismayed with the US Environmental Protection Agency’s recent proposal to ban chlorpyrifos because of the pesticide’s impact on the health of children and farmworkers who come in contact with it.

Chlorpyrifos is part of a class of chemicals, known as organophosphates, that was developed before World War II as a nerve gas that could halt neurotransmissions in a soldier’s brain. Chlorpyrifos kills bugs by disrupting their brain functions in a similar way.

The ban on the chemical was triggered by a lawsuit filed by NRDC and several other environmental and farmworker organizations.

Introduced by Dow Chemical in 1965 as an alternative to DDT, chlorpyrifos usage took off in the years following the EPA’s decision to ban DDT in 1972. It is now the nation’s most heavily used insecticide, and farmers fear a decrease in their incomes and the food supply would occur if the EPA forces them to abandon chlorpyrifos.

The most recent government statistics show that American farmers used about 6 million pounds of chlorpyrifos in 2012, according to the USGS. USGS data also show that farmers used about three times as much chlorpyrifos as any other organophosphate pesticide in 2009. …more

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Two Anti-Logging Advocates First to be Charged Under Tasmania’s Anti-Protest Laws

Protesters arrested at planned clearcut site in northwest Tasmania

Two healthcare workers protesting against the clearfelling of native forest in Tasmania have become the first people charged under the state’s controversial anti-protest laws.

John Henshaw, 66, and Jessica Hoyt, 35, were in a group of nine protesters who walked on to a Forestry Tasmania coup at Lapoinya, 37 kilometers from Burnie in northwest Tasmania, on Monday.

Photo of Forest Northwest TasmaniaPhoto from Forest of Lapoinya Action Group Facebook Forestry Tasmania plans to clearcut 49 acres of forest in Lapoinya

Earlier this month, Forestry Tasmania bulldozers moved into the area, which is home to the endangered Tasmanian giant freshwater lobster and according to locals has a population of disease-free Tasmanian devils. It is a longstanding forestry coup [harvesting area] and has been selectively logged before but the current harvesting plan is to clearfell 49 hectares.

Forestry owned land can be divided into coupes logged a coup at a time.

Henshaw, a retired anesthesiologist, was arrested and charged on Monday with an offence under the Workplaces (Protection from Protesters) Act 2014, because he allegedly failed to comply with a direction from police to leave the site. He faces a fine of up to $10,000.

Five other people left when asked by police and three more, including Hoyt, were escorted from the site by police and given an infringement notice, which meant they would be arrested if they staged another protest on an active forestry coup, or any other area considered to be a workplace, within three months.

Hoyt was arrested when she returned to a different area of the forestry coup on Tuesday.

Hoyt’s mother, Barbara, told Guardian Australia the arrests went against forestry minister Paul Harriss’s promise the legislation would not target “mum and dad” protesters. Hoyt, a registered nurse, has a three-year-old daughter and is stepmother to a teenager.

The first draft of the anti-protest law was amended after criticism from the UN but constitutional law experts said it remained vulnerable to high court challenge.

“We are not activists, this is our home, our backyard,” Barbara Hoyt said. “Jess rides horses there and she believes that it’s wrong to log it, and it is wrong.”

The Hoyts and Henshaw are part of the Forests of Lapoinya Action Group, which sprung from the local community last year when plans to log …more

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The Ten Most Ethical Travel Destinations for 2016

This year’s list of best developing countries to visit includes Cabo Verde, Mongolia, and Panama

January can feel like a long month. In the northern hemisphere, at least, the days are short, temperatures are low, and skies are often cloudy. In many ways it is the perfect time to fantasize about, and, better yet, plan a summer vacation.

Image of MongoliaPhoto by Bernd Thaller Mongolia made Ethical Traveler's list of the 10 most ethical travel destinations for 2016. Seventy percent of Mongolia’s herder populations now have access to solar power.

But nothing is simple these days, and that includes travel. On top of planning flights, booking hotels, and off-setting carbon emissions, many travelers want to know more about the places they are visiting — about how the countries they plan to explore protect the environment, support social justice, and respect human rights. Luckily, these forward-thinking travelers have someone to do their homework for them.

Every year, Ethical Traveler, a project of Earth Island Institute, puts together a list of the 10 most ethical travel destinations in the developing world. In compiling the list, Ethical Traveler investigates how countries are working to improve the environment, animal welfare, and people’s lives. For example, how are these countries preserving resources and cultivating sustainable practices? How much schooling does the average citizen receive in each country, and what is standard of living?  What have nations done to combat discrimination, or to address child labor?

Aside from these metrics, Ethical Traveler also makes sure the destinations that make the list offer “natural beauty, great outdoor activities, and the opportunity to interact with local people and cultures in a meaningful, mutually enriching way.” 

None of the countries on this list are perfect — many have work to do when it comes to LGBT rights, domestic violence, human rights, and women’s rights. However, overall, those that made the cut are setting an example for the countries around the world. 

So without further ado, here’s a list of the ten most ethical travel destinations in 2016, in alphabetical order.

Cabo Verde

Cabo Verde, which was also listed among the most ethical destinations in 2015, stands out on nearly all counts. This small island nation, which sits off the northwest coast of Africa, is aiming to source 50 percent of its energy from renewables by 2020. Cabo Verde is also leading the …more

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The Pentagon’s Hidden Contribution to Climate Change

World’s single greatest institutional consumer of fossil fuels remains exempt from reporting its pollution

During the November 15, 2015 Democratic presidential debate, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders sounded an alarm that “climate change is directly related to the growth of terrorism.” Citing a CIA study, Sanders warned that countries around the world are “going to be struggling over limited amounts of water, limited amounts of land to grow their crops and you’re going to see all kinds of international conflict.”

Army Air Corps Lynx Mk9A Helicopter Refuelling at Camp Bastion, Afghanistanphoto by Defence Images, on FlickrAn Army Air Corps helicopter at a refueling point in Afghanistan. The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day.

On November 8, the World Bank predicted that climate change is on track to drive 100 million people into poverty by 2030. And, in March, a National Geographic study linked climate change to the conflict in Syria: “A severe drought, worsened by a warming climate, drove Syrian farmers to abandon their crops and flock to cities, helping trigger a civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people.”

But there is another looming threat that needs to be addressed. Put simply: War and militarism also fuel climate change, and the Pentagon is one of the biggest culprits.

The Pentagon occupies 6,000 bases in the US and more than 1,000 bases (the exact number is disputed) in 60-plus foreign countries. According to its Fiscal Year 2010 Base Structure Report, the Pentagon’s global empire includes more than 539,000 facilities at 5,000 sites covering more than 28 million acres.

The Pentagon has admitted to burning 350,000 barrels of oil a day (only 35 countries in the world consume more) but that doesn’t include oil burned by contractors and weapons suppliers. It does, however, include providing fuel for more than 28,000 armored vehicles, thousands of helicopters, hundreds of jet fighters and bombers and vast fleets of Navy vessels. The Air Force accounts for about half of the Pentagon’s operational energy consumption, followed by the Navy (33 percent) and Army (15 percent). In 2012, oil accounted for nearly 80 percent of the Pentagon’s energy consumption, followed by electricity, natural gas and coal.

Ironically, most of the Pentagon’s oil is consumed in operations directed at protecting America’s access to foreign oil and maritime shipping lanes. In short, the consumption of oil relies on consuming …more

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The Path Ahead From Paris

We need to work together to create a “biosphere smart” economy

Paris was an unambiguous endorsement of ecosystem integrity and the need to move beyond fossil fuels. Protecting forests was much discussed and promoting an agricultural systems with carbon rich soil was introduced. That’s really huge – hard to overstate.

Eiffel Tower - COP 21photo by Yann Caradec, on FlickrThe Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to healthy blue skies, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward.

While any of us can (and should) kvetch about what didn’t happen or didn’t happen well enough in Paris, here is a list of some of the positive outcomes that can help inspire the ecological-truth-telling-troops. The Paris Agreement alone won’t get us back to the healthy blue sky (280 ppm) gifted to us by the Holocene time period, but Paris’ achievements should be appreciated as a major step forward together.

  1. In Paris we birthed a global agreement designed to be strengthened: The shift toward a focus on 1.5 degrees Celsius is powerful, and the review of commitments every five years is perhaps the most important development.
  2. Protecting primary forest sinks and restoring other forests featured prominently in the talks.
  3. The groundwork was laid for agroecology and soil carbon solutions. While still not mentioned in this agreement, advocates will work to add soil prominently to the picture. This is currently under discussion in the technical body (SBSTA). The new agreement/system is flexible. A country may choose to do soil carbon conservation and restoration in the farming sector even if it’s not in the agreement. However, they must be transparent and show the reductions. There was also broad agreement on the need to move beyond fossil fuels, but fossil fuel elimination is not all we need. Many put forth a more holistic package.
    The emergent “Soil/Forest/Climate Coalition” will be a significant force at all future global climate meetings.
  4. UN Secretary General said: good global solutions help with good local solutions. Both were showcased at the talks.
  5. Reducing ecologically perverse subsidies was prominent and will help get us to a true cost economy.
  6. Nearly 200 country leaders assembled to take a moderately unified stance on global ecological issues. …more

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Living with Stifling Air Pollution in Beijing

Parents are deeply anxious about raising children in China’s smog-choked capital

It’s an unseasonably warm December morning in Beijing, and the sky is dark and brown.

In this suburban neighborhood on the south side of the city, visibility isn’t more than a dozen meters or so. A thick grey haze has enveloped the streets, like a fog machine has been hard at work to recreate the set of a 1980s horror film.

Buses with high beams shining rumble slowly through intersections, and the air smells like dirt.

Photo of Beijing PollutionPhoto by Michael davis-burchat No one is more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution than children.

A gaggle of children in blue uniforms walk with their parents to a local elementary school. Their chatter and giggles are muffled under white and pink masks. For these kids, it’s just another day in one of the most polluted cities on earth.

The shift in 1979 from socialism to the free-market rescued millions of Chinese people from grinding poverty. But liberalizing the economy came at a cost: the brutalization of China’s natural environment.

Millions of acres of the country’s farmland is so contaminated from industrial run-off that growing food crops on that land is now banned, and nearly two-thirds of China’s underground water is unfit for human contact, according to the Chinese ministry of environmental protection.

Soil and water contamination are, clearly, serious issues in China, but perhaps nothing symbolizes the country’s ecological degradation more dramatically than air pollution.

In cities like Beijing, smog has become a national embarrassment. 

Air cleanliness is measured by the amount of microscopic pollution particles ­— called PM2.5 — present in the air. The World Health Organization states that exposure to a PM2.5-level greater than 25 over a 24-hour period can be potentially harmful.

During the wintertime in Beijing, the city’s PM2.5 level regularly hovers around the 300 or 400 mark, and it’s not uncommon for it to skyrocket above 600. 

There are significant health problems linked to toxic air. A recent study by Berkeley Earth, a research organization based in California, concluded that air pollution contributes to the deaths of approximately 1.6 million people in China each year. 

And no one is more susceptible to the harmful effects of air pollution than children. 

“Children are impacted in many ways [by poor air quality], but particularly …more

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