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An Ancient Vegetarian Tribe Struggles to Keep Its Traditions Alive

The Todas of India’s Nilgiri Hills have played a crucial role in safeguarding the biodiversity of the UNESCO World Heritage site

Kwattawdr Kwehttn cast a reverential gaze upon the distant hill, it’s the abode of Etyottydaihh, one of the gods of his tribe. Sitting on a cot outside his house in the Nilgiri Hills in southern India, he then turned his gaze to another peak, which too, is the abode of another god, Kwedrehndaihh. He doesn’t point towards the peaks. That would be disrespectful. Kwehttn’s life — his community’s life — is imbued with reverence for the hills, land, and the whole ecosystem that sustains them.

Toda Elder outside a traditional Toda homePhoto by GBSNP VarmaKwattawdr Kwehttn, an elder of the nomadic pastoralist Toda tribe, sits outside a traditional barrel-vaulted reed and bamboo hut.

Eighty-year-old Kwehttn is an elder of the Toda tribe, an ancient nomadic pastoralist people of the upper Nilgiri plateau, which is one of India’s smallest Indigenous communities. The slim, gap-toothed elder lives in the tiny hamlet of Kwadrdhinnymund. Nestled amid towering hills peppered with tea plantations, and stands of eucalyptus, acacia, wattle, and pine trees, the hamlet is home to eight extended Toda families — a total of 28 people.

Kwehttn’s knowledge of the landscape, of the local plants and flowers, and of his community’s sacred sites is encyclopedic. He is among the few remaining members of his tribe who possesses the knowledge of Toda cosmography. Throughout his life, Kwehttn has wandered among these hills and mountains, communing with its plants and trees and stars. He tuned himself to the ebb and flow of the landscape and to the rhythms of forests. He has also observed his community’s rituals and listened to their ancient stories and passed this knowledge on to younger generations.

“I have no desires,” he says, “except to see Toda culture survive in the midst of changes happening all around.”

The Nilgiris are a part of the Western Ghats, a 990-mile mountain range that runs along the western coast of the Indian peninsula that contains a large proportion of the country’s plant and animal species, many of which are endemic to the region. The mountain range is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the eight “hottest hotspots” of biological diversity in the world. Two national parks — Mukruti (mostly shola grassland) and Mudumalai —  form the core of the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve, India’s first designated biodiversity reserve. This region, which also includes Silent Valley …more

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A Home For Businesses That Believe Ethics and Profits Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

The American Sustainable Business Council works to amplify the influence of sustainable businesses on policy issues like clean energy, food, and agriculture

We may have reached the point of peak craft beer. Cities are ranked based on their breweries, connoisseurs opt for beer tastings over wine flights, and beers are brewed with everything from matté, to mustard seeds, to pomegranate. In the midst of this beer hysteria, some craft breweries are taking things a step further, aiming to make beer that is not just small-batch and delicious, but that is also sustainable.

 Beer sampler Photo by Quinn Dombrowski, on Flickr Businesses like New Belgium Brewing Company have joined the American Sustainable Business Council to amplify their voice in public policy debates.

New Belgium Brewing Company, for example, has built sustainability into its business model. Pointing out that beer is 90 percent water, the company supports clean water advocacy, aims to reduce water use at its brewery, and has a special campaign to protect the Colorado River. It also works to source hops sustainably, minimize waste at its brewery, and reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Often referred to as “triple bottom line” businesses, companies like New Belgium focus on minimizing their impact on the environment, supporting local communities, fostering a positive work environment, and of course, turning a profit in the process. (Triple bottom line refers a focus on people, the planet, and profits.) However, because this business model operates outside the profits-centric mainstream, it is not well represented by more conservative business organizations like the US Chamber of Commerce in the public policy arena.

So where does a company like New Belgium turn when it wants to join a policy discussion? When it wants to, for example, push the EPA to expand clean water protections? A good place to start would be the American Sustainable Business Council (ASBC), a business advocacy group that works on behalf of sustainable businesses, and lobbies on a wide range of policy issues, including clean energy, food, agriculture, toxic chemicals, and sustainable economies.  

ASBC was formed in 2009 with the specific objective of representing responsible companies in the policy-making process. “We felt that the traditional business groups that were out there weren’t doing a very good job to make the case that a company can be financially successful while being a high road employer, and committed to community, and being environmentally responsible,” says Richard Eidlin, co-founder and vice president of policy …more

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Gulf Coast Activists Band Together to Fight Climate Change and Extractive Industries

Frontline communities confront legacy of racism, poverty, and environmental destruction

For activists throughout the Gulf Coast 2015 is a year of anniversaries. It is the fifth anniversary of the BP oil spill; the 10-year anniversary of hurricanes Katrina and Rita as well as a BP refinery explosion in Texas City that killed 15 people; and 40 years since a massive influx of Vietnamese immigrants, who are now at the heart of the region’s fishing industry, began settling the region. And perhaps most notably the fiftieth anniversary of the march on Selma and the Voting Rights Act.

Ariel view of Deepwater Horizon spillPhoto by kris krügEverything from the Gulf Coast's history and environment to its politics and culture is shaped by the energy economy.

To commemorate these historic events, communities across the region are organizing a series of actions under the banner, “Gulf South Rising.” According to the group’s website their aim is “to inform and engage Gulf South communities around the climate crisis and its impact on the region.” (The tagline for the group goes: “the seas are rising and so are we.”)

Tackling climate change is not easy anywhere but perhaps especially so in this part of the country. The Gulf Coast is in many ways the oil and gas industry’s stomping grounds. It was here after all that democratic senator Mary Landrieu made her last stand fighting for the Keystone XL Pipeline. It also happens to be one of the regions most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, where sea levels are rising and coastal lands are vanishing. According to NOAA, every year an area off the Gulf Coast larger than Manhattan disappears due to subsidence and sea level rise.

Colette Pichon Battle, an attorney with the Gulf Coast Center for Law and Policy who grew up in south Louisiana, says that addressing climate change effectively means drawing connections between environmental impacts and people’s lives. At a conference called Bayou Rising in December 2014 — which in some ways was a precursor to this year’s region-wide campaign — Pichon Battle said her goal was to get people to say the words “climate change.”

Many of the people who live in these frontline communities depend on the oil and gas industry for their livelihood. Often the choice is one between a poorly paid service sector job or $30/hour on a rig. Everything from the region’s …more

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Can Mardi Gras Go Green?

New Orleans revelry celebrates culture, but at a cost to the environment

It’s Carnival time in New Orleans. For the past week and a half, locals and visitors alike have been celebrating one of New Orleans’ most famous historical and cultural traditions. Today, the revelry culminates in Mardi Gras, and up and down the streets of New Orleans, hundreds of thousands of people are gathered together enjoying food and drinks, and watching the parades roll by.

Mardi GrasPhoto by Neil Cooler, on Flickr Mardi Gras beads litter a New Orleans street.

Green may be one of the three prominent colors of the Mardi Gras spectrum, but the event is anything but. It produces millions of pounds of trash each year, the majority of which ends up in landfills. In 2014, the City collected 1,758 tons of trash during the 10 days of Carnival, spending nearly $1.5 million on sanitation.

Though the City distributes between 50 and 100 extra trash bins along the major parade routes for the festivities, much of the litter still ends up on the ground and it falls upon the City and contracted companies to make the streets look clean again. Currently, the City doesn’t attempt to place recycling bins along the parade routes because of attendees’ general resistance to recycling. Pilots for recycling programs have been too small to have a noticeable effect on sanitation costs, according to the City.

What people often forget about when they see the streets shiny and new again on Ash Wednesday is where those tons of trash end up — in a landfill. If people recycled their plastic and glass bottles, aluminum cans and other recyclable containers instead of tossing them in the trash or on the street, Mardi Gras-related waste could be significantly reduced.

The Rise of Mardi Gras Beads

While catching and throwing beads, doubloons, stuffed animals and other trinkets during Mardi Gras parades may be exhilarating, many of these throws end up polluting the city as they are dropped and long forgotten once the parade is over. But the biggest offender when it comes to litter? Mardi Gras beads.

The Mardi Gras beads tradition began innocently enough. While the earliest of Mardi Gras parades didn’t have throws at all, by the 1950s, strings of glass beads imported from Czechoslovakia became a staple throw for the Rex parade, one of the earliest parades in New Orleans’ Mardi …more

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Germany Moves to Legalize Fracking

Four-year moratorium on shale drills set to be overturned as country initiates process to allow regulated hydraulic fracturing for shale gas

By Arthur Neslen

Germany has proposed a draft law that would allow commercial shale gas fracking at depths of over 3,000 metres, overturning a de facto moratorium that has been in place since the start of the decade.

3D printingPhoto by Justin Wooldford Germany has drafted a law that would overturn a de factor moratorium on shale gas fracking.

A new six-person expert panel would also be empowered to allow fracks at shallower levels.

Shale gas industry groups welcomed the proposal for its potential to crack open the German shale gas market, but it has sparked outrage among environmentalists who view it as the thin edge of a fossil fuel wedge.

Senior German officials say that the proposal, first mooted in July, is an environmental protection measure, wholly unrelated to energy security concerns which have been intensified by the conflict in Ukraine.

“It is important to have a legal framework for hydraulic fracturing as until now there has been no legislation on the subject,” Maria Krautzberger, president of Germany’s federal environment agency (UBA), told the Guardian.

“We have had a voluntary agreement with the big companies that there would be no fracking but if a company like Exxon wanted, they might do it anyway as there is no way to forbid it,” she said. “This is a progressive step forward.”

The draft law would only affect hydraulic fracturing for shale oil and tight gas in water protection and spring healing zones.

The tight gas industry made up around 3% of German gas production before the moratorium, and, under the new proposals, could resume fracking in the Lower Saxony region where it is concentrated.

Commercial fracking for shale gas and coal bed methane would be banned at levels below 3,000 metres, but allowed for exploration purposes at shallower levels, subject to the assessment of the expert panel.

Environmentalists, however, were alarmed that half of the experts belong to institutions that signed the Hanover Declaration, calling for increased exploration of shale gas in Germany as a way of increasing energy security.

“It is clear what these people are going to say,” José Bové, the French Green MEP, told the Guardian. “The panel is not going to be independent, but exactly what the companies are looking for. You don’t need a panel …more

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Missouri Supreme Court Rules Against Utility in Solar Rebate Case

Lawmakers violated voter’s Constitutional rights by preemptively passing legislation that tried to amend a pending ballot initiative on renewable energy, court says

In a win for renewable energy, the Missouri Supreme Court ruled last Tuesday that Empire District Electric Company, the utility that serves Joplin, MO and areas in four neighboring states, has to comply with the solar energy requirements of the state’s 2008 renewable energy law.

arial view of solar arrayPhoto courtesy of Renew MissouriThe ruling concludes a five-year long legal against Empire District Electric Company's refusal to comply with the state's renewable energy law that Missouri residents passed via a ballot initiative in 2008.

The ruling concludes a five-year long legal battle between Empire District Electric Company and two environmental groups — Renew Missouri and the Missouri Coalition for the Environment — regarding the utilities’ refusal to comply with the law, which Renew Missouri was instrumental in putting into place in 2008. The Missouri Supreme Court’s definitive 5-2 ruling is a validation of Renew Missouri’s work and has far-reaching consequences.

In 2008, Renew Missouri, an Earth Island project dedicated to advancing renewable energy and energy efficiency in Missouri, championed Proposition C, a ballot initiative establishing Missouri’s Renewable Energy Standard (RES). Missouri became the twenty-seventh  state to enact a RES and only the third to do so by ballot initiative. Getting Proposition C on the November 2008 ballot was no easy task — it required over a million dollars in financial investment and thousands of volunteer hours to gather the 170,000 signatures needed to place Proposition C on the ballot.

The RES required utilities to get 15 percent of their power from renewable energy sources by 2021 with 2 percent coming from solar energy. The RES also required all investor-owned utilities to offer solar rebates of $2,000 per kilowatt to help their customers, covering 25-50 percent of the cost of rooftop solar and to help establish a mature solar industry in the state.

But before voters had the opportunity to vote on the initiative, the Missouri General Assembly passed House Bill 1181 in May 2008, which sought to exempt only one of the three investor-owned-utilities in the state — Empire District Electric Company — from any future solar requirements that may later be enacted.

The solar rebate grew the industry across the state. Three thousand jobs were created, over 125 megawatts of solar panels were installed on over 7,500 Missouri rooftops, and 45 solar companies were created. All of this growth has …more

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9 Million Tons of Plastic Waste WIll End Up in Our Oceans in 2015, Says New Study

Researchers warn that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade

We’ve all heard about the great Pacific garbage patch and other huge swirls of plastic trash floating around in our world’s oceans damaging marine ecosystems and sea creatures. But what’s not been clear is  just how much more plastic is making its way from land to sea every year. Now we have an estimate.

 A new study in the February 13 issue of the journal Science calculates that about 8 million tons of plastic waste wound up in the world's oceans in 2010 — equal to five grocery bags filled with plastic for every foot of coastline in the world.

plastic trash in oceanPhoto by Cesar HaradaThe study says that plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally.

The study, by researchers at the University of Georgia in Athens, GA, and their colleagues from other schools in the US and Australia, also identifies the major sources of this plastic debris and lists the 20 countries — including China, India, Brazil and the United States — that are the biggest polluters.

It warns that the trash could increase more than tenfold in the next decade unless the international community improves its waste management practices.

The researchers combined data on solid waste from 192 different coastal countries with factors such as population density and economic status. They found that “uncaptured waste” — trash that is littered or lost from waste management systems — was the biggest source of ocean-bound plastic debris in the world.

They estimate that coastal countries generated nearly 275 million tons of plastic waste in 2010 — and that 4.8 to 12.7 million tons of that plastic made its way to the oceans. “Our estimate of plastic waste entering the ocean is one to three orders of magnitude greater than the reported mass of floating plastic debris in high-concentration ocean gyres and also globally,” they write in their report.  And the trash pile is only going to get bigger: The estimate for 2015  is 9.1 million metric tons.

Using population growth data to project the increase in mass to 2025, the researchers estimate that by 2025, the volume of ocean trash would expand to 155 million metric tons. "In 2025, the annual input would be about twice the 2010 …more

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