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Updated: 17 min 12 sec ago

California Geese Applaud Ruling on Foie Gras

7 hours 30 min ago

Foie Gras ducks in Normany, France. Photo via Wikipedia

Or they would if they could, because the October 14, 2014 Supreme Court ruling means that California’s ban of the sale of foie gras, a delicacy that is produced by force-feeding corn to ducks and geese so as to enlarge their livers beyond normal size, remains in place. Animal rights activists have long condemned the practice of force-feeding as being cruel and painful. In 2004 the California legislature took their point and passed a ban that went into effect in 2012.

The fight was led by the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF) and the law was authored and shepherded by former California state legislator John Burton, who described the drive as a “long, hard fight.”

“The Supreme Court’s decision means that the people of California have the right to prohibit the sale of certain food items, solely because they are the product of animal cruelty,” Jonathan Lovvorn, chief counsel for the Humane Society of the United States, said in a statement.

Food Fight

Opposition to the ban from foie gras  (which means fatty liver in Frenchproducers and restaurateurs was fast and furious. A challenge (Association des Eleveur v. Harris, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 13-1313) was formally mounted in the United States District Court of Central California by the Canadian foie gras producers, Association Des Eleveurs de Canards et D’Oies Du Quebec, New York-based Hudson Valley Foie Gras, and California-based HOT’S Restaurant Group. Thirteen meat and poultry producing states weighed in with a supporting brief in favor of overturning the foie gras ban. The appeal was also supported by almost 100 star chefs.

Informally, the plaintiffs argued that the law did not take into account new, more humane methods of foie gras production. But their primary claim rested on the concept that the law violated the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from interfering with interstate commerce.

In a brief defending the law, California Attorney General Kamala Harris argued that the state did not exceed its jurisdiction in implementing the ban. “State laws prohibiting the sale of products based on concerns about animal welfare, or simply on a social consensus concerning what is appropriate, are not unusual,” she wrote, citing various states’ laws prohibiting the sale of horse meat.

Ultimately, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected the producers’ line of reasoning. Relatively confident that the conservative high court would be open to the argument that the ban violated interstate commerce rules and curtailed free trade, the foie gras contingent took their case to the highest court in the land. However, on October 14th, the high court declined to hear the appeal thus leaving intact an August 2013 ruling by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upholding the law.

No Foie Gras For You

Foie gras is no longer available in California. Photo via Wikipedia

The reaction of the food community to the ruling has been every bit as emotional as that of animal rights activists. The ban, they say, will crush culinary creativity by discouraging chefs from taking risks. It is yet another instance of political correctness and odious government overreach. One chef even alleged that the ban was a violation of free speech. Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain called foie gras “one of the most delicious things on earth and one of the ten most important flavors in gastronomy,” urging one and all to lavish their dinner guests with a “delicious, unctuous terrine of foie gras.” Those who object to it solely based on the nature of its production are quite simply “twisted souls.”

Rumors circulated throughout the foodie community that there would soon be specially trained patrols roaming the state to find and prosecute foie gras scofflaws. In response, some partisans vowed, there would be an underground movement to open foie gras speakeasies and renegade pop-up restaurants where the contraband could be served.

So why all the frenzied reaction to the loss of something that – really – is a very small part of the foodie food-chain?

There’s a lot more at stake in the war over foie gras than its particular culinary virtuosity.
California’s law is seen by the country’s giant food producers – the so-called factory farms – as an ominous portent of animal welfare regulation to come.

The state has already passed a law requiring larger cages for egg-laying hens in 2010. That law was appealed by six states who argued that California should not be allowed to have standards different from those of other states. They further alleged that the infrastructure changes required to meet those standards would cost out-of-state farmers hundreds of millions of dollars effectively limiting if not preventing outright their ability to sell their products.

The egg-producers weren’t alone in voicing their alarm. Dom Nikoim with the Missouri Pork Association claims that the law is “a clear violation of the U.S. Commerce Clause,” and warns that it likely won’t stop with eggs.“Logically, the next step is, we should extend our authority on how you produce pork to other states, as well. Then is it dairy, is it beef, is it corn? Go down the list.”

For now, geese, ducks and egg-laying hens have won the day, but the anti-animal welfare regulation lobby is large and powerful. And you can be sure that they – and their representatives in Congress – have only just begun to fight.

Categories: Ecological News

World Food Day 2014 Toasts Family Farmers

Thu, 10/16/2014 - 23:59

By Food Tank

We must do more to incentivize, celebrate and exponentially improve the lives of family farmers to ensure all people have access to fresh, healthy food.

Today, the world puts 500 million family farmers in the spotlight in observance of World Food Day 2014. The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has recognized family farmers as central to solving global hunger and malnutrition.

According to FAO, family farming includes all family-based agricultural activities. Family farming is a means of organizing agricultural, forestry, fisheries, pastoral and aquaculture production, which is managed and operated by a family and is predominantly reliant on family labor. In addition, FAO reports that based on data from 93 countries, family farmers account for an average of 80 percent of all holdings, and are the main producers of food that is consumed locally.

“The world cannot do without the family farmer,” says Amy McMillen, Partnerships and Outreach Coordinator for FAO. “It’s because of the family farmer that we eat a variety of healthy foods every day.  And yet, family farmers still make up the majority of poor and hungry people in the world. We must do more to incentivize, celebrate and exponentially improve the lives of family farmers to ensure all people have access to fresh, healthy food.”

The face of family farming in North America is dynamic. Results from a new survey of 75 North American family farmers, led by Humanitas Global in collaboration with FAO and Food Tank, were unveiled at the Borlaug Dialogue in Des Moines, Iowa today. The results demonstrate what is at play for those who have stayed on the farm, chosen to leave the farm or taken up farming for the first time. A consistent takeaway from the results demonstrates that North American-based family farmers remain committed to family farming, despite the challenges that exist.

“The survey results and our conversations with farmers reinforce a deep affinity for family farming, but they also show that farmers are torn between a love for the land and trying to make ends meet,” said Nabeeha M. Kazi, President & CEO of Humanitas Global and Chair of the Community for Zero Hunger. “For those who no longer work the family farm, the importance of feeding their communities and the world remains very much part of their identity.”

Seventy-nine percent of survey respondents who have left the family farm said they remain involved in agriculture in their current careers.  In addition, a majority of those who have left the family farm said they intend on returning in the future.

“We do not want the universe of family farmers to shrink, and we must have policies, programs and resources to enable family farmers to stay on the farm if they desire to do so and perform at their potential,” says Kazi.  “However, we also cannot overlook the power of those who have left the farm. These individuals have tremendous and highly credible voices as we promote and protect the family farm. We should deploy them to inform policy, shape programs and amplify the story of the family farmer in diverse spaces.”

The greatest challenges for family farmers today include the cost of land, labor costs, government regulations and policies, climate change and the inherent risk of farming, as well as the disproportionate amount of work required given the financial returns.

“The survey results show that family farmers do not rely on farming alone to pay the bills,” says Kazi. “Approximately 67 percent of respondents to the survey said that a family member’s income or additional part-time work supplements income from farming.”

On the positive side, a connection with the land and food systems, independence and working outdoors were all cited as the principle advantages of being a farmer. Those who grew up and remained on farms, those who left farms to pursue other careers and new family farmers all spoke of tending to the land and watching food grow as the most fulfilling aspects of being a farmer.

“Family farmers are facing economic challenges and beyond,” says Danielle Nierenberg, President of Food Tank. “In addition to tools and resources, family farmers are concerned about issues that all Americans worry about – including providing health care for their families and higher education for their children. And yet, so many people stay on the family farm or are committed to returning, because farming is fulfilling, intellectually stimulating and challenging – and it has shaped their values.”

Neirenberg points out that the commitment to family farming is unwavering. She notes that many respondents who have left the family farm said they still pitch in on the farm when they can.  Many went on to say that if no one was available to tend the family farm, they would return home to take over rather than lose it.

The challenges that family farmers face in the United States and throughout North America mirror the challenges seen globally. Climate change, low profitability and better off-farm opportunities all emerge as the greatest global threats to family farming.

“Recognizing the external pressures on family farming, many which the global community can help alleviate, is crucial if we are to make family farming viable and desirable for the next generation,” says McMillan. “FAO celebrates family farmers. We have to be very deliberate and responsive to the needs of the family farmer so they can successfully and profitably do what they love, and that love is feeding and nourishing the world.”


Categories: Ecological News

Star-Studded Conservation Campaign

Tue, 10/07/2014 - 11:19

Conservation International, (CI) a non-profit that operates around the world working on topics related to ecosystems, biodiversity and human well-being recently launched the “Nature is Speaking” campaign, a series of videos featuring the voices of international celebrities.

Each voice speaks as a part of the planet;  Julia Roberts is Mother Nature and Harrison Ford is the ocean. Kevin Spacey is a memorable rainforest; Robert Redford speaks as the redwoods, with Penelope Cruz as water and Ed Norton speaks for the soil. All the voices make the point that is so often lost; that Nature doesn’t need Humans, Humans need Nature.

CI’s manifesto, or Humanifesto spells it out, pointing out that nature will go on, with us or without us.

Our Humanifesto

Nature doesn’t need people. People need nature.
Human beings are part of nature. Nature is not dependent on human beings to exist.
Human beings, on the other hand, are totally dependent on nature to exist.
The growing number of people on the planet and how we live here is going to determine the future of nature. And the future of us.
Nature will go on, no matter what. It will evolve.
The question is, will it be with us or without us?
If nature could talk, it would probably say it doesn’t much matter either way.
We must understand there are aspects of how our planet evolves that are totally out of our control.
But there are things that we can manage, control and do responsibly that will allow us and the planet to evolve together.
We are Conservation International and we need your help. Our movement is dedicated to managing those things we can control.
Country by country.
Business by business.
Human by human.
We are not about us vs. them.
It doesn’t matter if you’re an American, a Canadian or a Papua New Guinean. You don’t even have to be particularly fond of the ocean or have a soft spot for elephants.
This is simply about all of us coming together to do what needs to be done.
Because if we don’t, nature will continue to evolve. Without us.

View the videos here.

Categories: Ecological News

Enjoy the Colorful Lunar Eclipse on October 7 – 8

Mon, 10/06/2014 - 11:45

By Dr. Tony Phillips

On Wednesday morning, Oct. 8th, not long before sunrise, the bright full Moon over North America will turn a lovely shade of celestial red. It’s a lunar eclipse—visible from all parts of the USA.

“It promises to be a stunning sight, even from the most light polluted cities,” says NASA’s longtime eclipse expert Fred Espenak. “I encourage everyone, especially families with curious children, to go out and enjoy the event.”

From the east coast of North America, totality begins at 6:25 am EDT. The Moon will be hanging low over the western horizon, probably swollen by the famous Moon illusion into a seemingly-giant red orb, briefly visible before daybreak. West-coast observers are even better positioned. The Moon will be high in the sky as totality slowly plays out between 3:25 am and 4:24 am PDT.

During a lunar eclipse, the Moon passes deep inside the shadow of our planet, a location that bathes the the face of the Moon in a coppery light.

A quick trip to the Moon explains the color: Imagine yourself standing on a dusty lunar plain looking up at the sky. Overhead hangs Earth, nightside down, completely hiding the sun behind it. The eclipse is underway.

You might expect Earth seen in this way to be utterly dark, but it’s not. The rim of the planet is on fire! As you scan your eye around Earth’s circumference, you’re seeing every sunrise and every sunset in the world, all of them, all at once. This incredible light beams into the heart of Earth’s shadow, filling it with a coppery glow and transforming the Moon into a great red orb.

However, red is not the only color. Many observers of lunar eclipses also report seeing a band of turquoise.

The source of the turquoise is ozone. Atmospheric scientist Richard Keen of the University of Colorado explains: “During a lunar eclipse, most of the light illuminating the moon passes through the stratosphere where it is reddened by scattering. However, light passing through the upper stratosphere penetrates the ozone layer, which absorbs red light and actually makes the passing light ray bluer.” This can be seen, he says, as a soft blue fringe around the red core of Earth’s shadow.

To catch the turquoise on Oct. 8th, he advises, “look during the first and last minutes of totality. The turquoise rim is best seen in binoculars or a small telescope.”

The depth and hue of lunar eclipse colors depends a lot on the dustiness of the stratosphere. When volcanoes erupt and chock the stratosphere with aerosols, lunar eclipses can turn such a deep red that the Moon looks almost black. That’s not the case this time, however:

“Despite some recent eruptions that look spectacular from the ground, there have been no large injections of volcanic gases into the stratosphere,” says Keen. “In the absence of volcanic effects, I expect a rather normal reddish-orange lunar eclipse similar in appearance to last April’s eclipse.”

In other words, this is going to be good.

Espenak notes that “the total lunar eclipse of Oct. 8 is the second of four consecutive total lunar eclipses. Such a set of total eclipses is known as a tetrad.” The next eclipse in the tetrad is six months from now, in April 2015.

“Don’t wait,” he urges. Mark your calendar for October 8th, wake up early, and enjoy the show.



Author: Dr. Tony Phillips |  Production editor: Dr. Tony Phillips | Credit: Science@NASA

More information:

NASA’s Eclipse home page

Categories: Ecological News

The Wilderness Act at 50

Fri, 10/03/2014 - 04:43

“Wilderness is a necessity … They will see what I meant in time. There must be places for human beings to satisfy their souls. Food and drink is not all. There is the spiritual. In some it is only a germ, of course, but the germ will grow.”

~ John Muir 1838-1914

Fifty years after the signing of the historic Wilderness Act, John Muir’s words still ring true.

President Lyndon B. Johnson signing the Wilderness Act into law on September 3, 1964

The Wilderness Act was signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on September 3, 1964 and President Obama declared September National Wilderness Month. The Act, written by Howard Zahniser of The Wilderness Society it went through more than 60 drafts and taken eight years of work before becoming law. The total area at that time of signing was just 54 areas (9.1 million acres) in 13 states. The law established these areas as part of the National Wilderness Preservation System (NWPS) and since 1964, the NWPS has expanded to  includes 758 areas (109,511,038 acres) in 44 states and Puerto Rico. Although this sounds vast, only 5 percent of the United States is protected as wilderness, an area slightly larger than California. And because Alaska contains more than half of America’s wilderness, just 2.7 percent of the contiguous United States is protected as wilderness.

According to, “the Noatak and Gates of the Arctic Wildernesses (12,743,329 acres) make up the largest area of unbroken wilderness. In the lower 48 states, the largest area of unbroken wilderness is found in Idaho’s Frank Church-River of No Return Wilderness (approximately 2,300,000 acres)” The smallest is Pelican Island Wilderness, in northern Florida which is a tiny 5.5 acres.

A lesser-known act, which was also signed into law on September 3, 1964, is the Land and Water Conservation Fund, one of the most effective tools for conservation, outdoor recreation and economic growth in local communities.

“President Johnson and a bipartisan Congress got it right when they established the Land and Water Conservation Fund, embracing the simple concept that when we take something from the earth – namely, oil and gas from public lands offshore – we should return something back to the earth by investing in our land, water and wildlife heritage,” said U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. “Fifty years later, the Land and Water Conservation Fund has made huge economic contributions to local communities in every state, helping to establish local parks, protect clean water sources and create jobs through outdoor recreation. As we look to the next 50 years, we need to ensure that we continue this great legacy by fully and permanently funding this innovative program.”

A Wild Year

During the year leading up to this anniversary, the entire  country has enjoyed a wide variety of events commemorating the day.

The Smithsonian’s ” Wilderness Forever: 50 Years of Protecting America’s Wild Places,” juried photography exhibit opened September 3, 2014 at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C. and will run until summer 2015. Winning photographs were selected from more than 5,000 public entries. In addition to the photo exhibit, visitors to the website can put the images in perspective on the interactive maps, with more information and photos.

The National Parks Service commissioned a collection of videos commemorating wilderness areas around the country.

Olympic Wilderness: If Wilderness Could Speak

Enjoy the symphony of nature in one of the most acoustically diverse wilderness areas of the country as we follow the wilderness cry from the alpine region of the Olympic Mountains down through the canopies of the old growth forests and temperate rainforest into the raging waters of the wilderness coast.

Coming up on October 15-19, the National Wilderness Conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico plays host to a myriad events, including the Get Wild festival and the People’s Wilderness Film Gala. One of the keynote speakers at the Conference is U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Sally Jewell. She is to be joined by numerous keynote speakers, including Sylvia Earle, The Wilderness Society President Jamie Williams and a panel from the four Federal Bureaus that control wilderness areas; Bureau of Land Management Director Neil Kornze; Fish and Wildlife Service Director Dan Ashe; Forest Service Chief Thomas Tidwell; National Park Service Director Jon Jarvis.

Events continue around the country through the rest of the year and include Wild Impressions: Art on the Legacy of Wilderness in Roseburg, Oregon; a series of three hikes into El Toro Wilderness Area and Peak summit in Puerto Rico; the Mingo Wilderness Weeklong Volunteer Service Project where volunteers spend a week paddling through the bottomlands of Mingo National Wildlife Refuge in southeastern Missouri, while serving to help clear ‘canoe trails’ through this unique wilderness.

Wilderness Under Siege

Currently there are several bills in Congress that could eviscerate the Wilderness Act, according to the Wilderness Society. They include The Great Outdoors Giveaway (HR 1581), which would eliminate the Forest Service’s roadless rule; The Border Patrol Takeover Act (HR 1505) would give the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) “operational control” of federal lands within 100 miles of the Mexican and Canadian borders; eight different bills have been introduced, aimed at ending the National Monuments acts. Passed in 1906, the Antiquities Act is an important tool for wilderness protection. These and others are detailed on the Society’s site.

As the human population balloons and corporate entities pressure politicians to change laws to enable access to the protected wilderness, it becomes more and more imperative to stand up and make our voices heard to keep these special places safe.

Categories: Ecological News

California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Nation’s First Statewide Plastic Bag Ban into Law

Tue, 09/30/2014 - 23:27

By Californians Against Waste

California Governor Jerry Brown today signed legislation enacting the nation’s first statewide ban of single-use plastic shopping bags.

“Forty years ago there were no plastic grocery bags; four years from now, we’ll forget there ever were,”

~ Mark Murry, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste

Senate Bill 270 by State Senators Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), Senator Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) and Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Huntington Park/Long Beach), became the first plastic bag ban approved by a state legislature in the nation in late August. The bill takes effect July 1, 2015.

“California policy makers have made a clear statement in enacting the bag ban: Producers are responsible for the end of life impacts of their products,” said Mark Murray, Executive Director of Californians Against Waste, the bill’s sponsor. “If a product is too costly to society and the environment, California is prepared to move to eliminate it.”

Currently, 127 cities and counties in the state have adopted a local bag ordinance, covering 36% of the population. SB 270 provides a uniform, statewide solution to the rest of the state, modeled after the local ordinances already in place and successfully implemented.

“For nearly 10 million Californians, life without plastic grocery bags is already a reality,” said Murray, who has been working on the issue for over a decade at both the local and statewide level. “Bag bans reduce plastic pollution and waste, lower bag costs at grocery stores, and now we’re seeing job growth in California at facilities that produce better alternatives.”

For the plastic bag, introduced in the 1970s and now ubiquitous in our streets and creeks, its lightweight and easily airborne characteristics made it problematic even when thrown away in a trash can or garbage truck.

Environmental groups and local government advocates overcame fierce lobbying by out-of-state plastic bag manufacturers, led by South Carolina-based Hilex Poly.

“California policy makers spent a great deal of time debating the merits of this issue over the last several months,” said Murray. “In the end, it was the reports of overwhelming success of this policy at the local level that overcame the political attacks and misinformation from out-of-state plastic bag makers.”

This issue began at the grass roots in San Francisco and Santa Monica in 2007. It has been a top priority for local environmental and community groups, and the bill is now supported by a diverse group of stakeholders, including grocers, retailers, food workers, waste haulers, local governments, and several in-state bag reusable bag makers.

SB 270 prohibits grocery stores, drugstores, and convenience stores from distributing single-use plastic bags, going into effect first in large grocery stores in July of 2015. Stores can sell paper, durable reusable bags, and compostable bags with a minimum charge of 10 cents each. The 10 cent charge is to encourage consumers to bring their own reusable bags. The bill also seeks to protect and create green jobs by creating standards and incentives for plastic bag manufacturers to transition to making reusable bags.

“Forty years ago there were no plastic grocery bags; four years from now, we’ll forget there ever were,” said Murray.

Categories: Ecological News

A Poet at the Climate Summit

Thu, 09/25/2014 - 23:12
Dear Matafele Peinem

On 23 September 2014, 26 year old poet Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner, from the Marshall Islands, addressed the Opening Ceremony of the UN Secretary-General’s Climate Summit. Kathy was selected from among over 500 civil society candidates in an open, global nomination process conducted by the UN Non-Governmental Liaison Service.

Kathy performed her new poem entitled “Dear Matafele Peinem”, written to her daughter. The poem received a standing ovation. Kathy is also a teacher, journalist and founder of the environmental NGO, Jo-jikum.

Categories: Ecological News

What’s Possible: UN Climate Summit Opening Film

Wed, 09/24/2014 - 01:49
Open your eyes to what’s possible.

Earth Day Network has teamed up with Moving Art to share “WHAT’S POSSIBLE: UN Climate Summit Opening Film” with the world. The film above was broadcast to the entire UN General Assembly.

The aim of this film is to show the world what’s possible. We have the tools at hand to create a clean energy future. This is not a dream. A sustainable planet can be our reality.

WHAT’S POSSIBLE was created by director Louie Schwartzberg, writer Scott Z. Burns, Moving Art Studio, and Lyn Davis Lear and the Lear Family Foundation. It features the creative gifts of composer Hans Zimmer.

Categories: Ecological News

World Rhino Day 2014

Mon, 09/22/2014 - 22:21

Today, September 22, the focus is on all rhinos around the world. The World Rhino Day theme this year is Five Rhino Species Forever, celebrating the white, black,  Sumatran, greater one-horned and Javan rhinos.

What began as a small idea in Zimbabwe in 2011, has grown to be a recognized and internationally important day, celebrated by numerous countries. Special events are organized to highlight the plight of these amazing animals.

Fittingly, South Africa is hosting a variety of events including The Youth Rhino Summit, bringing together youngsters from around the world to learn about the rhino’s plight and conservation. 140 delegates, or Rhino Warriors from 20 countries, including the United States, UK, Vietnam and New Zealand are meeting in the the iconic iMfolozi Game Reserve in Kwa-ZuluNatal, where they will spend three days becoming Rhino Ambassadors. When they return to their home countries, they will share the facts about poaching and the devastation to all wildlife and the surrounding communities.

A few facts:

  • Last year, 1004 rhinos were killed in South Africa; that’s  three every day.
  • Three of the species, Black Rhinoceros, Javan Rhinoceros, and Sumatran Rhinoceros,are listed on the critically endangered list; one, the Western Black Rhino, was officially declared extinct in 2013.
  • Besides the enormous poaching threat, rhinos face habitat loss and lack of protection due to their locations in war zones and politically unstable areas.

Categories: Ecological News

Marching for Climate Change

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 22:44
Imagine… More than 100,000 people of all nationalities thronging New York City streets in peaceful protest…  Imagine silence… As the throng honors the people on the front lines of climate change… Then… Imagine the noise… Vuvuzelas, horns, musical instruments and more than 20 marching bands… This is the People’s Climate March in New York City this Sunday, September 21, 2014.

New York City streets are going to be more jammed than usual this weekend, when thousands of Climate Change activists hit town for what is being billed as the largest Climate Change march in history.

The People’s Climate March, taking place this weekend just before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York City, is designed to draw attention to the lack of attention paid by attending world leaders to the devastating effects of climate change. During the Summit, discussions are expected to lay the groundwork for a potential global agreement on emissions, next year in Paris.

From its beginnings as International Day of Climate Action on October 24, 2009, the Climate Change Mobilization movement has gained steady momentum, with worldwide events typically around the same time of year. This year, the Global Day of Action is a month earlier to coincide with the UN Summit, which will be attended by more than 120 Heads of State and Government, plus leading financiers and business leaders. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is calling on these leaders to “bring bold announcements and actions to the Summit that will reduce emissions, strengthen climate resilience and mobilize political will for a meaningful legal agreement in 2015.”

More than 1,400 organizations from around the world are planning to march in NYC, as are groups from an estimated 320 college campuses from across this country.

“Students and youth have always been at the vanguard of social movements, and what I’m looking forward to at the People’s Climate March is the intersection of movements. Labor, faith, students, race, class, LGBTQ movements are all coming together in a fantastic show of solidarity, art, culture and power. A movement of movements rooted in shared vision,” said Varshini Prakash, a senior at UMass Amherst, majoring in Environmental Science and Political Science.

But it’s not just the youngsters hitting the streets. Two of the nation’s largest teachers unions, the United Federation of Teachers and National Educators Association, have endorsed the march and are mobilizing their teachers and students. Several New York City labor unions, many faith-based groups and community organizations are also marching. The health care workers union 1199/SEIU, with members from places like Guyana and the Philippines, who know what climate change means to their countries, expects to mobilize several thousand.

In a surprise announcement, Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that he planned to join the march. ““I will link arms with those marching for climate action,” Ban said in a statement. “We stand with them on the right side of this key issue for our common future.”

Actor Leonardo Di Caprio, who was recently appointed as a UN Ambassador for Climate Change is also expected to be marching in the event.

Although he won’t be marching, Bishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, a longtime advocate for tough climate policies and 1984 Nobel Peace Prize winner, via a message on the Vine social network said, “We must walk the walk, we must ensure climate justice.”

The two biggest players behind the protest are, co-founded by Bill McKibben, and Avaaz, a global, online civic organization co-founded by Numerous other businesses, unions, faith groups, schools, social justice groups and environmental groups are involved as well, including the Sierra Club, National Wildlife Federation, Amnesty International and more.

In an interview recently with the New York Times, McKibben, the author of several books about climate change, including “The End of Nature” published 25 years ago, said, “We’re going to sound the burglar alarm on people who are stealing the future. We’ve watched the summer Arctic disappear and the ocean turn steadily acidic, it’s not just that things are not getting better. They are getting horribly worse. Unlike any other issue we have faced, this one comes with a time limit. If we don’t get it right soon, we’ll never get it right.”

Although the world spotlights will be on the march in NYC, thousands of other events are planned across the country and around the world. As stated on “Because this is a ‘movement of movements’ moment, the People’s Climate March is being organized in a participatory, open-source model. This means that there isn’t a central “decision-making” body or single coalition. Rather, groups and individuals are collaborating with some basic shared agreements around respect, collaboration, trust, and many are using the Jemez Principles of Environmental Justice.

A  52-minute documentary called Disruption about planning the march was released on September 7 and includes footage of meetings and pre-march rallies, with lessons on climate change and the lack of support to halt the Climate Chaos.

This past week has seen a surge of activity in NYC, leading up to the march. Art and sign-making workshops; educational forums; float building events and even a Pagan Mixer to kick off the People’s Climate March weekend!

The March

After months of negotiations with the New York Police Department, the route has been approved. Marchers will gather at Central Park West, between 65th and 86th streets and the two-mile march will begin at 11:30 ending at 11th Ave in the streets between 34th Street and 38th Street. The various contingents will gather at designated blocks to give the march more continuity. At the start, there will be a minute of silence to honor those impacted by climate change and the fossil fuel industry. Then the march will “Sound the Climate Alarm,” and marchers are encouraged to make as much noise as they can! Drums, trumpets, vuvuzelas and over 20 marching bands will sound out across the marching route and churches across the city will ring their bells. Jewish temples will blow their shofars, as part of the global climate call for action.

The Climate Ribbon

The theme of the march is “It takes roots to weather the storm” and at the end of the march on 11th Avenue, participants will see a huge art piece symbolizing the tree of life, created  by Brooklyn-based artist, Swoon and her team of artist-engineers.  The branches spread out over the streets and marchers can take their own ribbons that they have carried during the march and tie them to the tree. Each ribbon should identify what that person stands to lose through climate change. Ribbons can be exchanged, forging relationships across the world.

In London, England, the Peoples Climate March London will make its way through Westminster to the Houses of Parliament to demonstrate solidarity around the need for leaders to deal with Climate Change. There are numerous other marches planned around England.

Instead of marching, different groups have organized events to honor the environment. For instance, In Suva, Fiji activists can join in a Community Mangrove and Beach Cleanup.  In New Zealand, on this Global Day of Climate Change, cities around the country are hosting Plant for the Planet events. In Port Townsend, Washington, tribal heads will lead a gathering to specifically honor the Salish Sea.

To find an event near you, go to and and check your local newspapers and websites for events that aren’t listed on the major sites.

Categories: Ecological News

California Adds Steam to the Plastic Bag Ban Movement

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 11:38

By Jill Richardson
Courtesy of Other Words

We can conserve by not wasting stuff we don’t actually need.

California is on the verge of becoming the first state to ban plastic grocery bags. Governor Jerry Brown says he intends to sign the bag-banning law California lawmakers approved in early September. The ban will go into effect at grocery stores and pharmacies next year and extend to liquor stores and additional kinds of retailers in 2016.

In addition to making it against the law for stores to give shoppers single-use plastic bags when ringing up purchases, the new law will also require stores to charge customers 10 cents for each paper bag they get. The kinds of disposable plastic bags used for loose or perishable items like produce will still be allowed.

California’s not the first place in the world to ban plastic grocery bags. In fact, one out of three Californians live in cities and towns — including San Francisco, Santa Barbara, and Los Angeles — that are already plastic bag-free. So are Boulder, Chicago, Santa Fe, Seattle, Austin, and lots of other places across the country.

When Solana Beach, California (population: 13,154) banned plastic bags in 2012, it eliminated the use (and disposal) of 6.5 million bags per year. And that’s just one very small city.

Why is the movement to ban plastic bags gaining steam? After all, they are recyclable, right?

Yes and no. For one thing, most bags don’t get recycled. They might be re-used first, but they often end up in the landfill all the same. Some bags are sent to recycling. Unfortunately, according to Californians Against Waste, they tend to jam up the machines in recycling facilities, requiring extra manpower (and, thus, taxpayer dollars) to remove them.

In addition to clogging up landfills and making incinerated trash more toxic, there’s the ocean pollution that raises concerns in California and other coastal areas. When plastic bags blow into the ocean, they can look like jellyfish — a good meal for a hungry sea turtle. Only, unlike jellyfish, plastic bags are, um, less than nourishing. Plastic bags kill tens of thousands of turtles, seals, birds, and whales every year.

U.S. consumers run through about 100 billion of these bags every year. Worldwide, the total number of bags is around 1 trillion. But despite their widespread use, we don’t actually need disposable plastic bags.

When it comes to saving the planet, we know we need to follow the three Rs: reduce, reuse, and recycle. So what do we give up? Especially if we don’t want to give up anything. In fact, most of us want more, not less.

The easiest way to conserve without downsizing our lifestyles is to improve efficiency and to conserve by not wasting stuff we don’t actually need anyway. If I can have the same quality fridge, car, and washing machine but they each use half as much energy as my old ones, then I’m saving money and treading more lightly on the planet without sacrificing convenience.

Additionally, if I can “reduce” by eliminating stuff I don’t need anyway, that’s far better than giving up the stuff I really want.

What do I want? Nice clothes, good food, and gadgets, but not the bags and boxes they come in.

Packaging is used once, then tossed out — or hopefully, if possible, recycled. Plastic bags simply serve to get your goodies from the store to your door, and then their useful life is over, unless you plan to re-use them to pick up Fido’s business on your next walk.

It’s a small inconvenience to remember to bring reusable bags with you to the grocery store. Since I’m forgetful, I just store all of my canvas totes in my car and my backpack. That way, when I arrive at the store, I’ve already got them.

Let’s come together on small inconveniences, like opting for reusable bags or, at the very least, paper bags, to reduce our environmental footprint.

Categories: Ecological News

Europe Successfully Phasing Out Known Ozone Layer-harming Chemicals

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 22:28

Courtesy of the European Environment Agency

Chemicals which damage the ozone layer continue to be phased out in the European Union, according to the latest data from the European Environment Agency (EEA).

Image NASA

The report ‘Ozone depleting substances 2013‘ has been published by the EEA to coincide with the International Day for the Preservation of the Ozone Layer. It covers the chemicals’ production, destruction, import and export.

Over the last few decades, chemicals known to harm the ozone layer have been successfully substituted in most parts of the world since 1989 when the Montreal Protocol came into force, controlling more than 200 chemicals. Within the EU these substances are covered by the ODS Regulation , which is more stringent than the rules of the Protocol and covers additional substances.

Since the potential to harm the ozone layer varies among substances, the data collected on these chemicals are expressed not only in metric tonnes but also in ‘ozone depleting potential’ (ODP) tonnes which show quantities in terms of their environmental effects rather than physical weight.

Overall, the trade and use of substances with a high ODP is shrinking as they are gradually replaced with less harmful substances, the report shows. Between 2012 and 2013 the production, export and destruction of these substances continued their long-term declining trend, both in ODP terms and metric tonnes. Imports have also declined since 2006, although they have stabilised in recent years and increased slightly between 2012 and 2013.

Categories: Ecological News

Nanoparticles: Panacea or Pandora’s Box?

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 21:31
Widespread Application of Nanoparticles in Food Could Lead to Unintended Consequences

By David Suzuki

Nanoparticles can be used to deliver vaccines, treat tumors, clean up oil spills, preserve food, protect skin from sun and kill bacteria. They’re so useful for purifying, thickening, colouring and keeping food fresh that they’re added to more products every year, with the nanofoods market projected to reach US$20.4 billion by 2020. Nanoparticles are the new scientific miracle that will make our lives better! Some people say they’ll usher in the next industrial revolution.

Hold on… Haven’t we heard that refrain before?

Nanotechnology commonly refers to materials, systems and processes that exist or operate at a scale of 100 nanometres or less, according to U.S.–based Friends of the Earth. A nanometer is a billionth of a metre — about 100,000 times smaller than the diameter of a human hair. An FoE report finds use of unlabelled, unregulated nano-ingredients in food has grown substantially since 2008. Because labelling and disclosure are not required for food and beverage products containing them, it’s difficult to determine how widespread their use is. Nanoparticles are also used in everything from cutting boards to baby bottles and toys to toothpaste.

“Major food companies have rapidly introduced nanomaterials into our food with no labels and scant evidence of their safety, within a regulatory vacuum,” says report author Ian Illuminato, FoE health and environment campaigner. “Unfortunately, despite a growing body of science calling their safety into question, our government has made little progress in protecting the public, workers and the environment from the big risks posed by these tiny ingredients.”

Studies show nanoparticles can harm human health and the environment. They can damage lungs and cause symptoms such as rashes and nasal congestion, and we don’t yet know about long-term effects. Their minute size means they’re “more likely than larger particles to enter cells, tissues and organs” and “can be more chemically reactive and more bioactive than larger particles of the same chemicals,” FoE says. A Cornell University study found nanoparticle exposure changed the structure of intestinal-wall lining in chickens.

Like pesticides, they also bioaccumulate. Those that end up in water — from cosmetics, toothpaste, clothing and more — concentrate and become magnified as they move up the food chain. And in one experiment, silver nanoparticles in wastewater runoff killed a third of exposed plants and microbes, according to a CBC online article.

Their use as antibacterial agents also raises concerns about bacterial resistance and the spread of superbugs, which already kill tens of thousands of people every year.

The Wilson Center, an independent research institution in Washington, D.C., recently created a database of “manufacturer-identified” nanoparticle-containing consumer products. It lists 1,628, of which 383 use silver particles. The second most common is titanium, found in 179 products. While acknowledging that “nanotechnologies offer tremendous potential benefits” the Center set up its Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies to “ensure that as these technologies are developed, potential human health and environmental risks are anticipated, properly understood, and effectively managed.”

As is often the case with such discoveries, widespread application could lead to unintended consequences. Scientists argue we should follow the precautionary principle, which states proponents must prove products or materials are safe before they’re put into common use. Before letting loose such technology, we should also ask who benefits, whether it’s necessary and what environmental consequences are possible.

Friends of the Earth has called on the U.S. government to impose a moratorium on “further commercial release of food products, food packaging, food contact materials and agrochemicals that contain manufactured nanomaterials until nanotechnology-specific safety laws are established and the public is involved in decision-making.”

The group says we can protect ourselves by choosing fresh, organic and local foods instead of processed and packaged foods and by holding governments accountable for regulating and labelling products with nanoparticles.

Nanomaterials may well turn out to be a boon to humans, but we don’t know enough about their long-term effects to be adding them so indiscriminately to our food systems and other products. If we’ve learned anything from past experience, it’s that although we can speculate about the benefits of new technologies, reality doesn’t always match speculation, and a lack of knowledge can lead to nasty surprises down the road.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.

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Categories: Ecological News

Asia-Pacific Clean Air Partnership Launched to Fight Global Air Pollution

Sat, 08/09/2014 - 03:30


The Cities Clean Air Partnership, the first major clean air certification and partnership program to encourage air quality protection in cities across the Asia-Pacific region, was launched today by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration, Clean Air Asia, and the Bay Area and South Coast Air Districts.

“The EPA, California, and cities from L.A. to Fresno have decades of experience in reducing harmful air pollution,” said Jared Blumenfeld, EPA’s Regional Administrator for the Pacific Southwest. “But air pollution is still causing more than 3.7 million deaths a year and costing the global economy over $3.5 trillion a year in sickness and premature deaths. This partnership is taking a huge step forward to reduce global air pollution and achieve more livable, healthier cities for all.”

“The Cities Clean Air Partnership will greatly accelerate air quality improvement in Asian cities and Taiwan is proud to help initiate this program with the U.S. EPA,” said Taiwan Environmental Protection Administration Minister Kuo-Yen Wei. “We are looking forward to forming ties with other city partners in Asia under this program and the International Environmental Partnership framework.”

The Cities Clean Air Partnership aims to strengthen air quality management in Asian cities, encourage progress, and contribute to reducing the health impacts of air pollution and climate change in Asia. The program includes: a certification and scoring system that encourages a city to take clean air actions by earning certifications as it achieves milestones and progresses towards better air quality; empowering cities through training, financial incentives and other partnership and collaboration support; and fostering cooperation and peer-to-peer learning among cities through a cities partnering program.

With today’s Cities Clean Air Partnership launch, cities in California and around the U.S. will be able to collaborate with cities in the Asia-Pacific to share experiences and innovations to reduce and control air pollution.   Combating air pollution and growing clean energy economies are major goals of EPA’s collaboration with its partners in the Asia-Pacific. EPA has worked for many years with environmental agencies, non-profits and industry in Asia to improve prevention and control of emissions of particulate matter and other air pollutants.

Initial support to launch the Cities Clean Air Partnership began with a grant to Clean Air Asia from the International Environmental Partnership, a $5 million fund established to advance global environmental collaborations. Clean Air Asia, a non-governmental organization based in the Philippines working on air quality issues in Asia, is developing the partnership, which will drive progress for participating cities, helping them make targeted decisions about the best way to deploy resources to improve air quality.

“We can only significantly reduce the problem of air pollution through meaningful and effective partnerships among cities, which is the driving principle of this partnership,” said Clean Air Asia Executive Director Bjarne Pedersen. “This is a landmark initiative towards air pollution prevention and control in Asia. We are looking forward to both delivering real impacts under this pioneering initiative as well as bringing more partners onboard.”

“We are proud of the South Coast Air District’s long history of partnership and collaboration with Taiwan on air pollution prevention,” said South Coast Air District Deputy Executive Officer Elaine Chang. “We are looking forward to expanding this cooperation and sharing our experiences with other Asia-Pacific partners.”

“Public-private partnerships have proven time and again, that investments in clean air programs can provide large public health dividends,” said Bay Area Air District Executive Officer Jack Broadbent. “With over $300 million committed over the past several years to reduce Port related diesel pollution, investments in cities for greenhouse gas reduction programs, community grants that fund small scale projects which offer real results, we recognize the benefits of these partnerships to successfully tackle our clean air challenges.”

Small particulate matter is considered to be among the worst air pollutants from a health perspective and is linked to cardiovascular illness, asthma attacks, respiratory infections, and even death. In 2008, the annual average small particulate matter levels in outdoor air in more than 200 Asian cities was nearly five times higher than World Health Organization air quality guidelines, according to a Clean Air Asia survey.

This fall, the Cities Clean Air Partnership program will be further expanded at the biennial Better Air Quality conference in Sri Lanka, the largest gathering of air quality officials and experts in the Asia-Pacific.

U.S. EPA and Taiwan EPA collaborate regionally under the auspices of the American Institute in Taiwan and the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office in the U.S.


Learn more about Clean Air Asia at:

More information on EPA’s work in the Asia-Pacific region:

Categories: Ecological News

Global Warming Deniers’ Desperation

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 23:44
Global Warming Deniers get More Desperate by the Day

By David Suzuki

Image: WoodleyWonderWorks/Creative Commons

The Heartland Institute’s recent International Climate Change Conference in Las Vegas illustrates climate change deniers’ desperate confusion. As Bloomberg News noted, “Heartland’s strategy seemed to be to throw many theories at the wall and see what stuck.” A who’s who of fossil fuel industry supporters and anti-science shills variously argued that global warming is a myth; that it’s happening but natural — a result of the sun or “Pacific Decadal Oscillation”; that it’s happening but we shouldn’t worry about it; or that global cooling is the real problem.

The only common thread, Bloomberg reported, was the preponderance of attacks on and jokes about Al Gore: “It rarely took more than a minute or two before one punctuated the swirl of opaque and occasionally conflicting scientific theories.”

Personal attacks are common among deniers. Their lies are continually debunked, leaving them with no rational challenge to overwhelming scientific evidence that the world is warming and that humans are largely responsible. Comments under my columns about global warming include endless repetition of falsehoods like “there’s been no warming for 18 years”, “it’s the sun”, and references to “communist misanthropes”, “libtard warmers”, alarmists and worse…

Far worse. Katharine Hayhoe, director of Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center and an evangelical Christian, had her email inbox flooded with hate mail and threats after conservative pundit Rush Limbaugh denounced her, and right-wing blogger Mark Morano published her email address. “I got an email the other day so obscene I had to file a police report,” Hayhoe said in an interview on the Responding to Climate Change website. “They mentioned my child. It had all kinds of sexual perversions in it — it just makes your skin crawl.”

One email chastised her for taking “a man’s job” and called for her public execution, finishing with, “If you have a child, then women in the future will be even more leery of lying to get ahead, when they see your baby crying next to the basket next to the guillotine.

Many attacks came from fellow Christians unable to accept that humans can affect “God’s creation”. That’s a belief held even by a few well-known scientists and others held up as climate experts, including Roy Spencer, David Legates and Canadian economist Ross McKitrick. They’ve signed the Cornwall Alliance’s Evangelical Declaration on Global Warming, which says, “We believe Earth and its ecosystems — created by God’s intelligent design and infinite power and sustained by His faithful providence — are robust, resilient, self-regulating, and self-correcting, admirably suited for human flourishing, and displaying His glory. Earth’s climate system is no exception.” This worldview predetermines their approach to the science.

Lest you think nasty, irrational comments are exclusively from fringe elements, remember the gathering place for most deniers, the Heartland Institute, has compared those who accept the evidence for human-caused climate change to terrorists. Similar language was used to describe the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in a full-page ad in USA Today and Politico from the Environmental Policy Alliance, a front group set up by PR firm Berman and Company, which has attacked environmentalists, labour-rights advocates, health organizations — even Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Humane Society — on behalf of funders and clients including Monsanto, Wendy’s and tobacco giant Phillip Morris. The terrorism meme was later picked up by Pennsylvania Republican congressman Mike Kelly.

Fortunately, most people don’t buy irrational attempts to disavow science. A Forum Research poll found 81 percent of Canadians accept the reality of global warming, and 58 percent agree it’s mostly human-caused. An Ipsos MORI poll found that, although the U.S. has a higher number of climate change deniers than 20 countries surveyed, 54 percent of Americans believe in human-caused climate change. (Research also shows climate change denial is most prevalent in English-speaking countries, especially in areas “served” by media outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch, who rejects climate science.)

It’s time to shift attention from those who sow doubt and confusion, either out of ignorance or misanthropic greed, to those who want to address a real, serious problem. The BBC has the right idea, instructing its reporters to improve accuracy by giving less air time to people with anti-science views, including climate change deniers.

Solutions exist, but every delay makes them more difficult and costly.

Dr. David Suzuki is a scientist, broadcaster, author and co-founder of the David Suzuki Foundation. Written with Contributions from David Suzuki Foundation Senior Editor Ian Hanington.


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Categories: Ecological News

Indigenous Mountain Farmers Unite on Climate Change

Mon, 07/21/2014 - 23:00

Courtesy of Sci Dev Net

Farmers from 25 indigenous mountain communities in ten countries have come together to share traditional knowledge that could help them to mitigate climate change and to lobby governments for greater recognition of their unique knowledge.

The International Network of Mountain Indigenous Peoples was formed at a workshop in Bhutan last month (26 May-1 June). It includes communities from Bhutan, China, India, Kyrgyzstan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, the Philippines, Taiwan, Tajikistan and Thailand.

Member communities from Bhutan, China and Peru had already agreed to exchange seeds at a meeting held in Peru earlier this year (26 April-2 May). The agreement was extended to the other members at the most recent meeting.

The farmers say the network will enable communities to access new seed varieties that are more resilient to pests and drought; will help increase their crop diversity; and will reduce their dependence on corporate-owned seeds.

“This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

~ Krystyna Swiderska, IIED

“Learning about experiences and strategies from other farming communities — based on local knowledge systems — through this network reaffirms people’s beliefs and faith in their own systems, values and traditional knowledge,” says Reetu Sogani, an activist who works with the International Institute for Environment and Development’s (IIED’s) Smallholder Innovation for Resilience project, which was involved in the workshop.

The meeting also developed what it calls The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples. The declaration calls on governments to: support climate change adaptation measures based on traditional knowledge; promote indigenous languages; and bridge local knowledge and science to create effective solutions for conservation, food security and climate adaptation.

“Mountain environments are characterised by harsh natural conditions which are being exacerbated by changes in climate,” says Krystyna Swiderska, principal researcher at the IIED, which co-organised the Bhutan workshop.

Swiderska says that a lot of adaptation funding never reaches communities or goes towards developing high-tech solutions, which can replace local crop diversity and knowledge — thereby undermining a community’s adaptive capacity in the longer term.

The 5th Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report also recognises the role and value of local and traditional knowledge in climate change adaptation, noting that such knowledge is often not included in adaptation planning.

The member communities have initiated a seed exchange programme with the International Potato Centre’s (CIP) Potato Park, in Peru, a conservation initiative where indigenous people protect traditional seed varieties and agricultural knowledge.

The programme will focus initially on the exchange of potatoes between mountain communities in Bhutan, China and Peru, with support from scientists at CIP, using in-vitro material (as opposed to seeds) to breed new varieties of potatoes that are both more resilient to local conditions and more productive, says Swiderska.

Manohara Khadka, gender specialist at the Kathmandu-based International Centre for Integrated Mountain Development, says: “Local policymakers have failed to recognise and conserve mountain people’s traditional knowledge in agriculture and adaptation”.

She adds that the other factors that are leading to the loss of traditional knowledge include loss of indigenous languages, which are not always taught in schools; young people discontinuing farming; and migration to cities.

Khadka says: “This network is a good initiative to fill the knowledge gap and address similar problems between mountain communities with similar farming systems, altitudes and ecological conditions.”

Link to The Bhutan Declaration on Climate Change and Mountain Indigenous Peoples

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License

Categories: Ecological News

Cry for Argentina: The Devastation of GMO Soya

Sun, 07/13/2014 - 23:05

by Mark Measures

Agricultural advisor Mark Measures visits Argentina regularly. Following his recent visit last fall, he wrote sent  report on the massive impact GM soya production is having there. Reprint courtesy of Courtesy of

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. No caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use GM technology. This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Farming to a flawed blueprint

The widespread adoption of genetically modified (GM) Roundup Ready Soya and more recently GM Maize during the last 10 – 15 years has fueled an unprecedented agricultural revolution in Argentina. Now 98% of soya in the country is GM and in parts of the Pampa 90% of the crop is soya i.e. no crop rotation.

The reasons why this has happened are quite straightforward, certainly in our part of the Pampa. GM soya allows direct drilling, which minimizes soil moisture loss and consequently increases yields over the non-GM soya.

Be under no illusions, GM soya is easy and it is profitable, in fact it so easy that it does not need a farm manager on site and consequently there are businesses running 100,000 hectares, spread over many sites and farmed to a blueprint. The resulting social upheaval is immense.

Herbicide use is not just a matter of a pre-drilling application of Roundup (Glyphosate) herbicide, as is practiced in the UK. It is also applied to the growing crop, normally once by tractor at the establishment stage and again by air during the later growth stage.

Due to the lack of rotation and repeated use of Roundup the inevitable has happened; there are now 5 weed species that are known to be resistant to Roundup and there are as yet unconfirmed reports of a further 5 resistant species.

The consequence of course is that farmers are increasing the application rates of glyphosate to get the weed kill, these are reported to be up to 20 times standard application rates and other, often more toxic herbicides are having to be used in addition to Glyphosate, including the infamous Agent Orange chemical, 24D.

The chemical treadmill to destruction

Farmers are keeping one step ahead of the game at the moment, but the visible weed incidence in fields observed during the 7 hour bus trip across Buenos Aires province suggests only just. The use of some brushwood killers presumably explains why there are dead trees and shrubs along field boundaries.

There is now multiple herbicide resistance in some weeds and it’s not yet clear whether the seed companies will be able to respond by continually developing new herbicide resistant characteristics in their seed.

What is clear is that the need for higher application rates and use of additional herbicides there is now higher use of herbicides than ever before. Claims that GM soya reduces herbicide use may be true for the first year or so but in the long term it is nonsense.

Adverse environmental impacts are beginning to emerge. There are widespread reports of ground water contamination and effects on wildlife throughout the food chain.

Research from Buenos Aries University by Andres Carrasco, Professor of Embryology, has reported major neurological effects of glyphosate on amphibians at below standard application rates, and further problems associated with the additives which are thought to penetrate the amphibian cells more easily than the main ingredient.

With some notable exceptions, few people connected with Argentinean agriculture voice concerns about possible health effects on humans, but in a country that has only just prohibited aerial crop spraying adjacent to towns perhaps this is not surprising.

Contamination of organic crops, destruction and corporate control

Our estancia is farmed along traditional Argentine lines with a crop rotation including soya, wheat, maize, sunflowers and Lucerne and is grazed by 4,000 Hereford cattle. It is an important wildlife site, now a Vida Silvestre reserve, with a unique 300 hectare area of indigenous pampas grassland and a 250 hectare lagoon.

Genetic contamination of organic and non-GM crops is now happening on two fronts.

Firstly, as we know to our cost, there is contamination of adjacent crops. Soya is self-pollinating but crop contamination does happen and we have to test routinely and at times reject crops from the organic market. The risk is of course much greater with GM maize. All farmed crops, organic and non-organic are also liable to contamination in store and transport.

There are also real risks for us of genetic contamination of our native species in the wildlife reserve. Needless to say we have to bear the costs of all this, not the GM farmers or the seed suppliers.

The second contamination front and one of the most pervasive consequences of the total domination of GM soya is that there is now no development or multiplication of non-GM varieties.

At Las Dos Hermanas we have been saving our own single variety of seed and supplying to a few other organic farmers for 15 years now. The conventional farmers are totally dependent on the two or three seed companies (who of course also supply the herbicides) and the organic and any surviving non-GM farmers are being forced to use outclassed and underdeveloped varieties.

Of ultimate importance is the fact that GM technology has facilitated growing soya in the virgin pastures, scrub land and forest in the north of the country, 277,000 ha were cleared in 2010, often land totally unsuited to cropping but with the potential to grow a few crops before soil structure collapses and the depleted land is returned to grass – by which time the damage is done, not just to biodiversity but through destruction of one of our most important carbon sinks.

A pall of poison and folly

Flying over the North of Argentina you see the organic matter of soils and trees going up in pillars of smoke. The consequences for climate change are dire and inevitable unless there is a major and speedy reversal of this production policy.

It could be argued that the problems experienced with GM Soya are due entirely to misuse of the technology; that with proper rotations, with precise application and use of the herbicides and avoidance of spraying near people and watercourses that all would be well.

But the fact is that the human and environmental safety of this technology is unproven and it is always accompanied by environmentally damaging cropping, corporate control and inadequate regulation.

Argentina is the classic example – no caution, no controls and with the government desperate for taxable exports, farmers are being driven by sheer economic pressure to use the technology to the detriment of all.

Farmers are losing their independence, consumers are losing control of their source of food and we are all losing a globally important biodiversity and carbon sink.

This is industrialization of food production on a devastating scale. If this is the application of “sound science”, God help us.

Mark Measures  has been an agriculture advisor for over 30 years. Since the mid-1980s he has also worked with Las Dos Hermanas, a 4,000 hectare organically farmed estancia in the western Pampas of Argentina,   [short descript w/link & TITLE OF STORY #1]  He is Director of The Organic Research Centre in the UK, a registered charity, formally known as the Progressive Farming Trust Ltd., whose business is to develop and support sustainable land-use, agriculture and food systems, primarily within local economies, which build on organic/agro-ecological principles to ensure the health and well-being of soil, plant, animal, people and our environment.The Organic Research Centre was established in 1980 as a “Centre of Excellence” to address the major issues raised by a resource hungry global economy based on an intensive agricultural system.

Citizens Concerned About GM is a group of people who want a more balanced debate about GM; who want questions asked and answered; and an open, transparent discussion which is not dominated by the interests of multinational corporations. is maintained to provide up to date information and discussion about GM in an accessible form. It is not aimed at campaigners but seeks to act as an information and education resource for citizens of all types.



Categories: Ecological News

OCO-2 Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing

Thu, 07/03/2014 - 04:14
NASA Launches New Carbon-Sensing Mission to Monitor Earth’s Breathing


A United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket launches with the Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2)satellite onboard from Space Launch Complex 2 at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif. on Wednesday, July 2, 2014. OCO-2 will measure the global distribution of carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas driving changes in Earth’s climate.
Image Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls

NASA successfully launched its first spacecraft dedicated to studying atmospheric carbon dioxide at 2:56 a.m. PDT (5:56 a.m. EDT) Wednesday.

The Orbiting Carbon Observatory-2 (OCO-2) raced skyward from Vandenberg Air Force Base, California, on a United Launch Alliance Delta II rocket. Approximately 56 minutes after the launch, the observatory separated from the rocket’s second stage into an initial 429-mile (690-kilometer) orbit. The spacecraft then performed a series of activation procedures, established communications with ground controllers and unfurled its twin sets of solar arrays. Initial telemetry shows the spacecraft is in excellent condition.

OCO-2 soon will begin a minimum two-year mission to locate Earth’s sources of and storage places for atmospheric carbon dioxide, the leading human-produced greenhouse gas responsible for warming our world and a critical component of the planet’s carbon cycle.

“Climate change is the challenge of our generation,” said NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. “With OCO-2 and our existing fleet of satellites, NASA is uniquely qualified to take on the challenge of documenting and understanding these changes, predicting the ramifications, and sharing information about these changes for the benefit of society.”

OCO-2 will take NASA’s studies of carbon dioxide and the global carbon cycle to new heights. The mission will produce the most detailed picture to date of natural sources of carbon dioxide, as well as their “sinks” — places on Earth’s surface where carbon dioxide is removed from the atmosphere. The observatory will study how these sources and sinks are distributed around the globe and how they change over time.

“This challenging mission is both timely and important,” said Michael Freilich, director of the Earth Science Division of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “OCO-2 will produce exquisitely precise measurements of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations near Earth’s surface, laying the foundation for informed policy decisions on how to adapt to and reduce future climate change.”

Carbon dioxide sinks are at the heart of a longstanding scientific puzzle that has made it difficult for scientists to accurately predict how carbon dioxide levels will change in the future and how those changing concentrations will affect Earth’s climate.

“Scientists currently don’t know exactly where and how Earth’s oceans and plants have absorbed more than half the carbon dioxide that human activities have emitted into our atmosphere since the beginning of the industrial era,” said David Crisp, OCO-2 science team leader at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California. “Because of this we cannot predict precisely how these processes will operate in the future as climate changes. For society to better manage carbon dioxide levels in our atmosphere, we need to be able to measure the natural source and sink processes.”

Precise measurements of the concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide are needed because background levels vary by less than two percent on regional to continental scales. Typical changes can be as small as one-third of one percent. OCO-2 measurements are designed to measure these small changes clearly.

During the next 10 days, the spacecraft will go through a checkout process and then begin three weeks of maneuvers that will place it in its final 438-mile (705-kilometer), near-polar operational orbit at the head of the international Afternoon Constellation, or “A-Train,” of Earth-observing satellites. The A-Train, the first multi-satellite, formation flying “super observatory” to record the health of Earth’s atmosphere and surface environment, collects an unprecedented quantity of nearly simultaneous climate and weather measurements.

OCO-2 science operations will begin about 45 days after launch. Scientists expect to begin archiving calibrated mission data in about six months and plan to release their first initial estimates of atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations in early 2015.

The observatory will uniformly sample the atmosphere above Earth’s land and waters, collecting more than 100,000 precise individual measurements of carbon dioxide over Earth’s entire sunlit hemisphere every day. Scientists will use these data in computer models to generate maps of carbon dioxide emission and uptake at Earth’s surface on scales comparable in size to the state of Colorado. These regional-scale maps will provide new tools for locating and identifying carbon dioxide sources and sinks.

OCO-2 also will measure a phenomenon called solar-induced fluorescence, an indicator of plant growth and health. As plants photosynthesize and take up carbon dioxide, they fluoresce and give off a tiny amount of light that is invisible to the naked eye. Because more photosynthesis translates into more fluorescence, fluorescence data from OCO-2 will help shed new light on the uptake of carbon dioxide by plants

OCO-2 is a NASA Earth System Science Pathfinder Program mission managed by JPL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. Orbital Sciences Corporation in Dulles, Virginia, built the spacecraft bus and provides mission operations under JPL’s leadership. The science instrument was built by JPL, based on the instrument design co-developed for the original OCO mission by Hamilton Sundstrand in Pomona, California. NASA’s Launch Services Program at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida is responsible for launch management. Communications during all phases of the mission are provided by NASA’s Near Earth Network, with contingency support from the Space Network. Both are divisions of the Space Communications and Navigation program at NASA Headquarters. JPL is managed for NASA by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.

For more information about OCO-2, visit:

OCO-2 is the second of five NASA Earth science missions scheduled to launch into space this year, the most new Earth-observing mission launches in one year in more than a decade. NASA monitors Earth’s vital signs from land, air and space with a fleet of satellites and ambitious airborne and ground-based observation campaigns. NASA develops new ways to observe and study Earth’s interconnected natural systems with long-term data records and computer analysis tools to better see how our planet is changing. The agency shares this unique knowledge with the global community and works with institutions in the United States and around the world that contribute to understanding and protecting our home planet.

For more information about NASA’s Earth science activities in 2014, visit:

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Categories: Ecological News