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Sep 19, 2017, 09:07 AM
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 on: Today at 05:17 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
'Girls aren't less than boys': Kabul's female veterinarians hope to cure inequality

A trio of vets in Afghanistan are braving bomb blasts and discrimination to head up an animal welfare practice and inspire a new generation of women

Fran McElhone

Unpredictable and indiscriminate bomb blasts don’t deter the three women heading up Afghanistan’s only large-scale animal shelter and veterinary clinic, in Kabul. Neither do the attitudes of the people who told them they couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be vets.

Afghanistan is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the world for gender equality. In this strictly patriarchal society, women are still traditionally married off soon after school age and remain housewives for the rest of their lives. They may face imprisonment for running away from home and many are still behind bars for “moral crimes”.

So for Dr Maliha Rezayi, Dr Malalai Haikal and Dr Tahera Rezaei to be at the helm of the Nowzad Conrad Lewis Clinic in Kabul, they are not only changing the course of animal welfare in Afghanistan, but resetting the course of history for women in society too.

The women, all in their 20s, say they are “always busy” at the clinic, which was founded by former British Royal Marine Pen Farthing. These are Afghanistan’s next generation of women, the millennials changing the future of their country, animal by animal, person by person, through a gradual but potent ripple effect.

Rezayi’s parents were born in Iran after her grandparents moved there to escape the civil war in the early 1990s. When she was 13, the family, including her six siblings, moved back to Afghanistan. Although her parents, a shopkeeper and a housewife, backed her determination to attend school and eventually go to university – and to become Afghanistan’s female boxing champion while still a teenager – her extended family were unremittingly scornful.

“My parents and brothers and sisters supported me and made me feel that I could be anything I wanted to be,” says Rezayi, 27, who had an amicable arranged marriage two years ago. “But my wider family members were not supportive. Most of them grew up in Afghanistan and thought girls can’t go out. This is not a good culture here.

“Of course it was hard, but it made me work harder, to prove everyone wrong. The attitude was that girls can’t do anything and I wanted to show them that girls aren’t less than boys.”

When she went to Kabul University in 2012, there were around 20 women and 140 men on the course. Her experience was mixed; although there were some supportive tutors, there was also a culture of oppression towards female students.

“Some of the teachers didn’t want us to do well and would mark my grades down,” she says. “In our society, there is a belief that you can’t do things because you’re a woman. So when I go out to help someone’s animal, sometimes people don’t want me to touch it. But after I get them to trust me, they thank me.”

For three years, the trio has been leading clinic-based sessions with the next wave of veterinary students, giving them the opportunity to gain vital experience.

“The women are happy to have a female teacher,” Rezayi says. “But the men often ignore us at first and don’t want to listen to us. Then when we start teaching them interesting information, they start to listen.”

The women live with the constant fear of civil unrest. When we speak, Rezayi’s uncle is recovering in hospital after being severely injured several weeks before in a truck bomb explosion that killed more than 150 people on May 31, making it the deadliest single attack since the start of the war in 2001.

Rezayi was only a few hundred metres away from the blast. “The situation is hard,” she says. “Our families are always worried about us. But we’re used to it. It is normal for us.”

Haikal, 24, was educated at home in Pakistan, where her parents had gone to flee the civil war, and upon her return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule, she was confined to the family home. When she was at university, she says, people – “especially men” – didn’t want women to do well out of fear that they would become “stronger” than them.

Rezaei grew up in Iran with her nine siblings as refugees of the civil war. Now 26, she moved to Afghanistan aged 15. After graduating, she worked at Kabul Zoo, where visitors were dumbfounded when she told them she was working there.

All the women agree that the single most important thing, other than family support, that will help change attitudes and stifle gender inequality is education.

“It is the only solution,” says Rezayi. “The media can help, but the main thing is education.

“When I first went to uni, some members of my family said it was a bad thing. But when I graduated, they started saying to their daughters, you need to go to school so you can be like Dr Maliha.”

 on: Today at 05:14 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Starbucks Makes Special Delivery to Ensure the Future of Coffee

By Raina Lang

Editor's note: Sept. 29 marks National Coffee Day in the U.S. Throughout September, Human Nature is publishing a series of reports on the Sustainable Coffee Challenge, a coalition working to make coffee the world's first sustainable agricultural product. This post is the second in the series.

This story follows Conservation International's (CI) director of sustainable coffee markets, Raina Lang, to Guatemala, with Mattea Fleischner, manager on Starbucks' global social impact team. They were in the country to see how coffee trees are grown and delivered to farmers as part of the "One Tree for Every Bag" commitment, which has raised enough funds to plant more than 30 million new coffee trees. The commitment is part of a nearly 20-year partnership between CI and Starbucks.

As we approached the Huehuetenango nursery, crossing a one-lane bridge suspended over the Valparaiso River, I realized just how complex coffee tree deliveries could be. This year, the nursery is supplying half a million seedlings to farmers in the region as part of Starbucks commitment. As a partner in this effort, CI works with Starbucks and ECOM, the administrator of the nurseries, to ensure that healthy, high-quality coffee leaf-rust-resistant trees are distributed and that farmers understand and respect key environmental and social safeguards associated with the program.

I was in Guatemala to observe the deliveries of coffee trees to C.A.F.E. Practice farmers—those who comply with a set of social, environmental and economic best practices defined as requirements to enter the Starbucks supply chain. I also visited a few farms to see where and how trees were being planted. Tracking how nurseries deliver rust-resistant coffee plants to farmers—and monitoring the quality of the trees they're delivering—is one critical step in monitoring designed to ensure healthy, sustainable coffee farms and thriving farmers.

Coffee farmers rely on productive and resilient trees to maintain their place as growers in a competitive market—and to sustain their livelihoods. Due to threats such as aging trees, climate change and significant pest and disease outbreaks in recent decades, farmers in many places are in desperate need of support. According to a 2015 study, there is a need to replant an estimated 22,000 square kilometers (13,600 square miles) globally, which translates to roughly 7 billion-10 billion coffee trees. To address this need—and build on the success of the One Tree for Every Bag program—Starbucks has committed to quadruple its commitment by providing 100 million healthy coffee trees to farmers by 2025.

This particular nursery in La Libertad—one of 12 nurseries across Guatemala, El Salvador and Mexico servicing the program—has the capacity to distribute 10,000 trees a day. But there's a challenge: The bridge connecting trees to farmers can only be used by lightweight vehicles. When the river swells during rainy season, larger trucks that could transport greater quantities of trees can't make it to the nursery, resulting in a dance of pick-up trucks entering and exiting the nursery.

When we made it to the nursery at 7 a.m., there were already two trucks waiting to be loaded. Nursery workers move the trees to the truck bed using a plastic crate, fitting roughly 700 to 1,000 coffee trees into the truck bed. The whole loading process took around 45 minutes per truck. To ensure that the trees are accounted for and tracked, there is an intricate process in place to document and record the quantity of trees, license plate, driver and date in a central registrar. Using this method, Starbucks and their local suppliers can account for the nearly 21 million coffee trees that have been distributed to C.A.F.E. Practices farmers since 2016.

That afternoon—just prior to a tropical downpour common in the tropics during rainy season—we visited a farm that had received seedlings from the program. Gustavo Alfaro is a fourth-generation farmer whose property was hit by coffee leaf rust several years back, just when he was taking it over from his father. Since taking ownership, he has made a concerted approach to increase shade cover in and around the coffee area. The trees and native vegetation in the zone regulate the climate across the farm, he explained, which can help mitigate future rust outbreaks. As we chatted, each newly delivered seedling was carried carefully to the area using a wooden backpack, then planted under a canopy of shade.

As we stood under the conacaste trees watching the seedlings being planted, we could hear the distinct calls of a tinamu chico, a flightless bird that roams the coffee fields in this region. In the face of climate change, those healthy, disease-resistant seedlings help Gustavo further build resilience on his farm.

But what if we could do more to help farmers like Gustavo adapt to a changing climate? Dozens of organizations in the Sustainable Coffee Challenge—including Starbucks—have joined forces to accelerate the responsible renovation and rehabilitation of coffee farms, committing to provide 1 billion healthy and productive trees worldwide. Together, the group is working to increase collective investment to ensure a healthy future for coffee and to make it possible for every coffee farmer to make renovation and rehabilitation a regular part of doing business.

Raina Lang is Conservation International's director of sustainable coffee markets.

 on: Today at 05:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Asia's Glaciers Could Lose One Third of Their Mass by 2100


Glaciers in Asia could shrink to one-third of their current size by the end of the century even if warming stays below 1.5 degrees C, according to new research. A study published Wednesday in the journal Nature finds that glaciers in the Tibetan plateau experience higher levels of warming than the global average.

The study's models predict the glaciers could shrink by half should temperatures rise 3.5 degrees C and by 65 percent if temperatures rise by 6 degrees C by 2100. The glaciers, which hold the largest concentration of water outside the poles, feed major rivers and supply drinking and irrigation water to millions in the region.

 on: Today at 05:05 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Trump's Response to Climate-Related Disasters: Open America's 'Crown Jewels' to Oil Drilling

By Andy Rowell

You would have thought that after being battered by two devastating hurricanes in recent weeks, which experts believe were fueled by warmer seas caused by climate change, even the most die-hard climate denier would think again.

But you would be wrong.

You would have thought that as the cost of rebuilding after Hurricanes Irma and Harvey mounts, with an estimated bill of $150 billion so far, that politicians would press to move away from a fossil fuel economy.

But you would be wrong again. In fact the opposite is happening.

Instead of pushing for clean technology and to end our oil addiction, the Trump administration is quietly pushing to open up one of America's great last wilderness areas, the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, to oil drilling.

The Arctic National Wildlife Refuge—or ANWR for short—has been described as "one of the largest intact ecosystems in the world," and "the crown jewel of the National Wildlife Refuge System and one of the most important protected areas on Earth."

Anyone who knows about contemporary American petro-politics will know that the fight over ANWR is not new. It is a 40 year "multi-generational" fight. The naturalist, Peter Matthiessen, once called the battle over ANWR the "longest running, most acrimonious environmental battle in American history."

The oil industry and its allies have long salivated over the prospect of drilling in the refuge's 19.6 million acres. They have long argued that the refuge, home to caribou, polar bears and many endangered species, also houses an estimated 10 billion of barrels of recoverable oil.

There could be more oil, there could be much less, there could be none—no one really knows for sure.

The industry has wanted to drill the refuge for decades, but have been stopped by a determined coalition of environmentalists, First Nations and conservationists.

But for how much longer? When Trump became president he said that opening up ANWR was a top priority. And it seems that despite the recent Hurricanes, Trump is pressing ahead to do this.

As the Washington Post reported at the end of last week: "The Trump administration is quietly moving to allow energy exploration in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge ... with a draft rule that would lay the groundwork for drilling."

Although the Trump administration is pushing for the move, the final say on whether drilling goes ahead lies with Congress.

But in the meantime, officials from the Interior Department—now stuffed full of pro-oil appointees—are quietly modifying a regulation from the 1980's that would allow the industry to undertake seismic surveys.

The Post acquired a leaked memo from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service acting director, James Kurth, to prepare an assessment and a proposed rule to update regulations which go back to the eighties.

Kurth wrote: "When finalized, the new regulation will allow for applicants to [submit] requests for approval of new exploration plans."

Once the rule is finalized, companies could bid to undertake seismic testing in the refuge.

Environmentalists are naturally outraged. Defenders of Wildlife president, Jamie Rappaport Clark, who led the Fish and Wildlife Service under President Bill Clinton, told the Post: "The administration is very stealthily trying to move forward with drilling on the Arctic's coastal plain ... This is a complete about-face from decades of practice."

"This is a really big deal," adds Niel Lawrence, Alaska director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "This is a frontal attack in an ideological battle. The Arctic is the Holy Grail."

It looks like this battle will go to the courts. It could drag on for years. The stakes are huge. As Robert Mrazek, a former New York congressman and chair emeritus of the Alaska Wilderness League told a recent article in Fortune magazine: "ANWR is an American Serengeti. You can have the oil. Or you can have this pristine place. You can't have both. No compromise."

Sarah James, an ambassador for the Gwich'in First Nations, who lives close to the refuge and who opposes oil development, adds: "If you drill for oil here, you will be drilling into the heart of our people."


5 Glaring Examples of Scott Pruitt's Pattern of Secrecy and Why You Should Care

By Martha Roberts

The imposing limestone government building in central Washington where Scott Pruitt holds sway is increasingly operating away from public view with decisions made behind closed doors, once-public information blacked out, and influential insiders taking charge.

As the administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Pruitt has also proven elusive, having spent more than half of his days away from Washington amid speculation he's really focused on a future run for Oklahoma senator or governor. His frequent travel to the Midwestern state at taxpayers' expense recently prompted the agency's Inspector General to open an investigation—and yet, Pruitt has found time to quietly and systematically tear down policies that protect our health and safety.

Here are the five most glaring examples of the EPA chief's pattern of secrecy, and what it means for you.

1. Suppressed Web Pages About Climate Change

In response to a Freedom of Information Act request, my organization recently received EPA records detailing more than 1,900 items that had been modified or deleted from the agency's website since President Trump's inauguration day—including information about how climate change affects children and pregnant women.

2. Keeps His Schedule Secret

Pruitt is hiding from the public even the most basic information about how he spends his business hours and with whom. Contravening a bi-partisan EPA transparency practice, Pruitt no longer makes any senior management calendars—including his own—available to the public. Americans have a right to know how a high-ranking, taxpayer-funded public servant spends his time and makes decisions that directly affect their lives.

3. Suspends Pollution Laws Without Public Input

Over the past six months, Pruitt has taken actions to suspend environmental safeguards without providing any opportunity for public input—including protections against toxic wastewater, oil and gas pollution as well as climate pollution.

Among one of Pruitt's earliest actions was to suspend, without any public input, protections against safety risks at major chemical facilities. Just a few months later, the Houston-area Arkema plant exploded after Hurricane Harvey flooded the site.

4. Attacks Reporter Covering the EPA

Pruitt's press team lashed out against an Associated Press journalist after he co-authored a report that exposed the EPA's absence at Superfund sites flooded after Hurricane Harvey. The agency's press release attacked the reporter without rebutting any of the article's factual findings, raising concerns about the politicization of press coverage when public safety is at stake.

5. Rolls Back Enforcement Against Polluters

Under Trump's administration, the EPA has quietly but dramatically reduced enforcement against polluters. So far, the agency has collected 60 percent less in civil penalties than previous administrations did during their first six months in office, a recent analysis by the Environmental Integrity Project found.

Not holding companies responsible for their pollution has tangible impacts in the form of more pollution, more illness and more avoidable early deaths among Americans like you and me.

So covert is Pruitt that he earned the Golden Padlock Award this summer from investigative reporters and editors who recognize the most secretive U.S. agency or individual. The judges were impressed by "the breadth and scope of Pruitt's information suppression techniques around vital matters of public interest."

Indeed, looking at the rapid transformation of the agency he led during the Nixon and Reagan administrations, former EPA Administrator Bill Ruckelshaus described Pruitt's first six months as someone "taking a meat ax to the protections of public health and environment and then hiding it."

Pruitt's efforts to hollow out the EPA and weaken the public health safeguards that the agency is required to uphold is why we're mobilizing, like never before, to protect and defend America's clean air and water.

Public opinion and, increasingly, the courts are on our side, but we cannot let up the fight for the future of our children and grandchildren at this critical time.


EPA Delays Toxic Waste Rule for Coal-Fired Power Plants


The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) formally delayed Wednesday implementation of an Obama-era rule regulating waste from coal-fired power plants. The rule sets specific limits on toxins like lead, arsenic and mercury in wastewater from power plants, potentially lowering pollution by 1.4 billion pounds a year and saving an estimated $500 million in public health benefits.

Industry groups had specifically petitioned the EPA to have the rule revoked or postponed, and the agency claimed it would use the two year delay to "revisit" the requirements.

 on: Today at 05:01 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

3 Reasons Why You Should Care About Vehicle Efficiency and Emissions Standards

By Josh Goldman

Merely typing "vehicle efficiency and emissions standards," feels like I'm prompting you to click off in search of the latest cat meme or 8,000th story on President Trump. But the next battle in the war for better vehicles looms, and you can help defend against automaker efforts to rollback a program they agreed to not so long ago.

Here are the top three reasons why you should care about the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) "Request for Comment on Reconsideration of the Final Determination of the Mid-Term Evaluation of Greenhouse Gas Emissions Standards for Model Year 2022–2025 Light-Duty Vehicles" (aka federal vehicle efficiency standards) and what you can do about it.

Vehicle efficiency standards save money for all Americans, but especially low- to middle-income earners

Researchers at the University of Tennessee analyzed 34 years of consumer spending data and found that not only did households from all income levels save money because of improved vehicle efficiency, but low- to middle-income households saved a greater percentage of household income compared to higher earners. Better fuel efficiency saved an average middle-income family as much as $17,000 over the study period—even after households paid more for new and used cars equipped with fuel-saving technology. Vehicle efficiency standards, the researchers concluded, are therefore a true progressive (as opposed to regressive) policy because they benefit lower earners more than higher earners.

Interested in more of these findings? Check out this UCS fact sheet.

Without fuel efficiency standards, automakers would only make gas guzzlers

Free market advocates argue that fuel efficiency standards aren't necessary. If there is demand for fuel efficient vehicles, then automakers will create a supply to meet that demand. While that sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn't happen.

In the absence of federal standards, fuel efficiency largely stagnated (see below) and automakers proved reluctant to offer fuel efficient options outside of small sedans.

In response to the 1973 oil embargo, Congress established fuel economy standards for new passenger cars in 1975, then again in 1978. These standards were intended to roughly double the average fuel economy of the new car fleet to 27.5 mpg by 1985. No fuel efficiency standards passed until 2007 ...EPA 2016 Fuel Economy Trends Report. Appendix D: Fuel Economy Data Stratified by Vehicle Type

But Americans largely don't want small sedans. We want SUVs … and fuel efficiency! Fortunately, the vehicle efficiency standards incentivize automakers to make vehicles across all classes—including SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans—more efficient. Because the standards do not require automakers only to make small, ultra-efficient vehicles, they prompt automakers to create innovative technologies that boost the fuel-saving performance of the larger vehicles that Americans tend to prefer.

For example, the 2017 Toyota Highlander Hybrid, a full-size SUV, gets a combined 29 miles per gallon. That's what I average in my mid-sized 2012 Subaru Outback Sport. Not too long ago, the 2001 Highlander only got a combined 18 mpg and the 1995 4Runner (the Highlander predecessor) got 13 mpg. And, the standards are incentivizing automakers to develop electric vehicles. There are growing numbers of electric vehicle models and several auto companies are set to release full electric SUVs in the next several years.

By providing automakers with flexible ways to comply with the standards (aka compliance pathways), the federal vehicle efficiency program has been instrumental in giving consumers more fuel efficient choices no matter what sort of vehicle they need.

Vehicle efficiency and emissions standards are the single most important federal climate policy

I'm guessing that you care, at least tangentially, about climate change. You are reading a blog from the Union of Concerned Scientists, after all. So, you should know that the standards are set to achieve the largest reduction in global warming pollution from a single federal policy (other than the Clean Power Plan, which is mired in legal trouble and threat of repeal from the current Administration).

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S., having accounted for 27 percent of emissions in 2015. Cutting emissions from transportation is challenging as our nation continues to rely on personal vehicles and driving has become incentivized by relatively low gas prices and may become further incentivized by the introduction of autonomous driving features. 2016 had the largest increase in national vehicle miles travelled (VMT) since regulators began tracking this data in 1971 and doesn't show any sign of slowing down. More cars were sold in 2016 than ever before, adding to the 263 million registered vehicles on American roads.

Transportation is one of the biggest sources of global warming pollution in the U.S.EPA Inventory of U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions and Sinks: 1990–2015. Table ES-6

That's why—along with electric vehicles, better biofuels and better transit options—improving the fuel efficiency of vehicles is so important. When including the emissions reductions from the finalized standards for heavy-duty vehicles, the federal fuel efficiency programs will cut emissions by an estimated 550 million tons in 2030 alone. That would be a reduction of more than three percent of today's transportation-related emissions and would achieve more reductions over time as the vehicle fleet turns over and gradually becomes more efficient.

How you can help protect the federal vehicle efficiency and emissions standards

UCS is leading the way on telling the EPA and Department of Transportation that consumers want to stick with the current standards. Not only are the standards cost-effective and feasible to meet, the agencies' research showed that automakers could even exceed them. Help protect standards that are saving Americans money at the pump and reducing the risks of climate change.

Head on over to the UCS Action Center for a couple of easy actions you can take, including:

    submitting an official comment to the latest EPA rulemaking on the standards;

    calling your Congressional representative to tell them that you don't support President Trump's attempted rollback of the standards; and

    sending a note to automakers telling them that you demand more fuel efficient vehicles across all vehicle classes.

Josh Goldman is senior policy analyst, clean vehicles at the Union of Concerned Scientists.

 on: Today at 04:59 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Secret US nuclear base hidden in Greenland icecap to be revealed thanks to global warming

Experts believe tons of carcinogenic chemicals could be released into sea

Gabriel Samuels

A secret abandoned nuclear base is likely to be revealed by the melting of a large icecap in Greenland due to global warming, experts have warned.

Toxic waste is expected to leak into the sea if the ice continues to melt around Camp Century, a research facility decommissioned by the US military at the height of the Cold War in 1967.

The base became home to the world’s first mobile nuclear generator when it opened its doors to 200 soldiers in 1959, and included a 3km network of tunnels buried within the icecap.

However even the government of Denmark - which owned the site at the time - was not informed of the true purpose of the facility: Project Iceworm, which aimed to fire nuclear missiles through the ice tunnels at countries in the Soviet Union.

The US military hatched a secret plan to build a vast network of tunnels out from Camp Century, which would house 600 missiles capable of attacking Moscow at a moment’s notice, according to the Guardian.

Project Iceworm was abandoned due to the instability of the ice, and Camp Century subsequently closed down - but approximately 9,200 tons of chemical waste is thought to remain under the ice to this day.

Researchers believe “tons” of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), which cause cancer in humans, could be released into the water surrounding the facility.

The waste is buried beneath ice 35 metres thick, but a study in the journal Geophysical Research Letters suggests global warming could cause the complete melting of the ice within 75 years.

The study claims the secreted waste could become a source of tension between the US, Greenland and Denmark and poses a “multinational, multi-generational” problem.

In response, the Pentagon has said the US government will “work with the Danish government and the Greenland authorities to settle questions of mutual security”.

 on: Today at 04:57 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja

Greenpeace v. Energy Transfer Partners: The Facts

By Kelly Mitchell

Greenpeace USA, Greenpeace International, and others are facing another meritless attack from Trump's go-to lawyers in an attempt to silence advocacy work and attack free speech.

The latest corporation to sign on to the Kasowitz Benson Torres firm's bullying tactics is Energy Transfer Partners—the company behind the Dakota Access Pipeline.

In response to the powerful protests led by Indigenous communities and climate activists, the firm has filed a lawsuit claiming billions of dollars in damages on behalf of Energy Transfer. Here's what you need to know.

What is this lawsuit about?

In response to the powerful alliance of Indigenous communities and climate activists who protested Energy Transfer Partner's Dakota Access pipeline at Standing Rock, the Kasowitz firm has filed a Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation (SLAPP). The goal of this suit is to silence opposition by misrepresenting what happened on the ground at Standing Rock—making outrageous and racist claims that big green organizations like Greenpeace orchestrated the Indigenous-led movement at Standing Rock.

This lawsuit is about silencing opposition in Donald Trump's America. While Greenpeace is named as a defendant in the lawsuit, its impacts aren't limited to us. This suit could have far-reaching consequences for journalists, advocacy organizations and anyone who values free speech. The Kasowitz firm is trying to challenge all of our abilities to speak out against corporate power and destruction.

This is the second year in a row that the Kasowitz firm has filed a meritless lawsuit against Greenpeace and other public interest advocates on behalf of a corporation. In 2016, the plaintiff was Resolute Forest Products, Canada's largest logging company. That lawsuit made similarly baseless legal claims in an attempt to mislabel legal advocacy as criminal conduct through the use of U.S. racketeering laws (RICO), and presented constitutionally-protected free speech as defamatory. A hearing to dismiss the Resolute lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 10, 2017 in the U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

These suits are part of a pattern of legal bullying, as desperate corporations and political hacks try to silence activists, journalists and anyone speaking out against injustice. Energy Transfer must know that the end of the fossil fuel era is upon us, and these attacks are a last gasp effort to retain relevance and an illusion of power. What they haven't seemed to realize is that none of us will quit until these pipelines are stopped for good.

Remind me, what happened at Standing Rock?

In the spring of 2016, hundreds of Indigenous activists and leaders began gathering along the proposed route of the Dakota Access pipeline to call attention to threats to sovereignty and water supply. In the months that followed, it became the largest gathering of tribes in 100 years and sparked a worldwide movement to resist the pipeline's construction and fight for Indigenous sovereignty.

Members of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe, alongside allies from across the country, filed legal injunctions with the Army Corps of Engineers to stop construction and conduct a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS). Several financial institutions including Nordea and ING withdrew their support for the project, citing human rights and environmental violations after conducting their own investigations. In December, after a thorough review, the Obama administration denied the easement to cross under Lake Oahe, calling for a full EIS to look at alternative routes.

Despite the Obama administration's decision, in January, Trump made it one of his top priorities to greenlight construction of the pipeline without the EIS completed. Water protectors were removed from the camp, and in the weeks to follow documents revealed that Energy Transfer had hired mercenaries from private security firm TigerSwan to infiltrate the camp and deploy counter-terrorism tactics on water protectors.

Since construction, the pipeline has leaked three times, jeopardizing land and water. Activists across the country have found inspiration from Standing Rock and are actively resisting other tar sands and gas pipelines, including Kinder Morgan TransMountain and KXL.

What's the next step for this lawsuit?

Greenpeace will not back down in the face of this egregious misuse of the law. Firms like Kasowitz deploy these lawsuits in the hopes of silencing constitutionally-protected advocacy work and burdening organizations with additional costs. Greenpeace is on the line today, but these abusive tactics threaten anyone speaking out for social and environmental justice.

We will continue this fight in and outside the courtroom. Not only will we win this case, we will continue our important work challenging new oil and gas infrastructure, building powerful alliances, and fighting for free speech and public participation in our democracy.

On Oct. 10, the Resolute case will go before a federal judge in California. This will be a major test of Kasowitz's dubious legal strategy and an opportunity to show corporate polluters like Energy Transfer that this movement is more resilient than they anticipated.

Kelly Mitchell is the energy campaign director for Greenpeace USA.

 on: Today at 04:54 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
From dust bowl to bread basket: digging the dirt on soil erosion

Poor soil quality has seen agricultural productivity in Africa decline when it drastically needs to increase. Will 2015’s International Year of Soils help?

Caspar van Vark

Can we achieve a 70% increase in food production by 2050? It’s often quoted as an objective, but some areas of Africa have seen agricultural productivity decline by half due to erosion and desertification. If productivity is ever to go up, we may need to start by looking down: at the soil.

This is the International Year of Soils, so policy attention is likely to shift to this resource. It’s not a moment too soon, according to Bashir Jama, director of African agriculture body Agra’s Soil Health Program (SHP).

“Around 65-70% of arable land in Africa is degraded in one form or another,” he says. “Farmers are on average getting a tonne of maize from a hectare of land, where a similar size plot in Asia gets three tonnes per hectare. Soils have been cultivated for many years with little or no inputs, and this is compounded by problems of erosion. So the challenge is how to replenish soil and mitigate degradation.”

A recent report on conserving, restoring and enhancing Africa’s soils recommends a holistic approach to soil management called Integrated Soil Fertility Management (ISFM). This includes adding organic matter such as crop residues and manure into the soil, applying small (and therefore affordable) amounts of mineral fertilisers and planting legume crops such as cowpea that naturally deposit nitrogen into the soil.

SHP has taught farmers about these methods via 130,000 demonstrations in 13 countries over the past five years. “The demos are on farmers’ land, school fields, churchyards or roadsides,” says Jama. “One plot might have little or no inputs, with a second plot showing the microdosing of fertiliser – very small amounts placed in the planting hole, along with manure – and another plot might have legumes where, in the next season, they can put sorghum where previously they had legumes.”

These methods have yielded results. In Ghana 117,000 participating farmers have seen maize yields increase from 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes per hectare. In Malawi, yields have risen from 2 to 4.6 tonnes.

Demonstrations are an important way of spreading knowledge of ISFM, but that’s not enough on its own, says James Watiti, senior communications manager at the Africa Soil Health Consortium (ASHC).

“It’s a complex message that needs to be unpacked for the smallholder farmer audience,” he says. “And it is imperative for them to understand that each of the main components of IFSM complement the other to improve overall productivity.”

The ASHC provides printed materials – such as a concise guide to cowpea planting in Zimbabwe, and its role in improving soils – and translates them into local languages, as well as using video for areas with poor literacy.

“Our strategy has included sensitising scientists about communicating to non-technical audiences as they prepare ISFM messages,” says Watiti. Those messages need to be specific to the crops and soil issues in a particular area.

Soil degradation is not restricted to Africa. A study published in October 2014 revealed that 2,000 hectares of farm soil are being lost every day to salt-induced degradation, with areas of central Asia, India and China among those most affected. High salinity in soils can devastate croplands, but research in Uzbekistan has shown that growing a different crop – specifically, liquorice – can reverse the damage.

“Salt-affected soils suffer from an elevated water-table above a critical level, which brings salt into the root zone of the two main crops grown in Uzbekistan, cotton and wheat,” says Andrew Noble, water, land and ecosystems programme director at global agricultural researchers CGIAR.

“Liquorice, with its deep root system, is able to extract water and lower the water table to below 1.5m. Once the salt is reduced in the surface layers where wheat and cotton have their roots, the soil environment is more conducive for the cultivation of these two crops.”

According to Noble, there’s potential for using this practice in other areas. “Liquorice is well adapted to semi-arid to arid conditions and harsh conditions from more than 40C in the summer to -23C in the winter,” he says.

The 2015 International Year of Soils may serve as a platform for raising awareness of research such as this, and for development organisations to communicate it to farmers – particularly smallholders, who are often most affected by poor soil.

“It’s been a neglected area in terms of educating smallholder farmers,” says Watiti. “Messages have not been effectively communicated to them, so this is a big opportunity to raise the profile of soil as a primary basis for improving productivity.”

 on: Today at 04:51 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Farmers in Sudan battle climate change and hunger as desert creeps closer

Haphazard rains and increasing desertification in the eastern state of Gedaref are destroying previously fertile soil and leaving villagers unable to farm

Hannah McNeish in Gedaref

In Sudan’s eastern state of Gedaref, nicknamed “the granary” for its vast rows of sesame, sorghum and millet, banks of sediment and gravel are popping up as high as hills around the farms – the result of deforestation and erratic rains causing watering holes to overflow.

Locals call them karab, meaning “something useless”, says environmental scientist Tarig El Gamri, standing atop one such mound. He points out the water mark swirls etched around one of many deep gullies near the village of Wad Hassan, a 45-minute drive east of Gedaref city.

“Climate change affected the intensity of rainfall. When it is very intense, you have very quick and very high runoffs, and this is what we are seeing now,” says El Gamri, a project coordinator at the Sudan Higher Council for Environment and Natural Resources. “They spoil the soil. Now you see they cannot cultivate such land, because it has lost the levelling.”

In 2015, Gedaref had 70ml of rain. This year, it has had 600ml so far. These extremes have led to flash floods and desertification, which is destroying arable land.

“Last year, the rain didn’t come and everything was destroyed,” says Aisha Youssef Ahmed in the neighbouring village of Siraj Alnour.

More intense droughts and failed rains have ruined harvests and also affected livestock: the cows that used to grow big and strong are skinny and often have to be sold off. Ahmed, 65, never thought that “rich, lush and productive” Gedaref would become a place “where everything has got worse”.

But while floods from overflowing wadis are washing away fertile topsoils or morphing farmland into unworkable shapes, the annual riverbank floods that people relied on to grow watermelons have declined due to heat, evaporation and dam construction in Sudan and across the border in Ethiopia.

“The river level has changed over the past 15 or 20 years,” says Wad Hassan’s chief, Ahmed Omar, standing on a rock next to the water where men paddle out in canoes to catch ever more scarce fish. “The water level used to be much higher.”

Omar, 60, has seven children, all of whom will become farmers in a state where most people farm and more than half the population lives below the poverty line.

Only a few children make the two-hour walk from Siraj Alnour – home to about 220 families – to a village that has a school. The scorching temperatures so exhaust and dizzy the children that they often have to be put to bed after school. Others are told to play only in the sparse patches of shade offered by thorn trees.

“Summer was always hot, but the winters are getting hotter. It used to be cooler, like 15C-20C” says Siraj Alnour’s chief, Idriss Mohammed Abdallah, who remembers the many trees of his boyhood in the 1970s. “Year after year they disappeared and the forest shrank as the village grew.”

It was then that the desert and gullies moved in.

“We had to shift here because the land was moving and pushed us back,” he says, standing in one of many gullies that threatens the new village.

“Now it depends on the trees, as the desert is moving towards us. People won’t be able to settle here. They won’t stay in the same place,” he says – even though “there is nowhere else to go” for farmers in one of Sudan’s most important breadbaskets.

Khalid Hashim Ibrahim, the state agricultural coordinator, says: “All of Sudan is affected by the low production in Gedaref, and also the production here is exported to other countries, especially neighbouring countries like Ethiopia and Eritrea and also the Gulf countries, like Saudi and the Emirates – for animals and food. This is very clear if you go to the north of the state. Some agricultural areas [have] now become sand soil.”

By way of example, Ibrahim points to Butana village’s population shrinking from 72,000 to about 12,000 seasonally, and the resulting conflicts over grazing lands or services in swelling cities.

The UN development programme has been running pilot climate change adaptation programmes in Butana, Wad Hassan and Sirag Elnour to try to stop good soils from shifting or drying up, and farmers waiting on rains and grains to survive.

Solar-powered water pumps have eased the reliance on rain-fed agriculture and allowed people to plant a greater range of crops. “Now, because of these extra irrigation methods, we can grow all vegetables,” says Omar.

Between the houses lie many community gardens full of tangled vines. Farmers proudly show off two varieties of cucumber and kiss some of the fruits of their newfound, year-round irrigation.

Small nurseries – comprising of a few rows of mud and wire mesh frames – are growing thousands of seedlings into trees, which are planted around homes and fields for protection against the elements. The introduction of butane gas has stopped people from using charcoal, while heavy fines are imposed on anyone who cuts down trees – which people now understand are their only defence.

Unless people really start working to save Gedaref’s soils, says Ibrahim, “the future is very dark”.

“The period between the 1970s to 2000 was very comfortable here in Gedaref, but now there are some big problems,” says Khalid Hisham Ibrahim, echoing the view of several farmers. “Low productivity, high temperatures and high fluctuation of rainfall … There is a consensus about this phenomena,” as well as about climate change-related health issues like increasing outbreaks of malaria.

Ibrahim, who farms to supplement his tiny government salary, has wondered whether he should leave one of Sudan’s only peaceful patches of green to find work in the capital, Khartoum, or – like thousands of others – cross the deserts and the seas for a new life.

“No, Khartoum not good – to Gulf countries, to other countries,” he says, before guffawing at his next thought. “Maybe migrate to America!”

 on: Today at 04:46 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Darja
Put a price on urban trees – and halt this chainsaw massacre

Patrick Barkham

From chestnuts in south London to elms in Sheffield, they improve mental health, and stem pollution and floods. Yet policymakers fail to see them as assets

19 September 2017 17.49 BST

It’s a grim season for urban trees. The usual bustle of bicycles beneath a grand parade of 140-year-old chestnut trees that crosses Tooting Common, in south London, will cease tomorrow. Wandsworth council is closing Chestnut Avenue, the chainsaws are readied, and more than 50 much-loved mature trees will soon be chopped down.

In Sheffield, despite vociferous opposition from local residents and high-profile people such as Jarvis Cocker to Michael Gove, the final tranche of thousands of mature street trees are being removed. This month in the city marks the beginning of the end for the Chelsea Road elm, a rare surviving English elm on which lives a colony of equally rare white-letter hairstreak butterflies.

The councils overseeing these chainsaw massacres are different politically. But they share a tragic inability to see street trees as an asset rather than a liability. They’re also ignominiously failing to use new tools at their disposal to calculate the real value of their trees.

In Wandsworth, a wealthy Conservative council is lavishing £45,000 of Heritage Lottery cash earmarked for rejuvenating Tooting Common on replacing the chestnuts with young lime trees. Its justification is health and safety after one tree suddenly fell down last winter. An independent expert report for the council suggested it might consider replacing the whole avenue.

When residents objected to substituting their grand old trees with a sleek avenue of cheap-to-maintain young trees, the council conducted a consultation: 9,000 letters went out, and most of the 700 respondents picked the rather skewed “choice” of a new avenue over occasionally tatty-looking old trees. More than 5,000 mostly local people have since signed a petition to save Chestnut Avenue.

Residents commissioned another expert report by an independent tree consultant. Jeremy Barrell is no tree-hugger and is routinely employed by councils to assess and remove trees. Barrell warns Wandsworth that planting an avenue of one species is a recipe for disaster in an era of fast-moving globalised tree diseases. We need a mix of trees. He concludes the most cost-effective option would be to retain the avenue, trim the older trees, remove a couple, and replant with other species. He’s so confident that the chestnuts can be made safe that he’s offered the council free coverage under his own professional insurance.

Barrell also performed a calculation developed by arboralists called Cavat. Just as a building surveyor can calculate the value of a house, so a tree officer can calculate the asset value of a tree – how much it costs to replace it. This reveals a useful truth: not all trees are equal, and big street trees are far more valuable than small trees.

Chestnut Avenue is currently worth £2.6m, according to this method. The young trees that will replace it are estimated at £50,000-£100,000. Spending £45,000 to destroy a multimillion-pound community asset doesn’t stack up. In Sheffield’s long-running tree saga, independent professionals calculated that trees worth £66m have been cut down in the past five years.

The ruination of this community asset is being orchestrated by a cash-strapped Labour council that sought salvation in a PFI contract with the infrastructure company Amey to rebuild its roads. Big trees are replaced by saplings, which are cheaper to maintain over 25 years of the contract but possess few of large trees’ beneficial effects – for example on flood alleviation and pollution. The devil is in the opaque interpretation of the much-redacted PFI contract. This contract only permits a fairly limited range of engineering solutions for unruly trees, but campaigners have calculated that nearly 50% of the trees earmarked for destruction could be saved using solutions listed in the contract at no extra cost to the council.

    Spending £45,000 to destroy a multimillion-pound community asset doesn’t stack up

The puzzle in Sheffield has long been why the council has not used its power to save special trees, such as the Chelsea Road elm. But residents believe they finally got their answer when councillors revealed that if they “saved” any tree they – and not Amey – would then become liable for subsequent maintenance. When the council signed this disastrous PFI contract, it put a gun to its own head. Sheffield’s trees have been privatised for 25 years. And the contract firmly enshrines them as liabilities.

It needn’t be like this. Future contracts could include a recognition of street tree values using Cavat, or more sophisticated American software called i-Tree. The latter calculates the annual value of each street tree in terms of certain ecosystem services: flood alleviation, cooling, pollutant removal and carbon sequestration. According to i-Tree, London’s trees provide £133m of benefits each year.

Some environmentalists view such “ecosystem service” arguments as the great hope for saving a planet ruled by accountants. Others fear that such calculations are reductive, and underestimate “natural assets” – i-Tree valuations do not include less easily calculable tree benefits, such as the improved mental health of local people, or ecological diversity. Ultimately, nature will always be the loser in any cost-benefit crunch.

Nevertheless, giving trees a price looks like a good, pragmatic way to retain them in urban environments. What the streets of Wandsworth and Sheffield show us is that policymakers cannot be relied upon to recognise these precious assets. The only solution is for local communities to teach them.

• Patrick Barkham is a natural history writer for the Guardian


UK cities expected to get millions of pounds for green energy projects

Ministers are thought to be planning to offer £3m for initiatives such as solar panels on social housing
Solar panels on a roof

Adam Vaughan

Green energy projects run by cities and local authorities around the UK stand to receive millions of pounds of government support, providing another fillip for renewable power just a day after the subsidised price of windfarms hit a record low.

The Guardian understands that ministers this autumn will offer more than £3m to help local leaders build low carbon initiatives, such as installing solar panels on social housing.

The funding would be a key plank of the government’s upcoming blueprint on how to meet the UK’s binding carbon targets, the Clean Growth Plan.

The anticipated support is a response to calls from a network of more than 70 UK cities, which said they wanted to build clean energy projects at a local level but warned that they were struggling to finance them.

“We believe the UK has a great opportunity to lead the world in an early shift to a fossil-fuel-free economy, just as we have led the world in previous industrial transitions,” said Judith Blake, leader of Leeds city council, and John Holdich, leader of Peterborough city council.

Both cities are members of the UK100, which backs action on climate change and clean energy.

But in a new report, the network said local authorites often lacked the technical expertise for accessing finance and EU funds being cut off post-Brexit posed a further challenge.

The report’s authors, former employees of the engineering giant Arup and the recently privatised Green Investment Bank, called on ministers to tackle the problem by creating Clean Energy Action Partnerships between national and local government.

The partnerships would employ teams of experts to support councils who want to build local low carbon projects, such as heat networks or solar power.

Claire Perry, the climate minister, is understood to be sympathetic to the proposals. One idea put forward in the UK100’s report is that clean energy projects run by councils could enjoy a cut in business rates.

Perry is believed to have told local leaders she looks forward to helping them access finance.

Perry said: “We want to build on our success and that’s why collaboration across government, and with people and organisations throughout the country, is vital as we prepare to launch our Clean Growth Strategy.”

The backing for locally owned clean energy came as a thinktank of Labour members and MPs criticised the lack of UK ownership for offshore windfarms, such as the ones awarded nearly £200m a year in subsidies on Monday.

The Labour Energy Forum found the Danish state-owned company Dong Energy owned 31.5% of all offshore wind capacity in the UK, with private German, Spanish and Swedish firms dominating the rest of the market.

Rebecca Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said Labour supported offshore wind but wanted to see windfarms built off the coast that were publicly owned by the UK.

“Labour not only supports investment and real proactive support for the renewables sector but we also commit to ensuring more rapid growth and diversification of ownership within this important sector through the creation of publicly owned and locally accountable energy companies and co-operatives,” she said.

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