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 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:35 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Skywalker
Hi Rad,

At the moment I just plan to follow along and still have to read what everyone has written about the synastry between them.

Thank you

All the best

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:32 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Montenegro’s pristine Lake Skadar threatened by new resort

Tourism in Montenegro is booming, but the approval of plans for a new ‘eco-resort’ has led to protests from conservationists who fear it will threaten a stunning national park

Catherine Mack
Monday 16 January 2017 11.00 GMT

Like its Adriatic neighbour Croatia, Montenegro is a rapidly-growing travel destination: in 2016 there were nearly 1.5 million visits from international tourists – up 6.9% on 2015. But although the country is known for eco-tourism and as a “soft adventure” hotspot, tourism development hasn’t been without controversy.

Despite local concern and protests, many concrete resorts have sprung up. In coastal Budva, for example, international developers were recently given permission to convert a second world war concentration camp on Mamula island into a luxury resort.

The latest controversy involves Lake Skadar national park, a protected wilderness area and southern Europe’s largest lake. According to a report in New Scientist, “more than 280 bird species are found at this largely pristine lake, as well as nearly 50 fish species, 18 of which are found nowhere else, earning it a place on the Ramsar Convention list of Wetlands of International Importance”. It is under threat after the government gave the go-ahead for the building of a luxury resort, Porto Skadar Lake. The resort will sleep 600 guests in 30 villas and feature a marina. Several hydropower projects are also planned, on the lake’s major tributary, further endangering biodiversity.

At present, the only thing that disturbs the waters on the shores of the lake is wildlife (including the rare Dalmatian pelican and endangered otters) and the odd monk in a boat from the 14th-century Kom monastery.

Local conservationists know that it will take more than a monk’s prayers to stop the hotel development, especially as the bulldozers are now in place and preliminary digging started last month, with a completion date in 2019. Conservationists consider this to be a slippery slope towards destruction of the park.

“The government said it had a public discussion about the plans and no one turned up, but it was only advertised a week in advance, and in a newspaper no one reads,” said activist Milan Knezevic, who has set up the Save Skadar Lake Facebook page, as well as a Twitter site and a petition on Supporters protested on 20 December and gained signatures committing to a moratorium on the construction from nearly half of the country’s government ministers. Yet the digging still began eight days later.

Montenegro’s tourism ministry claims all procedures “were in accordance with the law and good practice”, something Knezevic contests. “There is no control of illegal activities in the national park and any claim by the government that the resort will be closely monitored is a fantasy. There are already more than 100,000 illegal buildings in Montenegro. The government is planning to privatise all five national parks in Montenegro. I don’t want to speak about my country’s beauty in the past tense, as we’re already doing about parts of the Montenegrin coast.”

In the UN’s International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development, plans for these resort aren’t ticking any environmentally responsible tourism boxes says Justin Francis, founder of Responsible Travel: “I hope the Montenegrin government will recognise the long-term ecological and economic value of protecting Lake Skadar from destructive, large-scale tourism developments.”

As one can assume the monks who live on the lake would say, amen to that.

• For more details see

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:29 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
English green belt set to get 360,000 new homes

Countryside campaigners fear ministers are set to weaken green belt protection in order to meet housebuilding targets

Robert Booth
Sunday 15 January 2017 18.33 GMT

The number of homes being planned on green belt land in England has increased to more than 360,000, according to countryside campaigners, who fear ministers are poised to weaken protections to meet ambitious building targets.

The assessment by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) found that the number of homes planned on sites previously meant to block urban sprawl has risen from 81,000 in 2012 to 362,346, with the largest number slated for development in the north-west and east of England.

Open fields owned by Oxford colleges including Magdalene and Brasenose and sites close to the New Forest in Hampshire are among the green belt areas that could contain housing.

The threat comes as Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, prepares to launch a new national housing policy, expected in the coming weeks. He recently praised Birmingham city council for allowing housebuilding on green belt, but he has also described green belt as “absolutely sacrosanct”.

The most dramatic example of a threat to green belt land is around Manchester, where thousands of hectares have been identified by planners for about 50,000 homes. Andy Burnham, the former shadow home secretary who is running to become mayor of Manchester, this week warned that this development would “diminish quality of life in some communities and restrict people’s access to good air and green space”.

The Jockey Club, which owns Kempton Park racecourse in Surrey, this week asked the local council to zone it for 3,000 houses in a move that sparked anger from local residents and allegations of an “unwanted desecration of desperately needed green belt” from the council leader, Ian Harvey.

The number of homes granted planning permission annually in green belt rose fivefold from 2,258 in 2009-10 to 11,977 in 2014-15, according to the House of Commons library. The net loss of green belt between 2004 and 2014-15 amounts to 41,570 hectares (103,000 acres).

Environmentalists claim the spread desecrates Britain’s natural environment, but housebuilders and some planners argue the increase still means that only a small fraction of the country is urbanised. The release of green belt is essential to boosting the number of new homes, which remain short of the 250,000 estimate of annual need.

Protection of green belt is highly sensitive for the government. Theresa May and Javid are among many Conservative MPs whose constituencies contain green belt and are under pressure to build more housing. The party made protection of the green belt a manifesto commitment, but has also pledged to tackle the housing crisis.

The housing minister, Gavin Barwell, has said “most new building [on green belt] is inappropriate”.

“The government speaks with forked tongue on the green belt,” said Michael Tyce, a local CPRE activist campaigning against proposals for 17,000 homes on protected land around Oxford. “It says it will die in a ditch to prevent it, but it keeps allowing building on it.”

Ministers are able to open up the green belt for construction without expressly ordering it. Whitehall obliges councils to produce local plans to meet housing demand. If these include rezoned green belt, the secretary of state can decide whether or not to call it in. If he does not, then he is in effect granting tacit approval, but is able to say the decision was a local one.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said of the CPRE figures: “These claims are based purely on projections in local plans, including those not yet adopted. This government is committed to protect the green belt. Only in exceptional circumstances may councils alter green belt boundaries, after consulting local people and submitting the revised local plan for examination.

“We’ve been absolutely clear that councils must prioritise development on brownfield land, and have announced plans to radically boost brownfield development and bring life back to abandoned sites.”

Housebuilders described green belt boundaries as “historic and arbitrary lines on a map”.

Andrew Whitaker, the planning director at the Home Builders Federation, said: “A strategic review of green belt policy could better ensure that this broad-brush policy evolves to cover the type of land many believe it was set up to protect, such as areas of natural beauty and gaps between settlements, while allowing the country to address our housing crisis in a sustainable way.”

Shaun Spiers, the chief executive of the CPRE, said: “The government faces a choice. It can either continue to set inflated and undeliverable targets that fail to increase building rates and force the release of green belt land and other countryside for development. Or it can set realistic targets and get the nation behind building the new homes we need.”

Hugh Ellis, the head of policy at the Town and Country Planning Association, said the government needed to move to a more strategic approach to housing by planning several substantial new settlements, if green belt is to be protected. He said that after the second world war the policies of designating green belt and building new towns operated together.

“What has happened is we have stopped building the new towns, but have kept the green belt,” he said. “It is not surprising we have a housing crisis.”

Local politicians are growing increasingly resigned to the need to allocate protected land for housing, with 58% of councillors who preside over green belt saying that their council will do so in the next five years, according to a survey by the Local Government Information Unit and the National Trust.

“There are concerns the new housing white paper, expected later this month, could make matters worse, if it sets rigid housing numbers for local plans that don’t take account of local factors such as green belt and areas of outstanding natural beauty,” said a spokesperson for the National Trust.

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:27 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Koalas are at the centre of a perfect storm. The species is slipping away

Kevin Evans

Australia is one of the worst performing countries in terms of protecting its ecoregions. Koalas are a litmus test for conservation of a habitat in crisis

Monday 16 January 2017 00.04 GMT

In 2016 koalas were sighted for the first time in decades at Mount Kembla, Wollongong and in Kosciuszko national park in New South Wales. Although these sightings are a source of hope, it’s important we don’t get lulled into a false sense of security about the extent to which nature, including koalas, is threatened in Australia. We have serious work to do to protect our unique plants and animals.

Most environment news these days focuses on climate change. In many ways this isn’t surprising. Climate change threatens to alter our entire environment as rainfall patterns change, temperatures rise and extremes become more common. Many species are already finding their habitats shrinking – just look at polar bears and the rapidly vanishing Arctic sea ice.

Yet amid this climate emergency “mere” species extinctions have largely been pushed out of mind. Of course the issues are intertwined as climate change can cause extinctions: in July the Bramble Cay melomys (a rodent) was reported as the first animal to have been made extinct primarily due to climate change. In its case, its single-island habitat had been repeatedly inundated by rising sea levels destroying the native vegetation and ultimately the species itself. And of course climate change threatens to exacerbate and amplify other threats to species like bushfires and heatwaves.

But human destruction of habitat is, at least in the short term, a much greater threat to species than climate change. In mid-December, scientists from the University of Queensland were part of a team that found, of all developed countries on Earth, Australia was performing worst in protecting its ecoregions (areas containing broadly similar habitat). The researchers identified “crisis ecoregions” where habitat loss is greatest. A crisis ecoregion in Australia? Temperate forests.

Enter the koala. Undoubtedly the most famous inhabitant of Australian temperate forest ecosystems, and arguably the world’s favourite species. But as you may expect from a species inhabiting a crisis ecoregion, it’s not faring so well. Historical accounts describe large numbers of koalas being seen regularly in the late 1800s in NSW. In 1921, 200,000 koala pelts passed through Sydney and in 1924 two million pelts were exported from eastern Australia.

Yet now all koala populations, bar a few in eastern Australia, are in decline. Some sharply so. So whether or not you find, as we do, the most recent estimate of 329,000 in Australia (36,000 koalas in NSW) to be optimistic one thing is clear: koala numbers are a fraction of what they once were and the species is slipping away.

In NSW, koalas are in the centre of a perfect storm largely of the government’s own making: changes to land clearing laws have already devastated bushland in Queensland and history threatens to repeat itself in NSW with the Baird government recently passing its land-clearing legislation.

Much remaining high-quality koala habitat is either on private land, thus at risk of clearing, or in state forests and thus subject to ever more intense state-sanctioned logging. Urban development is eating into koala habitat up and down the coast. And following this habitat destruction, koalas are vulnerable to dog attacks and vehicle strike as they spend more time on the ground.

If this were happening to a snail, or even a frog, it would probably be ignored. But koalas are one of the few animals whose plight the government finds it hard to ignore. That’s why the NSW government is currently beginning the development of a whole of government koala strategy and asking for community feedback on planning issues and its Saving Our Species conservation strategy. At a federal level, the National Koala Conservation and Management Strategy expired in 2014. Word is that a new strategy is in the pipeline but at the moment we’re flying blind.

The best way to protect koalas is a tried and tested one. The scientists that identified the crisis ecoregion problem also identified the solution: large, well-connected protected areas. Only by protecting and connecting remaining koala habitat can the government enact meaningful conservation. Everything else is tinkering round the edges.

And only by demonstrating that it can effectively protect koalas can we have any confidence that the government can protect the rest of Australia’s extraordinary wildlife that doesn’t share the koala’s high profile.

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:24 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
The big stop: Ringling Bros circus closes after 146 years

Ringling and Barnum & Bailey circus won’t be coming to town any more as ticket sales fall and pressure over animal rights mounts

Hannah Ellis-Petersen
Sunday 16 January 2017 16.57 GMT

One of America’s oldest circuses, the Ringling Bros and Barnum & Bailey, is to take down its big top tent for the final time, 146 years after it was founded in rural Wisconsin by five brothers: Alfred, Albert, Charles, John and Otto.

The company blamed declining ticket sales, which had fallen further after they removed elephants from the act last year.

“This, coupled with high operating costs, made the circus an unsustainable business for the company,” said Kenneth Feld, chief executive. “The circus and its people have continually been a source of inspiration and joy to my family and me.”

An estimated 10 million people visit the Ringling Bros shows each year. However, the closure of the circus is further proof that entertainment tastes have moved away from traditional circuses, often featuring animals, towards more theatrical circus entertainment with a focus on acrobatics, such as the global phenomenon Cirque du Soleil.

One of the remaining British circuses that still used animals in its perfomances, The Great British Circus, finally closed in 2012.

Ringling Bros have been targeted for years by animal rights groups protesting at the use of animals. In 1907, the circus had boasted 35 horses, 26 elephants, 16 camels and other assorted animals that travelled across the US on 92 train carriages.

The number of animals in the circus gradually dwindled, and in 2016 the company finally bowed to legal pressure from activists and retired all the elephants from its shows, sending them to a conservation centre in Florida.

Ringling Bros still has two touring circuses, which still travel by train, and they will perform 30 more shows before finally shutting for good in May. Feld said the old-fashioned ways of the circus, such as the rail travel and providing a travelling school for the performers’ children, was impossible to sustain.

He said: “It’s a different model that we can’t see how it works in today’s world to justify and maintain an affordable ticket price.”

The news that the circus is to shut was greeted with joy by the animal rights campaign group Peta. They said the closure “heralds the end of what has been the saddest show on earth for wild animals, and asks all other animal circuses to follow suit, as this is a sign of changing times”.

Commenting on the demise of Ringling Bros, the creator of Family Guy, Seth MacFarlane, said “good riddance”.

“The closure of Ringling Bros circus ends 146 years of animal humiliation for human amusement,” he added.

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:22 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Japan criticised after whale slaughtered in Australian waters

Australia’s environment minister says government ‘deeply disappointed’ after Sea Shepherd photos show minke whale killing in Antarctic sanctuary
A Sea Shepherd photo appears to show a dead minke whale on board the Japanese vessel Nisshin Maru in Australia’s Antarctic whale sanctuary on Sunday.

Michael Slezak
Monday 16 January 2017 08.35 GMT

Australia’s federal environment minister, Josh Frydenberg, has criticised Japan following the release of photographs allegedly showing the slaughtering of protected whales inside Australia’s Antarctic whale sanctuary.

Frydenberg’s statement came as conservationists called for tougher action from Australia.

“The Australian government is deeply disappointed that Japan has decided to return to the Southern Ocean this summer to undertake so-called ‘scientific’ whaling,” Frydenberg said.

“Australia is opposed to all forms of commercial and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling,” he said. “It is not necessary to kill whales in order to study them.”

The photographs, taken by Sea Shepherd activists from a helicopter, appear to show a dead minke on the deck of the Japanese whaler Nisshin Maru at 11.34am on Sunday.

After the Japanese crew saw the Sea Shepherd helicopter, they covered the harpoons and attempted to hide the whale carcass with a tarpaulin, according to Sea Shepherd.

The images emerged on Sunday afternoon while the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, was in Australia on a state visit.

The slaughter was the first documented killing since the international court of justice ruled Japan’s Antarctic whaling illegal in 2014. So far the Australian government has resisted calls to send official vessels to patrol its waters and intervene in illegal whaling.

But Frydenberg said no country has done more than Australia to try to end whaling.

“We will continue our efforts in the International Whaling Commission to strongly oppose commercial whaling and so-called ‘scientific’ whaling, uphold the moratorium on commercial whaling, and to promote whale conservation.”

Jeff Hansen, the managing director of Sea Shepherd Australia, said a “lack of action by the Turnbull government” in response to the killing of whales in Australian waters on the tail of a state visit from Abe showed “the government has no spine when it comes to protecting the wishes of Australians to defend the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary”.

The Australian Marine Conservation Society director, Darren Kindleysides, said the government must hold Japan to account for its actions.

“Rather than rolling out the red carpet for Japanese prime minister Abe, our government must take every legal and diplomatic avenue available to stop his government’s continued whaling, for example through the United Nations convention on the law of the sea,” he said.

“This year the Japanese whaling fleet is intending to kill 333 Antarctic minke whales under the guise of ‘scientific research’. This is despite the 2014 International Court of Justice ruling that Japan’s Southern Ocean whaling program was illegal and must stop.

“Japan cannot be allowed to continue to thumb its nose at the international community and the international courts by killing hundreds of whales for the spurious purpose of ‘research’,” Kindleysides said.

Labor’s spokesperson for environment and water, Mark Butler, attacked the killing he said was done “under the guise of ‘scientific research”.

“Japanese whaling ships have been sighted with their harpoons uncovered in the Southern Ocean, where a moratorium on whaling in currently in effect,” he said.

“This is happening in areas Australia recognises as being protected.”


Sea Shepherd will keep harassing Japanese whaling boats despite US court ruling

Conservation group says it is committed to upholding Australian federal court ruling banning the slaughter of whales in the Australian sanctuary
Despite a US court ruling that conservationists cannot attack Japanese whaling boats, Sea Shepherd says it will not stop its annual protection

Australian Associated Press
Tuesday 23 August 2016 09.04 BST

A United States court ruling preventing conservationists from attacking Japanese whaling boats will not stop the annual protection campaign in the Southern Ocean.

The Japanese Times newspaper reported on Tuesday that a settlement declaring the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society was “permanently enjoined from physically attacking the [Japanese] research vessels and crew and from navigating in a manner that is likely to endanger their safe navigation”.

In response, Sea Shepherd Australia’s boss, Jeff Hansen, said his organisation remained “committed to upholding the Australian federal court ruling banning the slaughter of whales in the Australian whale sanctuary. We are not concerned about the US court settlement as it does not have any effect on Australian law.”

Japan’s Institute of Cetacean Research had sought an injunction in 2011 in a US court to stop Sea Shepherd hindering its whaling program.

Japan officially halted commercial whaling in 1987 in response to an international moratorium declared one year previously.

However, it has used a loophole to continue whaling under the premise of scientific research, despite international criticism.

Japanese whalers captured 333 minke whales in the Antarctic in the most recent season, which ended in March, but did not face any obstructive activities from the anti-whaling group.

The hunt was the first since the international court of justice ruled in 2014 that Japan’s “research whaling” program in the Southern Ocean contravened the moratorium.

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:13 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Does the bald eagle's comeback spell bad news for other species?

The national bird has made a dramatic comeback in the last few decade. But now, the predator is seeking out livestock and even some endangered species as food. 

Weston Williams
CS Monitor

January 15, 2017 —Bald eagles have come a long way over the past few decades.

During the 20th century, the US national bird's population dropped dangerously low because of hunting, loss of habitat, and the proliferation of toxic pesticides such as DDT. But various conservation efforts and protections from the Endangered Species Act have helped the national bird rebound from the brink of extinction.

But now that the bald eagle is back, some have questioned whether its success could be harmful to other species. In the time since the national bird has rebounded, there have been multiple shifts in its ecosystem, causing it to seek prey in the form of livestock and even endangered species. And while the bald eagle itself is no longer endangered, it still carries legal protections that can make it difficult for conservationists and farmers to deal with the threat of the resurgent apex predator.

In 1963, there were only 487 nesting pairs of bald eagles in the Lower 48, according to the Fish and Wildlife Service. The remaining birds were listed as endangered in most US states under the Endangered Species Act in 1973, with DDT, one of the main causes of the birds' decline, having been banned the year prior. This protected status, along with dedicated programs for breeding the birds in captivity and reintroducing them into the wild, enabled the species to recover to 9,789 nesting pair in 2007.

"Today I am proud to announce: the eagle has returned," then-Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne announced that year. "Based on its dramatic recovery, it is my honor to announce the Department of the Interiors decision to remove the American Bald Eagle from the Endangered Species List."

In the decade since the bald eagle was removed from the Endangered Species list, its numbers have continued to grow. But that's not necessarily such great news for animals farther down the food chain.

"Eagles are very opportunistic predators," Chris DeSorbo, director of the raptor program at the Biodiversity Research Institute in Portland, Maine, told the Associated Press. "They are going to try to take advantage of an easy meal wherever they can."

Since the bald eagle has been away, overfishing has significantly impacted the availability of eagles' preferred food – cod and salmon – in coastal regions. To survive, bald eagles will eat whatever is available, including endangered species.

One particularly effected species is the great cormorant, which has made a similar comeback in recent decades, but eagles have been hindering that progress. In the 1990s, there were 240 nesting pairs of the great cormorant in the state, but that number had dropped to 40 in 2016, according to NPR. That drop has been at least partially attributed to eagle attacks.

For conservationists, the next step after the restoration of the national bird should be a reconsideration of the approach towards eagle management in order to restore some sort of ecological balance, Bryan Watts, director of the center for conservation biology at the College of William and Mary, told NPR in August 2016.

"In terms of eagles, because of their status within our society, it's a discussion that's been put off, but ultimately we're going to have to face," he said.

But it's not just endangered animals that are affected. With the bald eagle increase, farmers have also begun to see the effects of the bird's return as bald eagles attack livestock, from chickens to young lambs.

"It's a fully protected bird. If you have foxes, coyotes, raccoons, a farmer can do something about that," Ken Klippen, a poultry scientist and former farmer who heads the National Association of Egg Farmers, told the AP. "But if it's a bald eagle? His hands are tied."

Of course, some of these losses are to be expected, said Mark McCollough, an endangered species biologist with the federal Fish and Wildlife Service.

"Yes, eagles are having an effect on other species of wildlife," Dr. McCollough told the AP. "But that's natural. Predation like that probably occurred here hundreds of years ago."

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:10 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Why drought-resistant farming could be a feminist act in Lesotho

Parts of Africa face one of the worst droughts in a century. Alongside needed food aid, new farming methods may offer a longer-term response – and lighten domestic burdens for women.   

Ryan Lenora Brown
CS Monitor
January 15, 2017 HA PHALOLE, LESOTHO—Maleloko Fokotsale’s garden isn’t very photogenic. From a distance, it looks like little more than a jumble of rocks and dirt piled high beside her neat fields in the rolling hills outside Lesotho’s capital.

And it wasn’t easy to build – there were stones to be hauled and trenches dug, dirt and leaves and fertilizer to be layered delicately like sections of a parfait. 

However, this “keyhole” garden – so named for its unusual shape, like the body of an open-mouthed pac man – has a crucial advantage over the fields that surround it. It uses far less water to produce a given quantity of vegetables, helping subsistence farmers here to weather one of the worst droughts of the past century, which is now barreling toward its third year across southern and eastern Africa.

But for farmers like Ms. Fokotsale – also the chief of this small village – building a drought resistant garden gave her another, less obvious benefit, too.


Like most women here, hours of Fokotsale’s days are peeled away collecting her family’s water – wheelbarrows full of it – from nearby streams and wells. So for her, making farming more resistant to drought isn’t only a way to grow more in a parched season – it eases her domestic burdens. And that’s an effect that’s likely to continue long after this drought passes.
A shifting climate

That logic could have applications far beyond tiny Lesotho. Across the developing world, climate change and the extreme weather it brings are forcing farmers to innovate, potentially dislodging not only old ways of farming, but old ways of thinking as well. And few stand to benefit as much from those changes as women.

“Women are extremely vulnerable to a changing climate,” says Mary Nyasimi, a Nairobi-based gender and policy scientist at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, because they are the ones responsible for environment-linked tasks like gathering firewood, growing food for their families, and collecting water. “When your livelihood and survival depends so much on natural resources, you become really sensitive to the effects of extreme weather.”

The current drought in southern Africa, which has withered the region with dry weather, parched rivers, and widespread crop failure, is linked to the El Niño weather pattern – a cyclical warming of the Pacific Ocean that flip-flops weather in much of the world every three to five years. Though those shifts are natural, some climate scientists say they appear to be growing more extreme as a result of human-caused climate change. The recent El Niño is one of the strongest ever recorded, and scientists say that rising greenhouse gas emissions are likely to make such mega El Niños more common.

By the end of the century, in fact, they will probably occur twice as often as they do now, according to a 2015 Nature article. Africa – the world’s poorest and most ecologically fragile continent – is likely to bear that burden disproportionately. 

That is why, in countries like Lesotho – where a quarter of the population is currently in need of food aid as a result of the drought – organizations like the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) are stepping up efforts to train farmers in growing techniques better able to withstand extreme weather.

The 'keyhole garden'

Keyhole gardens like Fokotsale’s are part of that strategy. First developed in Lesotho in the 1990s, they consist of a central compost well surrounded by a walled-in garden. When water is added to the compost well, nutrients seep into the soil around it, fertilizing crops.

Originally thought up to make food cultivation easier for people diagnosed with HIV – since the gardens require little labor to keep going – the gardens also require as much as 70 percent less water than normal farming, according to some keyhole garden developers, and can use “gray water” recycled from washing or bathing, making them ideal for times of drought.

And just as the burdens of collecting water fall disproportionately on women, FAO officials here discovered that the benefits of reducing the water needed for growing crops do, too.

“If access to water [during droughts] is a challenge, it’s also a gendered challenge, because it’s women who collect it,” says Borja Miguelez, emergency coordinator for the FAO in Lesotho. “Caring for a home garden is predominantly a female activity, so making that easier and more productive can be a big improvement in the lives of women.”

Fokotsale, for her part, wouldn’t say her garden has revolutionized her life. But it has allowed her to cut back on one of her most arduous chores – walking a mile each direction to the nearest water source, on the way back carting two full 30-liter (8 gallon) jugs.

“To carry all that water, you must be very strong,” Fokotsale says. “Sometimes the men help, but not usually. So for us women, it is better to garden like this, using only small, small water.”

Ryan Lenora Brown traveled to Lesotho with UNICEF.

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:08 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
California gets rains, but drought still means fewer lawns in future

Green grass is slowly losing ground as the archetypal landscape of Southern California. The populous region, adapting to a changing climate, will rely less on melting snowpack from afar.   

Henry Gass
CS Monitor   

January 15, 2017 Los Angeles—Deborah Butler spent three years apologizing for her lawn. After buying a corner property in Studio City with her husband over three years ago, they inherited a ragged front lawn they didn’t particularly want or need – not with a park across the street, and especially not amidst a five-going-on-six year drought.

Now the former eyesore is curved and contoured around two water-absorbing dips called "bioswales," and covered in green and silvery plants and trees that sprout from a thick layer of mulch. Ms. Butler doesn’t anticipate the drought-tolerant yard transforming again any time soon.

“I’ve had more and more people say, ‘Oh, you live in the beautiful house,’ ” she says. “It’s been a joy.”

Like thousands of homeowners around the Los Angeles area, Butler wanted a front yard that could be both beautiful and practical in an era of water scarcity. And despite a recent revival of precipitation in the state – punctuated over the weekend by the storm-related toppling of an iconic drive-through Sequoia tree – it’s a trend that shows no signs of going away.

The rains are replenishing groundwater supplies even as they also bring damaging mudslides (closing two state highways as of Monday). But the state's struggles with water supply show no sign of ending. California is moving forward with long-term plans to make aggressive conservation a way of life, and one of the most visible indicators of this wider shift is how a new generation of Angelenos is seeking to recast, both physically and socially, their relationship with water.

After decades of quenching the thirst of its growing population with snow-fed river water piped from hundreds of miles away – while flushing away most of the water that fell onto the city – water managers in the L.A. area are seeking to adapt to a changing climate by becoming less reliant on importing water.

This effort will require a new kind of localized, distributed water infrastructure that can capture, clean, and store as much water as possible.

Enter the new American front yard.

Butler says that for her garden project, a year ago, “the primary reason wasn’t to be ecologically-minded, but it really makes so much sense.” She adds: "It’s the middle of a drought, why would you put in something that must be watered?”

A wet winter last year eased the state’s drought to the point that Governor Jerry Brown relaxed mandatory water restrictions, and more relief could follow the potentially once-in-a-decade storm pummeling the state in recent days. The drought is not over, however, and while sustainable gardens alone won’t solve L.A.’s water crisis, the iconic image of the American front lawn is viewed by many as an extravagance Southern California can’t afford.

“We outgrew our water supply a long time ago,” says Hadley Arnold, founding co-director of the Arid Lands Institute (ALI).

In her cramped office in a bustling green technology incubator in downtown Los Angeles last summer, she stood by a large topographical map of the western U.S. and described the region’s controversial water history.

At the start of the 20th century drought hit Los Angeles. With local water sources strained, famed engineer William Mulholland, built the Los Angeles Aqueduct, a gravity-fed system that would draw water from the eastern slope of the Sierra Nevada mountains. By the 1920s population growth had the city searching for another water source. Mr. Mulholland and the newly-formed Metropolitan Water District augmented that supply by damming the Colorado River and pumping water west to the city across hundreds of miles of deserts and mountains. By the 1950s, that was no longer enough, so the city built yet another aqueduct, a 420-mile system of open canals and pipelines called the California Aqueduct to carry water from northern and central California to the south.

The city now gets about 90 percent of its water from these distant, snowpack-fed sources. The trouble: Researchers say snowpack is declining due to climate change, while drought periods are likely to get longer.

“Los Angeles depends on snow. That’s what we’ve depended on for 100 years,” says Ms. Arnold. “As that snow diminishes we’re going to have to conserve, we’re going to have to recycle, and we’re going to have to value what falls on us as rain.”

Toward 'a different water culture'

Water managers in the region are investing heavily in that last part (capturing and using as much stormwater as possible), because while snowpack is projected to decline in the state, precipitation in the L.A. area is projected to stay about the same – albeit falling in less frequent but more intense rainfall events, like the recent downpours that dropped a half-inch of rain per hour on Southern California.

“We are working very hard to increase our ability to use local water resources and decrease our reliance on an imported water supply,” says Marty Adams, director of water operations for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (DWP).

It appears that Angelenos are trying to follow suit. After Gov. Brown relaxed the state’s water restrictions this past summer, the DWP and other local water agencies maintained their own water restrictions. The region did not backslide as as sharply as other parts of the state last summer, according to a Los Angeles Times analysis, and amid early signs that a wet winter this year could see another uptick in water consumption, Arnold believes that a conservation mindset is now engrained in the city.

“I think this horse has left the barn,” she says. “Those [backslides] will be sort of zig-zags on the graph, but it’s all going to trend towards a very different water culture.”

The DWP has been nudging private property owners in this direction. Since 2009, the agency’s Turf Replacement Program has provided over 24,000 rebates to replace turf with water-efficient landscaping, just a fraction of the roughly 1.5 million private properties in the city.

Arnold and the ALI have been focusing on mapping the residential water storage potential of the San Fernando Valley basin – a low-lying area in northern LA that absorbs much of the city’s groundwater – to help educate homeowners about how best to conserve the water that falls on their property.

“I think we’ve been able to rely on investments made decades ago by our predecessors, and we haven’t had to do anything that big for a while,” says Mr. Adams.  “Now we’re wrestling with the fact that it’s our turn. It’s our turn to make investments in the future.”

Garden knowledge gap

There is still a long way to. To move the process along, the DWP has been holding workshops every few months to teach customers about sustainable landscaping, and those at a workshop last July believe that specific shift is gaining traction in the city.

“The neighborhood is going through a transformation, and I’m left behind,” says Sharon Spencer, a Faircrest Heights resident.

“More and more homeowners are converting over, and you start saying, ‘Hey, why not me?’” says Jim Christensen, a Mar Vista resident.

But the workshop also illustrated a fundamental problem with how the West, particularly southern California, has approached water constraints in recent years. Residents know what to get rid of – turf – they just don’t know what to replace it with. And not every resident can afford to do the same thing.

The result has been some growing pains. The turf removal rebates were so popular some agencies ran out of money for it, but in many cases grass was replaced with alternatives that have their own problems. Gravel or artificial turf don’t require watering but also don’t do well at absorbing rainfall.

Many of the rebates also weren’t cashed in. A report last year from the California Urban Water Conservation Council found that attrition rates for turf rebate programs in the region ranged from 25 to 45 percent, in part due to the cost, complexity, and time commitments of the conversions.

In other words, there is a knowledge gap, says Tom Skelton, an independent landscape contractor who ran the LADWP workshop in July.

“The awareness is there, but what’s lacking is the knowledge to do it, the resources to get it done,” he adds. “People are talking about it, but they’re not walking about it.”

Pamela Berstler – managing member of Green Gardens Group, a sustainable landscaping organization – pointed all this out as she drove her lime green Toyota Prius through Beverly Hills last July, a neighborhood that was publicly shamed in 2015 for not meeting state water conservation mandates.

“They do these one-note messages: ‘Turn off your sprinklers’; ‘Get rid of grass,’” she says. “A better message would be: ‘Make a garden.’ Don’t get rid of grass. Make a garden.”

And while sustainable gardens aren’t a one-step water fix, they do have multiple benefits, she adds. Besides retaining vast amounts of water to recharge underground aquifers, they can also sequester carbon that contributes to climate change, cool the environment, boost pollination, and prevent water pollution.

Much of the region’s water dependency issues could be solved by fundamentally changing what people think a California garden looks like, Ms. Berstler believes.

“You’re looking at millions of acres,” she says, gesturing at the large properties and towering hedges of Beverly Hills. “If this were a sponge, all of this, everything, a giant sponge doing the job it’s supposed to do in a watershed, it would make a huge difference.”

In addition to that knowledge gap, there are also financial challenges. Median annual income in the region can range from $72,000 in Santa Monica to $25,000 in Chinatown, and lower-income residents have trouble affording the upfront costs of turf removal to qualify for rebate programs. Butler, from Studio City, saved up over three years for her landscape conversion, eventually paying $45,000 for it.

“Right now we’re still in the $1,000-phone world,” says Berstler. Or to use another analogy, if sustainable gardens were electric cars, there isn’t much choice right now beyond a Tesla.

But people like Arnold see the opportunity, and the capability, to redefine Southern California water management for the better.

That will not be easy. Transforming yards has been riddled with setbacks and trial-and-error, and larger changes will be exponentially more difficult. Meanwhile, the broader 20th century mentality that water management is the responsibility of the government and not the individual is in need of reprogramming.

But the long-term prize is water independence and security in an era of climate unpredictability.

“The resurgence in what it means to manage local water, conserve local water, is actually a resurgence of Western resourcefulness itself,” says Arnold.

“I think it requires a different level of engagement from our citizens,” she adds, “and I think this is a city that is capable of that.”

 on: Jan 16, 2017, 06:03 AM 
Started by Rad - Last post by Rad
Development has affected 7 percent of virgin forests since 2000: Study

A new study shows that the world has lost 7 percent of its intact forests in the past 16 years, with implications for biodiversity, climate change, and human life.

Ellen Powell
CS Monitor
January 15, 2017 —On the surface, it’s just a vast expanse of land. But look closer, and the untouched areas of Canada’s boreal forest are a teeming mass of life – one that may hold some life-sustaining answers.

Yet in Canada and worldwide, untouched wilderness is coming under increased pressure, according to research published Friday in the journal Science Advances. The study’s authors, who have been using satellite data to track changes in the world’s intact landscapes for more than a decade, report that 7.2 percent of these areas have been compromised since 2000.

As these landscapes disappear or are sliced up by human activity, the multiplicity of species that inhabit these pristine corners of the earth are threatened. Not only are these species critical to understanding life on earth, but they may also hold hints for sustaining a growing global population. In addition, soils and forests act as a bulwark against the effects of climate change.

“As we lose pristine areas, we lose something that is bigger than ourselves,” explained forest expert and study co-author Lars Laestadius to the Washington Post.

The authors define an intact forest landscape as a piece of land greater than 500 square kilometers (200 square miles) that has not been touched by human activity, from human-caused wildfires to pipeline construction. These areas can include ecosystems from deserts to wetlands.

What’s driving their decline? With human societies covering an ever-increasing portion of the globe, it’s simply easier to access these once-remote areas, Dr. Laestadius suggested to the Post. NASA’s Earth Observatory indicates that state economic development policies – including building railways and expanding agriculture – have also caused significant deforestation.

When human activity encroaches, it can have a devastating impact on biodiversity. Some species only exist in tiny areas of an ecosystem, notes NASA’s Earth Observatory, meaning that they can be wiped out altogether. And activities such as clear-cutting trees can fundamentally change the types of wildlife that spring up.

With the loss of these species and their habitats comes a corresponding loss in scientific understanding, observed Laestadius.

“As we lose [them], it becomes more difficult for us to understand what is happening in those parts of the world that are already subject to human influence,” he said. “We sort of lose the benchmark of Mother Nature.”

Forests’ biodiversity could hold the clues for all kinds of questions facing life on earth, including feeding a growing population, suggests NASA’s Earth Observatory: “Hidden in the genes of plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria that have not even been discovered yet may be … the key to improving the yield and nutritional quality of foods.”

Old-growth forests may also have an important role to play in combating climate change. All trees and soils store carbon by taking in carbon dioxide. A 2008 study in the journal Nature indicated that old forests were particularly successful as carbon sinks, with those in the Pacific Northwest, Canada, and Russia taking in up to 0.4 gigatons of carbon annually. As these forests are cut down or burned, that stored carbon is released.

At current rates, 19 countries will lose all their intact forests within 60 years, the authors of the new study write – and in four countries, they will be gone within 20 years. With all of the benefits at stake, how can the decline in intact forests be slowed?

Sebastiaan Luyssaert, author of the 2008 study, told Scientific American that more emphasis needs to be placed on protecting existing forests, rather than seeing them as a resource that can be restored.

"Any kind of existing program that gives credit to reforestation could give credits to forest preservation," he suggested. Instead of replanting trees, in other words, use the funds to maintain old forests.

Formal forest protection is another answer. The authors of the Science Advances study found that protected areas were three-and-a-half times less likely to be compromised. But only about a tenth of the remaining untouched areas are protected, they say, highlighting a need for “carbon sequestration and biodiversity conservation efforts that target the most valuable remaining forests.”

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