Water, Power & Discontent

Early last year an article in the Guardian reminded me of work I had done in Montenegro in an earlier decade. The work was among the most impactful in my life, both professionally and personally, but the reminder was more a warning than a celebration. Something similar just happened with work I carried out in the region Rachel Dixon, a travel writer for the Guardian, brought to my attention with the film above, mentioned in this article:

Adventure in Albania: kayaking in one of Europe’s final frontiers

With wild rivers, mountains and Unesco sites aplenty, Albania is emerging as an exciting Mediterranean destination – but its wilderness could be devastated by huge dam-building projects

5188‘Go, go, go!” The white-water rafting guide shouted orders from the back of the boat and our five-strong crew paddled hard to stay on course. We were tackling a stretch of the Vjosa, a 270km river that begins in Greece (where it is called the Aoös) and flows through Albania and into the Adriatic just north of the city of Vlora. I was on a recce trip for a new southern Albanian break with Much Better Adventures, which specialises in long weekends to wild places in Europe and North Africa. But this trip was not just a fun adventure – rather just part of a campaign to save the river, which is under threat from proposed dams. A documentary film, Blue Heart, out this month, will highlight the fight to protect Europe’s last wild rivers, with help from ecotourism…

The film, and the article, have to do with the power of water. And the power of humans in deciding what to do with water. Not all reminders can be pleasant. This one is bittersweet. One sweet part is the call to action.

CallAct1

Step 1: Register your interest in hosting a screening

We are aiming to host hundreds of screenings of Blue Heart globally in 2018 to raise awareness of the plight of the people affected in the Balkan region. If you are interested in hosting a screening, please complete the form below and a member of our team will get back to you ASAP.  Please note the film is 40 mins long and we recommend that you allow at least 20 mins for a post screening discussion. Continue reading

Make Your Opinion Known About New Labeling For GMOs

 

dept-ag_custom-27b49bc849696ef8487e34355a2fc1a9ae7bf17d-s1400-c85

The USDA has released several options for what the labels might look like.
Department of Agriculture

If the questions and concerns surrounding GMOs are of interest to you, then in the next six weeks you have a unique window of opportunity. Until July 3 you are invited to share your opinion with the folks responsible for these label design options to the right. Thanks to our friends at the salt (National Public Radio, USA) for bringing this to our attention:

USDA Unveils Prototypes For GMO Food Labels, And They’re … Confusing

Foods that contains genetically modified ingredients will soon have a special label.

We recently got the first glimpse of what that label might look like, when the U.S. Department of Agriculture released its proposed guidelines.

This is the product of a decades-long fight between anti-GMO campaigners and Big Agriculture companies, which left neither side completely satisfied, as NPR has reported.

After Congress passed a bill in 2016 requiring labels on foods containing GMO ingredients, the USDA launched a long process to figure out the specifics. When it asked for feedback, it received 112,000 responses from consumers, farmers and manufacturers, among others.

The result? Continue reading

Karen Washington, Food Activist

2560

‘When we say ‘food apartheid,’ the real conversation can begin.’
Illustration: Daniel Chang Christensen

Thanks to Anna Brones for bringing this article, and its subject, to our attention in the Guardian, as a reprint of an essay originally published in Guernica:

Food apartheid: the root of the problem with America’s groceries

Food justice activist Karen Washington wants us to move away from the term ‘food desert’, which doesn’t take into account the systemic racism permeating America’s food system

America’s sustainable food movement has been steadily growing, challenging consumers to truly consider where our food comes from, and inspiring people to farm, eat local, and rethink our approaches to food policy. But at the same time, the movement is predominantly white, and often neglects the needs and root problems of diverse communities. Continue reading

Being Ecological When Nature Is Perceived With Limits

BeingEco

A book about ecology without information dumping, guilt inducing, or preaching to the choir.

This new book is mentioned in a description of coming to terms with a life without water, an essay written from the perspective of living in Cape Town, South Africa. The essay is moving in the way a dream can be, which fits the writer’s reference to what we all might come to know as “the water-anxiety dream.”

The essay was effective enough to get me to click through to find out more about the book to the left. Which leads to Timothy Morton, who has somehow avoided our notice until now. How had we missed an author of books with titles like Dark Ecology, and The Ecological Thought, as well as Ecology without Nature?

Nevermind how. My thanks to Rosa Lyster for this, among other gifts from her essay.

Lyster-Capetown-Drought

For some residents of Cape Town, the memory of the drought is already fading. But, in an increasingly parched world, will the anxiety ever really end? Illustration by Owen Gent

A friend of mine got married in her parents’ garden last year, on a lavishly beautiful late-summer afternoon in Cape Town. Many of the guests were British, and they could not stop remarking on the fineness of the weather. It was a startling reminder that some people still relish hot days with no possibility of rain, that not everyone looks upon February in the Western Cape as something to be endured. After the ceremony, my date and I stood by the swimming pool, drinking sparkling wine and monitoring the canapés. My friend’s stepfather came by to say hello, carefully picking his way past the bride’s two young brothers, who were playing an ecstatic game of hide-and-seek on the lawn, getting grass stains on their tiny suits. After gracefully accepting our praise about how lovely everything had been, he told us that he’d been having torrid anxiety dreams. We nodded. Weddings are notoriously hard on the old nerves—guests to be tended to, speeches to be made, and the pool just lying there, waiting for any old idiot to accidentally fall in and cast an undignified pall over the happy day. He shook his head. His dream, he explained, was about the garden. Continue reading

Commerce, Conscience & Conservation

06Patagonia1-jumbo

Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, with its chief executive, Rose Marcario, in the tin shed where he once forged and hammered metal. The outdoor-clothing company has mixed commerce and activism since the early 1970s. Credit Laure Joliet for The New York Times

Since the early days of this platform we have linked to stories about this company many times, and its founder in particular is in our pantheon of role models. During these seven years we have also studiously avoided linking to stories involving politics, other than highlighting activism that holds public officials accountable. This story below borders on  too much politics, but I find the company’s position not only acceptable, but as usual about this company, aspirational. Thanks to David Gelles for this story about how Patagonia has supported grass-roots environmental activists for decades and how it is suing the president in a bid to protect Bears Ears National Monument:

merlin_136030764_da829491-ce0c-4974-a0f9-b170acc558c4-superJumbo

Patagonia employees at the Ventura, Calif., headquarters, where there are picnic tables in the parking lot, on-site day care and easy access to the beach.CreditLaure Joliet for The New York Times

VENTURA, Calif. — The offices of Patagonia occupy a low-slung complex of stucco buildings in this sleepy beachside town in Southern California. There are solar panels and picnic tables in the parking lot, day care with a jungle gym by the main lobby and easy access to the beach, where employees surf during lunch break. It is a corporate Eden of sorts, where idealistic Californians run a privately held company that sells about $1 billion of puffy down jackets and organic cotton jeans each year.

Screen Shot 2018-05-05 at 7.06.08 AMBut on an unseasonably hot and windy Monday morning in early December, Patagonia headquarters were transformed into something that quickly resembled a war room. There were emergency conference calls with Washington lawyers. Court filings were prepared. Web designers remade the company’s home page.

It wasn’t a business crisis that had mobilized the company, however. It was politics. Continue reading

Just When Ford Started Being Great Again, The Signals Indicated A Shift To Reverse

merlin_137576667_7fa921a6-9ace-4e0a-9579-4c864e5232c3-jumbo

Cristina Spanò

Ford1I have been based back in the Americas for fifteen months. For the previous couple years I had been driving Ford’s best-selling vehicle in India –a vehicle with the three letters Eco in its name. This was the company that built the cars I grew up in, but had long since stopped believing in. That “Eco” car got me starting to believe again.

Then the election of 2016 happened. Holding aside all its other dangers, the election result has elevated ecological danger to perhaps its greatest level in my lifetime. A government elected on the slippery Make America Great Again slogan has given cover to companies seeing profit in rollbacks of erstwhile impressive ecological commitments. And the slope down which we all are now sliding seems to be getting steeper. An op-ed by Jamie Lincoln Kitman, the New York bureau chief for Automobile Magazine, illuminates the slip and the slope:

Why Is a ‘Green’ Car Company Pivoting Back to S.U.V.s?

Ford2Two years ago, the Ford Motor Company boasted about having been named Interbrand’s Best Global Green Brand and said it was committed to working to meet stricter fuel economy standards. Last week, after lobbying with the rest of the industry to strike down those standards, Ford announced that it would largely abandon the American passenger car market in favor of building more trucks, crossovers and S.U.V.s. Continue reading

Meanwhile, North Of The Border

Kormann-Ryan-Zinke.jpg

The Interior Secretary, one of President Trump’s most loyal allies, sees public lands as the key to an “energy-dominant” future. Photograph by Morgan Rachel Levy / Redux

Yesterday’s rich south of the border story is complemented, not flatteringly, by this note by Carolyn Kormann:

Ryan Zinke’s Great American Fire Sale

Not long ago, the Bureau of Land Management, an agency within the U.S. Department of the Interior, began distributing “vision cards” to its employees. The front of each card features the B.L.M. logo (a river winding into green foothills); short descriptions of the Bureau’s “vision,” “mission,” and “values”; and an oil rig. On the flip side is a list of “guiding principles,” accompanied by an image of two cowboys riding across a golden plain. Amber Cargile, a B.L.M. spokeswoman, told me that the new cards are meant to reflect the agency’s “multiple-use mission on working landscapes across the West, which includes grazing, energy, timber, mining, recreation, and many other programs.” Individual employees, she added, can opt to wear or display the cards at their own discretion. But, according to the advocacy group Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, which obtained photos of the cards and shared them with the Washington Post, supervisors in at least two B.L.M. field offices have been verbally “advising that employees must clip them to their lanyards.” Some workers, speaking to the Post anonymously, said that they felt they had no choice but to comply. Continue reading

Road Electrification, The Latest Automotive Paradigm Shift

ElecCarVid

Take a minute to watch this video, and you may find the article below worth the read:

World’s first electrified road for charging vehicles opens in Sweden

Stretch of road outside Stockholm transfers energy from two tracks of rail in the road, recharging the batteries of electric cars and trucks

ElecCar1.jpgThe world’s first electrified road that recharges the batteries of cars and trucks driving on it has been opened in Sweden.

About 2km (1.2 miles) of electric rail has been embedded in a public road near Stockholm, but the government’s roads agency has already drafted a national map for future expansion.

Sweden’s target of achieving independence from fossil fuel by 2030 requires a 70% reduction in the transport sector. Continue reading

Plastic Reduction Success Story

5150 (1).jpg

A UK levy of 5p per bag introduced in 2015 has already reduced single-use plastic bags by 85%. Photograph: Stuart Kelly/Alamy Stock Photo

We never tire of reporting on efforts at plastic-reduction, so thanks to Juliette Jowit and the Guardian for this update:

Drop in plastic bags littering British seas linked to introduction of 5p charge

Scientists find an estimated 30% drop in plastic bags on the seabed in the same timeframe as charges were introduced in European countries

A big drop in plastic bags found in the seas around Britain has been credited to the introduction of charges for plastic bags across Europe. Continue reading

Accentuate The Positive, But Also Be Vigilant

180402_r31793 (1)

William Ruckelshaus, who ran the E.P.A. under Nixon and Reagan, said that Pruitt and his top staff “don’t fundamentally agree with the mission of the agency.” Illustration by Paul Sahre; photograph by Saul Loeb / AFP / Getty (man)

The vast majority of posts on this platform are stories related to environmental conservation, social responsibility, community innovations. Forward-looking. Positive, if you want to think of it that way. But we keep our eyes open for clouds on the horizon as well. Yesterday’s post was a reminder that we should keep our eyes open to pernicious changes in the national park system of the USA. Today we get deeper into the underbelly of that particular issue, and the illustration above, which accompanies an epic (allow 80 minutes to read or listen to it) expose on Scott Pruitt, and as illustrations go it is a blunt hint of what to expect from the article that follows. Creepy. Ugly. Needing serious attention. Thanks to Margaret Talbot and her editors at the New Yorker:

Scott Pruitt’s Dirty Politics

How the Environmental Protection Agency became the fossil-fuel industry’s best friend.

One afternoon last April, Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, travelled to the Harvey Mine, in Sycamore, Pennsylvania, to declare that the agency had a new direction, which he called “Back to Basics.” It was an unusual place for the nation’s chief steward of clean air, land, and water to set out a policy agenda. Consol Energy, the owner of the Harvey facility, which is part of the largest underground coal-mining complex in North America, has been fined repeatedly by the E.P.A. for violations; in 2016, it had to pay three million dollars for having discharged contaminated wastewater into the Ohio River and its tributaries. Past E.P.A. administrators have spoken of creating jobs as a welcome potential by-product of the agency’s work, especially if they are green jobs, but creating or protecting energy jobs is not supposed to be the mission—protecting human health and the environment is. As the speech that Pruitt gave at the mine demonstrated, he seems to have these priorities reversed. Continue reading

For Ocean Conservation, Focus On Scientifically-Driven Decisions

merlin_135772488_b42241fe-633d-46e4-aa00-8913cd80255e-master768

Nathaniel Russell

Our favorite stories on conservation challenges–whether marine or terrestrial–are those that highlight entrepreneurial approaches. Those stories, though, have multiple counterparts related to government approaches to conservation. In our many celebrations of various forms of ocean conservation, we have probably tended to favor quantity and scale more than emphasizing the value of science. Guilty as charged, but ready to remedy:

Bigger Is Not Better for Ocean Conservation

SAN FRANCISCO — I have spent my entire life pushing for new protected areas in the world’s oceans. But a disturbing trend has convinced me that we’re protecting very little of real importance with our current approach.

From Hawaii to Brazil to Britain, the establishment of large marine protected areas, thousands of square miles in size, is on the rise. These areas are set aside by governments to protect fisheries and ecosystems; human activities within them generally are managed or restricted. While these vast expanses of open ocean are important, their protection should not come before coastal waters are secured. But in some cases, that’s what is happening.

Continue reading

Government Conference Looking For Solutions To Big Puzzles

Happy to hear that there are still such efforts (conferences such as the one described below) underway and that they are inclined to the audacious. Thanks to Brad Plumer, at the New York Times, for this report:

Kelp Farms and Mammoth Windmills Are Just Two of the Government’s Long-Shot Energy Bets

Thousands of entrepreneurs gathered near Washington this week for an annual government conference. On the agenda: unusual solutions to major clean-energy problems.

merlin_135587181_610e6e68-2378-49ae-8b1a-5557e87a02a5-jumbo

A kelp forest off Mexico’s Pacific coast. A project presented this week at an energy research conference proposes using tiny robots to farm seaweed for use in biofuels. Credit Reinhard Dirscherl/ullstein bild, via Getty Images

Off the coast of California, the idea is that someday tiny robot submarines will drag kelp deep into the ocean at night, to soak up nutrients, then bring the plants back to the surface during the day, to bask in the sunlight.

The goal of this offbeat project? To see if it’s possible to farm vast quantities of seaweed in the open ocean for a new type of carbon-neutral biofuel that might one day power trucks and airplanes. Unlike the corn- and soy-based biofuels used today, kelp-based fuels would not require valuable cropland. Continue reading

Keeping It In The Ground?

louisianapipelineprotest-d0864bee2b618a1d4d9ff96d2cbe12ac53c96f8b-s1600-c85

“Keep it in the ground” activists protesting the Bayou Bridge Pipeline on February 17, 2018 near Belle Rose, Louisiana. Travis Lux/WWNO

Under the current circumstances in the USA (you know what we mean) it is not straightforward to consider optimism obvious. But stranger things have happened. Thanks to National Public Radio (USA) for reminding us that when times get tough, the tough tough it out on behalf of us all:

cherrifoytlin-e88dddf32b0f52e571f94c798a180f7125ec1c59-s500-c85

Activist Cherri Foytlin vows to physically block construction of the Bayou Bridge Pipeline in Louisiana.
Travis Lux/WWNO

The United States oil business is booming and the country could soon be the largest crude oil producer in the world. Despite this record-breaking production, climate change activists campaigning to move away from fossil fuels say they are making progress.

Here’s the idea underpinning the ‘keep it in the ground‘ movement: to address climate change, activists say known reserves of fossil fuels will have to be left untouched instead of burned. In the meantime, they want countries to transition to renewable forms of energy such as solar and wind. Continue reading

Writers, Thinkers, Birders

Petrusich-Dont-Mess-with-the-Birds.jpg

A proposed Republican amendment threatens to weaken the protections in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918. Photograph by Ernest Manewal / Camera Press / Redux

Thanks to writers who become birders, and this one in particular:

Don’t Mess with the Birds!

By Amanda Petrusich

Catskill, New York—the small Hudson River town where the American painter Thomas Cole lived and worked, from 1825 to 1847—is also home to the RamsHorn-Livingston Sanctuary, which contains four hundred and thirty acres of tidal marsh, upland forest, and fallow farmland, and is presently occupied by common loons, great blue and green herons, wood ducks, mallards, a pair of bald eagles, northern harrier and red-tailed hawks, ruffled grouse, merlin falcons, eastern screech and great horned owls, belted kingfishers, pileated woodpeckers, warblers, scarlet tanagers, blue-gray gnatcatchers, a tiny and nervous-looking thrush known as a veery, and various other species of birds whose names, I will admit, are perilously delightful to type. There is also a beaver. Continue reading

A Pro-Environment Form Of Apartheid

4928

Jonathan Watts, over at the Guardian, has this news:

Britain and Europe must ban palm oil in biofuel to save forests, EU parliament told

Forest peoples affected by plantations urge EU to enact ban despite diplomatic opposition

If Britain and other European nations are to fulfil forest protection goals, they must ban the use of palm oil for biofuel and tighten oversight of supply chains, a delegation of forest peoples told parliamentarians this week.

The call for urgent, concrete action comes amid an increasingly heated diplomatic row over the issue between the EU and the governments of major palm-producing nations such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Costa Rica.

The European parliament voted last April to prohibit sales of biofuels made from vegetable oils by 2020 in order to meet its climate goals. This was followed by a related vote last month. Whether and how this might be implemented is now being considered by the European Commission and member states.

Continue reading

Peru’s Rendering Of The Best Idea

20SCI-AMAZON1-jumbo

The Yaguas River of the Yaguas National Park in Peru, one of the Western Hemisphere’s newest national parks. Credit Álvaro del Campo/The Field Museum

Ask Whole Foods About Wonderful

oilag-reaction_teenfriends_2

How wonderful is that?!? An organization that has been digging into the question of where all that fracking water is going in recent years. Thanks to Food & Water Watch, one of the most vigilant watchdogs helping the public become aware of fracking’s potential dangers, for asking questions that we all have reason to care about. And since the answers are not so wonderful, they are choosing perfect market-based locations to ask regular folks whether they are aware of the very cozy relationship between fracking waste water and the food we eat. Even some certified organic foods, it turns out. The image above is from their current press release:

PomWashington, D.C. — Are families around the country—and around the globe—eating California produce grown with toxic water from oil drilling? If they consume Halos Mandarins, POM Wonderful pomegranate juice, Wonderful pistachios, Sunview Raisins, Bee Sweet citrus or Sutter Home wine, they almonds_bottommay well be. Those companies grow some of their products in four water districts in California’s Central Valley that buy wastewater from Chevron and other oil companies’ drill sites. Now, Food & Water Watch is announcing a campaign to ban the practice, which threatens our food, farm workers and the environment, with a new documentary by noted filmmaker Jon Bowermaster and a campaign video capturing shocked reactions from people who previewed the video last week in front of Whole Foods’ headquarters in Austin, Texas. [continued below]

Thanks to WNYC for this half hour in which we learned about the study. For a decade-old but still profile of the wonderful couple who we hope will come clean on this, take a look here:

fiji_bottle_top…Lynda and her creative team immediately set to work promoting the water’s “untainted” origins. (Fiji Water comes from an aquifer on the island of Viti Levu.) The bottle’s label was retooled: the image of a waterfall (Lynda: “Surface water? Yuck!”) was replaced with a bright-pink tropical flower and palm fronds, and the company’s slogan was changed from the ho-hum “Taste of Paradise” to the more direct “Untouched by man. Until you drink it.” Since the makeover, sales have improved by three hundred per cent…

Rich, as the saying goes. Continue reading

The Idea Gets Greater, In Chile

webTHOMPKINSmap-460

Protecting More Wilderness
Map shows the scope of Tompkins Conservation park projects in Chile and Argentina. Eight Chilean parks, shown in boldface, comprise the latest expansion of wilderness areas, an area roughly twice the size of Massachusetts. Source: Tompkins Conservation. By The New York Times

When the news was first reported, just the facts were enough. Then yesterday we had some commentary that made us think more on how important this news really was, from a global perspective. Now, the story behind the facts, and this op-ed by Kristine McDivitt Tompkins echoes the greatest idea:

We need a new story about the Earth that isn’t just a litany of alarming statistics about crashing wildlife populations, polluted air and water, and climate chaos. We need a story that reminds us that the continuing degradation of landscapes and the seas is not necessarily a one-way street toward irreversible destruction.

On Monday we began to write such a story with the government of Chile. Under the wide skies of the new Patagonia National Park, President Michelle Bachelet and I formalized the largest-ever expansion of a national park system prompted by a donation of private land. Continue reading

The Greatest Idea, In Peril

5700

America’s public lands belong to all of us. We owe it to ourselves to save them

A truly noble idea – one deeply democratic in its inspiration and one that honors the human need to be in relationship to awe and majesty.

America’s public lands.

This idea was seeded by early American settlers, who came here to escape a class system in Europe that excluded them from land – owning it, hunting on it, surviving on it. Conservation was articulated as a national endeavor by hunters and foresters with the unique discernment that our game and timber resources were not boundless, and required professional management to remain bountiful.

This was a hard-won national ethos. From the pitch battles for their existence, our public lands were imbued with moral standing and national sanction: the idea that they “belong” to all of us. Continue reading

Environmental Impact From Microwave Ovens

totalenvironmentThree scientists at the University of Manchester have shared their findings in a journal whose title we had not been aware of, but are glad to know is looking out for us all:

1-s2.0-S0048969717X00259-cov150hScience of the Total Environment is an international journal for publication of original research on the total environment, which includes the atmospherehydrospherebiospherelithosphere, and anthroposphere.

Since most readers of our pages likely use this type of oven on a daily basis, it seems worthy of a moment to read their findings as abstracted below:

Environmental assessment of microwaves and the effect of European energy efficiency and waste management legislation

Authored by Alejandro Gallego-Schmid, Joan Manuel F.Mendoza & Adisa Azapagic

130 M microwaves in the EU consume 9.4 TWh of electricity annually.

First LCA for microwaves to estimate the environmental effects of EU regulation

Standby Regulation will reduce impacts by 4–9% by 2020; WEEE Directive by ~ 0.3%.

Decarbonisation of electricity will reduce most impacts by 6–24% by 2020.

Eco-design regulation for microwaves should be developed to reduce resource use.

More than 130 million microwaves are affected by European Union (EU) legislation which is aimed at reducing the consumption of electricity in the standby mode (‘Standby Regulation’) and at more sustainable management of end-of-life electrical and electronic waste (‘WEEE Directive’). Continue reading