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Environment, sustainability headlines - 20 Aug

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Environment

Officials at Global Conference Say It's Time to Take Action on Global Warming

Jan M. Olsen, Associated Press via ENN
ILULISSAT, Greenland — Near a glacier that's retreating at an alarming pace, environmental ministers and other officials from 23 countries met Thursday and agreed that nations must take action against global warming.

The meeting in the Arctic town of Ilulissat came at the end of a three-day trip by the officials through Greenland's spectacular but shrinking expanses of ice and snow. The vast island is one of the prime spots for assessing whether global warming is worsening.
(19 August 2005)


Global Warming: Will You Listen Now, America?

Andrew Buncombe, The Independent via Common Dreams
Two of the leading contenders to contest the next US presidential election have delivered an urgent warning to the United States on global warming, saying the evidence of climate change has become too stark to ignore and human activity is a major cause.
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On a high-profile and bi-partisan fact-finding tour in Alaska and Canada's Yukon territory, Senators John McCain, a Republican, and Hillary Clinton, the Democratic senator for New York, were confronted by melting permafrost and shrinking glaciers and heard from native Inuit that rising sea levels were altering their lives.

"The question is how much damage will be done before we start taking concrete action," Mr McCain said at a press conference in Anchorage. "Go up to places like we just came from. It's a little scary." Mrs Clinton added: "I don't think there's any doubt left for anybody who actually looks at the science. There are still some holdouts, but they're fighting a losing battle. The science is overwhelming."

Their findings directly challenge President George Bush's reluctance to legislate to reduce America's carbon emissions. Although both senators have talked before of the need to tackle global warming, this week's clarion call was perhaps the clearest and most urgent. It also raises the prospect that climate change and other environmental issues could be a factor in the presidential contest in 2008 if Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain enter it. Mrs Clinton and Mr McCain, who represents Arizona, are among the leading, and the most popular, likely contenders.
...Dan Lashof, a scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council, a respected Washington-based group, told The Independent: "People in Alaska are starting to freak out. The retreat of the sea ice allows the oceans to pound the coast more, and villages there are suffering from the effects of that erosion. There is permafrost melting, roads are buckling, there are forests that have been infested with beetles because of a rise in temperatures. I think residents there feel it's visible more and more, more than any other place in the country."
(19 August 2005)


Photos Capture Human Footprint on Africa

Sadia Latifi, Knight Ridder via Common Dreams
WASHINGTON - One hundred thousand images, 70,000 miles and 21 countries later, conservationist J. Michael Fay thinks Bono, Live 8 and the G-8 have been misguided.

Fay, a biologist and member of the Wildlife Conservation Society and National Geographic Society, spent seven months flying at low altitudes across Africa, and he has mapped enough of the human footprint on his trip to be disturbed, he said at a news conference Wednesday to highlight his findings.

"People aren't connecting the dots," he said of African relief efforts. "We gotta stop talking about poverty alleviation, and we gotta start talking about sustainable development."

Fay said he believed international aid to Africa must be transformed to preserve the continent's basic resources instead of extracting them for wealthy nations. Natural resources and conservation management should be part of the psyche of African governments and people worldwide to help make African countries more self-sustaining and so that the world won't keep seeing them as places of constant crisis, he said.

Fay said he had seen mass graves in AIDS-ridden South Africa as well as dehydrated and dead hippos at Katavi National Park in Tanzania, which he said was a result of the World Bank's rice-development efforts, which made money but took away water from wildlife.

...To see more photos and read dispatches from Fay's journal, go to magma.nationalgeographic.com/ngm/megaflyover/index.html

To see a "Human Footprint" map, which examines the impact of Africa's 900 million inhabitants, go to www.megaflyover.org/
(19 August 2005)


Solutions and Sustainability

Sailboats take to the wind as gas prices soar
Fuel costs appear to be curbing sales growth of motor vessels in Seattle

Steve Wilhelm, Puget Sound Business Journal (Seattle) via MSNBC
Sailboats are looking better. Trips on the motor yacht might be getting shorter.

Record fuel prices appear to be making an impact on the leisure-boat industry around Puget Sound. While sales continue to grow this summer due to low interest rates and a stronger economy, the high fuel prices appear to be cooling the rate of growth and altering the blend of watercraft attracting buyers' interest.

Brokers say they're seeing some buyers shift to sail or to more efficient diesels, and they say some yacht owners are shortening their trips and throttling back to a more fuel-efficient pace when underway. It's a trend that parallels the automotive world, where fuel costs are causing many buyers to move away from big SUVs and toward smaller cars and hybrids.

...To be sure, high fuel costs seem to be a factor only for selected buyers, some observers say. With new 40-foot cabin cruisers costing $400,000 or more, they point out, the cost of fuel is only a small part of the substantial expense of owning and operating a large pleasure craft.
(19 August 2005)


Lifestyle Gardening? No Thanks!

Graham Burnett, The Idler via spiralseed
Friends and colleagues are often surprised by my attitude towards Reality TV gardening shows- for aren’t they are encouraging the cathode-ray addled masses to get outdoors, get their hands dirty and get growing- surely no bad thing? Well I’m afraid I’m unconvinced. More often than not these programs are diametrically opposed to what I understand gardening to be about, reflecting little more than instant soundbite solutions and the values of consumerist aspiration.

‘Ground Force’, probably the last such program I ever watched, used to be particularly irritating, featuring as it did each week a host of celebrities gurning into the camera whilst they slapped down the decking, exotic ornamentals and (ahem) 'water features' as a 'surprise' for some gormless householder while they'd just popped down the shop for a packet of fags or something. If these punters couldn't keep their garden in order when it was just a patch of lawn with a rabbit hutch and a kid’s tricycle on it, how did they hope to cope once it had been converted into a high maintenance, Homebase-dependant version of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon???

My own vision for the urban garden is that of a place where we can begin to develop self-reliance, growing useful crops such as fruit, vegetables and herbs by implementing permaculture techniques and methods. The difference between the permaculture garden and its more 'conventional' counterpart is basically to do with design- or at least, an approach towards design. Of course, 'design' is very much addressed by Ground Force and it’s ilk. However this tends to be focused purely in terms of aesthetics and fashion- what colours and shapes go well together this year, where best to place the decking or water features to impress the neighbours, how to avoid plants and flowers that are just so passé and so on. It’s also an exclusive and top-down approach. We the viewers, as well as their clients in TV land, are expected to simply sit back as open-mouthed passive consumers whilst ‘The Experts’ dazzle us with their skills, knowledge and witty banter.

On the other hand, permaculture design is more about spending time building up a thorough and intimate understanding of both your garden (its aspect, soil type, wind and rainfall patterns, what plants or creatures share it with you, etc) and what you actually want from it. Therefore my first piece of practical advice to any gardener that would prefer to work with rather than against nature is simply to Slow Down- "Don’t just do something- sit there", as the Zen masters wisely taught.
(20 August 2005)


Attack of the $3 tomato

Zach Dundas
How Portland's snooty tastes are saving Oregon farms, luring kids back to the land and even-gasp!-teaching Republicans and Democrats to get along.
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Last week, the meat counter at New Seasons Market on Southeast Division Street-as good a place as any to observe Portland's organic-shopping, local-arugula-worshipping foodies in their native habitat-offered juicy-looking steak...for $13.99 a pound.

Why would anyone slap down more than a ten-spot for a pound of cow flesh when they could buy the same amount of the exact same cut for about $7.50 at Safeway, just blocks away on Southeast Hawthorne?

Or, for that matter, who would pay New Seasons $3.99 for a pint of blueberries when the same Safeway sells it for a buck less?

The answer, in both cases, has nothing to do with the way the American consumer is supposed to behave in the globalized, big-box, Chinese-made 21st century. Instead, it has everything to do with where that spendy meat and those blue-chip blueberries came from: Oregon.

Forget "organic," long the label coveted by that cross-section of hippies, yuppies, bourgeois bohemians and gourmets. Increasingly, "local" is the new buzzword chowhounds are chasing.

...Yet the best evidence that the buying habits of a small faction packs a real effect is not found in a gourmet grocery or hip bistro.

Buried in dry data spreadsheets cranked out by the U.S. Department of Agriculture lies a dramatic tale: At a time when small farmers are dying out across America, the number of farmers in Oregon is on the rise. The latest USDA "agriculture census" showed the number of full-time farmers in Oregon increasing more than 55 percent from 13,884 in 1974 to 21,580 in 2002, the last year the USDA surveyed. Part-time farming, where many growers who specialize in farmers markets and other buy-local niches begin, is up, too.

In contrast to farmers' plight nationwide-endless Willie Nelson benefits notwithstanding, about 300,000 farms have disappeared since 1980-Oregon's farming renaissance is stunning. In Illinois, for example, about 33,000 farms turned out the lights between 1974 and 2002.

Growers and industry analysts ascribe the increase in Oregon farmers to a growing number of small- and medium-sized operations designed to meet increasing demand for local grub.

"Farmers markets are growing by 10 percent a year," says Larry Lev, a marketing economist with Oregon State University's agriculture extension service. "The rest of agriculture isn't growing like that. The niche is serving a lot of good ends, and one of them is bringing bright, energetic people into agriculture who never would have dreamed of it otherwise."
(17 August 2005)
Article continues for four pages.

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