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Finding green in the concrete jungle

Richard Black, BBC
Apart from a few lower members of the animal kingdom, no-one other than human beings build cities.

They are totally artificial constructs and in them we live artificial lives. We travel differently, eat different food, receive water and energy through pipes and wires, live in different kinds of buildings, do different jobs.

All of these things come with an environmental price-tag. Given that the world’s urban population is expanding at such a rate, it is worth asking what are the numbers on that price-tag, and whether they are higher or lower than the environmental cost of living a rural life.

Does a person produce more or less carbon dioxide on moving from the countryside to the city? If the answer is “less”, how should that be offset against a bigger contribution to urban smog? Is trash piling up on a street corner better or worse than excess fertiliser running from farmland into the water supply?

How far does a city’s environmental footprint extend beyond its boundaries – to the natural resources which feed it with water and food, or to the other side of the planet which feels its greenhouse gas emissions?

There is no simple answer.

“What is needed is research that focuses on the large-scale, long-term environmental changes, not just on the immediate impact of cities,” concludes the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change (IHDP), a global research alliance.

A farmer from the Dabieshan Mountain area in central China
China has seen massive migration from areas of low agricultural productivity to coastal cities

“Until recently, this has been quite unexplored territory,” it says. It is territory which badly needs exploration if the full impacts of 21st Century urbanisation are to be fully understood.
(19 June 2006)
More articles are online in the BBC’s In Depth: Urban Planet section.
Big Gav devotes a recent post to Cites Are The Future.

California: The Vampire Slayer (Act of 2006)

Michael, Groovy Green
Anyone else here dig the TV Series, “Buffy, The Vampire Slayer“? Giles and the gang always foiled evil plots to destroy the world while Joss Whedon integrated humorous banter and creative twists to the storyline. Awesome show..but I digress. Anyways, apparently California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine is a fan of the show, since his aptly titled “The Vampire Slayer Act of 2006″ has recently been approved by the California Assembly. From the release, “AB1970 would force companies to put labels on devices that tell consumers how much energy is being used while the device is in standby mode. AB1970 supporters claim that the average household will pay an additional $200 per year due to electronics on standby.”
(16 June 2006)

Norway launches global seed bank

Alok Jha, The Guardian
An ambitious project to safeguard future food supplies began on Monday with the launch of a “Noah’s ark” for the world’s most important plants.

The new Svalbard International Seed Vault (SISV) will serve as a repository for crucial seeds in the event of a global catastrophe, said Norway’s agriculture minister, Terje Riis-Johansen. Carved into the permafrost and rock of the remote Svalbard peninsula, it will eventually house 3m seed samples from every country in the world.

“This facility will provide a practical means to re-establish crops obliterated by major disasters,” said Cary Fowler, the executive secretary of the Global Crop Diversity Trust, which will manage the seed bank. “But crop diversity is imperiled not just by a cataclysmic event, such as a nuclear war, but also by natural disasters, accidents, mismanagement, and short-sighted budget cuts.”

Agriculture relies on collections of crop species and their wild relatives. Seed banks are vital to the development of new crop varieties and, without them, agriculture would grind to a halt. Samples of the world’s agricultural biodiversity, including crops such as wheat, apple and potato, are scattered across 1,400 seed banks around the world.

All these seed banks are at risk from local problems.
(19 June 2006)
Related article in Financial Times (UK)

Some farmers trade tractors for animals

M.L. JOHNSON, Wired News
HOPKINTON, R.I. (AP) — Metal clinks against rocks in the soil as four of Jim Cherenzia’s horses pull his harrow through seven acres of hay.

Cherenzia rides behind in a small cart, rolling gently over the grass as the blades of the harrow, a piece of cultivating equipment that cuts and smooths the soil. The air fills with the sounds of the creaking harrow, harness bells and occasional soft snorts as the procession moves steadily through the field.

“There’s nothing more enjoyable than plowing hay with a horse,” Cherenzia said.

He is among a small but dedicated group of farmers who use animals rather than machines to do work around the farm. While they embrace modern conveniences in other parts of their lives, they say shunning tractors helps the environent and saves money on gas.

Cherenzia uses Percherons _ large, sturdy war horses originally bred in France _ to plow and spread manure. Over the years, he has used them to log, bale hay and plant corn, and in warm weather, he hitches them to carriages for weddings and other events.

“Tractor’s probably a whole lot more sensible,” said Cherenzia, who owned one briefly in the 1970s. “But I’m trying to make some nice horses too. And it’s enjoyable.”

The U.S. Census Bureau stopped tracking the number of farms using animal power after 1960, when it counted 4.7 million tractors and 3 million horses and mules used for work.

Today, there’s no good estimate on the number of farmers using draft animals like horses, mules, and oxen, but it’s probably tens of thousands, said Leah Patton of the 4,500-member American Donkey and Mule Society.

Tim Huppe, who owns BerryBrook Farm and BerryBrook Ox Supply in Farmington, N.H., estimated there are 3,500 oxen teams in New England.

“A lot of small farmers don’t want tractors leaking on their land,” Huppe said. “If you look at the whole package, you’re not buying any petroleum, and all the waste, the manure, goes back on the land.”

“And you can eat them after too,” he added. “New Englanders are very thrifty.”
(18 June 2006)