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In Niger, Trees and Crops Turn Back the Desert

Lydia Polgreen, NY Times
GUIDAN BAKOYE, Niger – In this dust-choked region, long seen as an increasingly barren wasteland decaying into desert, millions of trees are flourishing, thanks in part to poor farmers whose simple methods cost little or nothing at all.

Better conservation and improved rainfall have led to at least 7.4 million newly tree-covered acres in Niger, researchers have found, achieved largely without relying on the large-scale planting of trees or other expensive methods often advocated by African politicians and aid groups for halting desertification, the process by which soil loses its fertility.

Recent studies of vegetation patterns, based on detailed satellite images and on-the-ground inventories of trees, have found that Niger, a place of persistent hunger and deprivation, has recently added millions of new trees and is now far greener than it was 30 years ago.

These gains, moreover, have come at a time when the population of Niger has exploded, confounding the conventional wisdom that population growth leads to the loss of trees and accelerates land degradation, scientists studying Niger say.

The vegetation is densest, researchers have found, in some of the most densely populated regions of the country.
(11 Feb 2007)
Related from WorldChanging: A Greener Niger.

A Call for a Green Enlightenment

Lynn McDonald, WorldChanging
The principles of the 18th century Enlightenment, especially universalism, liberty and sympathy, prompted the great reforms of the 19th and 20th centuries from which we now benefit. We need a comparable “green Enlightenment” to prompt the next set of reforms: those necessary to combat climate change.

The great advances in social justice (human rights, women’s equality, religious toleration, the end of slavery), great as they are, apply only to people in the here and now. They do nothing to ensure rights to future generations, or to people who live in distant, drought-struck, countries, let alone other species on Earth.

Lynn McDonald is University Professor Emerita at the University of Guelph, a former MP, and co-founder of Justearth: a Coalition for Environmental Justice.
(10 Feb 2007)

Portland Stares Down Global Warming
Portland activists offer a solutions model in their City Repair Project and Our Global Villages

Thomas Allen, KBCS – FM (mp3
Grave pronouncements from scientists about global heating can be scary, but offer little in the way of solutions. In addition, many activists don’t believe that politicians are ready to step up with bold initiatives for climate change.
So KBCS reporter Tom Allen asks, Who will lead the way? Who will provide the model? He takes a look at what’s happening in Portland, Oregon.
(8 Feb 2007)

Down and Dirty

David Gelles, NY Times
…The couple are part of a new breed of environmentally conscious homeowners who are willing to forgo traditional floorings like hardwood, carpeting and concrete for the supposed benefits of earthen floors: a reduction in heating costs and environmental impact and, at least in the eyes of some, an improvement in looks.

They are part of a small movement interested in “natural building” on the fringes of green architecture. But they consider green architecture to be overly focused on energy efficiency, while they are concerned with the eco-friendliness of the entire process. The idea, according to Lloyd Kahn, a former shelter editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, is to use “materials that have as little processing as possible, like dirt, straw and bamboo.”

It is hardly a new or chic movement: millions of poor people around the globe use natural materials like dirt for their homes whether they want to or not. But with the growing environmental awareness in this country, Mr. Kahn said, there is greater interest in natural building materials like dirt.

Aesthetically, earthen floors are “really special,” said Frank Meyer, a natural builder who has installed 15 in Austin, Tex. “After a while they look like an old cracked leather couch,” he said. “When people walk in, they don’t say, ‘Oh, nice floor.’ Everyone gets down on their hands and knees to admire it.” Mr. Meyer has used natural pigment to create designs in some floors, and he said some builders add the blood of oxen for maroon coloration.
(8 Feb 2007)